Archive for the ‘General Interest’ Category


The Becket List

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

I”m sure many readers have heard of The Bucket List. It”s the movie in which characters played by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman have terminal cancer. They decide to make the most of their remaining time by composing a “bucket list” of things they wanted to do before they die.

And then the adventures began! 

Since the new year is now only three days away, I thought I would do something a little different. So, I have composed a ”Becket” list, in honor of St. Thomas Becket, the 12th-century archbishop and martyr whose feast the Church celebrates today. The Becket list, part serious and part whimsical, contains things I would like to do before the end of the year. Without further ado (after all, I gotta get busy!), here”s my list:

(1) Recall all the blessings of 2010.

(2) Do all the things I put off till the Christmas holiday, when presumably I would “have more time.”

(3) Pray for those who “left” us this year. I”m thinking mostly of those who died in 2010, especially my oldest brother, Bob, but also of my daughter Mary Kate, who in August became Sr. Mary Kate.

(4) Figure out how to operate the kids” Wii game.

(5) Lose ten pounds (five “old” pounds and the five put on over Christmas).

(6) Finish the three books I”m presently reading (without starting a fourth until they’2012-04-24 18:32:26′re finished!).

(7) Set goals and make resolutions for 2011.

(8) Clean my office!

(9) Tax stuff. Sure, the IRS gives us extra time for some things, but as much as possible I like to have my “ducks” lined up. And surely this includes end-of-the-year donations to Catholic apostolates and charities!

(10) Playoffs! Of course I have to make plans to watch the playoff run of the Kansas City Chiefs, the AFC West champs! 

What”s on your Becket list?

The End of the Innocents?

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the little boys who were massacred by Herod in an attempt to put the Christ Child to death. These “innocents” are now venerated as martyrs.

There is an obvious connection between the Holy Innocents and the victims of abortion, whose deaths are also made possible by political regimes that really want to kill God. After all, not only does Christ present Himself as an alternative to Caesar, but His Church is the definitive bastion of the natural law, objective truth, and moral goodness in the public square. In other words, the Church is the leading voice against the “tyranny of relativism” and immoral expedience imposed by modern-day Herods.

But there is yet another set of innocents. I’m thinking of today’s youth, whose psychosexual development has largely been left in the same hands as those who wanted them killed in the womb.  And so, in the name of “sex education,” today’s youth are robbed of their human dignity, their reproductive capacity, and ultimately the spark of the divine that makes them capable of receiving the gift of eternal life.

Against these odds, we have the Feast of the Holy Innocents to remind us that God’s mercy and goodness will triumph, though our witness requires courage and possibly martyrdom.

Father, the Holy Innocents offered you praise by the death they suffered for Christ. May our lives bear witness to the faith we profess with our lips. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Christmas Eve

Friday, December 24th, 2010

When you think about it, doesn’t “Christmas Eve” sound like an apt title for the Blessed Virgin Mary?

As Christmas day rapidly approaches, I thought our readers would appreciate a snippet of a sermon by St. Augustine, which is the reading for today’s Office of Readings (matins) in the Church’s liturgy:

“Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you. I tell you again: for your sake, God became man. . . .

“Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time.”

Come Lord Jesus, do not delay; give new courage to Your people who trust in Your love. By Your coming, raise us to the joy of Your kingdom, where You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Pope Benedict”s Christmas message

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI dedicated today”s Wednesday audience at the Vatican to conveying a reflection on Christmas. Here is the portion of his address that was given in English:

“In these last days before Christmas, the Church invites us to contemplate the mystery of Christ”s birth and to receive the gift of His presence, which is the fulfillment of humanity”s deepest hopes and expectations. We share in the quiet joy which filled the hearts of Mary and Joseph, and all those who first welcomed the promised Savior, who is Emmanuel, God-with-us. By taking our flesh, the Lord saved us from the sin of our first parents; now He bids us to become like Him, to see the world through His eyes and to let our hearts be transformed by His infinite goodness and mercy. This Christmas, may the Christ Child find all of us spiritually prepared for his coming. The traditional Christmas crib, which families prepare in these days, is an eloquent sign of our expectation of the Lord who comes. May the wonderment that the crib evokes in children and adults alike bring us closer to the mystery of God”s love revealed in the incarnation of His beloved Son. Let us ask the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph to help us contemplate this great mystery with renewed joy and gratitude.”

And these closing words of his address help us to put the last few days before Christmas in perspective:

“In the midst of the frenetic activity of our days, may this time give us some calm and joy and enable us to touch with our hand the goodness of our God, who became a Child to save us and to give new encouragement and light on our journey. This is my wish for a holy and happy Christmas: I address it affectionately to all of you here present, to your families, in particular to the sick and the suffering, as well as to your communities and your loved ones.”

Why Football Fans Can Sing . . . And Catholics Still Can”t

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

I need to begin this post on liturgical music with the disclaimer that I”m neither a liturgist nor a musician. My perspective is that of someone who loves the Mass and who can also carry a tune.

In addition, I want to focus on a very narrow aspect of liturgical music–namely, the selection of hymns for Sunday and Holy Day Masses. To understand my concern, bear with me as I draw a comparison with the music at a professional sports event.

Has anyone ever been to a game where to get the fans fired up they continually play songs that nobody knows (or likes)? Or where they played loud music or otherwise incited noise while the home team had the ball? (For those of you who might not know, the idea is to be quiet when your team has the ball, so they can hear the quarterback better.) Or has anyone been to a baseball game in which they substituted a new song for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” for the seventh inning stretch?

The answer to these and other such questions is “definitely not.” In other words, professional sports teams recognize the importance of playing the right music at the right time to help create the appropriate environment for cheering on the home team. It”s not rocket science, and any team organist not on board with that concept will soon be looking for other work.

For some reason, though, this concept is lost on many parishes that I”ve visited over the years. So many times I”ve gone to Mass absolutely ready to worship–and sing!–only to experience music selections that are so foreign to me (if not banal or repulsive) that it”s more of an annoyance or distraction than an aid to prayer. Does it have to be that way?

Now, those who provide the music for parish liturgies have several things to keep in mind. They should strive for excellence in execution, calling forth and utilizing the musical gifts, talents, and instruments at the parish”s disposal. Since the purpose is divine worship, not entertainment, the appropriate amount of reverence and decorum must be maintained. And since the music is calling forth something deep within us, the music ministers should be Spirit-filled and not simply going through the motions.

But all that aside, what can we say about the musical selections themselves? I’2012-04-24 18:32:38′ve come up with three points that I think summarize what the Church is looking for in this area.

(1) Know the Mass. Surely, all music ministers know (or at least should know) the general parts of the Mass. Yet, maybe–through additional training, courses, retreats, lectures, workshops, homilies, etc.–they can come to a more accurate and profound understanding of the Mass so that the musical selections flow from an intense awareness of the movement of the liturgy. After all, don”t we expect the team organist to be fully “into” the game?

(2) Honor the Tradition. The easiest thing for the team organist is to fall back on songs that everyone knows and likes to hear at sporting events. These songs have multi-generational appeal and encourage everyone to sing along. Musicians are creative by nature, and they naturally want to try new and innovative things. Yet, they have to respect the fact that many decisions have already been made for them (e.g., “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the seventh inning). Similarly, the Holy Mass is not generally the time for musical innovation–especially if it”s to the detriment of our rich liturgical tradition, including the Gregorian chants, which Vatican II especially singled out as having “pride of place” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, nos. 114-16).

Traditional hymns like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (Advent), “For All the Saints” (All Saints Day), “Crown Him with Many Crowns” (Christ the King), “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” (Easter), “The Glory of These Forty Days” (Lent), or “At That First Eucharist” (Corpus Christi), just to name a few, are time-tested and, if executed well, help the faithful enter into the theme of the day or season.

I will say that Christmas is the one day everybody seems to get right. Could you imagine going to Midnight Mass on Christmas and hearing only one or two songs you recognize? Thank God for classics like “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Joy to the World,” which are such an integral part of the liturgical celebration of Christmas.

(3) Ease in Newer Music. At football games, we do hear some newer music. However, new music isn”t introduced at the game. Rather, if a song has become a big hit or was sung on American Idol, only then do they consider using it, because only then does it have sufficient familiarity and widespread appeal among the fans. 

If there”s a beautiful new hymn we want to introduce, let”s teach the faithful before Mass and use it with some regularity so that it becomes familiar to all of us. Note to music minister: The fact that a new hymn is in the Music Issue of the missalette does not mean it”s beautiful. It simply means that it”s in the Music Issue!

Now, on this point there is a significant difference between the approach for football music and for liturgical music. Football music is catering primarily to emotions, and we”re looking for songs that are popular for their own sake. Liturgical music does not ignore the emotions, but it also must engage the whole person, including one”s thoughts and the exercise of one”s will, so as to elevate the soul. Some new liturgical music selections may be “catchy” and become familiar through (over)use, but that”s not the measuring rod for excellence in liturgical music.

Thank you for letting me get all this off my chest–I feel much better! God bless all of you as Christmas approaches. And may all your Christmas liturgies be “joyful and triumphant”!    


Preparing for Mary”s Visit

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Today”s Gospel, the first part of the event commonly known as the “Visitation” (Luke 1:39-45), is very familiar to most Catholics. It”s read a few times during the year at Mass, and of course it”s one of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.

Sometimes we hear a passage over and over again, and it can be a challenge to open our minds and hearts to allow the Holy Spirit to give us new insights.

In hearing this Gospel anew today, I was struck by how much we should be devoted to our Blessed Mother, especially on Christmas.

When Elizabeth greets Mary, John the Baptist leaps for joy in his mother”s womb at the sound of Mary”s voice (vv. 41, 44). After all, Mary has brought Jesus to him! (The best baby shower gift of all time!) But there”s more.

All Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Even more, Scripture says that Elizabeth was “filled with the Holy Spirit” when she cried out: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb . . .” (vv. 41-42). When we turn to Our Lady, when we pray the “Hail Mary,” we are simply making our own the doubly inspired words of Elizabeth.

Okay, but enough already, right? Perhaps we’2012-04-24 18:32:40′re a little hesitant or unsure about turning to Mary. But what were the next words out of Elizabeth”s mouth? She said, And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Instead of obsessing over whether she should make such a fuss about Mary, she does pretty much the opposite: She marvels at the great honor bestowed upon her that Mary would actually come to her.

Mary wants to come to each one of us this Christmas, as the definitive bearer of our long-awaited Savior. Let us run to greet her, and leap for joy in the presence of the Gift she has brought to the world, the Gift that, as the saying goes, is the “reason for the season.”

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Monday, December 20th, 2010

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The Roots of the Messiah

Friday, December 17th, 2010

December 17th marks the beginning of the “O Antiphons” in Evening Prayer, which focus on various biblical titles of our Lord and Messiah. Today’s “O Antiphon” theme is Wisdom: “O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, You govern all creation with Your strong yet tender care. Come and show you people the way to salvation.”

December 17th represents a turning point in the Advent season. We are now unmistakably in the home stretch. As we heard at Mass last Sunday, “the Lord is near”–Christmas is just around the corner.

Also on December 17th, the Gospel readings at Mass undergo a significant shift. Instead of hearing about John the Baptist, we are now unpacking the infancy narratives from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Today we start at the beginning, with the genealogy of Jesus, the son of David, the son of Abraham, found in the opening verses of St. Matthew’s Gospel. [more]

There is much more to this genealogy than meets the eye. For further study, I recommend Ted Sri’s Mystery of the Kingdom and the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible for the Gospel of Matthew.

One common question involves apparent discrepancies between Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus and the genealogy found in Luke. Here is what the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible says about this in its comments on Matthew 1:2-17:

“The Abrahamic and Davidic ancestry of Jesus establishes His credentials to be the royal Messiah of Israel (1:1, 16). God long ago promised that ‘kings’ would stem from Abraham’s line (Gen. 17:6) and later swore a covenant oath that David would always have a dynastic heir (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4). Note that Matthew’s genealogy reaches back to Abraham, the forefather of Israel, whereas Luke’s genealogy of Jesus stretches back to Adam, the father of all nations (Lk. 3:23-38). The difference is heightened by numerous discrepancies between the two genealogies, especially in the generations spanning from David to Jesus. More than a dozen solutions have been proposed to harmonize them. At the very least, it should be recognized that gaps are a common feature in genealogical registries from antiquity. There are also many examples in Scripture of one person having more than one name–a fact that must be considered when attempting to identify the ancestors of Jesus (e.g., Solomon/Jedidiah, 2 Sam. 12:24-25). As one early Christian writer (Julius Africanus) reminds us, neither Matthew nor Luke is in error, for both record Jesus’ genealogy intricately and yet accurately.”

For more information on the reliability in general of the Infancy Narratives (i.e., Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2), I highly recommend the tract entitled “The Historicity of the Gospel Accounts of the Nativity.” To view and/or download this tract, click here.

I think that given these two themes for the day–wisdom and genealogy–we might benefit from taking some time today to look back on our own lives, praising God for His wise timing and providence, and thanking Him for the many people who have helped us in our own journeys of faith.

Catholic or Jesuit?

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

When I was in seminary in the 1980s, I was blessed to have Dr. Peter Kreeft as my principal philosophy professor. One time he told me he was teaching a class at nearby Boston College, and there was a football player sitting in the front row. At one point, the football player asked, “This Descarte guy, was he a Catholic, or was he a Jesuit?” Without missing a beat, Dr. Kreeft responded (truthfully), “He was a Catholic,” and moved on with the class.

When I would do apostolic work at Boston-area campuses at that time, Harvard and MIT students and faculty were receptive, but we met with intense hostility at Boston College. 

Unfortunately, and not to pick on the Jesuits (though they deserve it!), there is something of a choice today between truly “Catholic” colleges and several prominent “Jesuit” colleges. [more]Okay, there are some really outstanding Jesuits past and present, and there are some other religious communities that haven”t well preserved a robust Catholic identity for their institutions, either, but you know what I mean.

With that context, I wanted to share with readers a snippet from an address earlier this month by Cardinal Raymond Burke, the courageous American prelate who serves as Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura in Rome. He gave the address at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, on the subject of Catholic higher education. The following candid remark hits the nail on the head:

“According to the ancient canonical wisdom, corruptio optimi pessima est, ‘the corruption of the best is the worst.’ Sadly, we have witnessed the truth of the axiom in so many Catholic colleges and universities in our nation, which once gave pride of place to their Catholic identity and the Catholic life of the campus, but now are Catholic in name only, usually qualifying their Catholic identity by another name, for example, calling themselves a Catholic university in the Franciscan or Jesuit tradition. What the tradition, with a small ‘t,’ means, in practice can have little, if anything, to do with Tradition, with a capital ‘t.’ The word, ‘Catholic,’ in the name of a university has its full qualification, that is, it accepts no modifiers.”

For the full text of Cardinal Burke”s address, and for more information on Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, which Cardinal Burke praised, click here. For sound guidance in selecting a Catholic college for yourself or for your children, click here.

And by the way, out of curiosity I just visited Boston College”s website. As expected, the opening line on the “About BC” page said, “Boston College is committed to maintaining and strengthening the Jesuit, Catholic mission of the University . . .” Sounds good on paper (because if it”s authentically Jesuit then it”s authentically Catholic), but I really don”t think the “American Jesuit college experience” today is quite what Jesuit founder St. Ignatius of Loyola would have desired or envisioned!

Grinches 2010

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

I have to admit that my favorite Christmas movie, far and away, is It’s a Wonderful Life. However, I’d have to say that How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is in my top three. I’m not talking about the more recent Jim Carrey version, but the older, animated version that has been a Christmas-time favorite for decades.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is truly an endearing story–all the more so for me as my little Abigail Rose has always reminded my wife and me of little Cindy Lou Who.

But is the story real? In other words, are there really any Grinches in the world? Is there anyone so foolish as to want to destroy Christmas? [more]

On one level, the Grinch is in each one of us, just as each of us share in the burden of Frodo’s ring, to borrow from another classic, The Lord of the Rings. The sheer weight of human brokenness and sin impels us at times to perversely reject what is good. It all started in a garden, where our first parents rejected paradise.

For that reason, Christmas is for everybody. We all need good news. We all need divine grace to heal the “Grinch” in us, so that we may be filled anew with awe and wonder as we celebrate the birth of the Christ child.

In another sense, there are still Grinches around today, but they’ve largely changed their approach since the day the first Grinch graced the pages of children’s literature. We might recall that the original Grinch attacked Christmas by taking away all the external decorations and gifts from the Whos of Whoville.

What the Grinch didn’t realize was that the spirit of Christmas would continue to live on in the hearts of the people.

Today’s Grinches don’t want to take away the externals, but rather to magnify them. They want to embellish the commercial aspect of the holiday. The “spirit” or “true meaning” of Christmas may not be explicitly denied, but it is seemingly rendered irrelevant amidst the shopping frenzy and the mantra “Season’s Greetings!”.

Rather than use the liturgical season of Advent to mark the time of preparation for Christmas, we’re now taught to diligently keep track of the number of shopping days until the blessed event. Instead of celebrating the season of Christmas between December 25th and the feast of the Baptism of the Lord (or at least Epiphany), today’s Grinches see this time as one for returning gifts, after-Christmas sales, taking down Christmas decorations, and approximately 35 bowl games (but who’s counting).

These Grinches, of course, are those who want to exploit Christmas, not celebrate it.

While the commercialization of Christmas in most instances is simply motivated by economic gain, there unfortunately have arisen pseudo-philosophies–like that reflected by the Ayn Rand Institute—that actually propose a Christmas without Christ. In other words, they’re offering us the shell without the pearl of great price.

Perhaps a gospel of selfishness is attractive to some people today, given the rampant consumerism of our society. And if it’s really about the “stuff,” then we might as well be honest about it.

But let’s make no mistake. The joy, festivity, and goodness that we associate with Christmas isn’t found on the Internet or at the mall. Rather, our cause for celebration is found in a manger in Bethlehem, where the eternal Word of God was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There simply is no Christmas without Christ.

Some secularists consider unbridled selfishness and consumerism without “Christian guilt” and “self-sacrifice” as enlightened, virtuous behavior, but it’s really an empty, self-destructive path. In fact, that’s why Christ took on human flesh–to save us and to show us a better way.

Our ultimate happiness entails giving of ourselves to God and others in imitation of Christ. Sure, we give gifts as signs of our love for others. Of course, we hang lights to celebrate Christ as the light of the world. But we ought not confound the signs with the realities they signify–that’s exactly what the Grinches want us to do.

How we reflect the glory of Christmas in our external celebrations is important, because we’re material, social beings. But woe to us if in the process of exchanging gifts this Christmas we fail to recognize the presence of the Giver of all gifts, who so loved us that He sent His Son to be our Redeemer.

May we bear witness to this reality and in the process melt the hearts of Grinches everywhere.

This article has appeared in various print and electronic media in recent years, but is reprinted here because of its timely and timeless message.

Discussion starters:

(1) How do I celebrate Christmas? What traditions are most meaningful to me?

(2) What external symbols of Christmas are most compelling to me? Are there any that I don”t understand?

(3) Am I a Grinch? If so, how? What can I do to deepen my appreciation of the true meaning of Christmas?