Thursday, December 25, 2008

Pope Benedict's Christmas Day Message to "ALL"

Each year on Christmas Day, the Pope usually issues a major address to the world. It's officially called the "Urbi et orbi" address, Latin for "To the City and to the World." Today's address is Benedict's meditation on the state of the world today, and he shows an incredible insight into the difficult times we all face today, but his message is ultimately one filled with hope. He especially urges us ALL to work together to face the future.

The official English-language translation of the text follows:

"The grace of God our Saviour has appeared to all" (Tit 2:11, Vulg.)

Dear brothers and sisters, in the words of the Apostle Paul, I once more joyfully proclaim Christ’s Birth. Today "the grace of God our Saviour" has truly "appeared to all"!

It appeared! This is what the Church celebrates today. The grace of God, rich in goodness and love, is no longer hidden. It "appeared", it was manifested in the flesh, it showed its face. Where? In Bethlehem. When? Under Caesar Augustus, during the first census, which the Evangelist Luke also mentions. And who is the One who reveals it? A newborn Child, the Son of the Virgin Mary. In him the grace of God our Saviour has appeared. And so that Child is called Jehoshua, Jesus, which means: "God saves".

The grace of God has appeared. That is why Christmas is a feast of light. Not like the full daylight which illumines everything, but a glimmer beginning in the night and spreading out from a precise point in the universe: from the stable of Bethlehem, where the divine Child was born. Indeed, he is the light itself, which begins to radiate, as portrayed in so many paintings of the Nativity. He is the light whose appearance breaks through the gloom, dispels the darkness and enables us to understand the meaning and the value of our own lives and of all history. Every Christmas crib is a simple yet eloquent invitation to open our hearts and minds to the mystery of life. It is an encounter with the immortal Life which became mortal in the mystic scene of the Nativity: a scene which we can admire here too, in this Square, as in countless churches and chapels throughout the world, and in every house where the name of Jesus is adored.

The grace of God has appeared to all. Jesus – the face of the "God who saves", did not show himself only for a certain few, but for everyone. Although it is true that in the simple and lowly dwelling of Bethlehem few persons encountered him, still he came for all: Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, those near and those far away, believers and non-believers… for everyone. Supernatural grace, by God’s will, is meant for every creature. Yet each human person needs to accept that grace, to utter his or her own "yes", like Mary, so that his or her heart can be illumined by a ray of that divine light. It was Mary and Joseph, who that night welcomed the incarnate Word, awaiting it with love, along with the shepherds who kept watch over their flocks (cf. Lk 2:1-20). A small community, in other words, which made haste to adore the Child Jesus; a tiny community which represents the Church and all people of good will. Today too those who await him, who seek him in their lives, encounter the God who out of love became our brother – all those who turn their hearts to him, who yearn to see his face and to contribute to the coming of his Kingdom. Jesus himself would say this in his preaching: these are the poor in spirit; those who mourn, the meek, those who thirst for justice; the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, and those persecuted for righteousness’ sake (cf. Mt 5:3-10). They are the ones who see in Jesus the face of God and then set out again, like the shepherds of Bethlehem, renewed in heart by the joy of his love.

Brothers and sisters, all you who are listening to my words: this proclamation of hope – the heart of the Christmas message – is meant for all men and women. Jesus was born for everyone, and just as Mary, in Bethlehem, offered him to the shepherds, so on this day the Church presents him to all humanity, so that each person and every human situation may come to know the power of God’s saving grace, which alone can transform evil into good, which alone can change human hearts, making them oases of peace.

May the many people who continue to dwell in darkness and the shadow of death (cf. Lk 1:79) come to know the power of God’s saving grace! May the divine Light of Bethlehem radiate throughout the Holy Land, where the horizon seems once again bleak for Israelis and Palestinians. May it spread throughout Lebanon, Iraq and the whole Middle East. May it bring forth rich fruit from the efforts of all those who, rather than resigning themselves to the twisted logic of conflict and violence, prefer instead the path of dialogue and negotiation as the means of resolving tensions within each country and finding just and lasting solutions to the conflicts troubling the region. This light, which brings transformation and renewal, is besought by the people of Zimbabwe, in Africa, trapped for all too long in a political and social crisis which, sadly, keeps worsening, as well as the men and women of the Democratic Republic of Congo, especially in the war-torn region of Kivu, Darfur, in Sudan, and Somalia, whose interminable sufferings are the tragic consequence of the lack of stability and peace. This light is awaited especially by the children living in those countries, and the children of all countries experiencing troubles, so that their future can once more be filled with hope.

Wherever the dignity and rights of the human person are trampled upon; wherever the selfishness of individuals and groups prevails over the common good; wherever fratricidal hatred and the exploitation of man by man risk being taken for granted; wherever internecine conflicts divide ethnic and social groups and disrupt peaceful coexistence; wherever terrorism continues to strike; wherever the basics needed for survival are lacking; wherever an increasingly uncertain future is regarded with apprehension, even in affluent nations: in each of these places may the Light of Christmas shine forth and encourage all people to do their part in a spirit of authentic solidarity. If people look only to their own interests, our world will certainly fall apart.

Dear brothers and sisters, today, "the grace of God our Saviour has appeared" (cf. Tit 2:11) in this world of ours, with all its potential and its frailty, its advances and crises, its hopes and travails. Today, there shines forth the light of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Most High and the son of the Virgin Mary: "God from God, light from light, true God from true God. For us men, and for our salvation, he came down from heaven". Let us adore him, this very day, in every corner of the world, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a lowly manger. Let us adore him in silence, while he, still a mere infant, seems to comfort us by saying: Do not be afraid, "I am God, and there is no other" (Is 45:22). Come to me, men and women, peoples and nations, come to me. Do not be afraid: I have come to bring you the love of the Father, and to show you the way of peace.

Let us go, then, brothers and sisters! Let us make haste, like the shepherds on that Bethlehem night. God has come to meet us; he has shown us his face, full of grace and mercy! May his coming to us not be in vain! Let us seek Jesus, let us be drawn to his light which dispels sadness and fear from every human heart. Let us draw near to him with confidence, and bow down in humility to adore him. Merry Christmas to all!

PHOTO: AP/Alessandra Tarantino

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Why no Mass at Midnight?

There's been a small change at St. Anselm this year. We'll celebrate our Mass at Night on Christmas Eve at 10:00 p.m. instead of Midnight.

I've gotten lots of great positive comments about this move. Our musicians and other liturgical ministers have been most enthusiastic about this decision. It seems that previously, singing and ministering at the Mass at Midnight was a huge inconvenience, and hurt their celebration of the Nativity of the Lord.

Realizing that it's most unrealistic to expect a Midnight Mass in a suburban parish with only one priest, we've gone to a more manageable schedule...that won't kill anyone....clergy or musicians, or other liturgical ministers.

I'm sure there will be many people who will interpret this move as "another example of going backwards." Not so. Pay no attention to those "prophets of doom."

I think this is a move forward, and being more realistic, and more sensitive to the real nature of our parishioners, many of whom are elderly. I think it's also more family-friendly. I also think it's more sensitive to the fact that more people want to celebrate Christmas with a Christmas Eve liturgy so that they can focus Christmas Day on their family celebrations.

Come to Mass, and pray well. Sing the liturgy, and join in the prayers, the wonderful Words of the Gospel, and join in the fellowship of the people who have been renewed, redeemed, and envigorated in living the Gospel of the Lord, who came to live with us always, as "God with us," Emmanuel! Come Lord Jesus.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Gaudete Monday

Let's share the joy of these last days before Christmas. Let's share favorite pieces of music, favorite images of the season, and favorite readings and pieces of literature!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My favorite video for this time of year

This is my favorite video for this time of year. It features an "a capella" group called, Straight, No Chaser.

Good news! They've reunited after ten years, and they've been signed by Atlantic Records to do a new Christmas CD. I, for one, am going out to the stores tonight to buy it.

Enjoy this fun romp through one of the most beloved Christmas songs.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

John, the Forerunner

Thanks to our friends over at The Deacon's Bench:

This Sunday, after a week of turkey sandwiches, turkey casserole, turkey a la king, turkey burgers, turkey pot pie and turkey surprise… locusts and honey is starting to sound pretty good.

We are here in the second Sunday of Advent – in the desert, with a strange and disheveled figure dining on strange food and proclaiming that we need to make ourselves ready for the Lord.

We tend to think of John the Baptist as The Voice – the forerunner, the prophet, the one crying in the wilderness.

And he is.

But I’d like us to think of him another way this particular Sunday. This man is a figure of great hope. More than an ominous, fearsome figure, he is also, to my mind, the Saint of Second Chances.

He wanders into the desert of our lives and invites us to start over.

Appropriately, we are entering into a liturgical cycle where we will be reading the gospel of Mark – the gospel most scholars believe was the very first one written. And we start with the same words that start the book of Genesis:

“The beginning.”

And the message from the beginning? Make yourselves new. Begin again. Something is about to happen that will change everything. This is your chance at a fresh start, to make things right with God.

That is John the Baptist’s message – the message of the Saint of Second Chances.

And like second chances, he doesn’t necessarily appear when or how we expect him to. This preacher isn’t Joel Osteen in a silk suit and an air-conditioned arena. John the Baptist is rough and wild and frightening, yelling in the desert.

But then again, God doesn’t always enter into our lives when or how we want him to.

The other day I read the story of a 16-year-old Korean boy named Philip Kim. During the Korean War, he was one of many boys rounded by and arrested for refusing to join the People’s Volunteer Army of North Korea. They took him to prison and were going to execute him. Philip Kim stood there, lined up with other boys, facing a wall, and he closed his eyes, waiting for the gunshot that would end his life.

But at the last minute, an officer yelled for them to stop. The soldier noticed that one of the other boys lined up against the wall was holding a rosary, and was praying. The execution was called off. The boys were spared.

That moment changed everything. Philip wasn’t a Christian. But he never forgot what happened, what had saved his life. Not long after, he converted, and came to America. He married, raised a family, became active in his local Catholic church. He settled in San Antonio, Texas, where he opened his home to other Korean immigrants to hold mass. Those masses led him to help found the first Korean Catholic church in San Antonio.

His love for the church led him eventually to being ordained a deacon. Several years later, his wife died after a long battle with breast cancer. Before she died, she gave Philip her blessing to become a priest. And he did. He was ordained at the age of 72. Last week, tragically, Fr. Philip Kim died in a car accident. He was 76.

He owed his remarkable life to a second chance nearly 60 years ago. And he didn’t let it get away. He made his life matter.

What about the rest of us?

During this season of Advent, John the Baptist calls out to us, imploring us. You have another chance, he tells us. Seize it. Repent. Prepare. To paraphrase Isaiah: level the mountains and fill in the valleys. Make what is crooked straight.

Like that boy facing a wall, and facing death…we can start over.

So, think of those mountains and valleys, those winding roads that cut through every life. And think of the wild and untamed man in the desert. He tells us it’s not too late to change.

He is the saint of “I’m sorry. Let’s talk.”

He is the saint of “Where did I go wrong?” and “How can I make this right?”

He is the saint of “I’m addicted and I need help.”

He is the saint of “Bless me, father, for I have sinned…”

He is the saint of the slammed door being re-opened…the phone being picked up…the fences being mended…the wound being healed.

Last week, we began not just the season of Advent, but a new liturgical year. So consider this a time for making New Year’s resolutions. For resolving to live differently. Resolving to make room for God.

Listen to the Saint of Second Chances – and take hold of every one that comes your way.

The dark days of December, after all, are not an ending.

As Mark reminds us, they are “the beginning.”

Friday, December 5, 2008

St. Nicholas Day

Tomorrow, the 6th of December, is the Feast of St. Nicholas. Here are some prayers:

hear our prayers for mercy,
and by the help of Saint Nicholas
keep us safe from all danger,
and guide us on the way of salvation.

Grant this through our Lord Jeus Christ,
your Son, who lives and reigns with you
for ever and ever.

S. Nicholas, pray for us.

St. Nicholas Parish, Plumstead, UK

Almighty God,
who in your love gave to your servant Nicholas of Myra
a perpetual name for deeds of kindness on land and sea:
Grant, we pray,
that your Church may never cease to
work for the happiness of children,
the safety of sailors,
the relief of the poor,
and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Contemporary Eastern Orthodox

Advent Sights and Sounds

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Monday, December 1, 2008

World AIDS Day

Today, December 1 is World AIDS Day. Here on the Jersey Shore, we will commemorate this day with a prayer service at the Center in Asbury Park at 6:30 p.m., followed by a candlelight march to a nearby church.

Please join us in honoring the memory of all who have suffered from AIDS.