Sunday, January 19, 2014

This Little Light of Mine

This Little Light of Mine

“I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)

The theme of baptism continues in this week’s readings as John the Baptist talks about a baptism of the Holy Spirit.  The first reading reminds us that like Jesus we too are called to be a light to the nations.  Last week, we talked about the white vestment imposed on us at baptism that reminds us of the purity we receive through Christ, but the last verse of the first reading recalls what we receive right after the white vestment: our baptismal candle which is the light of Christ.  This light is entrusted to our parents and godparents so that the “flame of faith” may be kept alive in our hearts.  It is also given to us in baptism because we have been enlightened by Christ and are to always walk as children of the light.  That candle is supposed to guide us through this life and into eternity.  It is a sacred sign that should be carefully kept by parents and shown to children as they grow up as a reminder of what is signifies (my mother has always carefully guarded mine).  At the Easter Vigil, we are reminded of this when we light our candles from the Paschal Candle.  Like Christ our Light, we too are called to be a light to the nations that reaches the end of the earth.

Yesterday morning, I was reading an article about the rapid growth of the Catholic Church in China.  Last Easter, 180 Catechumens were baptized in just one church in Beijing.  Hundred were baptized in multiple parishes that prompted a shortage in godparents.  There is so much mystery that surrounds that nation and so much history of actions taken against Catholics yet remarkably people are still being drawn to the light of the Church. What really struck me was the rapid growth of priestly vocations.  I read that the average age of a priest in China is 35!  All these good people that have been baptized do so while being watched and facing possible persecution, yet they follow the light of Christ anyways.  What great witness our Chinese brothers and sisters must be giving to draw so many of their countrymen to the Church.

We also must draw people to the Church in our own country.  We must let the light that was given to us in baptism shine because so much darkness surrounds.  As Catholics, we must be that shining light that illuminates the darkness of sin.  This coming Wednesday is the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade and we somberly remember 55 million innocent children who have been killed in their mother’s wombs.  We must continue to shed light on the growing infanticide that exists here.  I love my country but we cannot claim to be “the greatest country in the world” if we continue to kill our children.  We live in a “throwaway culture” and unfortunately this applies to our nations’ children as well.  Last Monday, Pope Francis spoke of this darkness:  “Unfortunately, what is thrown away is not only food and dispensable objects, but often human beings themselves, who are discarded as “unnecessary”. For example, it is frightful even to think there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day... (Speech to Diplomatic Corp 1/13/14).”  These comments were met with great fanfare in this country for all the wrong reasons because to some they were the first comments Pope Francis had made about abortion.  They weren’t.  Reuters wrote this ridiculously misinformed headline:  “Pope, in nod to conservatives, calls abortion `horrific.’”  The Pope had done it before in September in a speech to physicians: “Every child who, rather than being born, is condemned unjustly to being aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord, who even before he was born, and then just after birth, experienced the world's rejection (Pope Francis, September 2013).”  This headline from Reuter about the “nod to conservatives” prompted a great priest who teaches in the seminary to post this heroic response:

Beginning next week, I will be teaching a class in Moral Theology for seminarians. It is my hope to contribute in some small way to dispelling in the minds of the church's future ministers, a poisonous dichotomy that society and the media too often insist on injecting into the minds of people, especially poorly-informed Catholics. It is the height of ignorance, even stupidity, or a plain lack of understanding and information, to equate being pro-life with "conservatism" and being an advocate of social justice with "liberalism". The church's social doctrine is a "seamless garment"; it is a "consistent ethic of life" that values life as sacred, in all its stages, from the moment of conception to natural death, and every single stage in between. One is not conservative for opposing abortion, nor is one liberal for advocating on behalf of the poor and needy. It is time to end this nonsense. A Catholic is a Catholic; he is neither simply conservative nor liberal, but he is also both. He defends the life and the rights of the unborn, the elderly, the sick and dying, the poor, hungry and needy, the homeless, the immigrant, the suffering, the lonely, the dispossessed - the "least of our brothers and sisters". Simple is not simplistic. The former is the way of Christ, it is the way of love for all God's creatures, especially the poor, weak, and those unable to defend themselves. The latter is the way of the world; it insists on reducing complex realities (including man) into easy-to-manage-and-manipulate slogans.  –Father Ferdinand Santos (Professor of Philosophy at St. John Vianney College Seminary)

As bearers of Christ’s inextinguishable light, we must illuminate those around us… with great humility and love, of course.  Because we are called to be the light of the world, we must speak up for those who society confines to the darkness: the poor, the immigrant, the elderly, the dying, the addict, and the unborn child.  Our world desperately needs the light that we received at baptism.  As Catholics, we must carry within us a sense of urgency to share that light.  As St. Paul reminded us in the second reading, we are a people called to be holy.  It is time we started acting as such and spreading some of that light and some of that holiness to a dark world desperately thirsting for the light of Christ.  I am convinced that if the world truly sees the beauty of the Church, of her people, then more will be attracted to the splendor of this light.  It’s up to you to let that light shine.

Parting thought:  This afternoon I went to my parent’s house after my last Mass and the first thing I did was go straight to my mother’s linen closet where she keeps a box that contains my baptismal candle.  Because of the candle’s length and 38 years of wear, it is broken into three pieces but the wick is still in tack and joins all three pieces together.  Even a broken candle can produce a splendorous light.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Clothed in Christ

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)

All of you probably noticed as you pulled into the parking lot this morning that our church is in the process of getting a much needed facelift and being painted.  The painters started towards the end of last week and have made great progress, and I’ve walked the grounds and driven my car up and down Flagler to see the church from all directions and it really does look beautiful.  As I was walking yesterday, I could not help but remember the words of St. Paul to the Romans: “Clothe yourselves in Christ (Rom 13:14).”  The new look exterior of our church should be a reflection of what is inside and where the true beauty of the Church resides: in her people.  I could not help but think of this quote from St. Paul because it is part of the Rite of Baptism, and we are, providentially, clothing our church anew and making her even more beautiful as we conclude the Christmas season with the feast of the Baptism of our Lord.  This feast reminds us every year that like Christ we too were submerged into the waters of baptism, and that through his baptism we were made new.

On the day of our baptism, our parents brought us to church in white garments.  Some of these garments were worn by siblings or by our parents or godparents.  These are wonderful traditions.  In my first parish, I remember one grandmother had all her grandchildren baptized in the same garment and with each baptism she had the name of the child sown into the inside of that garment.  This tradition continued when I baptized her first great grandchild.  The white garment is placed on us right after we are baptized and have been anointed with the holy chrism as the priest or deacon says these words:  “…you have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ.  See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity.  With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.”  These words are directed at the child but also serve as a challenge to the parents and godparents to protect and guide this child who has been claimed and made new by Jesus Christ through the waters of baptism.  We are indeed clothed in Christ through these blessed waters and called to walk in holiness of life all the way up to heaven.  That is the challenge of baptism and of today’s feast:  we are called to be holy.  That is our baptismal call that we too often forget.

One of the great challenges of priests and deacons as we baptize children is trying to remind parents of the magnitude of that moment.  This isn’t simply a social gathering or a rite of passage that we have to do when I child is born.  Actually, much to my dismay, baptisms in this parish, while plentiful, are becoming very rare among the newborn.  Yesterday I baptized five children and all of them could walk.  I was baptized 4 ½ weeks after I was born.  There’s a reason why we baptize our children as infants: we want them to be clothed in Christ and to be claimed as His own right away!  But in addressing parents, who sadly are more interested in taking the perfect picture of “event”, my brother priests and deacons labor hard to instill in the parents the awesome responsibility they have to instill in their children from birth the beauty of our faith.  From the day I was ordained a deacon almost 13 years ago, I have tried to celebrate each baptism with a sense of hope and wonder of what God has in store for these children.  Yesterday, (probably because it was the weekend of the Baptism of the Lord), I re-emphazed to the parents even more passionately than I usually do the importance of guiding these children in the faith.  They are God’s innocent children who have been entrusted to us by our Father in heaven to teach them to love God and our neighbor.  It is always a joy for me to baptize children, I told them, but I added that it was an even greater joy when I see those newly baptized children the next day and every Sunday at Mass because then I know that the parents have really taken this sacrament and the promises they made seriously, and they are caring for the “divine life” which God has given to their children through baptism.  Today’s feast should serve as a reminder to each of us our baptismal call to be holy and to share with all the world, especially our children, the joy of being a Christian.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Gift Cards for Jesus

“Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts…” (Matthew 2:11)

The magi presented gifts to our Lord on this day.  They came a long way to see him, so you can imagine that great thought and care went into the choosing of each gift that was offered.  As I look on this Christmas season and think of the gifts I gave to my loved ones, I ask myself if I really put my whole heart into those gifts.  I kid you not, but I got 80% of my Christmas shopping done at the gift card stand at Walgreens one day when I went in to get something.  Now gift cards are great presents, and I rather enjoy getting them especially if it’s for a store or restaurant that I frequent.  The recipients of said gift cards were happy to receive them and have already put them to good use, but I still feel like I should have put more thought and effort into it.  This comes on the heels of visiting a friend’s house this week for his birthday and watching his wife very carefully and meticulously spend several hours preparing his birthday gift.  I could see the love being poured into this gift and started reflecting on what I put into what I give the Lord.

Today we journey to Bethlehem with the Magi to adore the Lord and present our own gifts.  To continue a theme I started developing a few weeks ago, we each have unique gifts that have been given to us by God that we are to place at His service.  What gifts will we present the Lord on this day?  How much thought, heart and effort will we put into choosing the gift we will present to Jesus? As we try to make good on our resolutions as we start this New Year, perhaps we should start small and give Jesus the gift of our heart.  It isn’t so much a gift that would benefit him, but it will greatly benefit us.  If we could spend more time in the presence of the Lord in 2014, kneeling in prayer in our chapel, that could be the greatest gift we could give our Lord on this Feast of the Epiphany.