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Winter In Minnesota In January

January 12, 2018

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We Minnesotans are a hearty bunch! We deal with prolonged cold day after day. The average high temperatures are below freezing for weeks on end. The weather map is mostly blues, purples, and whites. Weather reports do not only give the actual temperature; they include wind chill, too. The ice on the lakes gets thicker. The snow piles get higher. We shovel and run the snow blower. We icefish and snowmobile, cross country ski and snowshoe. Minnesotans are often heard saying, “We choose to live here!” “We enjoy the theater of seasons!” “We’re tough!” “We can take the cold!”

As much as we talk “Minnesota nice” about winter, after long periods of confinement indoors, bundling up to go outside, higher heating bills, snow emergencies, parking bans, slippery roads, traffic congestion, and a film of salt on the car, just to name a few of the hassles of winter, cabin fever sets in and our patience runs thin. If we Minnesotans are truly honest about the challenges of winter, it is not always so nice. For some, it causes sad, blue days. For others, it escalates irritation and agitation, crabbiness and complaining. Worn down and demoralized, sometimes tempers flare. Winter can be a time when it is increasingly difficult to love others and practice the virtues.

Aware of the spiritual dangers of wintertime, it is imperative for Christian Minnesotans to consciously and firmly recommit to Jesus’ Law of Love and virtuous living during these trying times. Jesus wants his disciples to go above and beyond “nice.” He gave us a new commandment, “Love one another” (Jn 13:34), not just on warm and sunny days, but every day. The standards of virtuous living apply all the time, especially when we are cold and tired. Not only should we clothe ourselves with heavy jackets and boots, caps and mittens, we should also clothe ourselves with “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another” (Col 3:12). While there may be more slipping and falling during wintertime, not just on the ice but also to temptation, Christians do their best to stand firm in the fruits of the Holy Spirit, to practice and exhibit “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal 5:22,23).

Spring is still a long way off. We dare not let anything, even snow and cold, derail our baptismal commitment to walk in Jesus’ ways. Winter is a time to persevere. Let us not only turn up the heat in our homes, let us also turn up the heat of our love for God and neighbor (Mt 22:37,39).

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The Star of Christmas

January 5, 2018

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Christmas StarThe star is an important Christmas symbol. It is traditional to crown the top branch of the Christmas tree with a star. Star-shaped ornaments are common. Some manger scenes have a star on or above the roof of the stable.

The Christmas star is mentioned in Matthew’s Infancy Narrative. A star appeared in the night sky when Jesus was born, and it was seen in faraway Persia by a number of magi, highly esteemed scholars (Mt 2:2,7). It was a common ancient belief that when a great ruler was born, a new star would appear. When the Christmas star appeared the magi were convinced that a birth of epic proportions had taken place, they rejoiced at its sight, and they decided to follow the star wherever it went, and it finally stopped over the place where Jesus was (Mt 2:9,10).

The usual Christmas star has five points. This star, when it has a single point up, two to the side, and two pointed down, roughly resembles the limbs of a human person. The five-pointed star is also the Star of Balaam. In the Fourth Oracle of Balaam, he predicted that “a star shall advance from Jacob” (Nm 24:17), which is a metaphorical way to say that one of Jacob’s descendants would be a great king, and we believe that Jesus is both the star and the king. The five-pointed star also represents Jesus, the morning star (Rv 22:16).

The light of the star pierced the darkness of the night sky. It was beaming bright. A radiant star is a beautiful symbol for Jesus who is the true light that was coming into the world (Jn 1:9; 12:46). He is the light of the world (Jn 8:12), the light that shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it (Jn 1:5).

When the Christmas star appeared, it was one of countless stars that dotted the night sky, but it shined more brightly than the rest. The magi could tell the difference between the star of Jesus and the other stars, and they chose to follow his star rather than any of the lesser ones.

We are confronted with the same dilemma. There are many bright lights competing for our attention. There are movie stars, dancing stars, and star athletes. There are pulsating lights on the front of theater marquees, search lights above car dealerships, flood lights on storefronts, and glittering lights in front of casinos and night clubs. Of all these lights, the Christmas star and its light shine more brightly than the rest. The lesser stars are competing for our attention, but we must not be misled. If we follow the example of the magi, we will choose the Christmas star over all other stars, and we will follow Jesus who is our Light.

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The Feast of the Holy Family

December 30, 2017

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The Holy Family

The Holy Family
Holy Family
Belle Prairie, MN

Obedience – a virtue of paramount importance

Each year the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s is the Feast of the Holy Family. The timing makes perfect sense. Before Christmas Mary and Joseph were married, a twosome, the Holy Couple, but with the birth of Jesus and the presence of their child, on the first Sunday after Christmas, they have become a threesome, the Holy Family.

But what made Jesus, Mary, and Joseph so holy? How might our own families follow their example in reaching greater holiness? To practice the virtue of obedience is to grow in holiness.

Joseph was obedient. When the angel told him to take Mary as his wife (Mt 1:20,24); to name the child Jesus (Mt 1:21,25); to take the family and flee to Egypt (Mt 2:13-13); and to return to Israel (Mt 2:19-22), he obeyed in every instance, and he did so immediately without complaint. Virtuous husbands and fathers obey God.

Mary was obedient. When the angel Gabriel appeared and announced, “You shall bear a son,” she obediently replied, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). Virtuous wives and mothers obey God.

Not only were they obedient individually, they were obedient together: “They fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord” (Lk 2:39). Virtuous married couples obey God.

Jesus also was obedient. In fact, obedience is the only trait used to describe Jesus when he was twelve years old: He “was obedient to them” (Lk 2:51). Virtuous children obey their parents.

Obedience is an extremely difficult challenge for everyone at every age. We want things our own way, and we can be quite stubborn. It is already evident in toddlers who have minds of their own. It is no wonder that the Fourth Commandment is “Honor [i.e., obey] your father and your mother” (Ex 20:12; Dt 5:16). Obedience is the foremost challenge of childhood and adolescence, and as Jesus demonstrated, it is the path to holiness for a young person.

Parents have an obligation to insist on what is good for their children and the family, and children have a spiritual duty to obey. It starts with little things like cleaning your plate, brushing your teeth, and doing some household tasks; and it progresses to bigger things like going to church, doing your homework, dressing modestly, using the computer and cell phone appropriately, and coming home on time. Parents lay down rules, not to be controlling or mean, but to obey God (Dt 6:7), and when young people are obedient, not only do they honor their parents, they also honor almighty God.

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Gloria in Excelsis Deo, Glory to God in the Highest

December 23, 2017

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Gloria in Excelsis Deo, Glory to God in the Highest

Christmas Proclamation
by the Heavenly Host
Holy Family St. Louis Park, MN

On the night that Jesus was born, suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host – choirs of angels – that appeared in the night sky, and filled with joy, they praised God singing, “Glory to God in the highest” (Lk 2:14).

“The highest” is God’s dwelling place, heaven. God is so great that even “the highest heavens cannot contain [him]” (1 Kgs 8:27). With the birth of Jesus, the heavens were opened, the angels in heaven could be seen by those on earth below, and heaven and earth were united.

The angels glorified God at the birth of Jesus. To glorify is to extol, to lift one’s name in exaltation, to give adoration and worship, veneration and reverence, respect and honor, praise and thanks. God always deserves to be glorified, but God deserves heightened glory when God does something remarkable, the dawn of a new day, a rainbow in the sky, the cure of an illness – or the miraculous birth of a child. The birth of Jesus was not just the birth of any child, it was the birth of the Son of God (Lk 1:35). If there was ever a time to give God praise and thanks, it was at the birth of his Son, Jesus.

The angels knew what the people would come to know later, that the newborn Jesus is a king. The angel Gabriel had told Mary, “the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father … and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1:32,33). On Christmas night the multitude of the heavenly host praised God, and when Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem, “the whole multitude of his disciples began to praise God aloud with joy” (Lk 19:37), and with a song much like the angels, proclaimed, “Blessed be the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (Lk 19:38).

The song of the angels is a message regarding the magnitude of the event that was taking place. The birth of Jesus did not appear to be glorious. The infant was born in a cave, not in a home, inn, or palace. He was laid in a manger, a crude feeding trough for animals, not in a crib or on a bed. He was laid on hay, not a clean sheet or a blanket. An ox or donkey, or a few sheep and goats, may have been present simply standing by, not a few female relatives or friends giving assistance. A cave with animals conjures up the clutter and smells of a barn, not a neat, tidy room. Yet, when the angels sang, “Glory to God,” they announced that the birth of Jesus was a grand and glorious event, even if it did not appear so, and if it was reason for the angels of heaven to rejoice, it is reason for the people of earth to rejoice.

The angels show us what we ought to do. If they sang a hymn of praise at the birth of Jesus, we should sing hymns of praise, particularly on Christmas and throughout the Christmas season. Gloria in excelsis Deo, Latin for “Glory to God in the Highest,” is the refrain to Angels We Have Heard On High. Several other Christmas carols are based upon the song of the heavenly host: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing; It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (v. 1); and O Come, All Ye Faithful (v. 2). To sing hymns that glorify God is to join human voices with angelic voices.

If it is desirable to use the words of the angels to praise God on Christmas, it is desirable to use their words throughout the year, and they are used at Mass as the opening line of the Gloria, which is used for every Solemnity, Feast, and Sunday of Christmas, Easter, and Ordinary Time.

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Why was Jesus Born at Midnight?

December 19, 2017

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Midnight Mass candleMidnight Mass is a special Christmas Mass.  It Came Upon a Midnight Clear is a beautiful Christmas hymn.  Midnight is the hour traditionally regarded as the time that Jesus was born.

Midnight receives no mention in the gospel account, but rather, “the night watch” (Lk 2:8).  It was the time after sunset and before sunrise, the late-night hours, a time of total darkness.

The darkness of the midnight hour is not only the lack of daylight, it also holds great symbolic significance.  Darkness represents sin and the absence of God.  “People preferred darkness … because their works were evil” (Jn 3:19).  “Everyone who does wicked things hates the light … so that his works might not be exposed” (Jn 3:20).  Evil thoughts are dark thinking (Mt 6:23; Lk 11:34).  Evil deeds are done under the cover of darkness.  When Judas departed from the Last Supper to betray Jesus, “it was night” (Jn 13:30).  Jesus explained that “whoever walks in the dark does not know where he is going” (Jn 12:35).  Darkness is to walk in the wrong direction, and to stumble and fall.

Police have a saying:  “Nothing good happens after midnight.”  Late night is the time that most crimes are committed:  drunkenness, bar fights, shootings, domestic assaults, robberies, driving while intoxicated, speeding and reckless driving, and car crashes due to impaired judgment.

Immoral behavior is frequently committed under the cover of darkness.  Nighttime is the most common time for nightclubs, premarital sex, extramarital sex, one night stands, prostitution, and computer viewing of explicit images.

The world is filled with darkness.  There are wars and terrorism, displacement and refugees, famine and disease, poverty and natural disasters.  Nationally there is political polarization and racial strife, abortion and violence, corruption and greed.  Individually there is family conflict, rejection, gossip, illness, pain, abuse, addiction, disappointment, failure, sadness, and depression.  The darkness often feels all-encompassing and overwhelming.

The infant Jesus was born during the night watch, at the time when the darkness is most intense.  The timing was no accident.  Jesus is the Light of World (Jn 8:12).  When Jesus was born, he was the true light coming into the world (Jn 1:9; see also Jn 3:19a).  He is “the light [that] shines in the darkness” (Jn 1:5a).  Jesus explained, “I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in the darkness” (Jn 12:46).

Christmas is a time of tremendous hope.  The light has come.  Jesus is the great illuminator.  He is a beacon of light.  Despite whatever darkness there may be in the world, it will not prevail.  “The darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5b), not in the past, not now, not in the future, not ever.

Jesus was born at midnight to bring light into our troubled world.  His light is so powerful that it outshines all else.

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The animals of Christmas

December 15, 2017

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Shepherds

The Birth of Jesus and the
Adoration of the Shepherds – Shepherd’s Field Bethlehem, Israel

There are several animals that are sometimes included in the Nativity or manger scene used to portray the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.

An ox. An ox alone is a symbol for Jesus. An ox is strong and powerful and able to carry an enormous burden, while Jesus is all-powerful and able to carry any burden. Jesus explained, “My yoke is easy and my burden light” (Mt 11:30). Also, an ox served as the largest, most imposing, and most expensive animal to be sacrificed on the altar in the temple as a sin offering, and Jesus is the pure and unblemished lamb that was sacrificed on the altar of the Cross as a sin offering for the redemption and salvation of the world.

An ass. An ass or a donkey was part of several key events in the life of Jesus. Many religious artists portray an ass as present at the time of Jesus’ birth. Baby Jesus and Mary probably sat on an ass on their flight to Egypt (see Mt 2:14,21). Jesus rode astride an ass as he made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (Mt 21:2,5,7; Jn 12:14). An ass represents humility, patience, peace, and service.

An ox and an ass together. An ox and ass are often displayed together in Nativity or crib scenes because of a verse in the Hebrew Scriptures: “An ox knows its owner, and an ass, its master’s manger” (Is 1:3). There is a connection between this text and the birth of Jesus because the words “owner,” “master,” and “manger” in the verse from the prophet Isaiah apply to Jesus. Jesus is the creator of all things (Col 1:16); he is the owner. When Jesus was born, he was laid in a manger (Lk 2:6,12,16). As the one who would take the throne of his father David, rule over the house of Jacob, and whose kingdom will never end (Lk 1:32,33), the child is the master.

The ox and the ass at Christmas. The ox and ass are not depicted in all Christmas scenes, but when they are, they are shown in the background, behind Jesus who is usually in the manger in the foreground, flanked by Mary and Joseph. The shepherds or the magi may also be depicted in the crib scene, always secondary to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and ahead of the ox and ass. The two animals are among the humblest and least of the animals, representative figures for all of the animal kingdom. They are shown watching and waiting, docilely and patiently, in admiration and joy over all that is happening before them.

A dog. Shepherds and dogs worked together to care for the sheep. The shepherd led the flock from the front, and the dog was responsible for the rear. The dog used barking and nipping to keep stragglers in contact with the flock, to prevent sheep from straying, and to seek and find any sheep that may have wondered off. When the shepherds went to see the newborn Jesus (Lk 2:15-19), they would have taken their dogs with them. A dog keeps watch at night and is a faithful friend to its owner, and on Christmas night, the dog kept watch over the manger and acted as a faithful friend to Jesus. A dog represents fidelity, loyalty, and watchfulness.

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Saint Lucy – Virgin and Martyr

December 7, 2017

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St. Lucy

Saint Lucy Virgin and Martyr

Saint Lucy was born in Syracuse, a city on the island of Sicily, off the coast of Italy, during the Third Century. Her family was upper class Roman nobility. Her parents were Christian. Her father died when she was an infant, so her mother both raised her and trained her in the faith.

Lucy was an extremely devout young woman who made a secret vow, not even revealed to her mother, that she would reserve herself totally to God as a virgin. Unaware, her mother arranged a marriage between her daughter and a young man who was a pagan.

Shortly thereafter, Lucy’s mother became sick with a hemorrhage. Lucy convinced her mother to go to Catania, a town in Italy where the tomb of St. Agatha, a virgin martyr, was located, to ask for a miracle. Both mother and daughter prayed at the tomb through the intercession of St. Agatha, and miraculously, their prayers were answered and her mother’s hemorrhage was cured.

After the healing, Lucy told her mother about her desire to dedicate herself to God, to break off the engagement, and give the money of the dowry to the poor. Her mother agreed, but her fiancé was furious. Out of revenge, he had Lucy arrested, brought to court, and had her charged with being a Christian. Paschasius, the governor of Sicily, demanded that she recant her Christian beliefs, but she flatly refused. As punishment, the governor condemned her to a brothel where she would be violated.

According to the legend, once she arrived at the brothel, she became so heavy that she could not be moved, not even by a group of guards or a team of oxen. Then she was condemned to be burned at the stake, but the flames did not harm her. Finally she was stabbed in the throat, bled profusely, and continued to pray until the moment of her death. She died in Syracuse, Sicily, c. 304 AD, during the persecution of the Roman emperor Diocletian. Her body was initially taken to Constantinople, and later her relics were transferred to Venice, Italy, for final burial.

There are multiple legends about St. Lucy’s eyes. According to one, they were torn out by a mean judge as part of her torture; according to another, a young suitor was enthralled with the beauty of her eyes, and to thwart his admiration and desires, she tore out her eyes, placed them on a tray, and presented them to him; and according to a third, when a rapist attempted to accost her in the brothel, she tore out her eyes to stop the attack. No matter how she lost her eyes, they were miraculously restored, more beautiful than before. In religious art, her symbol is two eyes on a plate.

St. Lucy is the patroness of those afflicted with any sort of eye problem, those with poor vision, eye disease, and the blind, because she had beautiful eyes and her eyes were torn out; of those with throat ailments, because she was stabbed in the throat; of those with hemorrhages and bleeding disorders, because her mother was cured of a hemorrhage and she bled to death; of lamplighters and glassblowers, because her name means light; of the city of Syracuse and the Island of Sicily, because they are where she lived and died; and of gondoliers, because her final burial place is Venice. The gondolier’s song Santa Lucia celebrates her. The Caribbean Island of Santa Lucia was named after her. Sweden holds its festival of light on December 13, her feast day. She is one of only seven female saints named in the Roman Canon or Eucharistic Prayer I.

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The Season of Advent

December 1, 2017

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Prophet Isaiah

The Prophet Isaiah St. Mary of the Presentation
Breckenridge, MN

The Word “Advent.” The term “Advent” comes from the Latin preposition ad, “to” or “toward,” and the verb, venire, “to come”; as well as the Latin word adventus which means “arrival” or “coming.” Advent is the season that celebrates the coming of Jesus, begins the new liturgical year, and prepares for the Solemnity of Christmas.

Advent’s Duration. The Season of Advent is made up of the four Sundays before Christmas, three full weeks, and a fourth week of variable length.

Advent’s Main Points of Emphasis. The major focus of Advent is the two comings of Christ, past and future. The Church looks backward with great joy, deep reverence, and profound gratitude, to commemorate and honor the first coming of Christ, the Nativity, the birth of Jesus, Messiah and Lord, the word made flesh, in Bethlehem. At the same time, the Church looks forward to the Second Coming of Christ, the Parousia, at the end of the age, the day when he comes again, with an admonition to be fully prepared, in the state of grace, free of all sin, full of hope, without anxiety, ready to welcome Christ when he comes in glory and majesty, and to be in a spiritual condition to be judged worthy of heaven.

Another Advent Point of Emphasis. While the Church looks to the past and the future, it also pays attention to the present. Christ will come on Christmas, and Christ comes each and every day, in the Gospel and the Eucharist, in the sacraments, in private prayer, in the Church gathered in liturgical worship, in song, in love, in truth, in our neighbors, and in many other ways; and it behooves us to be ready to receive Christ now and whenever he comes.

The Shifting Themes of Advent. In Years A, B, and C, the First Sunday of Advent highlights the Second Coming of Christ and the need for vigilance; the Second and Third Sundays of Advent concentrate on the ministry of Saint John the Baptist and the importance of conversion and repentance; and the Fourth Sunday of Advent is immediate preparation for Christmas with the annunciation to Joseph, the annunciation to Mary, and the Visitation, all passages from either Matthew’s or Luke’s Infancy Narratives.

Advent’s Color. The liturgical color for Advent is violet or purple, the color of repentance and sorrow for sin. If we wish to be ready for Jesus when he comes, we must “prepare the way of the Lord” (Lk 3:4), fill in the valleys of our shortcomings and bad habits, tear down the mountains of our offenses, make straight our crooked ways, and make smooth our roughness, meanness, and lack of charity (see Is 40:3-4 and Lk 3:5). While there are no days of fast and abstinence during this penitential season, it is highly recommended to approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Advent.

Important Elements of Advent. The symbol of the Advent season is the Advent Wreath comprised of four candles, three which are violet or purple, one which is rose, and represents the increasing light of Christ, the light of the world, born at midnight, during the time of the approaching winter solstice and the shortest and darkest day of the year. The saint of Advent is St. John the Baptist, the intertestamental prophet who bridged the Old and New Testaments, the one who sang of his coming, proclaimed his presence when he came, and challenged the people of his time and people of our day to open their hearts to receive Christ. The prophet of Advent is Isaiah, the author of the Immanuel Prophecies (Is 7:10-14; 9:1-6, especially vv, 5-6; and 11:1-10), quoted with seven Scripture passages used for the Sundays of Advent, seventeen for the weekdays of Advent, and every day for the Office of Readings.

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The dedication of the Basilicas of Sts. Peter and Paul

November 17, 2017

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November 18 is the memorial of the dedication of two of the oldest and most important basilicas of the Church, the first St. Peter’s Basilica and the first St. Paul’s Basilica. Both churches were in Rome, one inside the ancient city walls on the Vatican Hill where local Christians believed that the grave of St. Peter was located, the other outside the ancient city walls on the Via Ostia where the relics of St. Paul were buried.

The Emperor Constantine (d. 337) ordered that churches be built at both sites. Construction on St. Peter’s began while he was alive and was completed by his sons. A smaller church was built on the Via Ostia at the direction of Constantine, and in 386 the construction of a huge basilica began under Emperor Valentinian II and continued under Emperors Theodosius and Honorius. St. Peter’s was dedicated in 350 AD and St. Paul’s was dedicated in 390 AD by Pope St. Siricius.

Both basilicas, as impressive as they were, were later replaced by the magnificent basilicas of today. Construction on St. Peter’s Vatican Basilica began in 1506, continued through the Sixteenth Century under the direction of Michelangelo (d. 1564), the main architect, as well as a number of other architects, and was consecrated on November 18, 1626, by Pope Urban VII. The first Basilica of St. Paul was destroyed by fire in 1823, was completely rebuilt, and the new Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls was consecrated on December 10, 1854, by Pope Pius IX. They are two of the four main pilgrimage churches in Rome, along with the basilicas of St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major.

While both basilicas have great spiritual significance, the saints that they honor are the main focus. Sts. Peter and Paul are remembered together twice during the liturgical year, on their Solemnity on June 29, and on the memorial of their first basilicas on November 18. They are the two princes of Christ’s apostles, St. Peter, our leader in faith, the apostle to the Jews; and St. Paul, the fearless preached of the faith, the apostle to the Gentiles. St. Peter raised up the Church from the faithful flock of Israel; St. Paul brought Jesus’ call to the nations and became the teacher of the world (Preface 63, former Sacramentary).

Both saints have much in common. Peter and Paul were both Jews; both laborers, one a fisherman, the other a leather worker; both were called individually by Jesus, Peter while he was fishing, Paul while he was on the road to Damascus; both were aware that they were sinners, Peter, who said, “I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8), Paul who wrote, “Christ Jesus came to save sinners … of these I am the foremost” (1 Tm 1:15); both traveled extensively as missionaries to preach the gospel, Peter throughout Israel and then to Rome, Paul to Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome; both wrote extensively, Peter wrote two letters and most likely provided Mark with the information for his gospel, while thirteen letters are attributed to Paul; both were imprisoned, Peter in the Mamertinum prison in Rome, Paul in Philippi, Caesarea, and Rome; and both were martyred, Peter crucified upside down and Paul beheaded with a sword.

The Church received the beginning of her knowledge of things divine through Sts. Peter and Paul, and these two apostles are most responsible for the spread of Christianity. The truth was handed down to us by them, and we are governed under their patronage (Roman Missal).

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Go ahead: love yourself

October 27, 2017

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Love yourself. Yes, Jesus wants you to love yourself. He said so. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:39). But this sounds so selfish. When a person hears, “Love yourself,” all sorts of things come to mind. “Put yourself first,” which is egotistical, prideful, self-centered, and individualistic. “Give yourself what you want,” which is selfish, greedy, and materialistic. “The world revolves around you and what makes you happy,” which is narcissistic. “Enjoy the pleasures of life; if it feels good, do it,” which is hedonistic, self-indulgent, and decadent. Certainly this is not what Jesus means when he says, “Love yourself.”

I had a spiritual director who has a saying, “Good ministry begins with self-care.” This wise advisor would go on to say, “You are no good to anyone else if you are a wreck yourself. You are unable to be of service if you are mentally or spiritually imbalanced, sick or dead. You have to be well if you hope to love your neighbor.”

When Jesus says, “Love yourself,” he means, “Take care of yourself. Be a good steward of the gift of your life. Be healthy, spiritually, emotionally, and physically, so you are able to love and serve your neighbor appropriately.”

When Jesus says, “Love yourself,” he is asking us to take care of our body and physical health. You “love yourself” when you get to bed on time and get enough sleep, eat a well-balanced diet, exercise regularly, practice good hygiene, avoid dangerous activities, follow safety precautions, drive carefully, go to the doctor when sick, and comply with the doctor’s orders.

When Jesus says, “Love yourself,” he is asking us to take care of our emotional well-being. You “love yourself” when you nurture good relationships with family members; be a friend to others and allow others to be a friend to you; have a network of mutually beneficial friendships; have someone with whom you can share your hopes and fears, ups and downs; have one or more hobbies; enjoy the arts, go to movies, plays, concerts, or a museum; take time to read a good book, magazine, or newspaper; engage in enjoyable activities like a picnic, swimming, amusement park, the zoo, or a sporting event; have a reasonable workload; manage stress; reserve time for rest and relaxation; be positive and optimistic; pay special attention to hurts, deal with resentments, and forgive; restrain anger; and, if things are unmanageable on our own, to seek the help of others, either from a trustworthy family member or friend, or professional care from a minister or personal coach, counselor or therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist.

When Jesus says, “Love yourself,” he is asking us to have a strong and vibrant spiritual life. Good spiritual health begins with prayer. You “love yourself” when you pray every day, go to Mass every weekend, receive the sacrament regularly, do spiritual reading, practice a devotion like Eucharistic Adoration or the rosary, and do penance: prayer, fasting and self-denial, almsgiving, and works of charity. Other key elements of good spiritual health include being a registered and active member of a parish community, generosity with time and money, on-going spiritual development and faith formation, sharing one’s faith with others, and volunteer service to the parish and wider community. There is nothing selfish about loving yourself when you take care of yourself to honor the gift of life that God has given to you, and to have a strong and healthy foundation to serve your neighbor.

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