Just Posted

On the homilies page (see above):

IV Sunday of Advent – Renewing our Worship by offering up our bodies… why the body matters to spiritual life.

Christmas – The unfinished work of building the manger: The Gospel of Christ vs. The Gospel of Caesar

Meditations in the Midst of Daily Life

advent week i – wednesday

Silence and Listening

Advent Week I – tuesday

The Sacred Act – How He Trusts Us!

In today’s Gospel, Jesus praises the Father:

“I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike.

And this is the crux of Fr. Guardini’s meditation on the nature of our sacred act.  Throughout natural history, man has responded to God action in the world.  In salvation history, more specifically, God takes initiative and invites man to build an altar of sacrifice after encountering him.  God has, throughout time, invited us to partake in covenants responding to him.  With the coming of Christ though, something changes.  The covenant tools he gives us, the sacraments, aren’t bound to a calendar date, but only to doing what we do in memory of him.  Jesus has given man the capacity to initiate a sacred act… He has made us, in the words of St. Paul, “stewards of the mysteries of God.” (I Cor 4).

Whether our role in these mysteries is as part of the ordained priesthood of the clergy or the royal priesthood of the faithful, what an awesome responsibility we have to engage in sacred actions well.  To use the words of the Second Vatican Council, we are called to engage in “full, active and conscious participation.” (“participatio actuoso”).  Now this does not mean being overly raucous or effusive in worship, but rather taking it seriously… engaging with our full selves, SEVEN DAYS-A-WEEK… since – after all – our sacred acts are not specifically bound by time any more…

Do I give worship my all?  Do I pray conscientiously, meditatively at home using Scripture and the lives of the saints to guide me?  Do I confess regularly to prepare myself for mass?  Do I attend mass fully engaged from my dress to my decorum to my attentive prayer and offering of the week’s work to the Lord?   Good questions as we engage in sacred action and renew our worship this Advent.

Advent Week I – Monday

Expectation as a starting point for renewing worship

Do I expect the Lord.  As Father Romano Guardini – a wonderful forerunner of the Second Vatican Council – points out in his excellent book Meditations Before Mass, expectation is a key component of worship.  Certainly, today’s Advent Scriptures bear this out (Is 2:1-5).  How often we hear Isaiah’s words, “In days to come…” or, “On that day…”. Throughout Advent, the prophets expect the coming of Jesus in time at Bethlehem.  We expect him in our prayer life, and in the sacraments.  BUT… do we look forward to and expect him at the end of our lives… at the end of time?  Jesus tells us the fullness of the Kingdom is coming… and that the Son of Man will return on that day, but do we really expect that?  The rapid fire Christian response is, “of course we do.”  But our lives don’t always bear this out.  

The first generation of Christians believed that Jesus would return in person, in their own lifetimes.  St. Paul’s letters testify to this imminent sense of expectation.  As time went on, our ancestors settled in for a longer haul.  Still, a deep sense of Jesus’ personal concern for us, and hope that he would be part of our future, deeply marked the experience of the early Church.  This sense was very much in display at the time of the Roman persecutions.  Only people who fully expect to see the Lord on the other side of death can readily walk into the arena and face the lions with hymns of praise.  Expectation was at the foundation of the Christian emotional experience when our ancestors worshipped.

As Fr. Guardini points out however, a subtle shift happened when Christianity became not only legal, but the official religion of the Empire after Constantine.  Suddenly, there was security… and the desperate need to look for Christ, the yearning to see him at the end of our lives and the end of time… it all began to cool.  To co-opt a contemporary ministry slogan: worship became a mater of daily maintenance instead of daily mission.  Going to mass became simply “what we do,” instead of a matter of life and death on which all hope rides.  

It’s a worthwhile question to explore: Do I expect Jesus… in my life? after my death? at the end of all time?  Looking to and renewing our worship this Advent can be a great way to check-in on this question, and begin to address is for the future.

Consider these words, the verses of the ancient Latin hymn for Monday Morning Prayer during Advent:

Hark, a herald voice is calling;
“Christ is nigh,” it seems to say;
“Cast away the dreams of darkness,
O ye children of the day.”

Startled at the solemn warning,
Let the earth-bound soul arise;
Christ, her sun, all sloth dispelling,

Shines upon the morning skies.

Lo, the Lamb, so long expected,
Comes with pardon down from heaven;

Let us haste, with tears of sorrow,
One and all to be forgiven.

So when next he comes with glory,
Wrapping all the earth in fear,
May he then as our defender
On the clouds of heaven appear.

Honour, glory, virtue, merit,
To the Father and the Son,
With the co-eternal Spirit,
While eternal ages run.

Amen.

Receptivity: The Beginning of Worship

 

During the season of Advent, the Church prepares to worship the Christ Child in the manger with Mary, Joseph and the shepherds.  It’s fitting then that the Church traditionally turns an eye toward her worship practices during this holy season.  And I’d propose, as a start to our considerations, that worship begins with receptivity.

On our own, human beings don’t have much that God wants.  Throughout the Psalms the Lord reminds us that he made everything, so our earthly activities -unto themselves- don’t mean much.  The meaningful gift that we give to God in sacred worship must come from him, grow to perfection in us under his guidance and then be rendered back to him as a gift.  Put another way, in the words of St. John, “The Love of God consists in this, not that we have loved him, but that he loved us first and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” (I Jn. 4:10).

Certainly, receptivity marks Advent in a particular way.  On the coming feast of the Immaculate Conception, we recognize the gift of Christ received by Mary in anticipation of what he would do for us.  Throughout this month we’ll think about how Mary received the Word, the Son into her womb.  We might even hear a bit about Elizabeth and Zechariah who received John the Baptist in a miraculous conception during Elizabeth’s old age.  Aside from these births unto themselves, we also see in these figures people who were receptive of God’s plan, God’s timeline rather than their own.  …And by that receptivity they launched the New Covenant.

Our Lord himself, though he needed nothing, received loving kindness from God his Father all those times he “went off to a lonely place to pray.”  Receiving and doing the Father’s will was the Lord’s sustenance (Jn 4:34).  And as if to highlight this reality by contrast, at the height of his earthly ministry, the Passion, one of the most striking facets of the experience is precisely that Christ seemed to have lost all perception of the Father’s consolations, experiencing – as St. John of the Cross would name it – a dark night of the soul on the Cross.

Receptivity is the beginning of worship!

But here’s the challenge: Receptivity demands of us, has built into it, vulnerability.  In today’s first (EF) reading from Romans, St. Paul advises us to rise up and put on the armor of light (Rm 13:12).  He doesn’t tell us to put on the armor of steel or of silver, but of light.  What’s that supposed to do for us?  The armor of light is our ticket to Resurrection.  It means, like Jesus, we are called to be receptive to God’s grace… and to the nails, and to the thorns… and to the lance in our side.  Like Christ though, these wounds don’t have to stop us.  Resurrection isn’t just for the end of time.  We experience little deaths through life… we also experience little resurrections.  And with each new experience of the Cross, our confidence grows in the next resurrection… so that one day we’ll be ready to face physical death itself.  But we must let our hearts be vulnerable.  There’s the rub…

Human hearts, when wounded, tend to get hard, or “stony,” as the Gospel says.  Stony hearts are ok at fending off more wounds, but they never let in healing… and they never leave us open to wonderful new possibilities.  Overtime they end up hurting us more than protecting us.  We’ve all been there.  AND… thanks be to God , we have wonderful examples of the kind of hearts God wants for us: The Immaculate Heart of Mary, pierced by seven swords; and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, aflame with love, crowned with thorns.

In my own life I’ve experienced both a stony heart and a fleshy one.  Let me tell you, much as it hurts sometimes, the fleshy heart is better because it’s alive… it’s moving forward, pushing me on pilgrimage toward heaven.

So this first week of Advent, put a special emphasis on receptivity.  It asks a lot of us, but it promises a hundredfold reward.  Blessed Advent everyone!

Our yearning for strength, for guidance, for confidence

I guess I’ve been on a bit of a translation kick lately, but it’s rocking my prayer life in a really good way!

Meditating on the psalms of Morning Prayer today I came across a phrase that always sticks in my mind… and beautifully so:

“This is what causes me grief, that the way of the Most High has changed…” (Ps. 76 [77]:11)

Now that’s the English Translation in the Breviary.  Both the vulgate and the neo-vulgata Latin render the verse thus:

Et dixi “Hoc vulnus meum, mutatio dexterae Excelsci.
And I said, “This is my wound/my vulnerability, a change in the right hand of the Most High.”

The modern English isn’t bad… there’s certainly a legitimate understanding that the Right Hand of the Lord guides things in his way… but simply saying “the way” of the Lord removes from this Psalm so much beautiful color!

The right hand of the Lord is his strength… the saving strength that brought his people out of Egypt.  That right hand has lifted us up with paternal strength and tenderness.  If it goes… it’s not just that his way has changed, but that God is no longer capable… his strength is gone… and so we are made vulnerable… Vulnerability is grief, to be sure, but it’s a specific kind of grief: personal, visceral, at the level of survival.

This beautiful little verse is all about CONFIDENCE in God’s ability to be God.  That sense is only confirmed as we read on “I remember the deeds of the Lord, I remember your wonders of old, I muse on all your works and ponder your mighty deeds.” By going back to the good old days, the Psalmist’s confidence is renewed, and with it his faith.

At a time when Pew reports that American’s confidence in the Pope’s handling of sex abuse-related issues has plummeted… and likewise when confidence in the US Bishops is at an all time low… when many fear for the unity and sustainability of the Church… the right reading of the Psalms lifts me up and gives me what I need this morning to go forward.  If you’re feeling vulnerable… turn to the right hand of the Lord… it’s always been there for us and it always will.

Illumina oculos meos

Inspired by my friends The Suspicious Cheese Lords and their preparations for singing a motet and mass based on this text, I offer the following reflection:

Illumina oculos meos, ne unquam obdormian in morte,

Nequando dicat inimicus meus, “Praevalui adversus eum.” -Ps. 13:4-5

Illumine my eyes, that I sleep not in death.

Lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed against him.”

Have you ever walked into a really beautiful cathedral? Dappled light floods the space translated, sanctified by stained glass windows. Candles flicker, reflecting their humble light off mosaics and polished stone. It’s a different sort of light, the light that fills these hallowed spaces. It’s translated, enhanced, reengineered -as it were- for a special task; it lights not only the path of our five senses, it illumines the inner darkness, inspiring and empowering us to continue on the path to heaven. St. Paul strikes the right note when he writes to the Ephesians, “May the eye of your hearts be enlightened that you may know what is the hope that belongs to [Christ’s] call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones.” (Eph. 1:18) The cathedral experience manifests the experience of the human person each and every day.

St. Gregory of Nyssa gives dramatic context to this moment. He describes our illuminative experiences in relation to Moses (Ex. 3). Called by God, Moses leaves his sheep to discover the famed burning bush. The wonder of the moment enthralls him: what is this bush burning yet not destroyed? And in the wonder of that moment he begins to speak with the Most High about the incredible direction his life would take. St. Gregory calls this precisely the, “illuminative phase,” of prayer… the first stage of our encounter with the God who is Love and Life. Unlike St. Ignatius who insists on a first “purgative” phase in which suffering clears our spiritual palate, Gregory suggests that it is first and foremost love and through wonder that inspire us to put aside all other cares in order to follow God. And isn’t this just the dynamic that St. John describes in his first letter (4:11) “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us first and sent his son as expiation for our sins.” Such is the illumination the Father desires for our souls.

We experience this holy light, not only in the noble architecture of our columns, arches and galleries, but preeminently in the rites of sacred worship: that divine work on earth known as the liturgy. At holy mass we are transported from the earthly the to the heavenly. The triumphal procession of the ministers is not a triumph over earthly powers, but over death itself. The lights of the candles enter the sanctuary and us… A single cantor calls out, “Kyrie eleison”… that one voice pierces our awareness, inviting us to realize our sins and failings… to consciously invite more light into our hearts. Light does not hesitate; it explodes on the scene in the Gloria and… and as our inner eyes adjust to their newly bright surroundings they gradually perceive the Word in all its splendor, detailing in human terms the awesome contours of the Father’s merciful love for us. Thus emboldened by the light, the faithful dare to make a response: sacrifice. The mass of the catechumens gives way to the mass of the faithful as those who have learned the Love of God now make a return to him, offering up their lives, praying for yet more light and strength to press on toward heaven. On the Fourth Sunday After Pentecost that offering begins right where we began today, Illumina oculos meos, ne unquam obdormian in morte, nequando dicat inimicus meus, “Praevalui adversus eum.”

Like Moses, we can’t stay with the burning bush forever. We must eventually leave the comfort of illumination and return to the world. This, St. Gregory calls the purgative phase. With Moses we cross the desert and climb the holy Mountain surrounded by a cloud. The journey will be difficult. We will trip. Thorns may tear at our flesh, but for all the pain, we know that the cloud is precisely the manifestation of God’s presence… and when doubt assails us on the journey we can always return to that first illumination. It happened, it was real. The truth of it does not change. It keeps us going until we reach the fullness of God’s presence atop the mount, becoming one with him in the unitive phase. Illumina oculos meos, ne unquam obdormian in morte, nequando dicat inimicus meus, “Praevalui adversus eum.” And how apropos of the divine symmetry that what began with the light of the burning bush should end with Moses staring directly at the presence of God… a God who’s Love is so brilliant it illumines the prophet’s face… illumines it so much so that he must wear a veil the rest of his life lest he blind his fellow man… Illumination, Purgation, Unity manifest by a change/conversion of life. “Late have I loved thee, beauty ever ancient, ever new.” “Illumine my eyes O Lord!”

On personal gardening…

 

One of my favorite places in all of DC is Dumbarton Oaks.  The most recent owners of the famed Georgetown mansion and gardens were the Bliss Family who punctuated the gardens with their family credo, “Quod severis metes.” (What you sow you shall reap) in mosaics and even topiary throughout the property.  I’ve been thinking about that as I read this coming Sunday’s readings in both the Extraordinary Form (Latin) and the Ordinary Form (English).

In the Latin readings for this Sunday we hear, “For what a man sows in the flesh, from the flesh also will reap corruption.” (cf Gal. 5:25-6:10).  In the English readings we hear, “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.” (cf Jas. 1:17-27).  Finally, in the English Gospel we hear, “Hear me, all of you, and understand.

Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile” (Mk 7).   Only the Word of Jesus… the Living Word preserved in Scripture and Tradition brings about unbounded life.  Anything that comes from me will always be corrupted, ultimately limited by my own human sinfulness.  Often today we lay blame for our  personal issues at the world around us, or at what other people may have done to us: “There’s just so much suggestive imagery out there, I couldn’t help it.” Or “Well, if you knew what my mom did to me as a teenager…”. Certainly our external circumstances – whether they be the images that surround us or the details of our past – have an immense effect on us.  But ultimately, if we want to be happy, we need to follow Jesus’ Word today, because all that is from outside can eventually pass through us… it’s what we choose to originate, or what we allow to fester for that matter, that determines whether we will be happy or not.  As Shakespeare put is, “The fault is not in our stars…” (Julius Caesar)

A couple of years ago I was in a very politically-charged parish.  Each week I’d inevitably get beaten up by a few parishioners for either being too strong or too soft on an issue.  Didn’t matter what the issue was you were always going to hear about it from someone.  I was down and my Pastor noticed.  He asked me what was going on and I told him.  His response, “That’s fine, but what are YOU going to do about it?”  In my prayer, I started focusing less on the outer circumstances and more on the inner… and not so much on my own feelings (though those were taken into account) but on what Christ was doing for me and with me each day… His Word planted in me.  Life became sunnier day-by-day, week-by-week and soon ministry opportunities were blossoming left and right and I was visibly joyous.  

We’re surrounded by a lot of outer circumstances in Church life right now.  What are YOU going to do about it?  Over the last week I’ve gotten some wonderful offers of help and volunteerism from folks.  We need more!!  A group of young professional men are getting together to form a men’s group to grow in their Catholic identity.  Amazing!!  A woman approached me about entering the Church and asked if her instruction could take place in the context of a small group with her and her friends.  ABSOLuTELY.  Jesus has planted a Word in each of these folks’ hearts… and he’s planting one in yours.  Water it, let it grow and let’s see what happens.  If each of us engages this process we can grow a joyful helpful and worshipful community here at St. Mary’s for our good, our neighbors’ and for the Glory of God!  

Your priest,

Fr. De Rosa

One Sunday, Two Homilies

This Sunday I preached at both or parish’s EF (Latin) mass with its readings, and our OF (English) mass with its.

At the EF mass we meditated on serving the One True God and not the false gods of our passions.  In the present moment that means channeling those passions through the lens of our prayer and our reason to address needed reforms in the Church in positive effective ways.  I also discussed practical concrete considerations and examples:

At the OF Mass I talked about how Jesus invites us into nuptial relationship with him, whether through the sacrament of marriage or celibate Holy Orders.  The witness offered by both forms of nuptial giving is an essential witness to hope for the world… demonstrating -on the one hand- the Trinitarian love of God hasn’t abandoned us… and on the other the infinite possibilities of original solitude wherein God is the spouse of the soul.  Both forms of nuptial love remind us that with God ALL things are possible… and to lose either form of love in the life of the Church would be to limit God’s capacity to help us.

Dinner with the Cheese Lords

It was a dark stormy night…. No, really it was.  DC has been underwater for the last several days, and another deluge was in the works as my uber pulled up to the chunky dimensions of a grand DC townhouse.  Could this really be it?  A parishioner invited me to join him and some friends for a rehearsal of their choral group.  What a nice invite… but this edifice, this great old keep… could this really be where a bunch of guys were gathering to sing among friends?  

It was indeed the right place.  My friend had bought the home years ago and was slowly, painstakingly restoring its former glory.  In the meantime, he hosts frequent rehearsals of The Suspicious Cheese Lords a group of ordinary DC guys who sing works from the West’s great treasury of Renaissance wonders.  Even more intriguing, the Cheese Lords only sing works that have never been recorded!

I touched the front door knob.  As the door gave way, so did all the tensions of a new place and stormy night.  Inside was warmth and a carefully assembled potluck of meat, potatoes and wine to warm hearts and minds before rehearsal.  The Cheese Lords are a quirky smily agglomeration of musicians, federal workers, scholars… it’s all very DC… and it’s WONDERFUL.  I was instantly at ease with the joyful band and we laughed our way through dinner before they set down to the evening’s work: singing.  Sheet music shuffled around the group, some of it ending up in my hands.  I started to hand it back, when my hosts questioned, “aren’t you going to sing with us?  We heard you sing.”  

I was amazed and a little nervous; I hadn’t sung polyphony since seminary.  But slowly, it came back: first the beat, then the notes and slowly the sense of the music… of fitting into a harmonious hole… What can I say but, “Wonderful!”

The Suspicious Cheese Lords are what music, and in a special way sacred music is all about: hearts and minds bound as one through the Love of a music and a message greater than themselves.  Into the hands of that music they surrender their voices so that they can transmit a transcendent Word.  “Are they all Catholics?” You may ask… I don’t know… and I’m not sure it matters.  Their music witnessed to me that Jesus is Lord… and no one can say that unless the Holy Spirit is at work in them (cf I Cor. 12:3).  One might also assume that these are all classically trained experts, but they’re just ordinary Joes.  Transcendence doesn’t flow from our expertise, but from God’s… that’s why it’s transcendent.  What is required of us is a little humility and a lot of love.  I got to experience all of that last night, for which I say, “Thank you Lord.” And thank you to the Suspicious Cheese Lords.

Albums by The Suspicious Cheese Lords are easily available on iTunes.  I highly recommend checking them out.  They also have a website: http://www.suspiciouscheeselords.com