Tag Archives: Christ

My yoke is easy, my burden light

July 7, 2017

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JesusCarpenterShopGet serious, Jesus!  You say that your burden is light (Mt 11:30).  Hardly!  There are many times that I feel crushed by the burdens of life.  I have so many responsibilities.  There are so many jobs to do.  The days are so long.  I have to work so hard.  The demands are so constant.  There are so few breaks.  You say the burden is light.  I probably should not disagree with the Son of God, but I say that the burdens are huge, sometimes oppressive, and more than I can manage.

The yoke is a symbol for the burden.  A yoke is a wooden frame or harness attached to the shoulders of a pair of oxen to pull a plow or cart.  The yoke enables the oxen to pull much weight and do much work.  For a Christian, the yoke can symbolize the gospel, which the believer chooses to harness to their shoulders, with all of its duties and obligations, or it can symbolize one’s God-given vocation in life, with its endless tasks and responsibilities.

The yoke is far from easy.  It is a burden to live the gospel, such as to speak and insist on the truth in the midst of distortion and dishonesty, and then to bear the burden of the consequences.  It is a burden to accept the vocation as a parent with the endless jobs that follow:  getting up at night, feeding the baby, changing diapers, giving baths, doctor appointments, and everything else that goes with being a mother or father.

How is it, then, that the yoke could be easy?  Jesus and Joseph worked in a carpenter’s shop in Nazareth (see Mt 13:55; Mk 6:3).  Carpenters are woodworkers, and much of their craft is to make items for the home:  tables and chairs, door and window frames, and doors.  Nazareth is surrounded by farmland, and farmers went to the carpenter’s shop to get yokes for their oxen.  Jesus would have made many yokes over his long career in the carpenter’s shop.

Oxen come in different sizes and shapes, particularly the bone and muscle structure of the shoulders.  If the yoke does not fit properly, it hurts to pull and the oxen refuse to work.  Therefore, each yoke has to be tailor-made, individually form-fitted.  Jesus was an expert both at measuring the oxen and customizing yokes that fit just right.  When the yoke fits properly, the oxen will pull and do an enormous amount of work.

When it comes to a person’s calling or vocation in life, a person’s “yoke,” each one is individually tailor-made by God.  One is called to be a parent.  Another is called to be a school teacher, a nurse, a technician, or a cook.  Every calling is burdensome, but because the yoke is form-fitted to the individual by God, and when a person accepts their vocation, the person gains a sense of purpose and determination, which makes the burden lighter.  God supplies the energy to carry the load, and renews the energy day by day, all which makes a heavy burden lighter.

The main factor affecting the weightiness of the burden is love.  If a parent loves their infant child, the burden of getting up at night, feeding the baby, or changing the diaper instantly becomes light.  Similarly, when teachers love their students, health care professionals love their patients, and workers love their customers, their workload becomes light, not because the job is easy, but because the burden is carried willingly and joyfully.  When love of God and neighbor is the driving force, what would otherwise be a burden is light.

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Jesus, the great high priest

October 7, 2015

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THE SECOND READINGS OF WEEKS 27-33, YEAR B, FROM THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS

Jesus, High Priest, the Great High Priest Hebrew 4:14 Sacred Heart, Church, Staples, MN

Jesus, High Priest, the Great High Priest Hebrew 4:14 Sacred Heart, Church, Staples, MN

A Continuous Reading.  The second readings for Weeks 27 through 33 of Year B, the final portion of the church year, all come from the Letter to the Hebrews.  Their selection follows the liturgical principle of Lectio continua, Latin for “a continuous reading,” a series of Scripture texts all taken from the same book of the Bible in sequence.  While the first reading at Mass usually is selected to compliment the gospel, the second reading has no intended connection to either and stands on its own.  The texts chosen for the second reading are those judged most significant in a book or, as a group, work together to unfold an important spiritual concept.

The Letter to the Hebrews.  The letter itself is peculiar because so little is known about it.  For many years the author was thought to be St. Paul, but that proposition has been disproved due to differences in literary style and theological content.  It is not so much a letter as a long written homily intended to instruct and encourage.  The intended audience, “the Hebrews,” is also unclear.  Generally “the Hebrews” is another term for “the Jews,” so it may be directed to Jewish converts to Christianity, or to Jews who were contemplating conversion, or to Gentile Christians who could benefit from a better understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures.

The Theological Thread.  A thread is a theme that is woven through a series of chapters of a book of the Bible; two or more readings on a particular Sunday, a horizontal thread; or a sequence of readings over a number of consecutive weeks, a vertical thread.  The thread that connects the seven consecutive readings from Hebrews is the priesthood of Jesus.

Week 27B, Hebrews 2:9-11.  The first passage explains the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ priesthood:  “by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Heb 2:9).  Jesus was perfect so his self-offering was a perfect sacrifice.  It is the work of a priest to consecrate, to make holy, and Jesus consecrates or makes every person holy before God (Heb 2:11).

Weeks 28B and 29B, Hebrews 4:12-13 and 4:14-16.  Chapter 4 goes on to explain that Jesus is a priest from whom nothing is concealed (Heb 4:13); he is all-knowing, omniscient.  He is the wise priest whose word is living and effective (Heb 4:12).  He is the “great high priest” (Heb 4:14), not only human, but a priest who came down from heaven, the Son of God, a divine high priest.  Because he was tempted and knows first-hand the struggles of the human condition, he is a compassionate priest, approachable, merciful, and helpful.

Week 30B, Hebrews 5:1-6.  Jesus is not a self-appointed priest but was sent by his Father (Heb 5:5).  His priesthood is eternal, not like other priests who serve only for a time.  It is the duty of a priest to offer sacrifice for sin.  Temple priests offered animals, Jesus offered his own body; Temple priests were sinners and offered sacrifice for themselves, Jesus was sinless and offered sacrifice for the human race.

Week 31B, Hebrews 7:23-28.  This passage repeats key points made previously about Jesus’ priesthood.  His priesthood is eternal, it “remains forever,” it “does not pass away” (Heb 7:24).  He is a priest who is “holy, innocent, and undefiled” (7:26) which enables him to make intercession on our behalf.  He is the priest who has the power to save us (Heb 7:25).

Weeks 32B and 33B, Hebrews 9:24-28 and 10:11-14,18.  These texts highlight the glorious nature of Jesus’ priesthood.  Jesus now reigns as the exalted priest in the sanctuary of heaven, seated forever at the right hand of God, revered because he offered himself in sacrifice, not multiple times, but once, to perfect and sanctify, to remove sin once and for all, so that when he returns a second time at the end of the age, he will bring the gift of salvation.

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A toast to friendship

December 31, 2014

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Friends make our lives richer, even when the friendship ends.

Friends make our lives richer, even when the friendship ends.

At a time when we gather to toast and reminisce, I’m remembering New Years’ past and the friends who celebrated with me.

I tend to rewind a lot of holiday memories at this time of year and think about the people who’ve been part of my life. Some are still my friends, which makes the memories that much sweeter. Sadly, others have either passed away, or otherwise passed from my life.

It’s hard to imagine who or where I’d be without friends. Through the years, they have supported me, challenged me, laughed and cried with me, and just been there with me.

Friendship not necessary?

C.S. Lewis calls friendship the most spiritual of the loves he describes in his book, “The Four Loves.” Of all those loves, which include affection and romantic love, friendship is the least natural, instinctive, biological or necessary.

Without Eros (romantic love) none of us would have been begotten and without Affection none of us would have been reared; but we can live and breed without Friendship. The species, biologically considered, has no need of it.

I think the assertion that we don’t need friends for survival is debatable. Mine have bailed me out in many ways and I them. At least it’s hard to imagine life without them. In losing friends I have most fully realized this.

We see in our friends qualities and virtues that we can’t see in ourselves. And true friendship takes us beyond ourselves.

Aristotle presents three marks of friendship.

  1. Benevolence: We actively pursue our friend’s wellbeing.
  2. Reciprocity: Friendship has to be mutual and not done only for the sake of our own desire.
  3. A sense of mutual indwelling: Friends are a single soul existing in two bodies.

Friends with Christ

I think this is the kind of friendship Jesus wants to have with us. He mentions it three times in John 15:13-15:

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends…

It has been through losing friends that I have most able to accept and appreciate the Lord’s friendship—and to learn more of what it means to be a friend.

Friendship may be unnecessary, like philosophy and art, and it may have no survival value, as Lewis states. But instead, he writes, it gives value to survival.

As midnight rolls around, I drink a toast to friends who have enhanced my survival by loving me and showing me how to love the Lord!

Happy New Year!

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St. Nicholas and the worldly spirit of Christmas

December 6, 2013

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Like a big, friendly dog that wants to rough house in the living room, the worldly spirit of Christmas jumps all over our quiet Advent.

All the music, shopping,  parties and expectation steal our attention so it’s hard to focus on purple candles, prayer and waiting for Jesus’ coming.

Today’s saint knew that Christ was the true joy of Christmas, so now he probably shakes his head at how his red-suited “descendant,” Santa Claus, has made his Christian charity in gift-giving so secular and commercial.

No doubt he prays for us especially during this season, as we try to keep the worldliness of  Christmas at bay so we can prepare our hearts through prayer and little acts of charity.

Nicholas is famous for giving gifts but he did a lot more than that. He was probably born in about 280 AD of wealthy Christian parents in Patara (now Demre, Turkey). He received an inheritance which he gave to the needy.

A source of our Santa tradition is the story of how Nicholas secretly delivered three bags of gold to a destitute father’s home so he could give his daughters dowries. It’s believed the bags landed in shoes or stockings drying by the fire. Despite his attempts at secrecy, Nicholas, by then a priest, was elected bishop of Myra.

During the persecution of Diocletian, some accounts say Nicholas was imprisoned and tortured. It is believed that he participated in the Council of Nicaea in 325 and strongly denounced the Arian heresy, which asserted that Jesus is not truly divine but a created being.

According to another legend, when the governor had been bribed to execute three innocent men, Nicholas intervened and won their release. After three officers who had witnessed the men’s release were themselves falsely accused and condemned to death, they remembered Nicholas and prayed for his intercession. That night, Nicholas appeared to the Emperor Constantine in a dream, asking for the officers’ release. When the emperor questioned the officers and learned of their prayer for Nicholas’ intercession, he freed them.

After a life of service to the Lord, Nicholas died around 343 and was buried in Myra.

Before Santa was even imagined, Nicholas was long venerated in the Church, especially by the Orthodox. Many churches are dedicated to the saint. In 1087, merchants from Bari, Italy, took Nicholas’ relics to their city, where they are still located.

Every year the’ relics are exumed and they exude a clear liquid called manna which is believed to have healing properties. It’s a pretty amazing story about this amazing saint which you can read at a website all about St. Nicholas.

St. Nicholas, prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming and show us the true Spirit of Christmas.

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The Assumption: Our Earthly Bodies and Heaven

August 14, 2013

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Painting in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore, MD.   Photo/Jim, the Photographer.  Licensed by Creative Commons.

Painting in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore, MD. Photo/Jim, the Photographer. Licensed by Creative Commons.

I’ve sometimes wondered if the Blessed Mother experienced the wrinkles and pains of old age. She was human and by all accounts didn’t have an easy life. The Church tells us she had no pain when she gave birth to Our Lord, but during the rest of her life there must have been some hardship and suffering.

The dying who suffer terribly in their bodies are not always sad at the prospect of leaving them to meet God. Yet the Church teaches that the Lord did take His mother’s aged body to heaven at the Assumption.

As the angels bore her body there, maybe the aging process went in reverse so that by the time she got there she looked the way she has in her apparitions. That’s not to say she wasn’t equally beautiful in her later years on earth but she has mostly appeared to us as a younger-looking woman.

Why bring her earthly body to heaven?

God could have made a new body in heaven for the Blessed Virgin. Why did he choose to bring her earthly body which, if it’s like mine, came with runny nose, bad breath and hangnails? The most obvious answer is that her body was the tabernacle of the Most High, Christ’s first earthly home.  According to Father Canice Bourke, OFM Cap.:

The womb that bore Jesus Christ, the hands that caressed him, the arms that embraced him, the breasts that nourished him, the heart that so loved him — it is impossible to think that these crumbled into dust.

Another reason appears in what we profess in the Apostles Creed: “The resurrection of the body…” This essential Christian doctrine is explained in the Catechism:

We believe in the true resurrection of this flesh that we now possess” (Council of Lyons II: DS 854). We sow a corruptible body in the tomb, but he raises up an incorruptible body, a “spiritual body.” (CCC 1017)

Our Lady was the first to receive the fruits of our redemption in her Immaculate Conception. She did not sin and it is believed that her body was immune to corruption. Would she not also be the first after Christ to experience the resurrection which all the faithful will experience?

Cremation for the Blessed Virgin?

According to the Golden Legend, a 13th century collection of saint biographies, Our Lady’s body was placed in a tomb for three days after her death (though whether she did actually die has been disputed by scholars for centuries). During that time, some who thought Christ was a traitor sought to burn her body.

It’s hard to imagine someone actively destroying the body of the Mother of God. And it makes me question whether we should do this to our own bodies, which St. Paul calls temples of the Holy Spirit.

The Church does allow cremation, “provided it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.” (CCC 2301)

Thankfully, it didn’t happen to the body of the Blessed Mother. According to the Golden Legend, Christ and a company of angels came to bring Our Lady’s body to heaven. St. Gregory, Bishop of Tours wrote in 594 AD:

“The Lord…commanded the body of Mary be taken in a cloud into paradise; where now, rejoined to the soul, Mary dwells with the chosen ones.”

I hope to be one of the chosen ones, up there in my body. Hopefully without the dry skin and wrinkles.

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The Grinch and the Christmas Octave

December 28, 2011

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Photo/Maryanne Ventrice Licensed under Creative Commons

It feels a little like the Grinch comes on Christmas Night for real. The same way that troubled green creature hauled out every trace of Christmas from Whoville, our culture removes all the signs that the Holy Day ever happened.

Trees wrapped in plastic are cast onto the curb, Christmas items are deep-discounted for quick sale on the Dec. 26 shopping holiday and Christmas music all but disappears from the airwaves.

When it comes to Christmas, the world could learn something about partying from Catholics.

The 36 hours from Christmas Eve through Christmas Night are just the beginning–our festivities go on for eight days. This liturgical octave of Christmas starts on Christmas Day and continues until the Solemnity of the Mother of God (New Year’s Day).

Besides offering seven more days for feasting and merriment, the Church has a serious reason for designating an octave celebration of Christ’s birth, along with octaves for Easter and Pentecost. It’s to help us contemplate the mysteries of these feasts experienced in the Church’s liturgies.

Old Testament roots

The octave commemoration has its origins in the Old Testament. On the eighth day, circumcision occurs in the Jewish faith, representing God’s covenant with Abraham and the Jewish people. The Feast of Tabernacles and other feasts were celebrated for seven days but the eighth day also carried special significance.

In the fourth century, the Church gave Easter and Pentecost octaves possibly because it allowed for an extended retreat for the newly-baptized. Also, since both of those feasts always fall on Sunday, the octave day of the following Sunday seems like a natural closing for a week of festivities.

The Church introduced the octave of Christmas in the eighth century. Other octaves were added for Epiphany, Corpus Christi and saints. Until the middle of the 20th century, octaves were ranked in importance. For the most “privileged” octaves, no work was done nor other feasts celebrated.

In 1955, Pope Pius XII simplified the calendar so that the Church recognizes only the octaves of Easter, Pentecost and Christmas.

Feasts within the Feast

As she celebrates Christ’s Nativity, the Church also commemorates these feasts during the octave of Christmas:

  • Dec. 26: Feast of St. Stephen
  • Dec. 27: Feast of St. John the Evangelist
  • Dec. 28: Feast of the Holy Innocents
  • Dec. 30: Feast of the Holy Family
  • Jan. 1:     Octave day of the Nativity, Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

One of the ways to commemorate the octave of Christmas is by attending daily Mass:

The octave’s primary observation is by celebrating daily Mass in thanksgiving for Christ, with the gospel readings centered around the Incarnation and early years of Jesus’ life. The wisdom of the Church begins the octave with the birth of Jesus and ends it on the eighth day with the veneration of Mary’s role in the Incarnation.

Feasting and merriment are both in order for the octave of Christmas, as well as visiting family, visiting the sick and elderly, and helping the poor. Also, here are prayers and activities for each of the octave days.

In the end, the Grinch was converted and embraced Christmas. Maybe as we give this Holy feast its proper place on the calendar, our culture won’t unplug the Christmas lights so fast and will let the Nativity celebration continue.

Merry Christmas!

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How to recognize a sheep

November 23, 2011

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Dorothy

Dorothy Newcomb

I don’t think Jesus wanted anyone to sit comfortably with Sunday’s Gospel about dividing the sheep and the goats at the Last Judgment (Mt. 25:31-46). In the parable, the sheep on His right represent those who have heard and answered God’s call to serve the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the imprisoned. The goats on His left were those who didn’t act on that call.

As a 1970s Christian singer put it, “The only difference between the sheep and goats is what they did and didn’t do.”

While it’s clear that things won’t go well for us unless we get involved in works of mercy, I don’t think we have to look hard to find opportunities to be sheep. One person who blessed me by how she took on what Jesus sent her way was my former neighbor, Dorothy Newcomb, who passed away last week.

A single woman who lived most of her 98 years in the same St. Paul home, Dorothy was very aware of, and involved in the world around her. Her long career in state and federal government  included 21 years working for the CIA in Washington, D.C. and Minneapolis.

Dorothy’s Episcopal Church community provided many opportunities to serve and she responded wholeheartedly. In the 50s and 60s, she befriended and cared for Native Americans who were migrating from rural Minnesota to the Twin Cities. Dorothy’s small white house near the Mississippi River was known among Native Americans as a place where they could find assistance.

In service of those in need

Dorothy kept her front closet full of clothes she collected from friends so she could outfit families that came her way. Sometimes they’d call with a specific request and other times there’d be a knock on the door and she would set a traveler up on the couch for the night.

Later she learned about a Hmong family who needed a sponsor to come to the United States. While sponsoring them, Dorothy also mobilized her church to provide items for the family’s household.

In the 70s, Dorothy heard about a Nigerian immigrant whose family was joining him in the United States. They needed a place to live while in transition so Dorothy let the entire family stay in her three-bedroom house as she helped them get established.

At Thanksgiving, Dorothy invited all “her families” for a meal around her big dining room table. She also found time to tutor elementary school students and for many years was a companion for an adult with special needs.

Dorothy cared for her own family, including her three nieces and their children. During a turbulent time in one niece’s adolescence, she offered a place away from home to regroup and focus.

Godmother to 17

Though she had no children of her own, Dorothy was godmother to 17, including children from a variety of cultures. Well into her 90s, she worked to maintain relationships with all of them and their families.

You wouldn’t have noticed anything sheep-like about Dorothy on first glance. It was more evident in how she looked at others. It turns out that sheep have better eyesight than goats–they can see the face of Christ in those they meet. And just as importantly, their quick reflexes don’t allow them to sit back and do nothing when they’re called to act.

Eternal rest grant unto Dorothy, O Lord, and thank you for her life as a sheep.

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What are indulgences and why do we need them?

September 7, 2011

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kids climbing

Indulgences give us the chance to receive a "hand up" from Christ and the saints as we seek remission of punishment for our sins. Photo by Jo Guldi. Licensed under Creative Commons.

What if the government worked out this solution to the personal debt crisis:  All Americans would contribute everything they made, beyond their personal needs, to a common treasury. The wealthy would put in their billions, and everyone else in lower tax brackets would put in what they had.

A trustworthy administrator with authority would give those who had maxed out their credit cards the opportunity to pay off their debts from the common pot if they showed remorse and determination to learn better financial habits. The treasury would always be full because of one super contributor and because others were constantly adding to it.

This may sound like a great socialist scheme but in reality, it’s an image that helps describe how indulgences work in the Church. By drawing on the merits of Christ and the saints, an indulgence enables us to obtain remission of the temporal punishment (which has a beginning and end, unlike eternal punishment) we incur when we sin.

When we confess our sins to a priest in confession, receive absolution and do the penance we’re given, our sins are forgiven. But just like sincere contrition alone wouldn’t fix a rear-ended car, forgiveness of sin alone doesn’t satisfy God’s justice, according to Church teaching.

All sin, including venial sin, involves unhealthy attachment to creatures, from which the sinner must be purified before entering heaven (CCC 1472). That purification of temporal punishment happens either on earth or in Purgatory.

Inexhaustible storehouse of merits

Typically combining works of piety, prayer and the sacraments, indulgences are granted by the Pope, who presides over the Church’s treasury of satisfaction: her inexhaustible  storehouse of the merits of Christ, the Blessed Mother and the saints.

Indulgences are not permission to commit sin, pardon of past sin or forgiveness of guilt. They suppose that sin is already forgiven. They’re not an exemption from any law or duty but a more complete payment of debt owned to God.  And above all, they’re not an attempt to purchase pardon in order to secure salvation or release a soul from Purgatory.

“He who gains indulgences is not thereby released outright from what he owes as penalty, but is provided with the means of paying it,” wrote St. Thomas Aquinas.

Besides being in the state of grace, those who seek indulgences must do the works prescribed for the indulgence, love God, place their trust in Christ’s merits and believe strongly in the great assistance they receive from the Communion of Saints, Pope Paul VI wrote in his Apostolic Constitution on Indulgences.

There are two types of indulgences: A plenary indulgence removes all temporal punishment due for sins already forgiven. To obtain it, a Catholic must do the work attached to the indulgence, go to confession, receive Holy Communion and pray for the Holy Father’s intentions (at least one Our Father and one Hail Mary).  A partial indulgence removes part of the punishment and requires that the act attached to the indulgence be performed contritely.

Facts about indulgences

  • A Catholic can obtain one plenary indulgence per day, but more than one when at the point of death.
  • It’s possible to gain more than one partial indulgence per day.
  • The faithful can obtain plenary indulgences quite easily at least twice a year, once for their church’s titular saint day and for Portiuncula (August 2), the first plenary  indulgence granted in the Church.
  • A plenary indulgence, applicable only for the dead, can be acquired on November 2.
  • See the Catholic Answers website for more information on how to obtain indulgences.

Knowing the great wealth Christ and the saints have deposited in our Church’s treasury of satisfaction–and how much we need it–we have good incentive to take the grace of indulgences seriously.

 

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