O Come, O Come Emmanuel?

Be alert! Pay Attention! Be Prepared!

What comes to mind when you hear these three phrases? Is it the “run of the mill” section at the beginning of any proper owners manual? Is it the brightly colored stickers that are placed strategically all over heavy machinery to avoid some accident or damage? Is it memories of all sorts of “disaster preparedness” materials?

I want to challenge the traditional use of these three different phrases- and apply them to something that recalls a season of warmth, family, friends, and tradition- Christmas. Christmas- the tangibly magic time of year; that season filled with joviality, carols, fine food, gifts, and the like. It is such a busy and blissful time of the year, that it seems rather easy to forget all of the struggles and typical trials of day-to-day life.

Something is missing in this picture, however…

If we look through the piles of gifts, through the prim and proper table, through the comfort of a roaring fireplace, and past the blinding light of hundreds of thousands of tiny lights, what is left of our Christmas season? What is that very reason that we celebrate to an almost seemingly absurd degree?

The answer, in all of its splendor and glory, is quite simple. It is the “thrill of hope.” It is the “new and glorious morn.” It is that which defies all time, all reason, and all that one would consider normal. It is the promise of salvation- God becomes man in the Christ child.

In all of the excitement and wonder of the Christmas season, the very core of the reality of this situation is often lost. The fact of the matter is this: we have sinned, and we have done, quite bluntly, nothing to deserve what is presented to our minds time and time again during the Christmas season. Can we do anything to prepare ourselves better for the mystery of the Incarnation, as Christ becomes man?

Yes- celebrate Advent.

Why? Imagine this: man has been dwelling on the earth for some time. God has selected his chosen people. Eventually, as it happens, God’s people experience centuries oppression and slavery through slavery, through heavy burden, and ultimately through sin. These loads are so ponderous and so hopeless that God’s people cry out and plead to God for His intercession into their sorry plight. They yearn for freedom from their captivity, and long for something better. This is something they cannot obtain on their own.

And through some undeserved act of mercy, God grants this to them: He sends His Son.

What does Advent have to do with this? It gives us that very same ability to experience the joy of the Incarnation. It affords us the chance to take an honest look at ourselves and see that we are, ultimately, in a need not unlike that of the people of Israel. It gives us that chance to come clean of ourselves, and after realizing our inability to gain the hope, peace, and joy that we desire, we wait for the coming promise of a Savior.

The simple fact of the matter is this- if we have not recognized our fallen and poor state and if we have not recognized our need for a Savior- nor recognized our own sin- the Incarnation cannot do what it has set out to do for each of us. It becomes little more than a historic event, which is a sorry state for the greatest act of mercy that man has ever seen. We are afforded an opportunity of a season to grow in our own humility and holiness, and to realize the greatness of a gift that we are so unworthy to receive.

Be Alert! Pay Attention! Be Prepared! Do not allow the thrilling carols and messages of good tidings fall onto ears that are not ready to hear them. Take time to meditate on what we long for in our tired and weary state- so that we can celebrate again what God bestows on man, and the hope and joy that come with a fuller appreciation of such a gift. We long for happiness in Eternal Life, and through Christ our Lord, it is all made possible- but only if we wait patiently for Him.

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I Will Give You Rest

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

-Matthew 11:28-30

Anyone who has studied as a seminarian can tell you that there is a lot that has to be done in his daily schedule- myself included. Often our schedule starts before six in the morning, and can often end almost sixteen hours later. The beginning of the day is merely a faint memory by the end of the day, simply because there are so many different directions to travel and things to accomplish every day. By the time Night Prayer ceases its procession forth from our mouths, each one of us is very exhausted. Even in our exhaustion, though, there is still more meaning to Matthew 11:28 than simple earthy rest.

In fact, the rest that we are invited to in this Gospel passage has a couple additional potential types besides this. It invites us, first of all, to the security of reliance upon Christ, and this is a rest in a certain respect. We cannot rule ourselves, no matter our effort, or how much power, strength, or intelligence we have. We cannot bring ourselves to rest by our own rule. What our own rulership can look like in our daily lives is getting to the highest positions that we can, gaining the most money we can, or simply making ourselves as important or as busy as possible. These things seldom bring us to lasting rest and peace- and to the contrary can often bring us to unrest and dissatisfaction. These things cannot innately satisfy- because we logically cannot corner any of these things- and this means that we will likely be led to frustration. What Christ invites us to here, then, is the ability to simply place Him as our ruler. This means that He is the one to take care of our needs- if we follow His leadership. This enables us to gain rest from the security that only Christ, as our ruler, can provide.

The last rest that we are ultimately led to, as indicated by this passage, is Eternal Life. This is by extension of the rest that we are given in our earthly life. This can only be made possible if we have relinquished rulership to Christ, and not to ourselves. We are led to our final goal and final rest- because we are able to find what our hearts truly desire. Whether we are at the seminary, at work, at home, at Church, or even sleeping- we are ultimately seeking that rest- the rest that only God can provide. That is a rest that is physical, secure, and eternal. It is one and the same with the rest St. Augustine identifies in the first book of The Confessions: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

Even though our work as seminarians keeps us busy, we certainly strive to live in this rest as much as possible, even though we work long hours and have many things to do. We take upon ourselves the yoke of study for now, but ultimately, it is done, as God wills, through a man’s taking of Christ’s yoke upon him. This is even physically symbolized at the celebration of each and every Mass through the priest vesting in the chasuble- the outer vestment that is in the shape of a yoke. In his celebration of the Mass, he takes upon himself the very same yoke of Christ and His work. It is only in this same work that seminarians too, busy as we are, will find rest- and will be able to help countless others find that very same rest- now, and in eternity.

 

On Summer Assignment: Spanish Studies

An Afternoon Soccer Game during my Immersion Weekend

For the duration of the months of June and July this summer, I am in Pittsburg, Kansas studying Spanish, by attending Spanish Summer courses, attending Spanish liturgies, and recently, taking part in a Spanish Immersion weekend. This summer assignment, though it can be difficult, is something that I know is heavily needed for future ministry in my home diocese. Within the diocese, we have many Hispanic immigrants, and a majority of them are Catholic. This is both a difficulty and a privilege for the clergy and those of us aspiring to be a part of the clergy in the future, because it creates, not only a larger group that needs ministry, but a group that needs ministry in a new language, at least for most seminarians, including myself. This means that, since my curriculum is very busy during the school year, it is advantageous for me to take time during the summer to learn both language and culture in an environment that puts me in the midst of those who will need me to have a good foundation in Spanish to tend to their sacramental and spiritual needs in the future.

During my Immersion weekend, it impacted me in a profound way just how important it is that I work diligently in learning and practicing Spanish into the future. In my immersion weekend, I was placed with a Hispanic family in Carthage, Missouri, which spoke almost exclusively Spanish. I don’t have a very large vocabulary in Spanish just yet, so it became a struggle to communicate at times. However, even in the midst of this confusion, there were three things that particularly struck me.

First, these people are very diligent about their faith. In each home I visited, there was some sort of devotional altar which was prominently displayed in the entry of each home. Some are ornate, and some are a bit more simple- but each one was special to that family. Many practice prayer at multiple points throughout the day, and are most certainly regular participants at Mass.

St. Ann’s Parish in Carthage Missouri

Second, life is difficult for them in the U.S., but it is more difficult for them where they came from. Even though many Hispanics find themselves in a place where they have to point at photos to order at McDonalds, because no one else understands them, they still feel that they are in a much more privileged place than where they were before. They have more than what they had, and even in the midst of a culture and language that may not understand their own very well, they are very happy and overjoyed to be here.

Finally, they are excited that their future priests are working hard to learn the Spanish language. Even though I felt the family I stayed with for a weekend had every right to be frustrated with my finite amount of Spanish education, they were not frustrated, and were actually excited that I was there, both trying to piece together what I could in the Spanish language and also learning about their culture.

This summer is a little over halfway over, and I feel that I have learned a tremendous amount- both in what I will need to focus on in the future, and in the tools that I will need to have to be a Father to all of God’s children. To that end, my studies continue!

A Tale of Two Ministries: Courage vs. New Ways

We know that, in this life, we have numerous choices. Many hold very heavy implications, and many are seemingly without an effect one way or the other. Unfortunately, sometimes we can make choices between two things as if they don’t matter, and in all reality, they matter far more than we realize.

One thing that has become apparent, especially recently, is that there is a heavy amount of confusion about how the Catholic Church is supposed to approach those that identify as someone who struggles with same-sex attraction. What is the Church supposed to do? What does Christ want for us to do?

To answer that question, it seems to present itself as a choice- in some real way- between two different apostolates\ministries. First, there is the well-known apostolate known as Courage (A Roman Catholic apostolate for Chastity for those who experience same-sex attraction). This organization works hard with those who come to them to help them to live out the Christian Life to the best of their abilities- through support of each other, through support of direction, and through the support of the sacraments. Second, there is a ministry, called New Ways Ministry, which boasts “35 years of ministry to the LGBT Catholic Community.” Are these two organizations one and the same?

No, and there is quite a stark contrast between the two. In fact, it seems that this difference can illustrate well what the Church’s ultimate call to those with SSA is. What is the ultimate goal of New Ways Ministry? It seems that it is inclusion of those with SSA into the Catholic community. The Courage apostolate is slightly different. Courage wants them to be included in the community as well- but there seems to be an important caveat- they should be seeking to live a chaste life- something that it seems that New Ways Ministry doesn’t necessarily concern itself with.

Why is this important? It is important because our entire earthly Christian life is a journey of changes- because we are seeking to ultimately conform ourselves to Christ, and the Image of God in which we were created. This requires that we let go of all of those things that distort that image in us. This can require that we let go of any number of things- an inordinate desire of material goods, a habit to gossip, the want of power, habits toward viewership of pornography, or any number of things, no matter how big, nor how small. This has a twofold impact on us as Catholics- First, we certainly cannot close our doors on anyone who struggles with any particular hindrance or sin to the fullness of Christian life. We are called to be heralds of the Gospel to others. Second, we must be open to amending our lives, no matter what it is, nor what the cost is.

This is the approach that Courage wants to take with those with SSA. They know that the Christian Life is concerned with more than sexuality by itself- but we do need freedom. New Ways Ministry, as their website reads, is about acceptance. Acceptance is good- in that Christians are able to help each other in community to pursue the Christian life; acceptance of behavior contrary to the Christian life is not. Again, we each have things that hold us back in the Christian life- and we have to let go of these things. We don’t accept sin as a way to help others- we accept others as a way to help with sin. For us to be a part of the Church- we have to desire that we are wanting to accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ ourselves. For anyone to want to be accepted into the Christian community should mean that they themselves want to accept the Gospel message- no matter the implications that it has for them.

This is why it is important for Catholics to promote the Courage Apostolate. It is striving for conformity with the Church’s teachings- and has been doing so for 37 years. Those with SSA absolutely must be allowed in the Church, as we all must be allowed in the Church- but that is so that we are supported and fed on our journey, and able to let go of those things that hinder us from freedom, and the authentic Christian life. We should not be confused by the choices we have to make. It seems that, by what New Ways is doing, there is undue confusion, and also improper application of what the Church’s mission is all about. We are to accept others into the community of the faithful, yes, but that means that they must be ready to join us in reforming our lives to the Christian life, no matter the vice, nor the virtue that we may lack. Will we all have the courage to admit our own faults and weaknesses, and admit our dependence upon God? Will we each have the courage to reach out to others in our similar state- and help each of us reach our ultimate goal of heaven?