Sunday, November 27, 2016

An Advent Reflection by Father Peter West

Advent is a season of waiting with Mary to celebrate the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a good time to reflect on the pregnancy of Mary as she waited in joyful expectation for the birth of her son. 

We reflect during Advent that Jesus was a pre-born child. The moment of the Incarnation took place not on Christmas Day at his birth, but at the Annunciation which we celebrate on March 25 - nine months earlier. Jesus the Eternal Word took flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, by the power of the Holy Spirit, after she consented to God’s plan announced by the Archangel Gabriel. 

Reflecting on Mary’s pregnancy can teach us patience and the attitude of joyful expectation that all of us should have as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus and as we wait for his second coming in glory at the end of time. This attitude of joyful expectation should accompany the pregnancy of every woman as we await the birth of her pre-born child. Each child is made in the image and likeness of God no matter what their handicaps or circumstances of conception. Every child deserves a chance to be born and to continue to grow and develop outside the womb. Jesus identifies with the pre-born since he himself was a pre-born child. Jesus went through all the stages of development that we went through. He was a tiny zygote, an embryo, fetus, infant, child, adolescent and an adult. At no time did he become more human. He simply went through different stages of human development as we all did. When Jesus was developing in the womb he was not a potential person. 

Mary also can identify with every pregnant mother in a difficult pregnancy. She did not fully understand God’s plan, yet she trusted. True devotion to Mary means imitating her virtues – her faith, her trust and her willingness to make sacrifices for the sake of her son and others as she stayed with Elizabeth for three moths to help Elizabeth deliver St. John the Baptist. When Mary visited St. Elizabeth John the Baptist leapt for joy within St. Elizabeth’s womb as he recognized Christ’s presence in Mary. Thus we see John who was a fetus recognizing Christ who was a tiny embryo. This should lead us to an even greater respect for the lives of pre-born children and inspire us to work for their protection. Jesus says "Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters that you do to me." (Mat. 25, 40)

St. Joseph cared for Mary during her pregnancy. He is an example for all men of the stewardship they are called to exercise. Men are called to respect the wonder of procreation and to care for pregnant women emotionally, materially and spiritually. During their pregnancies women become vulnerable should be able to rely on the support of their husbands and other men in their life who should respect and assist women as the mystery of life unfolds within them.

It is fitting that there are major feasts of Our Lady during the celebration of Advent – the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Mary appeared as a pregnant woman to Blessed Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531. She identified herself to be "the perpetual and perfect Virgin Mary, holy mother of the true God through whom everything lives, the Creator and Master of heaven and earth". She also proclaimed herself as Juan Diego’s "merciful mother, the mother of all of you who live united in this land, and of all humankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry out to me, of those who seek me, of those who have confidence in me." Mary showed love to a people who had just escaped from the diabolical Aztec Empire in which human sacrifices were offered to false gods. Pope John Paul II proclaimed Our Lady of Guadalupe to be the Patroness of the Americas. She is also recognized as the Patroness of the Unborn.

We recognize that Mary’s life began at the moment of her conception in the womb of St. Ann. From the first instant and throughout her life she remained free from sin. Through the Immaculate Conception God gave humankind a new start. The name "Eve" means "mother of all the living", but because of her disobedience Eve brought sin, death and suffering into the world. When Jesus calls Mary "Woman" in the Gospel of John at the Wedding Feast of Cana and at the foot of the cross Jesus was affirmed her mission as the new Eve. Mary is more truly the mother of all the living.

Mary said yes to God and Jesus Christ was conceived in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life, so Mary is truly the Mother of Our Life. From the cross Jesus our Life gave Mary to us to be our mother. Mary throughout history has come to the aid of her people. As Mary put an end to the culture of death in Mexico we pray today that she will intercede for the United States. In 1846 the Bishops of the United States dedicated our nation to the Immaculate Conception. Ask Mary to intercede for us to put an end to the tragedies of abortion, euthanasia and other attacks on human life that we might lead other nations to respect the dignity and value of each and every human life from conception to natural death.

* This reflection is out of the PRIESTS FOR LIFE website.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Feast of Christ the King

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the Church year, and one week away from the season of Advent. A good day to remind ourselves that all of our celebrations are summed up in one statement: “Jesus is our King.” Jesus is the one we serve. 

In 1925, Pope Pius XI, certainly guided by the Holy Spirit, instituted “Christ the King” as a feast day. During this time, the world was experiencing a growing secularism - and a misguided sense of nationalism. This was the year that Adolph Hitler published his biography of hatred, “Mien Kampf” and Benito Mussolini became dictator of Italy.  By instituting this feast day, Pius emphasized the social - and political - implication of Christ’s kingship. Who is our King? Not the dictator, not the state, not ideology, not politics, the message was clear – only “Christ is our King”! 

I expect that all of us here today proclaim this reality. For why else would we be here? So, if we say,” Christ is our King” – do we understand the many implications that go along with that statement? To accept Christ as our King, we first must recognize - who he is, what he has done, what he is doing. 
We heard in our first reading from Samuel - how the Lord said to King David, “you shall shepherd my people Israel.” As King David was a shepherd to HIS people, tending, feeding and guarding – our King is the Son of God, the Good shepherd, the new David, who provides for his children with an even more abundant love – a love that, is immense, free, and infinite and saving.

As King David ruled from an earthly throne, our King’s throne is the cross. In the Gospel, we see Jesus is nailed to his wooden throne – and placed above his head, in a vein of grim sardonic, the words, ‘King of the Jews”.  At the moment of his pain and humiliation, of his complete self-emptying, Jesus assumed his real throne - sitting at the right hand side of his Father.  Jesus broke the chains of our captivity – the light of his grace has shone the way of freedom - secured in the shedding of His blood – he abandoned all that the world considers important.
It was not easy for Jesus to begin establishing his kingdom - with his values in competition to those of the world; it cost him his life. It is not easy today - for the Church now to establish the kingdom of Jesus, for we are living in a society that grows more secular and pagan every day.  But for those who empty themselves, who truly open themselves to Jesus, to be LIKE HIM, conforming to His image - the reward is a share in Jesus’ kingdom, “Amen I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Let us turn our hearts from worldly passions to godly passions. Do we love our neighbors? What are we doing to protect, and promote all life, the abused, the neglected, the disabled, and the elderly? Are we being especially sensitive to the life of the unborn? Do we spread the love of Jesus by our words and actions - in our homes, our places of work - before our friends and our family members? This is what Jesus, our teacher, did. To the extent that we are able to ask - and seek - genuine answers to these questions, it is to that extent that we acknowledge “Christ as the King.” This is what makes us Christians.

How do we buy into this “philosophy of Jesus?” The answer is simple. PRAY! Ask God to open up our hearts and minds. God answers our prayers – He never abandons us. We will gradually become free to trust the power that is expressed in unconditional loving, in spite of all the evil in our world.  We do not need to be endowed with special gifts in order to be a loving presence in our world. Yet we can be certain that such loving has the potential to transform the universe. What is more - the readier and more willing we are to do this, the more like Christ we will become - and our confession of Christ as Lord and Savior, of King and Redeemer, will become increasingly clear and persuasive in the world.
To Jesus Christ our Sovereign King
who is the world's salvation,
All praise and homage do we bring
and thanks and adoration

Your reign extend O King benign,
to every land and nation;
For in your kingdom Lord divine
Alone do we find salvation

To you and to your Church, great King
We pledge our heart's oblation;
Until before your throne we sing
In endless jubilation

Christ Jesus, Victor!
Christ Jesus, Ruler!
Christ Jesus, Lord and Redeemer

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Pope Francis speaks of Thomas Merton

Photo by Thomas Merton
"A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a "pointless slaughter", another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: 'I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers.' Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions."
* Pope Francis on Thomas Merton (quote from The Seven Storey Mountain), address to United States Congress, September 24, 2015

Sunday, November 13, 2016

From "The Dream of Gerontius"

From "The Dream of Gerontius"   

“O wisest love! That flesh and blood
Which did in Adam fail,
Should strive afresh against the foe,
Should strive and should prevail.“
„And that a higher gift than grace
Should flesh and blood refine,
God’s presence and His very Self,
And Essence all-divine.”   (VV 360)

                   - John Henry Newman

Photo: St Thomas of Villanova Church Altar
Villanova, Pa.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016


* Fences at St. Joseph's Abbey Spencer, Mass. © Brian J. Murphy