Thursday, January 29, 2009

God in the Streets of New York

Here is a very moving video (created by Grassroots Renewal Productions on behalf of the vocations office of the Archdiocese of New York) about Eucharistic processions, evangelization, and vocations. It's called God in the Streets of New York. It was very inspirational in my fledgling efforts to bring a Eucharistic procession to our parish and neighborhood.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

So You Want to Hold Eucharistic Procession - What Next?

In the spirit of sharing with others what I learned about organizing a Corpus Christi Procession, here we go with the first installment.

  1. Desire. You have to want to do this. You will come across obstacles - some may be big, many will be small, but don't give up. What you are doing is too important. Overcome the obstacles through persistence, prayer, and charity (some obstacles may be people). There are a lot of things vying for people's time and attention. There may be apathy or misunderstanding. Be patient with others, yourself, and God. This is God's work, not yours, but he wants your "boots on the ground."

  2. Pick an occasion. Corpus Christi (the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ) is a great place to begin (but it's not the only time you can have a Eucharistic procession). In 2009 in the U.S., Corpus Christi is observed on Sunday, June 14 (although the actual feast day is Thursday, June 11).

  3. Get the permission of your parish's pastor (assuming you are doing this at a parish). Make it clear to him that you will handle everything. If he is unable to lead the procession (or if you have someone else in mind for specific purposes), let him know that you will get someone to lead it. Deacons can hold the monstrance (which holds the consecrated host). Pastors have a tremendous amount of work on their plate these days, and adding one more thing for them to do can seem overwhelming. The more your pastor understands that he is not responsible for making this procession happen, the more likely he will be willing to grant permission for it.

  4. If the pastor gives you the green light, the parish needs the permission of the bishop to hold the procession. Draft a brief letter indicating the day, time, and procession route, have the pastor sign it, and then have the parish office mail it to the bishop. It is doubtful any bishop would not approve it, but you need to ask.

  5. Determine who will lead the procession. It is required that the person holding the monstrance be ordained: a bishop, priest, or deacon. In our case, because the procession was to pray for vocations, we arranged for the archdiocesan vocations director (a priest) to carry the monstrance.

  6. Determine the route of the procession. We went from the parish to the archdiocesan seminary and back to the parish for benediction - about 1/3 of a mile. Another parish in town processes from one parish to another - about 2 miles. Some processions are on the grounds of a parish. It is also traditional to have "stations" along the way (where you stop, set the monstrance on a temporary altar, pray and use incense, and then move on), but this is not required. We had two stations, one at a Catholic high school across the street from our parish, and one at the seminary.

  7. Check with your local police department. In Cincinnati, if you use the sidewalks only, you don't need a permit. We did have to deal with stopping traffic a little longer than the traffic signals allowed to get everyone across, but we did that ourselves. If we were to process down the middle of the street, we would need a permit and police escorts. However, we didn't want to stop traffic, because we wanted to be seen. If the procession were substantially larger in terms of participants, though, the sidewalks would have been insufficient.

That makes for a good beginning. We'll look at what else is involved next time.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Eucharistic Processions

Last year something happened to me. I'd say, "I had an idea," but that would give the wrong impression. I didn't have an idea. The thought seemed to come from nowhere--or at least from anywhere but me. It wasn't something I'd thought of before. It wasn't something I felt some sort of connection with before. To be more precise, some one happened to me. The "idea" clearly came from the Holy Spirit. I always have to remind myself that God usually speaks to us in quiet, undramatic ways, as he did to Elijah:

And he said, "Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord." And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. (1 Kings 19:11-12)

The "idea" was this: organize a Eucharistic procession on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of the Lord (Corpus Christi) for my parish (Guardian Angels). I had never participated in one before. I barely knew what one was. I hadn't organized anything at my parish before. And yet, I didn't resist this call. It seemed completely right. I certainly had moments of hesitation. But I worked through them.

It was a wonderful experience. And the turn out was much better than I expected. I prepared myself for as few as 10 people, but estimates were that we had at least 50 or more. We processed from our parish to the Cincinnati archdiocesan major seminary (Mt. St. Mary's of the West) up the street. We prayed for vocations during the procession, which was led by the archdiocesan vocations director (Fr. Kyle Schnippel).

I cannot encourage people enough to hold Eucharistic processions at their parishes. They take a little work to put together, but it is not an insurmountable task. God put in my path a small group of dedicated, faithful people at exactly the right time to make this happen. And he will do the same for you.

I want to put together some resources to make it easier for other people to organize Eucharistic processions. The easier it is, the more processions there will be. And the more times we bring Jesus into the streets of our cities, the more he will transform the lives of those following him and those who have been passing him by.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

There But for the Grace of God Go I

I was thinking about this common phrase today. "There but for the Grace of God go I." And then I was thinking about the secular variant, "There but for fortune go I." Both sentences express a certain degree of gratitude, but as I thought about it, I realized that it is important to note that the secular version is not expressing the same idea as the religious version.

For example, if we see someone who is homeless, we may say, "There but for fortune go I," in which case we mean that it is mere luck that I'm not homeless myself. Such an expression really describes, whether consciously or not, a nihilistic view of the world. We are saying that the world is simply random chance, and, thankfully, I happened to have dodged that bullet.

What is even worse is if we apply the religious version in the same way to the situation of the homeless person. Then we seem to be saying, yes, there is a God, and, thankfully, God shed his grace on me instead of thee.

What if we looked at a situation where there was culpability involved. Does that make a difference? For instance, if we say about a murderer or a priest who abused children, "There but for the grace of God go I," are we saying that God withheld his grace from that person and gave it to me? That doesn't seem like the just and merciful God I have heard about and try to know.

Maybe we are saying that God offers the same grace to all, but if I had not accepted God's grace, then I could have been that murderer or that abusing priest. I think that situation is getting closer to the mark. But even that makes me feel as though I am taking too much credit for any good I do. It still seems to smack a bit of the Pelagian heresy, which said that we can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps (that our works can achieve salvation through our own efforts and without God's grace). Maybe it's what Fr. Benedict Groeschel calls "semi-Pelagianism." Certainly God's grace needs our cooperation and an act of our will, because God gave us freedoom to choose good over evil, or vice versa. He does not coerce our love, but nurtures it.

Perhaps the phrase is really not all that useful in the end. I was thinking today about why do I not do some of the deeply terrible things that our wounded human nature is prone to do? (Which is not to say that I don't sin.) I certainly don't want to leave all the explanation up to psychology. There is a mystery at work that science can't explain away. But how do we get a glimpse of that mystery of sin and grace, of you and me and Him, and how it all ties together? As St. Paul says, "where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Romans 5:20). So maybe we should be thinking, "What profound transformation is God trying to work in that broken life, and am I too inured to my own sin to seek out the grace God is offering to me?"

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Eucharistic Adoration and Pilgrimage

It is difficult to find Catholic churches open in my area in the afternoon during the week, when I usually try to go to adoration. Tomorrow, in solidarity with the March for Life, the Bishop of the Diocese of Covington, Kentucky, Roger Foys, has ordered all churches in the diocese to remain open all day. I wish that our churches were all open more often. There is a parish near where I work that has Eucharistic chapel, but it is not open during the afternoon most days. There is a parish near where I live that does have perpetual Eucharistic adoration, and it is a great blessing to us. Today I went for adoration to a church where you have to go sign in through the school to get into the church during the week (and they are always surprised when I come in and ask to go to the church). I understand the issues, but it shouldn't be this hard to worship the Lord in the Eucharist.

However, I have also come to see the value of these hardships. When I come to a church for adoration and the church is locked, I think of the woman who suffered from “a flow of blood” for twelve years but touched the fringe of Jesus’ garment and was healed (Luke 8:43-48). Even if I cannot get closer to the tabernacle, merely touching the handle of church door can be close enough, and I hope also thereby to be the recipient of Jesus’ words to that woman: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace” (48).

One of the few places I can count on for access to a tabernacle during a weekday afternoon in the area where I work is at a Catholic hospital. I spend about 45 minutes of my 60 minute lunch hour traveling to and from the hospital to spend 15 minutes with our Lord. Today as I was going to a different church for adoration, I heard on our local Catholic radio station a segment about pilgrimage. Then it dawned on me that I was on pilgrimage. If I look at the travel to a tabernacle not as wasted or delayed time (as if I were commuting to work) but as a pilgrimage, as a prayerful journey to a holy site, then that travel becomes transformed, and hopefully, so do I.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Inaugural Prayer

On the eve of the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, let us pray for him, for his administration, and for our country. Let us pray that God will guide him in all his decisions. May his election usher in a new era of racial healing in our land. May President Obama's compassion for the poor and the oppressed also come to extend to the unborn.

President Obama is often compared to President Kennedy. May President Obama take up the call at the end of President Kennedy's 1961 inaugural address and make it his own:

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Feast of St. Anthony of the Desert

Today is the Feast of St. Anthony of the Desert.

St. Anthony is often called, "The Father of Monks" for his role in the establishment of Christian monasticism, and he is among the first of the Desert Fathers (although there were a few Desert Mothers as well). The Desert Fathers were men and women who lived either as hermits or in small communities in the deserts of Egypt, primarily during the fourth century. St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria and one of the thirty-three doctors of the Church, wrote a biography of St. Anthony.

I highly recommend a wonderful book: The Sayings of the Desert Fathers by Benedicta Ward, SLG. These sayings are very powerful and give important insight into lives of self-sacrifice, hospitality, penance, forgiveness, and compassion.

One of the sayings of St. Anthony has implications for living the Eucharistic life:

Someone asked Abba Anthony, "What must one do in order to please God?" The old man replied, "Pay attention to what I tell you: whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved." (3, p. 2)

St. Anthony's distilled advice here is incisive. Whoever you are, whether rich or poor, powerful or powerless, you need to understand that you are a creature and that God is the Creator, and if your focus is ever on God and not yourself, then such humility will put things in their proper perspective. Certainly we can "always have God before our eyes" by thinking about him, but we can deepen that thinking by literally have him before our eyes in Eucharistic adoration, or contemplatively before our eyes through spiritual communion.

In all that you do, make sure your life and your actions correspond with how God has told us in the Bible how we should live and act. Too often in contemporary life we think that we can be "good people" without "having to follow a lot of rules." It is true that following rules will not guarantee that we will become good. However, we must also remember that breaking rules will not make us good, either. Saying, "God, I love you, but I don't think I need to go Mass on Sunday" is like saying to your spouse, "Honey, I love you, but I don't think I need to talk to you during the week." Love is demonstrated through actions. When love is talk only, it is usually used to manipulate another person. Jesus showed us his love through his actions, by laying down his life for us. The Scriptures are God's love letter, and with love, comes responsibilities and obligations, works and sacrifice.

St. Anthony's last point is perhaps the most unusual. I suppose the way I take him here is that wandering often leads to a lack of commitment. In a hermit's context, moving frequently may be an attempt to run away from one's self--one's own sinfulness, forsaking God's mercy and trying to escape God's demands. In a monastic context, moving frequently may be an attempt to run away from others, so that we are not beholden to anyone or anything. The same is potentially true for laity as well. Some people leave spouses and families because they are not willing to take on the daily task of fidelity and all that it requires. Some people date many different people for the same reason. Some people leave jobs frequently, either because they become bored from routine or because they cannot live in "community" in the workplace.

Let us live St. Anthony's words, and may his prayers help sustain us in that life.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Be sure to read In the Shadow of Eternity on St. Ignatius and the Eucharist

The blog, In the Shadow of Eternity, has a three-part series on St. Ignatius of Antioch on the Eucharist. It is a feast worth savoring.

In his 1/12/09 posting, the author ("T") talks about the struggle to not let his theology overcome his spirituality, realizing that, done well, his theology and spirituality strengthen each other. We all need to remember that, and then we need to put that into practice, deepening our theological knowledge and our spiritual practice.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fr. Richard McBrien on Ecumenism and the Eucharist

Fr. Richard McBrien has an article at the National Catholic Reporter on the subject of ecumenism. His desire for Christian unity is admirable. He is right that we should feel a sense of urgency for healing the open wound in the Body of Christ that is marked by the division among Christians. However, the remedy he advocates for healing this wound would not heal it, but, rather, infect it.

Fr. McBrien calls for “intercommunion” or “eucharistic sharing.” He writes:

If anything could bring us out of our collective lethargy, I suggested in the column of 40 years ago, it would be the experience of intercommunion, or eucharistic sharing. Once we begin celebrating the sacraments together, especially the Eucharist, Christians would see that the ecumenical movement “means more than friendly handshakes and occasional joint prayer services.”

The problem is, in general, we cannot celebrate the sacraments together because we do not mean the same thing by those sacraments. This would not lead to unity, because unity cannot be based on a lie, and we would by lying by our actions. We would be expressing a unity that is not reflected by reality.

Fr. McBrien goes on to assert that Catholics have overemphasized the unitive aspect of the Eucharist:

But Catholics have tended to take a more one-sided view of St. Thomas Aquinas’s theology of the Eucharist and the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on the subject.

Catholics traditionally stress that the Eucharist is a sign of unity, and as such intercommunion, or eucharistic sharing, is prohibited. But the Eucharist, as both Aquinas and Vatican II insisted, is also a means of grace -- the grace of unity.

However, the unitive nature of the Eucharist is a much more ancient tradition than Vatican II or Aquinas. In his Letter to the Philadelphians (ca. 110), St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote shortly before his martyrdom:

Make certain, therefore, that you all observe one common Eucharist; for there is but one body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and but one cup of union with his blood, and one single altar of sacrifice—even as there is also but one bishop, with his clergy and my own fellow servitors, the deacons. This will ensure that all your doings are in full accord with the will of God. (4)

Since we have been talking about St. Cyprian of Carthage recently, let’s look at his thoughts on the subject. In his work, The Unity of the Catholic Church (ca. 249-258), St. Cyprian wrote:

So too the sacred meaning of the Pasch lies essentially in the fact, laid down in Exodus, that the lamb - slain as a type of Christ - should be eaten in one single home. God says the words: 'In one house shall it be eaten, ye shall not cast its flesh outside.' The flesh of Christ and the Lord's sacred body cannot be cast outside, nor have believers any other home but the one Church. (Chapter 8)

Fr. McBrien invokes Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio) as a basis for “shared eucharist”:

The council implicitly laid the foundation for intercommunion, even if it did not openly endorse it, when it declared that common eucharistic worship “should provide a sharing in the means of grace.”

“The fact that (the Eucharist) should signify unity generally rules out common worship. Yet the gaining of a needed grace sometimes commends it” (Decree on Ecumenism, n. 8).

However, it is important to look closely at what the document says and why it says it. Here is a larger selection from the passage which Fr. McBrien quotes (from the translation at the Vatican website):

Yet worship in common (communicatio in sacris) is not to be considered as a means to be used indiscriminately for the restoration of Christian unity. There are two main principles governing the practice of such common worship: first, the bearing witness to the unity of the Church, and second, the sharing in the means of grace. Witness to the unity of the Church very generally forbids common worship to Christians, but the grace to be had from it sometimes commends this practice. The course to be adopted, with due regard to all the circumstances of time, place, and persons, is to be decided by local episcopal authority, unless otherwise provided for by the Bishops' Conference according to its statutes, or by the Holy See.

Fr. McBride indicates that the Council “implicitly laid the foundation for intercommunion, even if it did not openly endorse it,” as if there was some sort of covert agenda toward intercommunion. However, the text of the document does not bear out his assertion. Because the Eucharist is such a strong signifier of the unity of the Body of Christ and his Church, faithfulness to that witness “very generally forbids” intercommunion. However, there are selected times when grace commends this practice, and later in the document the Council explained those particular circumstances.

The document uses the terms “churches” and “ecclesial communities.” Churches, such as the Eastern Orthodox churches, have the sacraments in their fullest:

These Churches, although separated from us, yet possess true sacraments and above all, by apostolic succession, the priesthood and the Eucharist, whereby they are linked with us in closest intimacy. Therefore some worship in common (communicatio in sacris), given suitable circumstances and the approval of Church authority, is not only possible but to be encouraged. (15)

Because of their continuous link through apostolic succession, which gives them a valid priesthood and a valid Eucharist, it is possible to have common worship with these churches.

However, ecclesial communities lack one or more of the sacraments, do not have apostolic succession, and therefore, do not, from a Catholic perspective, have a valid priesthood or Eucharist. This section is particularly important:

Though the ecclesial Communities which are separated from us lack the fullness of unity with us flowing from Baptism, and though we believe they have not retained the proper reality of the eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Orders, nevertheless when they commemorate His death and resurrection in the Lord's Supper, they profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and look forward to His coming in glory. Therefore the teaching concerning the Lord's Supper, the other sacraments, worship, the ministry of the Church, must be the subject of the dialogue.

Because we have different understandings of the fundamental doctrines listed above, the first mentioned of which is the Lord’s Supper, we need to begin with dialogue on the Eucharist, not with intercommunion. However, it is the desire of our separated brothers and sisters to commemorate Christ’s death and resurrection in the Lord’s Supper that is a good starting point for that dialogue.

These distinctions between churches and ecclesial communities were reiterated in Dominus Iesus, which Pope Benedict XVI, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, promulgated in 2000.

Fr. McBride laments the current state of ecumenical affairs, but there is actually much activity in this field. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, who recently passed away, was a Lutheran pastor who worked very hard for unification of Lutherans and Catholics before and after he later became a Catholic priest. He also worked very closely with Evangelicals such as Charles Colson in the initiative, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” Anglicans and Catholics have increasingly opened jointly operated schools in the United Kingdom. A Dominican priest, Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, wrote a book on the Eucharist for the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lenten series.

Toward the end of his article, Fr. McBrien writes:

Whether we like it or not, intercommunion has been happening on a regular basis at Sunday Masses and in the liturgies of other Christian churches, and particularly at weddings and funerals.

The incidents of such unofficial and essentially private forms of eucharistic sharing have become so common in fact that in some Catholic churches, and especially on public occasions when the bishop is present, priests feel compelled to remind the non-Catholics in the congregation that they are not to come forward for Holy Communion.

Comparable warnings are not given in Protestant and Episcopal churches. On the contrary, their tendency is to welcome all baptized Christians to the reception of Communion.

Fr. McBrien seems to conceive of the Church’s view of the Eucharist as a game of cosmic “keep away” – the children’s game where two children toss a ball (or some other desired object) over the head of a third child who is being mercilessly taunted. However, this is not the case.

But let us take Fr. McBrien’s admiration of grass-roots efforts at intercommunion and eucharist sharing seriously. Let us do so by people of different faiths going for Eucharistic adoration before the exposed Blessed Sacrament. Let us show our separated brothers and sisters the grace to be received from “spiritual communion” where, physically distant from Christ in the Eucharist, we ask him to come into our hearts.

If we do these things, then we will live out Christ’s call to unity and fulfill the goals of the Decree on Ecumenism, which says that our common baptism “envisages a complete profession of faith, complete incorporation in the system of salvation such as Christ willed it to be, and finally complete ingrafting in eucharistic communion” (22). But for now, we can only envisage that future ingrafting.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

More from St. Cyprian of Carthage - Union with Christ in the Eucharist

St. Cyprian has a number of passages regarding the Eucharist which are worth exploring. Here's another one from William Jurgens' Faith of the Early Fathers (Vol. 1, #583, p. 232):

Because Christ bore us all, in that He bore our sins, we see that by the water, people are signified, while in the wine, indeed, the Blood of Christ is shown. And when the water is mixed with the wine in the cup, the people are made one with Christ, and the multitude of believers is coupled and joined to Him in whom it believes ("To a Certain Cecil," 63, 13).

The mixing of water with the wine is a way of representing the idea of "communion," of how through the Eucharist we become united with Christ, of how we are given grace, which is a share in Christ's divine life.

St. Cyprian was very concerned with unity with the Church, especially through the bishops and ultimately through Peter and his successors (although, apparently, St. Cyprian had some changing thoughts on the primacy of Roman bishop). He was also concerned about disunity arising from the Roman persecutions; he insisted on the need for reconciliation for those Christians who renounced the faith to avoid martyrdom.

Fr. Edward McNamara has a couple of interesting articles at Zenit News Agency on why water is mixed with the wine at the Consecration.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

St. Cyprian of Carthage - Matter Matters

I have been reading more of William Jurgens' Faith of the Early Fathers. St. Cyprian (ca. 200 -258) was bishop of Carthage; he survived the Decian persecution but ultimately was martyred by beheading. Among his writings are passages about the Eucharist. One of his letters ("To a Certain Cecil," 63, 9) indicates the nature of Catholic sacramental theology in which a certain form and matter is necessary. The form is the words or actions being said or performed, and the matter is the material used in the sacrament. For example, in baptism the form is the Trinitarian formula: "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." (That is why last year the Vatican re-affirmed the teaching that baptisms not using the Trinitarian form are not valid.) The matter in baptism is the water.

In the Eucharist, the form is the Eucharistic prayer, and the matter is the bread and wine (mixed with water). Cyprian addresses a practice of using water instead of wine, rather than wine mixed with water:

We find that the cup which the Lord offered was mixed; and that what was wine, He called Blood. From this it is apparent that the Blood of Christ is not offered if there is no wine in the cup; nor is the Sacrifice of the Lord celebrated with a legitimate consecration unless our offering and sacrifice corresponds to the passion... I wonder, indeed, whence this practice has come, that, contrary to evangelic and apostolic tradition, in certain places water alone, which cannot signify the Blood of Christ, is offered in the cup of the Lord. (Faith of the Early Fathers, Volume 1, #582, p. 232).

Because the matter used does not conform to the matter required (no wine is used) in accord with the "evangelic and apostolic tradition," the sacrament does not take place. We cannot simply make it up as we go along. The power of the sacraments comes from the One who instituted them, and the One who instituted them knew that the physicality of the sacraments (and thus how the sacraments signify what they effect) matters. When we are tempted to think that the Church has too many rules about things, it is important for us to remember the reasons why she has such rules. Again, we see the truth of lex orandi, lex credendi (literally, "the law of praying, the law of believing"). What the phrase means is that the way we worship affects how we believe, so orthodox worship leads to orthodox belief and theology. It is also true that heterodox worship leads to heterodox belief and theology. So in our liturgy and in our sacraments, what we say and do has far-reaching consequences.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Eucharistic Hymns - The Catholic Hymnal by Noel Jones

Music can enhance our theological understanding, especially since music can reveal mystery in a way that prose cannot.

So it is a welcome sight to see Noel Jones' Eucharistic Hymns - The Catholic Hymnal as a further resource for us to understand and to experience the Eucharist in a deeper way. Jones is concerned about some contemporary hymns which do not strike him as theologically sound, so he has mined the past 150 years for hymns that pertain to the Eucharist. Personally, I am not one who is disturbed by most contemporary liturgical music, but I am also all for a renaissance of older hymns, especially Gregorian chant.

Catholic Online has an article about Jones' hymnal. You can also see the SJN Music website for more information about Jones' work at St. John Neumann parish in Knoxville, TN.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

More on listening

I was thinking more about listening, and remembered Samuel's response to the Lord: "Speak, for your servant is listening" (1 Samuel 3:10).

I tried to be a listening servant while saying the Rosary today. During the Fifth Glorious Mystery, the Crowning of Mary, Queen of Heaven, I was thinking about Mary and how she leads us to Jesus. It reminded me of the icons of her and the Infant Jesus, where she is pointing towards him. These images of her are known as the hodogetria, meaning "One who shows the way." Mary shows us the way to Jesus.

The image of rivers running to the sea came to mind to describe how Mary and the Communion of Saints help bring us to Jesus. They are a multitude of rivers, rushing to the Jesus, who is the sea. Mary is perhaps like the Amazon, or the Mississippi: a great river into which many other rivers, the saints, meet to join together in their journey to the sea. Those of us on earth are like boats, which sail upon their guiding waters so we can put out to sea in our heavenly home with Jesus.

We do not worship Mary and the saints; instead, their earthly lives serve as examples to us of how to live, and through their prayers they intercede with us to help us live the lives God has called us to live. Mary and the saints show us the way to Jesus.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Listening is an Act of Love

There is a wonderful contemporary oral history project called "StoryCorps," which can be heard on National Public Radio (NPR). There is a book created by the project called Listening is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project."

The title of the book is particularly appropriate both for thinking about Mary in the wake of her Solemnity as Mother of God and for how we should approach adoration of her Son in the Eucharist. The Gospel reading for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God shows the contemplative nature of Mary, who is a profound listener: after the shepherds come to adore the infant Jesus, "Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).

So, too, when we go to adore Jesus in the Eucharist, we need to do less talking and more listening. I know I need to do that. We need to hear what it is that Jesus is trying to tell us, where he is trying to lead us. Our faith will grow once we start letting God speak to us, for we will be more firmly convinced than ever in his presence and his great love for us.

As StoryCorps reminds us, listening is an act of love.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Today is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. In a recent posting I included Christina Rossetti's poem, "A Christmas Carol," which is the text for the song, "In the Bleak Midwinter." It is especially appropriate for today's solemnity:

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

As the Mother of God, she is both mother and creature, both parent and disciple to Jesus, the God-Man. She gives to us a model of a particularly intimate relationship with Jesus.

Also on this Solemnity, we should keep in mind Mary's eucharistic aspects as the woman who carried Jesus in her womb. She is the "ark of the new covenant," "mother of the Eucharist," and a "living tabernacle." Her womb held the Son of God, the Word made flesh, so the Divine redeemed the human, and the human sheltered the Divine.

Unfortunately, because of abortion, sometimes a womb becomes a tomb. Franciscan University, in Steubenville, Ohio, has a Tomb of the Unborn Child on campus. We need to look to Mary, asking for her intercession for the Unborn, and for her help so that we will treasure all human life at every stage.

Therefore, as a Eucharistic people, we need to do all we can to end legalized abortion in our country. The next thing we can do is oppose the so-called "Freedom of Choice Act" (FOCA). To learn more about what FOCA is and what you can do to prevent it from becoming law, go to Fight FOCA.