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Saturday Song – Kateri Tekawitha edition

Not a song today, but a trailer for a DVD (that looks quite interesting!) for a film about Kateri Tekawitha.

Today is the feast day for Blessed Kateri, soon to be Saint Kateri. She is a local saint for us and what great joy it is to see her cause progress as it has. Let us also pray for the newly merged parish of Blessed Kateri. The former St. Helen’s in Niskayuna and the former Our Lady of Fatima in Schenectady, are now merged as Blessed Kateri, under the pastoral leadership of Father Bob Longobucco.


Saturday Song – With an apology!

It is Easter season – a season that lasts 50 days! We are celebrating Easter until Pentecost, not just one day  – an entire season! We have our alleluias back, so I thought that would make a good Saturday song.

I apologize for such light blogging… things have been so busy and I just can’t keep it all up. Thanks for your support, even in times of fewer postings. Once Father Jerry gets back, we should get back to normal.



Ideas Before Lent by Sean Caron

Ideas before Lent by Sean Caron

Most of us are aware that times of penance, prayer and fasting are part of most of the world’s great religions. Very early in the history of Christianity, the custom of fasting and penance was adopted to prepare for the solemn commemoration of the Lord’s Passion, death and resurrection. The Church adopted as its model the 40 days of fasting of Our Lord’s period in the desert at the very beginning of His ministry.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, with its solemn reminder “Man/Woman remember you are dust, and to dust you will return”. It then lasts for 6 weeks, culminating in Holy Week with the celebrations of Palm (Passion) Sunday, and the great Sacred Triduum: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Vigil of Easter.

If you take this time to deepen your relationship in Christ, by prayer and fasting, you will be surprised. At Easter, you will want to shout joyfully, “Christ is risen!” At least a bit of the joy of Mary and the apostles will be yours on the day of the Resurrection.

In preparing for Lent this year, I have thought a lot about what Lent means to me, and what it means to sacrifice. I wrote these notes primarily for myself as a set of reminders about the season and my response to it. I hope at least some of them are useful to you as you think about this holy season. Much of what is here is suggested (and even outright plagiarized) from a wonderful priest, Father John Riccardo, a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit. You can read his many articles, and get podcasts of his talks and sermons, at this link.

The purpose of Lent

• Remember always the purpose of Lent – to emerge from Lent at Easter more like Christ! Everything – all you give up, all new things you might take on – should be oriented to that goal alone. The point is not to lose weight, not to look good before other people because you are attending stations or daily mass, not to break a bad habit.

• To the degree that we have grown in our love for the Lord with all our heart, mind and strength, and to the degree that we have grown in our love for our neighbor as ourselves, we can measure the fruitfulness of Lent for us.

Our response to the challenge of Lent

• Do prepare for Lent ahead of time. Consider the sacrifices you select carefully. If you have traditionally made the same sacrifices, consider doing something different this year. Don’t let your response to Lent become a rote reaction.

• The Church traditionally gives us three helps to grow like Jesus. They can be found in St. Matthews Gospel, in Chapter 6, which is the second half of the Sermon on the Mount. Prayer (“when you pray…”), fasting (“when you fast…”), almsgiving (“when you give alms…”) Notice that in all three cases, Jesus says “when”, not “if” …

• Some of our Lenten sacrifices should be for someone else – an offering of penance for a specific person or persons. Fasting is a hidden act of love. The people we fast for typically never know. Yet, fasting is “heavy artillery” in spiritual warfare (see the Gospel of St. Mark, 9:29). It has the effect of eroding resistance to the grace of God. When you are tempted to break a fast, remember the person you are fasting for. Thus the fast is not just (or even primarily) about you. Pray for them, and trust that these “hidden acts of love” will bear an impact on that person.

Remember St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians 1:24: Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s suffering for the sake of his body, that is, the church This is possibly the most difficult passage in Scripture. What could be lacking in Christ’s suffering? Nothing – except my participation in it! Christ wants us to be involved with him in the work of redemption. What are you willing to do for your neighbor?

• Some of our Lenten sacrifices should be for ourselves as an expression of sorrow and remorse for our sins. A sacrifice that is a daily reminder that God has redeemed us at a tremendous price. Father Augustine Di Noia says – “If the Cross is our remedy – (think of The Passion of the Christ, if you have seen it) – if our remedy is God so brutally injured that He is almost not recognizable as human – then how great is our wound? The Cross and the Passion of the Lord tell us that sin is far more serious than we ever feared to imagine.”

• Do realize – there is tremendous grace “in the air” at this time of year. I have often tried to make sacrifices or penances at other times of the year only to fail badly. Actual grace is everywhere in lent. • Strongly consider adding silence to your list of prayer and sacrifice– in the car, or for a period of time in church or at home – try to have some silence to listen for God everyday.

• Consider having a dedicated prayer time. o Not prayer in time spent doing other things (eg. driving, watching TV, working, etc). This doesn’t mean not to pray during these times! but it does mean to have other time set aside specifically for prayer. o This time should be defined – say 30 minutes, given to the Lord. o It should optimally be at the same time every day, if possible. o It’s a good idea to have a specific place to pray – a place in your house, a specific chair – which you only use for prayer. When you are there, you are praying …

• Consider making a commitment to learn more about the Divine Mercy during Lent, and especially about the promises of Our Lord on Divine Mercy Sunday (the second Sunday of Easter – ie, the Sunday after Easter Sunday). For more information, see http://www.thedivinemercy.org

• The moment the sacrifices you make cause you to start acting like a jerk (for me this is a result of giving up caffeine!) – give up that sacrifice! It’s not making you more like Christ! You are not acting in charity. Lent is not about “mind-control” or “seeing what you can do”. It is about growing in love. Be Joyful! Remember the Sermon on the Mount. •

Don’t be afraid to fail – and don’t let failure deter you! Many people fail in their promises and then just give up. Don’t just give up. But do consider *why* you failed prayerfully. God may be telling you to try again. Or He may be saying that you are not yet ready for a sacrifice or commitment this great. Accepting this takes humility – but remember the goal! Being more humble will definitely make you more like Christ at the end of Lent. Try working on something smaller.

So What Happened Next – An After Christmas Story by Sean Caron

**Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa – Sean sent this to me 3 days ago and I thought I had published it, but I had not. My apologies in the delay! Do not delay in reading Sean’s fine work!** – editor

In A Gospel of Christmas according to St Luke I talked about the period from the Annunciation to Mary through the birth of Our Lord in the stable of Bethlehem, and the arrival of the boisterous shepherds. As my friend Fran Rossi Szpylczyn reminded us in her Christmas blog post Dependent Small and Powerless , Jesus, tho certainly still God, was completely dependent on His earthly caregivers for protection and care.

And the first item of that care was an important one. As the Gospel of Luke reminds us,

at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

One line. But how much is behind that! In one act, Jesus, who is the Law Giver, is placed under the Law. He who presented the Law to Moses on Sinai is now subject to it! And, in becoming subject to it is shed the first of His blood for a sinful world. He receives the Holy Name given to Him by Gabriel, “Jesus” – which in Hebrew means “God Saves”. It is a name, and it is also Him. It is a sign, that effects what it signifies. In modern times we celebrate the Feast of Mary the Mother of God on that eight day, which is New Years Day. But in the past, that feast was also rightly called the Feast of the Circumcision, and the Feast of the Holy Name.

Now we must talk of Herod. Herod the Great was the Roman-installed (and maintained) King of Judea. He was not a Hebrew, but rather an Edomite, one of the descendants of Esau, brother of Jacob – a traditional enemy of the Jewish people. As such, he was proud of the title “King of the Jews” – given to him by the Roman Senate. And very jealous of that title. He is called “the Great” primarily for the extensive building campaign he completed during his reign – no one who knew him or had to live with or near him would ever call him “great” because of his actions. He was insanely jealous of his title and position, and killed all who got near that power – including his wife and his own sons.

And Herod was beginning to be concerned. First, there was a wild tale of an old temple priest, performing his duties in the Holy of Holies, who had reportedly conversed with an angel of God and was struck deaf and dumb. Then this same old man had reportedly fathered a child, and recovered his speech, setting the hill country of Judea ablaze with rumors. He had attempted to capture the man and his son, but the son had been taken directly into the desert after his birth, and had eluded his spies.

Then the news from Bethlehem – a new, bright star over the town, and more angels! There had been no angels, no prophets, no divine communication in Judea for nearly five hundred years! And worse yet was the message – a King and Savior! This was a direct threat to his power.

Next, news from the Temple itself – his Temple, into which he had poured the wealth of his kingdom. Spies there had reported that two old prophets had declared that a child – was to be “The downfall and rise of many in Jerusalem”!

And lastly, the appearance of visitors from the East in his court – specifically looking for “the new born King of the Jews” – his very title! And even these visitors had given him the slip – not returning with the information he desperately needed to stamp out this threat.

Ever a man of direct and violent action, Herod orders the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, in one last-ditch effort to remove the threat. All children under the age of two are put to the sword in Bethlehem. But as we know, Herod is unsuccessful. Once more an angel comes to Joseph in a dream, and the Boy and His Mother are taken away from danger, into Egypt.

There is an interesting post-script to the story. Shortly after this, Herod dies – a particularly horrible death. He is buried in a large, opulent tomb. In 2007, Israeli archeologists discovered this tomb, right where the first century historian Josephus said it was. And from this tomb, across the valley about five miles away, is clearly visible the Church of the Nativity, which covers the Cave of Bethlehem.

Gloria in excelis Deo! A Christmas Guest Post by Sean Caron

Gloria in excelsis Deo!

It was a high, round hill where they slept. It had stood there for almost a million years – ever since that part of the world had been formed. Its crown of grass was cropped short by the repeated grazings of their flocks.

They lay in a rough circle around the remains of their dying campfire – crude, home-made bows and slingshots lay by their sides, with a few strategically placed cairns of fist-sized rocks. Nothing discouraged the wild-dogs preying on the flock like a well-hurled rock to the ribs. Each of them had a  place to hide away these weapons when the Roman soldiers came up their hill, looking to steal from them a mutton dinner, still on the hoof.

Far below, on the Jerusalem road, lay Bethlehem, the Town of Bread. Usually a quiet, sleepy place, tonight it had been loud and raucous, stuffed to overflowing by travelers. All through their lower grazing lands in by the town, fires twinkled from hastily assembled campsites.

This was a cold, clear night – the coldest of the winter season so far. A new, incredibly bright star hung in the sky over the town. It shone with a blueish light bright enough to cast a slight shadow when they moved away from their campfire on their rounds around the flock. Continue reading

A Gospel of Christmas According to St. Luke – A Guest Post by Sean Caron

So Advent has been here for its short while, and this coming Sunday will find all the candles lit on the giant Advent Wreath we have at IC Glenville. Which means I think the time has come to speak about St. Luke (anyway, I managed to convince iTunes to cough up my Christmas playlist and have been bombarding my Facebook account with links and lyrics to my favorites – so its time to write about Christmas).

One of the classes I have taught a few times for RCIA is on the Mystery of the Incarnation; in teaching it I have been struck with several things from the Gospel of St. Luke that never fail to impress me at this time of the year.

For me, the Christmas story always begins in March – at the Feast of the Annunciation. Our Blessed Mother is approached by the Angel Gabriel (“in the sixth month” – bonus prizes if anyone can leave me a comment on what that refers to). Mary has this fantastic choice to make about her ability to trust in God. I prefer to believe that the Incarnation of the Son was not only the work of God (the Father), of His Power and His Spirit: it was also accomplished thru the will and the faith of the Virgin.

This then was indeed the most momentous moment of all time. It was as if all creation held its’ breath and waited on Mary’s response. St Bernard of Clairvaux speaks about it:

“Answer, O Virgin, answer the angel speedily; rather, through the angel, answer your Lord. Speak the word, and receive the Word; offer what is yours, and conceive what is of God; give what is temporal, and embrace what is eternal.”

To her eternal credit Mary uttered her great act of faith: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to your Word.” Mary entrusted herself completely to God and totally accepted God’s design in her life. Truly, she, “Gave what was temporal and embraced what is eternal.”

But now she has a large problem. She is an unwed, pregnant young women in first century Galilee. Certainly she will not be believed if she tells the circumstances of this miraculous Conception. The Gospel makes no mention of her parents – they may even be dead by this time. How can she reveal what she has been told? What she has agreed to? The penalty for unwed pregnancy at that time was stoning.

Gabriel gives her the answer: “You remember your kinswoman, Elizabeth. The fine, upstanding old women. She is pregnant, who was called barren.”

It is not hard to picture: she hurries to the hill country of Judea, as fast as her feet can carry her; the whole way, imagining how she will tell this news to the old woman – perhaps rehersing the strange, incredible news in her head (don’t you do that when you have “big news”? I certainly do).

And what happens? Luke tells us:

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.

She knows! She doesn’t have to be told, to be convinced … miracle of miracles, she knows! What relief must our Blessed Mother have felt? She expresses this in her Magnificat:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior, … He has done mighty things for me, and holy is His name!”

Mary stays with Elizabeth until John is born, then returns to her home. But what now of Joseph? St. Matthew tells us that an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, and tells him, “Do not fear to take Mary into your household.” Fear? Would Joseph fear Mary? Wouldn’t hurt or anger be the more natural reactions? I think Joseph was a little afraid of this young girl – who was plainly very holy. I think he may have been afraid to upset the plans that God had for her.

This leads us to the Great Enrollment, and the trip to Bethlehem and the Nativity,

Mothers, imagine the fear, the stress – you are 16 – you have seen and conversed with an Angel! Your most precious child – also happens to be the Son of God – the promised Messiah destined to sit on throne of his father David. You have been consecrated to God since your birth, and know well what this means, and what it will mean for your child. You know that the child will be born on this trip – the Messiah must come from Bethlehem (as prophesied in the Book of Micah) and you know this well.

Imagine their joy at finally ariving in Bethlehem – she must have been exhausted – only to find no place to rest. How many doors did Joseph knock on before settling on the cave? – Explaining, again and again with growing anxiety; Mary standing behind him, hearing the refusals? How sorry she must have felt for him!

Pehaps is was her idea to take shelter where they could find it. She probably encouraged him, telling him not to worry, that they would make do. So they made their lodging in the stable, with the few belongings they had been able to carry from Nazareth: the swaddling clothes, some items that she herself prepared with that joy only a mother can experience in preparing for the birth of a child. What must that place have been like? – Cold and damp – Imagine the smells of the animals, of the hay in the manger…

Fathers, imagine the stress – an angel (Gabriel?) has told you the truth about this child in a dream. You love Mary – and you have to take her to a stable to bear this holy child. I was in full fledged panic in the heart of Albany Medical Center when my children were born! About one in ten women in first century Palestine died in childbirth. The child might have supernatural guarantees – you are not sure of that. But Mary, as far as you know, has no guarantees. You have no help, no light, no “boiling water”.

What happens next is not recorded. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church have debated how the actual Birth of Christ happened for many centuries. The only definitive doctrine here is the Perpetual Virginity of Mary – that Our Blessed Mother remained a virgin “before, during, and after the birth of her only Son”.

But this birth does not go un-noticed, or unheralded. Angels appear to the shepherds in the fields. Shepherds in those days were considered rough and ignorant “people of the land” – the modern equivalent of how a New Yorker might feel about a country bumpkin. But Oh! do they turn up to see this miracle, proclaiming loudly as they come what they had seen and heard in the field about a newborn King and Lord.

Which is also a big, big problem. The whole town will turn out to see this. And sitting on his throne a mere seven miles away in Jerusalem is that malevolent spider, Herod the Great. Herod will brook no-one else bearing the title “King”, or “Lord”. They must get the Child out of the cave and away from the commotion raised by the shepherds.

There is much to say about this – about the Circumcision of the Lord, His Presentation and Epiphany, and the Holy Innocents – but that will need to wait until the next post.

Feast of the Immaculate Conception – A Guest Post by Sean Caron for December 8, 2011

I was driving with a Protestant friend of mine the other day, and he asked me about our parish at Immaculate Conception.

“Oh, the Immaculate Conception, hey?”, he said, ” … that is when the Angel Gabriel came to Mary and she conceived Jesus.”

“No, no,” I said. “The Immaculate Conception refers to the great truth that Our Lady was conceived in her mother St. Anne’s womb without the stain of Original Sin.”

“But, doesn’t St. Paul say in the letter to the Romans that all men have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God?” (Rom 3:23).

“Right!”, I said. “And also, Our Lady herself said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.'” (Luke 1:46)

So if these bible quotes are true, and all people fall to sin and Our Blessed Lady herself talks of her Savior, how could it be that Pope Gregory XVI declared infallibly* that Our Lady was immaculately conceived?

This is a serious, serious problem – it tripped up many of the great thinkers of the Church throughout the ages, including St. Bernard of Clairvaux (founder of the Cistercian Order), St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Bonaventure; Doctors of the Church all.

It fell to Blessed John Duns Scotus, OFM, to puzzle out the answer. According to Duns Scotus, the answer to the riddle is that Our Blessed Mother in fact did need redeeming as per Romans; did need a Savior, as per Luke. But, in her case, the method of redemption was different. Duns Scotus realized that Our Lady was saved prior to her Immaculate Conception.

A story I heard one time might help illustrate this. Picture yourself walking down a jungle path. Ahead of you is a bottomless pit – but it is covered with vines and leaves and is invisible. You take a step – and fall headlong into the pit, screaming “AHHHHHH!” and calling out, “Jesus, save me!”. And Our Lord does that – He reaches out, grabs your arm, and pulls you from the pit and sets you down on firm ground. You have been saved.

Now imagine our Blessed Mother on that same path. Her foot reaches out as she steps over the pit – and Our Lord pulls her back, and keeps her from falling. He has saved her.

Is there any significant way in which the saving act is any different? No! In each case Our Lord performed a saving Act that preserved the person from the depths of the pit. Except in Our Lady’s case she doesn’t fall – she doesn’t get muddy or torn up by her fall as we all do. To stretch the metaphor a little, she doesn’t experience the after-effects of the fall, which tend to lead to more mud, more scratches, more torn white garments for us – what the Church calls concupiscence.

This truth is a Doctrine of the Faith – a Truth that all Catholics are obliged to believe. And I don’t find it hard to believe at all. Could Jesus do something like that? Sure he could! All power under Heaven and Earth has been granted to Him. And, of course, He is not subject to time in the way we are. As God, there is no reason to suppose he could not have been present at His own Mother’s conception. And finally, it just makes sense. What son doesn’t love his mother? And wouldn’t do something special for her, if he could? I know I would. We can be sure, with the sureness of Holy Faith, that Jesus did.

*It’s important to note that while Ineffabilis Deus declared this doctrine officially in 1854, Catholics have been celebrating the Feast of the Immaculate Conception since at least the 5th century, and that this truth has been known since apostolic times. So why do Popes (and Councils) write Catechisms and Professions of Faith and papal encyclicals on things Catholics have always believed? Good Question! and one I’ll write a post on later.

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