Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Silence in Snow and Shadow

The morning after our first snowstorm, I ventured out in my 4x4 to the local park. For a time I was the only person in the park. God and me, the trees, the wind, the snow. The wind was blowing forty to fifty miles an hour, whipping up the snow into amazing twisters and rushing clouds. I took out my camera and began shooting. This shot reminds me of the Thomas Merton black and whites. I think it speaks of silence. Thomas Merton said “And because of the peacefulness of the snow, I imagined that my new ideas were breeding within me an interior peace."

The snow is a sign of peace, a peace that can only come from Another.

Snow and Shadow©bjm

"Choose Life" License Plates get Green Light in New Jersey

I grabbed this article out of the Newark Catholic Advocate. This is very good news - and a wonderful way to express our "Pro-Life" attitude!

Advocacy plates get green light to display ‘Life’ message in NJ

Managing Editor

AREA - "we did it!"

That was the reaction of an exuberant Elizabeth Rex, Ph.D., president of The Children First Foundation (CFF) to approval Dec. 8 by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (NJMVC) of “Choose Life” license plates.

New Jersey is the 26th state to approve the specialty plates. It joins Massachusetts, Delaware and North Dakota in doing so this year. CFF first began seeking approval of the plates in the Garden State in 2002.

Last summer Rex declared prophetically “we’re getting closer, we’ll never give up”
(see The Catholic Advocate, July 14). She described CFF at the time as an organization that actively promotes and supports adoption as “a positive choice” for women facing unwanted pregnancies.

Rex, who is Catholic, and her husband, Charles, founded CFF almost a decade ago. They are the adoptive parents of two children who joined the family after their first child was born. CFF is the official sponsor of the “Choose Life” plates. The group’s tri-state headquarters is in Eastchester, NY.

“The ‘Choose Life’ license plate program is so much more than a ‘traveling billboard’ to promote adoption and safe haven programs in the Garden State and raise awareness about the positive,” Archbishop John J. Myers, a staunch supporter of the CFF effort, said. “At this particular time in New Jersey’s economic history, such a private/public partnership is truly welcome and truly needed. As women in crisis face the challenge of bearing and raising a child in difficult times, the ‘Choose Life’ license plate program can help offer them a viable and life-sustaining alternative for them and their unborn or newborn children.”

Rex expressed gratitude for the solid backing of both Archbishop Myers and the Trenton-based New Jersey Catholic Conference. She cited too the attorneys of the Alliance Defense Fund headquartered in Washington, D.C.

“Choose Life” license plates are not available through NJMVC offices but rather must be ordered through CFF. That can be done by calling (888) 652-4667 (888-NJChooseLife) or by visiting the group’s Web site (

Funding for the “Choose Life” plates comes primarily from the annual $25 tax-deductible CFF membership donation. Locally $20 is earmarked for 66 pregnancy resource centers, maternity homes and non-profit safe haven programs throughout New Jersey. The remaining $5 is used to cover administrative costs and legal expenses. Since 2000, according to CFF, over $13 million has been raised to help pregnant women “choose life.”

A setback in the eight year struggle to get the plates on New Jersey roads occurred several years ago when the “Choose Life” plate had reached the manufacturing phase when it was abruptly rejected by lawmakers in Trenton. That promoted a CFF federal lawsuit in 2004. CFF was told at the time, Rex explained, that slogans and advocacy messages cannot be put on the state’s license plates. She saw Trenton’s thumbs down at the time as “government censorship and discrimination.”

The latest round on the legal front came last spring when CFF’s federal lawsuit was revived by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. A three judge panel reinstated the case on the grounds that the state’s decision may have amounted to “viewpoint discrimination.”

Monday, December 27, 2010

First Snow in New Jersey !

I shot this image of my street a few minutes ago. We had a heck of a snowstorm here in New Jersey - snow fell throughout the night into the morning - with hurricane force wind. Some areas received almost thirty inches.

If you don't have to travel, a snowstorm is the perfect opportunity to stay home - to pray, to read, - have a nice cup of hot chocolate. In my case, I get some needed time to complete my Canon Law homework.

Here is a wonderful and appropriate poem by Robert Frost, "A Dust of Snow"...

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Saviour Has Been Born To Us

The hour approaches
The time is so near
He comes into the world
A Child so dear

His mother is young
She is virtuous and graced
Her husband a devout man
Doesn't know what He'll face

The rise and fall of many
Depend upon this Child
Subject to His Mother
He is tender and mild

Lo comes the star
Foretelling of His birth
The salvation of the world
What one Life is worth

To look upon Baby Jesus
Is to see that Heaven is real
The profoundness of this moment
The heart can not conceal

True joy is not pleasure
Or any earthly delight
True joy came into the world
That one holy night

Did His mother know
All that He would do
Through the tree of the cross
He would make the world anew

Because of this beautiful Babe
Full of truth and divinity
I have great hope and love
That I may see Him in eternity

Please dearest Baby Jesus
Come deep within my heart
Remain with me all days
Let us never be apart

Help me Baby Jesus
To love Thee evermore
Help me follow Thee
For the Cross let me adore

In the end dear Baby Jesus
Come for me and never let me go
Let me stay with Thee Baby Jesus
My heart with love aglow

Teach me Baby Jesus
The meekness of Thy ways
Let me love Thee always
For the rest of all my days

composed by Illinoisan Susan E. Gorski

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On the road to Christmas

We are almost there. Have we seen Jesus in the in-between times - in the every day - in our brothers and sisters? Let us ask God for this grace to see Jesus in the faces of all our neighbors.

Gift of Wonder by Rev. Alfred McBride

"Each year, God asks us to shed one more coat of awareness, one more dream state and come alive to the vision of God’s plan for each of us and the world-at-large.

"The older we get, the harder this is to do. As children we had a sense of wonder. Our eyes were wide open and drinking in the fascinating gifts we beheld…Our thirsty souls could not have enough of the wonders of creation.

"Then, somehow, we grew too old to dream. We tired of the abundance of the world, or at least grew weary of keeping up with the feast of life, and stepped away from the banquet of life.

"The natural gift of wonder God gave us as children was meant to be kept alive.…Instead we let wonder go to sleep. We entered the typical dream state of most humans.

"Why else does Jesus tell us today, ‘Stay awake!’…Advent says, ‘Wake up and realize the gifts of love you have received.’

"…Psychology says, ‘Let go.’ Spirituality says, ‘Wake up.’ In both cases there is a withdrawal from the busyness of daily life (our dream state) and a waking up to the subconscious and spiritual depths of ourselves."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bishop Tobin's Letter

Thomas J. Tobin, Bishop of Providence Rhode Island, has written an important letter, reaching out to fallen-away Catholics. I think we all know friends and family members who have fallen away. This letter would be good for them to read. I urge you to copy it and send it out! Hope you are all enjoying this blessed Advent season.

Bishop Thomas Tobin Sends 'An Open Letter to Inactive Catholics'

My dear Brother or Sister: In the spirit of the Advent and Christmas Season, and as the Diocese of Providence nears the end of its "Year of Evangelization," I'm writing this letter to inactive Catholics of our Diocese - perhaps you're in that category - to let you know that we miss you, we love you and we want you to come home to the Church.

The first dilemma I faced in writing this letter was how to describe you - an "inactive Catholic," a "fallen-away Catholic" or a "former-Catholic." I chose the first option.

I decided against "fallen-away Catholic" for it suggests someone falling off a fence or out of a tree. The image isn't helpful.

And there's really no such thing as a "former Catholic." If you were baptized a Catholic, you're a Catholic for life - even if you haven't been to Mass for years, even if you've renounced the title and joined another Church. Your baptism infused your soul with Catholic DNA - it defines who and what you are.

Thus, I've chosen the title, "inactive Catholic," because even though you haven't been "active" in the Catholic community for awhile, especially by attending Sunday Mass, receiving the sacraments and otherwise participating in the life of the Church, you're still a Catholic. Sorry . . . you're stuck with us!

Perhaps the exact name isn't very important though. What's more important is why you drifted away from the Church, why you stopped coming to Mass, and what we can do about it.

Did you leave the Church because you disagree with some of the Church's teachings and practices; or because you found it boring and "didn't get anything out of it"; or because someone in the Church offended you or disappointed you; or because you just got a little complacent, spiritually lazy, in the fulfillment of your obligations? Let's look at each of these reasons.

If you left the Church because you disagree with the fundamental teachings of the Church I'm afraid there's not much I can do to help you. The essential teachings of the Church on matters of faith and morals aren't negotiable - they weren't made up arbitrarily by human beings but, in fact, were given to us by Christ. They can't be changed, even if they're unpopular or difficult to live with. I hope that you'll take some time to really understand what the Church teaches and why. Sometimes, we find, good folks get bad information and that leads to confusion and then alienation.

If you left the Church because you found it to be boring and "didn't get anything out of it," well, I understand. Sometimes, it's true, leaders of the Church haven't fed the flock very well - sometimes we haven't provided sound and challenging teaching and preaching, and sometimes our worship has been banal and bland. Perhaps we haven't been very kind or welcoming. I apologize for that; we can and should do better.

On the other hand, when you attend Mass it shouldn't be all about you - the focus is God! You should attend Mass to give, as well as receive - to worship the Lord, to ask forgiveness of your sins, to thank Him for His gifts and to pray for others. And for Catholics the most important reason to attend Mass is to receive the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, the Bread of Life. You can't do that anywhere else!

If you left the Church because another member of the Church offended or disappointed you, I'm truly sorry for that offense and in the name of the Church I sincerely apologize. I hope you'll forgive us and give us another chance. Members of the Church - including priests and bishops - are completely human. Sometimes we say things and do things that are totally unacceptable, even immoral. But let's face it - we belong to a community of sinners - that's why we begin every Mass by calling to mind our sins and asking for God's forgiveness. The virtue of forgiveness is an essential part of the Christian life - we all need to seek and grant forgiveness now and then.

Finally, if you left the Church because of your own spiritual laziness - complacency - I guess the ball's in your court. I can only encourage you to start over - to think about your relationship with God and try to understand how important the Church is in helping you fulfill your God-given potential and, more importantly, helping you achieve eternal life.

You see, the Church isn't just another human organization, some sort of social club. We believe that the Church has divine elements - that it was founded by Christ and is guided by the Holy Spirit. You need the Church - you need the teachings of the Church, the life-giving sacraments of the Church, and the support of a community that shares your faith and values. But the Church also needs you - we need the gifts of your time and talent, your faith and commitment. The Church has an awful lot to offer you, but if in fact we've been imperfect fulfilling our mission, in serving the Lord and caring for one another, perhaps you can help us to do better.

The irony of this letter, of course, is that if you've been an inactive Catholic, you might not see it. But I'm counting on a Catholic member of your family, or a friend, neighbor or co-worker, to see it and share it.

The Christmas Season is a wonderful, grace-filled time, a time when we remember that the Word of God became flesh and that Jesus is "Emmanuel" - God with us. God came to earth to search for us, to embrace us, to lift us up, and to take us with Him to eternal life. He came to invite you to be His friend and companion along the way.

Dear brother or sister, if you've been away from the Church for awhile, it's time to come home. If there's an issue or a problem we can help you with, please contact your local parish, or contact me here at the Diocese of Providence. I might not be able to solve every problem and meet every need, but I'll try. Please know, however, that we miss you, we love you and we hope to see you soon.

Your brother in Christ,

Bishop Tobin

Monday, December 13, 2010

Quote of the Day

"It is only the infinite mercy and love of God that has prevented us from tearing ourselves to pieces and destroying His entire creation long ago. People seem to think that it is in some way a proof that no merciful God exists, if we have so many wars. On the contrary, consider how in spite of centuries of sin and greed and lust and cruelty and hatred and avarice and oppression and injustice, spawned and bred by the free wills of men, the human race can still recover, each time, and can still produce man and women who overcome evil with good, hatred with love, greed with charity, lust and cruelty with sanctity. How could all this be possible without the merciful love of God, pouring out His grace upon us? Can there be any doubt where wars come from and where peace comes from, when the children of this world, excluding God from their peace conferences, only manage to bring about greater and greater wars the more they talk about peace?"

Thomas Merton (The Seven Storey Mountain)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

An Advent Reflection

We have begun our Liturgical year. As defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Liturgical Year is "The celebration throughout the year of the mysteries of the Lord's birth, life, death, and Resurrection in such a way that the entire year becomes a 'year of the Lord's grace'. Thus the cycle of the liturgical year and the great feasts constitute the basic rhythm of the Christian's life of prayer, with its focal point at Easter.” The emphasis of the season of Advent is waiting, conversion and Hope. We can include patience and humility. We wait in a state of prayer - in the manner of Our Lord and His Blessed Mother – and we cry out Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus! Maranatha is an Aramaic word that means “the Lord is coming, or Come, O Lord.

When I was a child, I attended Catholic school, taught by the Franciscan Missionary Sisters – so I was aware of the liturgical season. Advent had a special meaning for me. Christmas was coming – and that means PRESENTS! Advent also hinted of the coming of winter. Soon it would begin to snow – and I loved the snow. When you don’t have to drive – snow is welcome everyday. In my Catholic grammar school, I rarely had a day off for snow. I remember wearing my galoshes, trudging through the snow to school. The hallway would be lined with boots. From my experience, I would say that most children today do not understand the “meaning.” of Advent. Still, the anticipation of Santa, presents, and snow are threads of “understanding” even at a young age. Children know that “something” is going to happen, something is coming.” – They will soon find out that “something” is “SOMEONE.” In Latin the word for Advent is “Adventus.” which means “coming.”

Advent is all about “ENCOUNTER.” Specifically two encounters. Our Lord’s first coming – the Incarnation, the WORD made Flesh - when God becomes man, the birth of Christ. And then Jesus’ second or final coming, or the General or Last judgment at the end of the world. The Nicene Creed says “He shall come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.”

Advent is a season to prepare us for both encounters. There is also an in-between encounter which we will speak of later.

So, our first encounter: The Incarnation. CCC 522 says "the coming of God's Son to earth is an event of such immensity that God willed to “prepare” for it over centuries. He makes everything converge on Christ: all the rituals and sacrifices, figures and symbols of the "First Covenant".195 He announces him through the mouths of the prophets who succeeded one another in Israel. Moreover, he awakens in the hearts of the pagans a dim expectation of this coming. The Prophet Isaiah: Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. Preparations for the birth of Christ have taken place as far back as the fourth century, they are ancient. The Advent wreath (pg 6) and the lighting of the four candles. It is part of the spiritual preparation for Christmas. St. John says that Christ is “the Light that came into the world” to dispel the darkness of sin and to radiate the truth and love of God (cf. John 3:19-21). The History of Christmas Candle is linked with the Saturnalia festival of the Romans because during this festival tall papers of wax were offered to Saturn (an angel of God). With the spread of Christianity, the custom of placing candles beside the window gained people's acceptance. The Irish people believed that if a candle is placed near a window then the light emerging from the candle would be able to guide the Christ Child who on the eve of Christmas wandered from house to house. We also display the empty manger, symbolizing the period of waiting. Some still celebrate St. Nicholas day on December 6th – when each child puts out a shoe the night before St. Nicholas Day in the hope that the kind bishop — with his miter, staff, and bag of gifts — will pay a visit. These are all wonderful Christian traditions. But what are they really called to remind us of? Again using the words of St. John, that “God so loved the world that he gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” So we wait for the Christ child - born of the Virgin Mary, laid in a manger, a trough where animals feed. Jesus is now the food that will now feed the whole world. Three wise men, also known as the Magi, were seeking the one who would be King of the Nations. They brought the baby Jesus gifts of frankincense, Gold and myrrh. We also must bring the King a gift. And that gift can only be the gift of “unselfish love.” Some say that only “unselfish love” comes from God. But we are followers of Christ, called to imitate Him – to be like the teacher. So we must strive “To be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.”

CCC 524: When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior's first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. This is very interesting. Do we really have an “ardent” desire for the second coming of Jesus? Are we ready for that? This “second coming” or “final coming” is called the General Judgment, when, as Isaiah says, "the wolf shall live with the lamb.” the end of days. The belief in the general judgment has prevailed at all times and in all places within the Church.
At the end of time, Jesus the Christ will come to judge “the living” and the “dead.” Remember, there are two judgments, the Particular Judgment –when we die, and the General Judgment. (It is interesting to think that when we die, we leave the realm of time.” So do we experience the General Judgment immediately?)

As I said before, are we ready to meet Jesus at the Final or General Judgment? In last weeks Gospel reading from St. Matthew, Jesus says –“STAY AWAKE”!

If you knew your house was going to be broken in to, you would not sleep. Well, our house is being broken in to every day, every hour, and every moment. The evil one is a master locksmith. We must keep our doors locked! Change your locks often. How are we to keep ourselves safe and be ready to enter the Kingdom of God?

St. Paul has a few pointers in his Letter to the Romans: “throw off the works of darkness, put on the armor of light: Which means to put on Our Lord Jesus Christ – to put on His face. We must be the “mirror” of Christ to others. Do not think that you have to be a living saint to be that “mirror.” Catholic author from New Zealand, Brendan Roberts says: “Even if you feel like a broken mirror let others see the splendor and beauty of Christ in the shards. You may have to gather those shards together, for then the beauty will be greater than individual shards scattered from your heart.” People will know that you are a disciple of Christ by your ACTIONS! St. Paul says: “We should conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, promiscuity and lust, rivalry and jealousy.” These vices are attributes of our fallen human nature. So we follow Christ. And we build up our trust, our strength to overcome sin by persevering in PRAYER. Advent is the perfect time for us to renew our commitment to prayer. Conversing with God strengthens our faith, readies us for battle. It is a good time for us to embrace the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To return to that “friendship” with the Lord.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” To enter the Kingdom of God, we must recognize Jesus in all our neighbors, those who love us, and those who hate us. Blessed Mother Teresa took Jesus’ words into her own heart. Why did mother spend her life feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for her neighbor?

Mother Teresa understood that Jesus is the hungry, is the naked, is the lonely, unwanted and unloved. Mother saw Jesus in the most distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor – physically poor and spiritually poor. In Mother’s own words “You and I, we are the Church, no? We have to share with our people. Suffering today is because people are hoarding, not giving, not sharing. Jesus made it very clear. Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me. Give a glass of water, you give it to me. Receive a little child, you receive me.” Love of neighbor is not just a feeling of “pity.” It must be a real compassion. And a real compassion is God’s love in action!

I mentioned before, there is also an in-between encounter with Our Lord, between The Incarnation and the Final Judgment. This is the encounter with Jesus in the every day – we encounter Jesus in the gift of family, in the faces of our children and grandchildren. We encounter Jesus in our living experience of love. We encounter Jesus in the communion of saints. We hold out our hand to Jesus, when he is on the street, sleeping in a cardboard box. We encounter Jesus in the Eucharist, in the breaking of the bread. We encounter Jesus in all the Sacraments. We meet Jesus in our own suffering. How can we ever forget the sufferings our Lord accepted in obedience to the Father, to save us from our sins? We now offer our own sufferings to the Lord.

If we are resolute in our preparation to encounter Jesus, at His Birth, and at the end of the world, we will not be afraid. We will be ready to meet Him face to face.

Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, ever faithful to your promises and ever close to your Church: the earth rejoices in hope of the Savior's coming and looks forward with longing to his return at the end of time. Prepare our hearts and remove the sadness that hinders us from feeling the joy and hope which his presence will bestow, for he is Lord for ever and ever. Amen.