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St. Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Doctor of the Church

January 26, 2017

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Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225 – 1274) may be the brightest theological and philosophical light in the history of the Catholic Church.  His teaching and voluminous writings have profoundly influenced, deepened, and informed Catholic thought for over seven hundred years.

Thomas was born sometime near 1225.  He had noble beginnings, born in the castle of Roccasecca in Italy, the son of Count Landulf of Aquino.   When he was only five he was sent to the Benedictine Monastery School at Monte Cassino, and when he was fourteen he was sent to the University of Naples where he was exposed to a variety of philosophies including Aristotle and the Islamic philosopher Averroes of Cordoba.

In 1244 Thomas joined the Dominicans, a decision his family opposed so strongly that his brothers kidnapped him from the friary and carried him to the family castle at Roccasecca where he was held captive for more than a year.  In 1245 Thomas was given release, returned to the Dominicans, and shortly thereafter moved to Paris where he studied from 1245 to 1248.  Thomas spent the next four years at the new Dominican studium in Cologne where he was an understudy of the intellectual giant, St. Albert the Great.  Thomas was ordained a priest while at the studium.

Thomas returned to Paris in 1252 as professor, lecturer, and author.  By 1256 he was renowned as a Master of Sacred Theology and taught fellow Dominicans from 1259 to 1268 at Naples, Orvieto, Viterbo, and Rome.  It was during this period that he began his writings, his Cantena Aurea, a commentary on the gospels, Summa contra Gentiles, an aid for missionaries to the Muslims, as well as his most comprehensive work, the Summa Theologiae, a thorough and comprehensive explanation of Catholic theology.

Thomas returned to Paris in 1269 where he resumed his teaching and continued his writing.  He also became embroiled in a controversy over the rights of secular clergy and the friars to serve on the faculty, and bitter disputes with Siger of Brabant, John Peckman, and Bishop Tempier of Paris, all whom he opposed because of flaws in their logic.  With the University of Paris in upheaval, in 1272 Thomas was sent to serve as the director of the new Dominican house of studies in Naples.  It was there that he completed the third section of his Summa, and then, in December, 1273, he abruptly stopped all of his writing, calling it “so much straw compared with what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.”

Thomas was asked to attend the Council of Lyon in 1274 where Pope Gregory X intended to discuss the reunification of the churches of the East (Greek) and the West (Latin), but as he set out he fell ill, was taken to the Cistercian abbey near Terracina, Italy, and died on March 7, 1274.

In addition to his Summa, other notable works include Quaestiones disputatae, Quaestiones quodlibetales, De unitate intellectus contra Averroistas, and commentaries on the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and numerous biblical texts.  Thomas also wrote several well-known hymns:  Adoro to devote, O Salutaris Hostia, Tantum ergo, and Pange lingua.

Thomas Aquinas was canonized by Pope John XXII in 1323, named a Doctor of the Church by Pope St. Pius V in 1567, and designated the patron saint of Catholic schools, colleges, and universities by Pope Leo XIII in 1880.  He is also the patron saint of theologians, philosophers, students, and booksellers.  Since the Sixteenth Century he has also been known as the “Angelic doctor.”  His memorial was moved from his death anniversary to January 28, the date his body was transferred to Toulouse in 1369.



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January 17, 2017


SermonOnTheMountWhat a way to begin a speech!

Jesus is not your average public speaker.  Most acclaimed orators at a major convention begin their presentation with a series of polite opening remarks.  It is customary to honor visiting dignitaries, welcome the crowd, and offer glowing compliments about the organization or the host city, all to win the attention and approval of the audience.

Jesus could have begun, “Most reverend rabbis” or “Good people of Capernaum.”  He might have said something like, “How wonderful that we have gathered together here on this gorgeous day along the scenic shores of the Sea of Galilee.”  Jesus would have no idle chatter.  He cut straight to the chase.  The first word of his preaching was, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), a brave and bold command.  What a first impression!  It might not have won the crowd’s approval, but they perked up and took notice.

Jesus was never one for being politically correct.  He was no reed swaying in the wind.  He was a prophet, the Prophet, and he embodied the truth.  A prophet can see laxity, corruption, unfaithfulness, and evildoing, and refuses to look the other way.  There is no wiggle room when it comes to the truth, goodness, and holiness.  The bar must never be lowered.  The people and their leaders had strayed.  Their plight was dismal.  Their situation was urgent.  A prophet does not mince words.  Jesus did not want the people to like him.  He wanted to save them.  Out of deep love and sincere concern for their spiritual welfare, his first word was audacious and unapologetic:  “Repent.”

Repent is not a polite, soft invitation.  It is judgmental, challenging, and confrontational.  It says, “You are in a bad place” and “You are headed in the wrong direction.”  It is a reprimand, a scolding.  It is the sort of comment that would raise the ire of his listeners.  They would have likely retorted, “Get lost!”  “Mind your own business!”  Jesus was not about to leave, and their wellbeing was his first order of business.

Jesus knew that his listeners, all sinners, would be offended.  That is why he would later say, “Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me” (Mt 11:6).  His listeners would need to get past their initial anger, denial, defensiveness, and stubbornness.  An honest self-appraisal would reveal that Jesus was right, that sin was present, and that change was desperately needed, but change does not come easily.  Sinners regularly prefer self-destructive sinful behavior to healthy, wholesome behavior.  Jesus’ call to repent is a call to change.

Spiritual directors and counselors have a saying, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.”  If we keep doing the same old things the same old ways, we will get the same old results.  Each person is a sinner, both those in Jesus’ original audience and each of us today.  If we are sinners, something has to change.  We must repent or our sins will persist.  Without change, there can be no increase in righteousness or growth in holiness.





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St. Anthony, Abbot

January 12, 2017



A Variety of Names.  St. Anthony (251-356) is known by a number of different titles:  St. Anthony, the Abbot; St. Anthony, the Father of Monks; St. Anthony, the Patriarch of Monks; St. Anthony, the Hermit; St. Anthony of Egypt; St. Anthony of the Desert, and St. Anthony the Great.  He is commemorated each year on January 17.  He is not to be confused with St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231) who lived over 800 years later and is remembered on June 13.

The Early Years.  St. Anthony was born in Koman near Memphis in Upper Egypt around 251 AD.   His parents died when he was a late teenager, and he was left to care for his younger sister and the family home.  When he was twenty he reflected on how the apostles left everything, sold their possessions, and followed Jesus (Lk 5:11; 18:28; Acts 2:45; 4:34-35), and then, at church shortly thereafter he heard the gospel, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell all that you have and give to the poor” (Mt 19:21).  It seemed to Anthony that God was speaking directly to him.  He had inherited approximately 200 acres of fertile farmland which he proceeded to sell, along with most of the family possessions, and distributed it to the poor, and he retained a small amount to care for his sister and himself.   Not long afterward, he was in church again and heard the passage, “Do not worry about tomorrow” (Mt 6:34).  At this he sold the rest, took his sister to a convent to be raised by a community of sisters, and decided to live a simple, solitary life.

Life as a Hermit.  In 272, Anthony moved a short distance from his home into the desert to live an austere life of self-denial alone in a tomb in a cemetery.  He was guided by the Bible verse, “If anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat” (2 Thes 3:10b), so he did manual labor to support himself, and spent the remainder of his time in prayer and Scripture reading.  He memorized many passages.  He struggled mightily with temptation and had violent bouts with the devil.  He lived a strict ascetical lifestyle.  He did works of penance, particularly severe fasts, eating only bread and water once a day.  He wore sackcloth as his outer cloak, and a hair shirt for his undergarment which constantly irritated his skin.  In 285 he moved further into the desert to live in an abandoned fort in even greater solitude.

A Magnet and Guide.  Others were so attracted to Anthony that they joined him in the desert.  In 305 he organized a monastery at Fayum with a rule that the monks should live in solitude except for communal worship. Sometime after 312, he organized a second monastery at Pispir.  He instructed the monks to take up hobbies such as weaving baskets and mats to prevent idleness and ward off temptation.  The monks regarded Anthony as an abbot, and history regards him as the founder of monasticism.

Desert Departures.  Anthony left the desert twice, but only briefly.  He always desired to be a martyr so he went to Alexandria in 311 during the height of the Emperor Maximin’s persecution against Christians.  The oppression started to subside around the time of his arrival, he was never harmed, and returned to the desert.  Later he returned to Alexandria in 355 to help St. Athanasius fight the Arian heresy, after which he once again returned to solitude.  He died in the desert in 356 at the age of 105.

Patronage and Symbol.  St. Anthony is the patron saint of grave diggers and weavers, and his symbol is a T-shaped or Tau Cross.  He is invoked for release from worldly attachments.

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The Epiphany of the Lord

January 4, 2017


The Magi versus the Chief Priests and the Scribes

magiThe visit of the magi to Jesus in Bethlehem reveals a deeply disturbing fact:  the chief priests and the scribes did not go to visit Jesus like the magi.  In fact, they conspired with King Herod who wanted to destroy the child.  The chief priests and the scribes were quite unlike the magi, and they are a remarkable study in contrast.

The magi were pagans, Gentiles, non-believers; from Persia, a foreign country to the east; scholars and experts on secular subjects such as medicine, philosophy, and astronomy; belonged to an upper priestly caste; practiced as fortune tellers and magicians; and were ridiculed by ordinary Jews as superstitious, misinformed, and misguided.

On the other hand, the chief priests and scribes were Jews, members of God’s Chosen People; from Israel, the Promised Land; scholars and experts on spiritual subjects such as Scripture, the Law, and the prophets; served as the priests and elders of the Temple; despised fortune telling and magic; and were widely respected by ordinary Jews as holy, devout, and well-informed.

The reaction and response of the magi to the birth of Jesus is shockingly different from the chief priests and the scribes.  When the star appeared in the night sky, the magi noticed the star, were excited about the star, made a clear decision to seek the newborn king of the Jews, followed the star, traveled hundreds of miles, spent weeks or months on the journey, used a portion of their life’s savings to make the trip, brought expensive gifts, consulted with others for additional guidance, and once they found Jesus, they were filled with joy, prostrated themselves before him, paid him homage, and offered him expensive gifts.

On the other hand, the chief priests and the scribes failed to notice the star.  When they learned about the birth of the newborn king of the Jews, they were not excited, they had no desire to go and see the child, they were unwilling to travel five or six miles or to set aside part of a day to make the trip to nearby Bethlehem, spent none of their resources on traveling or gifts, failed to take heed of their own Scriptures regarding the birth of the Messiah, were flat and unaffected, gave Jesus no honor or worship, and presented him with no gifts.

This is a supreme irony.  A positive response to Jesus should have been forthcoming from the religious leaders of Israel, not from pagans from a faraway country.  The outsiders responded and believed.  The insiders were complacent and resisted.

Not only is this contrast shocking, and the response of the chief priests and scribes disappointing, even appalling, it should serve as a warning to us.  Practicing Catholics and regular church-goers would classify themselves as “religious” or “devout.”  This is the same way that the chief priests and scribes described themselves.  Even though they had the advantage of a religious upbringing, knew Scripture, and worshiped regularly, they did not respond to Jesus.  We must avoid their pitfall.  It is important for us to watch for Jesus, pursue him with all our hearts, expend whatever time and energy is needed to go to him, examine the Scriptures for guidance, prostrate ourselves in praise and worship before him, and offer him our finest gifts.

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St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821)

December 29, 2016



St. Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton was born on August 28, 1774, in New York, at the time of the American Revolution.  Her father was a physician and college professor, and her family was well-off financially.  Her family was Episcopalian, and she was baptized and raised in the Episcopal faith.

Elizabeth Ann’s youth and young adulthood was beset by troubles.  Her mother died when she was four.  Her baby sister also died.  Her father remarried, but her stepmother never accepted her and much of her childhood was unpleasant.  She was married at the age of 19 to William Seton, a wealthy merchant, and they had five children.  She had a tender heart for the poor and already at the age of 23 established the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows and Children, and she became popularly known as the “Protestant Sister of Charity.”  But in 1803 things took a severe turn for the worse.  Her husband’s business went bankrupt.  Then he contracted tuberculosis.  They quickly moved to Pisa, Italy, for a warmer climate where he might recover, but six weeks later he died, and at the age of 29 Elizabeth Ann was a grief-stricken widow and a single mother without adequate resources to care for her family.

Elizabeth Ann remained in Italy with her husband’s Italian family.  They were devout Catholics with a chapel in their home where they prayed before the Blessed Sacrament each day.  She joined them, and her prayer experience was so powerful that she decided to convert to the Catholic Church, which she did upon her return to New York on March 4, 1805.

Her Episcopalian relatives were angered by her conversion and refused to help her financially.  A woman of great faith, she went to daily Mass and prayed the Memorare every day.  She knew the benefits of a good education from her own childhood, so she decided to open a small boarding school which was a noble vocation and provided a meager income.

The rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore somehow found out about Elizabeth Ann’s talent for teaching and invited her to open a school for girls, and in 1808, at the age of 34 with five children, she moved her family to Maryland.  The new school enjoyed tremendous success.  Enrollment grew.  A new building had to be built.  She needed the help of others to run the school and she invited other women to join her.  Suddenly she had a group of women living together and founded a community of religious sisters, the American Daughters of Charity of St. Joseph, and they dedicated themselves to care for the poor and to provide religious education.  She was subsequently elected their superior and became known as Mother Seton.

With such great initial success, she was asked to open a second school, and then additional schools.  She extended her work to found orphanages in both Philadelphia and New York.  Her pioneering work was the beginning of Catholic schools, and she is considered the founder of the parochial school system in America.  She died on January 4, 1821, in Maryland.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was canonized by Pope Paul VI on September 14, 1975, the first native-born American citizen to be canonized a saint.  She is a patron saint for widows and converts.

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Why was Jesus Born at Midnight?

December 22, 2016

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Midnight 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 ‘O’ Antiphons

December 16, 2016



What is an Antiphon?  An antiphon is a verse or phrase sung or recited aloud or read silently before and after a Psalm or Canticle during the Divine Office or the Liturgy of the Hours.  The text is often a direct quote from Scripture, or a brief reflection on a Scripture text, or a verse pertaining to the feast day, the liturgical season, or the saint of the day.  An antiphon provides a spiritual context to be kept in mind for the duration of the Psalm or Canticle in much the same way that a mystery of the rosary is kept in mind during the recitation of the Hail Marys.

O Antiphons.  The O Antiphons, also known as the Greater Antiphons, are a set of seven separate antiphons, each beginning with an “O,” and followed by a title or special attribute of the Christ-child whose birth will be commemorated on Christmas.  The O Antiphons were written in Latin and drawn from texts from the prophet Isaiah regarding the long-awaited Messiah.  The author, date, and place of composition all remain unknown, but the antiphons were known to exist by the late Fifth Century and were in widespread use by the Eighth Century.

Late Advent Liturgical Use. The O Antiphons are used at Vespers for the seven-day period from December 17 to December 23.  They are used to introduce and conclude the Gospel Canticle, the Canticle of Mary or the Magnificat, the lovely prayer first offered by the Blessed Virgin Mary (Lk 1:46-55) and offered each day at Evening Prayer.

The “O” Introduction.  Each antiphon begins with a short O phrase that reveals an aspect of the identity of the newborn Son of the Most High whose kingdom will never end.  December 17 begins O Sapientia, O Wisdom; followed by O Adonai, O Lord; O Radix Jesse, O Root of Jesse; O Clavis David, O Key of David; O Oriens, O Rising Sun; O Rex Gentium, O King of the Nations; and O Emmanuel, O God with Us.  After the opening statement, each antiphon concludes with a short prayer of petition.

December 17.  “[O] Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care.  Come and show your people the way to salvation” (see Isaiah 11:2; 28:29).

December 18.  “O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain; come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free” (see Isaiah 11:4-5; 33:22).

December 19.  “O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you.  Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid” (see Isaiah 11:1,10).

December 20.  “O Key of David, O royal power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven:  come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom” (see Isaiah 22:22; 9:6).

December 21.  “O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:  come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death” (see Isaiah 9:1).

December 22.  “O King of all nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you have fashioned from the dust” (see Isaiah 2:4; 9:5).

December 23.  “O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God” (see Isaiah 7:14).


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Gaudete Sunday – The Third Sunday of Advent

December 9, 2016


stainedglassstbonifaceA Joyful  Sunday.  The Third Sunday of Advent is also known as Gaudete Sunday.  The word “gaudete” is derived from the Latin words “gaudium,” joy, and “gaudeo,” to rejoice or be glad.  Gaudete Sunday occurs eight to thirteen days before Christmas, and the nearness of this major feast is reason for great joy.

The Term “Gaudete.”  Gaudete is taken from the Entrance Antiphon:  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Indeed, the Lord is near” (paraphrase, Phil 4:4-5).  Advent is a time of joyful expectation and eager preparation for the Solemnity of Christmas.

Multiple Reasons for Joy.  There is joy in looking forward to the annual celebration of Christmas, but there is also joy in remembering the birth of Jesus on the first Christmas.  There is joy in knowing that he was born to save people from their sins (Mt 1:21b).  The joy also extends to anticipation of the Second Coming, either at the end of physical life or the end of the world, the time when believers will be given the crown of righteousness (2 Tm 4:8) and a place in the Father’s house (Jn 14:2) to dwell with God and his angels and saints for all eternity.

A Joyful Color.  Rose represents joy and may be used as the liturgical color for Gaudete Sunday.  Violet remains the official color for the Season of Advent, the Third Sunday included, because all of Advent has a penitential tone, a time of conversion, reparation, and forgiveness.  Gaudete Sunday offers a one-day respite to look ahead to the joyful celebration of the Nativity.

Joyful Adornments.  The priest may wear a rose chasuble and the deacon may wear a rose dalmatic.  Church decorations may include roses or other flowers, a rose-colored altar cloth, drapery on the pulpit or ambo, chalice veil, tabernacle curtain, or wall hangings.  The third candle of the Advent wreath is rose.

Joyful Prayers.  The prayers in The Roman Missal on the Third Sunday of Advent convey a joyful message.  The immediacy of Christmas is addressed in the Collect, “O God, who see how your people faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s Nativity,” followed by two references to joy:  “enable us … to attain the joys of so great a salvation” and “to celebrate them [with] … glad rejoicing.”  Preface II of Advent says “we rejoice at the mystery of his Nativity” and that we are “exultant in his praise.”  The Communion Antiphon contains the joyful message, “Behold, our God will come, and he will save us” (cf. Is 35:4).  Two invocations in the Advent Solemn Blessing refer to joy:  the second, “may he make you … joyful in hope,” and the third, “Rejoicing now with devotion at the Redeemer’s coming.”

Joyful Readings.  The Scripture texts for the Third Sunday of Advent, Year A, have multiple references to joy.  On the day that the promised Messiah comes, “the Arabah will rejoice” (Is 35:1); it will “rejoice with joyful song” (Is 35:2).  Those the Lord has ransomed are “crowned with everlasting joy” and “meet with joy and gladness” (Is 35:10).  The Responsorial Psalm is a joyful hymn of praise of God who is faithful, just, liberator, healer, protector, provider, eternal, and almighty (Ps 146:6-10).  The second reading makes the joyful declaration that “the coming of the Lord is at hand” (Jas 5:8b).  In the gospel, Jesus was asked if he is the Messiah, the one who is to come, and he made the joyful observation that the sick were cured, the dead raised, and the poor had the good news proclaimed to them (Mt 11:5), all signs that indeed, the Messiah had come, which is reason to rejoice.



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Isaiah, the prophet the featured voice of Advent

December 2, 2016

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Isaiah, the Advent Prophet.  Isaiah’s words are used extensively in the liturgies leading up to Christmas.  He, more than any other prophet, anticipates the coming Messiah and the fulfillment of God’s promise spoken to King David, “I will raise up your offspring after you … and I will establish his kingdom.  heir after you, and I will make his kingdom firm.  It is he who shall build a house for my name.  He it is who shall build a house for my name, and I will establish his throne forever.  I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me”  (2 Sm 7:12b,13,14a).

Most Cited on Advent Sundays.  Over the twelve Sundays of Advent in the three year Sunday Lectionary cycle, the prophet Isaiah is proclaimed most often, seven times, all four Sundays in Year A (Is 2:1-5; 11:1-10; 35:1-6,10; 7:10-14) and the first three Sundays in Year B (Is 63:16-17,19; 64:2-7; 40:1-5,9-11; 61:1-2,10-11).  In Year C the first readings are taken from four different Old Testament prophets, each which is cited only once:  Jeremiah, Baruch, Zephaniah, and Micah.  Isaiah’s voice rings out over the others.  His is the prophetic voice of Advent.

Most Cited on Advent Weekdays.  Isaiah is also most quoted on Advent weekdays.  Of the seventeen daily Masses over the first three weeks, passages from Isaiah are proclaimed fourteen times, six times in the first week, five in the second, and three in the third.  In the eight-day Octave immediately prior to Christmas, December 17-24, Isaiah is quoted only once on December 20, while the other first readings are chosen from a variety of sources.

The Immanuel Prophecies.  The prophet Isaiah anticipates the coming of Immanuel, God with us, and the glorious day of the arrival of the ideal king, the one who would decisively change the course of history, rule with justice, and bring peace.  The first prophecy describes the birth of Emmanuel:  “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel” (Is 7:14).  The second prophecy describes his dominion:   “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; upon his shoulder dominion rests.  They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.  His dominion is vast and forever peaceful” (Is 9:5-6a).  The third prophecy describes the justice of his rule:  “A shoot shall spout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.  The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him:  a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord.  He shall judge the poor with justice, and decide fairly for the land’s afflicted.  Justice shall be the band around his waist” (Is 11:1-2,4a,5a).

Advent Themes.  Isaiah is the voice of the key spiritual themes of Advent:  preparation, conversion, renewal, hope, consolation, joy, justice, peace, harmony, fulfillment, deliverance, redemption, salvation, and the restoration of the rule of God.

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Thanksgiving: Time to Count Blessings and Thank God for Gifts

November 23, 2016



The holiday season moves into full swing at the end of November with our annual celebration of Thanksgiving.  It is marvelous when we are able to have an attitude of gratitude.  God is our provider, the giver of every good gift, so when it comes to giving thanks, our first expression of gratitude should be directed to almighty God.  Jesus stressed the importance of thanking God when he asked the Samaritan leper who had been healed, “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” (Lk 17:18).

Following the lead of Jesus, his Master, St. Paul exhorts us to be grateful to God.  Paul instructed new Christians to “Be thankful” (Col 3:15).   He also said that believers should be “singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16).  He also taught that we should “Give thanks to God the Father through him [Jesus]” (Col 3:17).

This point is emphasized at every Mass when the priest says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” and the congregation responds, “It is right and just.”

At Thanksgiving, even though it is a civic holiday, it is an extremely beneficial spiritual exercise to set aside a few moments to count one’s blessings. Make a list.  Consider life and health, family and friends, talents and abilities, opportunities and accomplishments, financial and material blessings.

While the world focuses on material blessings, please do not forget to count your spiritual blessings:  the Father and creation; Jesus and his gospel, the Eucharist, his saving death on the Cross, and our salvation and redemption; the Holy Spirit, inspiration and guidance, faith and grace, energy and power, courage and conviction, contrition and forgiveness.  Apart from God, we would have nothing.  God has blessed us with everything that we have.

As we become increasingly aware of our countless blessings, it should lead us to give God greater praise and thanks, and one of the best ways to express our gratitude is in prayer.  The Greek word eucharistos means “thankful,” and as Catholics we believe that the best way to thank God is at the Eucharist, our prayerful celebration of the Mass.

St. Paul also recommends hymns and psalms, sung at Mass, or anywhere, anytime.  It also is an excellent spiritual practice to thank God in our personal private prayer each and every day.

Please consider making prayer a central part of your celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday.  The ideal way would be to attend Mass.  Also, before sitting down to the Thanksgiving dinner, take a moment as a group to offer thanks with your meal prayers.

On Thanksgiving Day, take some time between rising and retiring to go off by yourself to a private place, be quiet, reflect, list your blessings, and offer God your personal prayer of thanks.

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