On this 3rd Sunday of Advent, the Church uses the halfway point to Christmas to rejoice. This is called “Gaudete Sunday” which comes from the Latin “to rejoice”. One of the things about which we rejoice, believe it or not, is in the Sacrament of Confession. Yes, we “rejoice heartily in the Lord” for this major means of help to “make straight the way of the Lord”.
Last week, I gave you a little insight into roughly the same line from Isaiah (“make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!”) as well as a few questions to examine your conscience. The most basic way to explain what Isaiah proclaims and St. John the Baptist fulfills is to get straight with the Lord. Confession helps us to get straight with the Lord before He comes.
For many of you, it may be that you want to go to Confession, but don’t know what to confess. Typically, we prepare for the Sacrament by examining our consciences with the Ten Commandments. What may be more helpful for you is the following examination of conscience that I found online at www.patheos.com/blogs/kathyschiffer. It uses the seven deadly sins and the four cardinal virtues as a guide. I hope it helps.
Feel free to bring this into the confessional at the Penance Service on Tuesday. See you there!
May you know the peace of Christ,
Have I practiced the virtue of Chastity?
- Have I permitted myself to watch movies or daytime television shows which are not edifying, which depict sexual scenarios, or which advocate for cohabitation or homosexual relationships?
Have I practiced the virtue of Temperance?
- Have I indulged my love of sweets or snack foods, to the detriment of my health?
- Have I continued to smoke heavily, or to consume alcoholic beverages excessively?
- Have I been immoderate in any activity, such as watching too much TV?
Have I practiced the virtue of Charity?
- Have I been a “busybody,” unkind to a neighbor either by my thoughts or by my actions?
- Have I had a smile for a family member or loved one, or was I critical, hurting someone’s feelings?
Have I practiced the virtue of Diligence?
- Have I used my physical limitations as an excuse for laziness?
- Have I neglected prayer, ignored my friend’s birthday, sat around the house when I might have helped with the dishes?
- Have I exercised my responsibility to become familiar with the issues, and to vote (by absentee ballot, if necessary) for the candidates who will best protect the values I hold dear?
Have I practiced the virtue of Patience?
- Was I unkind (or downright rude) to a telephone caller, impatient with a visitor, crabby when things didn’t go just the way I wanted?
- Did I complain if someone took me to a restaurant or public place, because we had to wait for service?
- Did I criticize my doctor, my caretaker, my child, for not serving me better?
Have I practiced the virtue of Kindness?
- Was I jealous of the attention paid to someone else, wanting everyone to notice me instead?
- Did I feel angry because someone else had more money, or better health, or because my grown children did not have enough time to spend with me?
- Did I compliment someone who looked good, or did I only have harsh words to say?
Have I practiced the virtue of Humility?
- Did I accept a compliment graciously but then move on, refusing to keep the attention turned toward myself?
- Was I willing to let someone else be the center of attention?
- Did I feel grateful for the kindness of my family and others, and appreciative of my caregiver’s efforts?
- Did I believe that I had no need of confession, because I never even leave the house?
Lord, help us to recognize the times that we have failed to live a virtuous life—and grant us the grace of true contrition and a resolve to do Your will. Amen.
“Prepare the way of the Lord!”
We hear this regularly in Advent, but what exactly does this look like? We have the familiar image of St. John the Baptist literally preparing the way of the Lord by announcing his coming. He is referenced in the Gospel today as the one prophesied by Isaiah: “Behold I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way.” John prepared the world for the coming of the Christ. How do we prepare the way of the Lord?
God offers us several ways that we can prepare the way of the Lord through Isaiah in today’s first reading (Is 40:1-5, 9-11):
- “Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!” Do we waste time on a regular basis? When we look at how we spend our time, do we see periods of wasteland? Advent gives us a good opportunity to do something productive during those times. Even if it’s just 10 or 15 minutes spent doing spiritual reading or praying the rosary, it is an experience of being productive (like building a road) rather than wasteful.
- “Every valley shall be filled in.” In December, our rectory receives calls from people who are in different financial valleys as they approach Christmas. Most of these folks are worried about getting presents for their kids because they didn’t sign up for the Outreach Center’s toy giveaway and have nowhere else to turn. Thankfully, donors have already offered to help families in these emergency situations and get their children personalized gifts. Be generous and thoughtful in your almsgiving this Advent!
- “Every mountain and hill shall be made low.” The woman who leads our new monthly Holy Spirit Rosary told me that someone she prayed with the last time she was here received a physical healing. Her hip pain had disappeared!
If I were to ask you what mountains or hills you have in your life now, many of you would say physical pain or ailments. Whether our mountains are physical, emotional, or personal, God can make them low (or even remove them altogether)! If we are alert and awake in our faith, then we are open to the graces –sometimes miraculous – that God wants to give.
- “The rugged land shall be made a plain.” Is there a rough or rugged situation in your life right now? Is there someone from whom you need to ask forgiveness? Is there someone you need to forgive?
- “Go up onto a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! Fear not to cry out.” Last weekend, we had a spectacular wedding here involving a young couple. The bride and groom selected our church because they said it is “the most beautiful church we’ve ever seen.” Her family has visited here a few times, and has fallen in love with our congregation. We received rave reviews from the wedding crowd who had an incredibly positive experience of church here. We had evangelized them with our joy, warmth, hospitality, and faith. Yes, I went a little John the Baptist on them in the homily and preached the truth which they said was inspiring. But, that was after they heard the stories of your joyful and loving spirit, encountered your kindness in and around the church, and saw a bunch of my smiles (I’m a proud papa at weddings, baptisms, confirmations, and first Holy Communions). By the time I said a word about marriage or faith during the wedding, we had already evangelized them!
Evangelize your family this Advent and Christmas. I don’t mean to speak to them at the top of your voice. I mean to be a herald of glad tidings. Show them a joyful or forgiving spirit that is uniquely Christian. That could very well be the precursor for them asking about the good news of the Gospel. In this way, you will prepare the way of the Lord!
May you know the peace of Christ,
Fools for Christ
People liked hearing SJB
Focused / mission
One thing – God
What is your focus?
ADVENT – helps us to re-focus
What stands out about you (for Jesus)?
We all have had a SJB
Are you him to others?
“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me”
Plentiful gifts of sustenance
A week ago Saturday, we had almost 100 families come to the parish hall to pick up their Thanksgiving baskets through the Pope Francis Outreach Center. Last week, a few more hundred families came to pick up theirs. God is so good to provide so abundantly through the generosity of our donors, staff, and volunteers! He truly gives us a chance to live out the corporal works of mercy spelled out in today’s Gospel – “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink”. And, given that it’s in celebration of Thanksgiving, I hope that all of our families gave thanks to God for his gracious and plentiful gifts of sustenance.
Sometimes we need help
On their side of this, none of the families would enjoy being considered the “least of my brothers (and sisters).” In our pride, none of us want to be in the category of poor or needy. We want to be among those who are strong and self-sufficient. But, sometimes life brings us to our knees, and we need help. This happens to all of us at one time or another. How many of the “powerful” in our country are being brought to their knees vis-à-vis scandal? When we are in serious need – like putting food on the Thanksgiving table – pride takes a back seat to humility. In a spiritual sense and brought home by today’s readings, humility is good. It’s actually replete in the Gospel that humility is necessary for God and goodness to work in us.
The King of Kings
The amazing thing about today’s Gospel passage is that the Lord equates the poor and needy with Himself. He tells a parable about a king, and the king identifies himself as hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, ill, and imprisoned. Wait, how can a king live this way? He is supposed to be strong, powerful, and in total control. Only one king has ever lived this way fully, and He is the greatest King ever. Christ is the King of kings! A true king is a shepherd, a point that was driven home well by the Old Testament prophets like Ezekiel. The true king says, “The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal”. Christ did all of these and more – He lived as they lived.
Union with Christ the King
So, for those who might be upset at first to be called “the least”, this Gospel and feast of Christ the King shows that they are in good company. They are in the best company! They are in the company of and union with Christ the King. Whenever we wait in line for the spiritual nourishment of the Mass, sacraments, Adoration, Bible study, etc., we are spiritually putting ourselves in the category of the needy. This is much better than being among the “sleek and the strong” to whom the Lord says “I will destroy”. We are spiritually among the least of the Lord’s brethren, and are in union with the King of the Universe.
May you know the peace of Christ the King,
What is a blog site? This will hopefully become a frequent question at our parish because I want to start such a site here. Blog sites are all over the internet. They are websites where people become authors on different topics, and oftentimes others can leave comments in response. I have run two blog sites in the past, and they garnered a fair amount of traffic and commentary about church teachings, spiritual reflections, and world events. In some cases, the blog sites helped bring people back to the Church and sacraments. In all other cases, it was just good to engage people in an online community involving faith.
The way it will work is that we will establish a blogsite online and publicize the address for the site. I will post my thoughts, questions, and reflections; it will be similar material to what I write here. You and anyone else will be able to make comments or ask questions in relation to what I post, and even respond to other “bloggers” on the site. This is part of our family evangelization, so the big hope is that your family members will visit the site and even ask me questions. I will have them in mind when I post on prayer, forgiveness, sacraments, serving the poor, etc.
Here is an example of an actual exchange from years ago between two people who left comments on my post on Confession:
I kind of need a step before Confession. I am not ready to go to Confession and say that I have decided to ‘return’ and will try to go to Mass every Sunday.
Hey Kiwi, Confession is no big deal if I can do it anyone can. No one is going to judge you and you really feel like you are getting a load off of your shoulders. If you don’t want the priest to see you just go to the window side.
As you can see, people don’t need to leave their names. They can comment “anonymously”, but hopefully they grow out of that in time. Here are more examples of anonymous bloggers with some powerful comments:
Why does God have to be so elusive about communicating our callings? His silence can really be deafening. Why do we have to search and search and wait and wait? Please don’t tell me that God speaks to some people and not others.
Great news! My dad does not have cancer! It was a mix-up! I am so thankful to God!! What are the different ways we can show God our gratefulness?
Why do some people suffer so much and others only encounter minimal suffering? Life does seem “unfair!” Why do some people lose a child-the worst grief possible? I don’t think we will ever know the why on this side of heaven. When I am suffering, I stopped asking “why” and started asking “what.” What do you want me to do Lord? What is your will for me in this situation? The why question leaves me stuck in neutral because it is a mystery for now. The what question will help you to pick up your cross and walk with it.
There is some pretty good stuff here. I know and have experienced that there is some nasty stuff online, so please be assured that all comments are moderated. It will be a site of respect and class. And, hopefully, it will be one that will help to bring back the lost sheep of Assumption. Keep praying for that, please!
May you know the peace of Christ,
If you have seen Bishop Robert Barron on YouTube or the “Catholicism” series, you know how excellent he is. He provides insightful and entertaining short videos that span many topics related to God, the culture, and the world. We are showing one of his videos at Community Sunday this weekend – “Bishop Barron on the Real Presence of the Jesus in the Eucharist”. You can find it on our website. It is a follow-up to October’s video of an Eucharistic miracle which was popular among parishioners and family members. We are hoping that you will send the link of the November video from our parish website to your families like you did so well with the October video.
Here is a penetrating article by Bishop Barron about the Mass. Enjoy!
May you know the peace of Christ,
Bishop Robert Barron
Robert Cardinal Sarah’s recent book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise explores a number of themes both theological and spiritual, all centering around the unhappy role that noise has come to play in our culture and more specifically in the Church. His observations are most trenchant in regard to the liturgy, which should come as no great surprise, given his role as head of the Vatican Congregation devoted to liturgy and sacraments. As I read the sections of his book dealing with the importance of silence during Mass, I often found myself nodding vigorously.
I came of age in the period immediately following the Second Vatican Council, when an enormous stress was placed, quite legitimately, on the conciliar call for “full, conscious, and active participation” in the Mass. That famous phrase, derived from the ground-breaking work of the theologians of the liturgical movement of the early and mid-twentieth century, was a clarion call to the laity to assume their rightful role as real actors in the liturgy and not mere spectators. But in its practical application this came too often to imply that the laity must be continually stimulated into action during the Mass: processing, standing, singing, responding, clapping, etc. It was as though the directors and leaders of the liturgy felt they must be constantly grabbing the congregation by the shoulders and shaking them into conscious participation.
Silence, accordingly, tended to be construed as the enemy, for it would lull the people into inattention and boredom. Hardly anyone in the post-conciliar liturgical establishment appreciated that silence could be a sign of heightened, even enraptured, attention on the part of the congregation, a deeply contemplative entry into the mystery of the Mass. And what several decades of this in turn has produced, especially among the young today, is the impression that the Mass is a sort of religiously-themed jamboree, during which our fellowship is celebrated and at which lots and lots of sound is indispensable. I will confess that during many years as a priest, and now as a bishop, I have often wondered whether our hyper-stimulated congregations know exactly what they are participating in. They know that they are active, but active precisely in what?
The Mass is the act by which the Son of God, in union with his mystical body, turns toward the Father in worship. Through our full, conscious, and active participation in this right praise, we become more rightly ordered, more completely configured to Christ and more thoroughly directed toward the Father. We do indeed experience heightened fellowship with one another during the Mass, but this is because we are realizing, not so much our mutual affection, but our common love of a transcendent third, to use Aristotle’s language.
In this regard, one of the most illuminating rubrics under which to read the Mass is that of call and response: Christ the head, through the priest who is acting in Christ’s person, calls out to the members of his mystical body, and they respond, somewhat in the manner of the lovers in the Song of Songs. At the very commencement of the liturgy, the priest (again, operating not in his own name but in persona Christi) says, “The Lord be with you,” and the people respond, “and with your spirit.” The spirit in question here is the power of Christ dwelling in the priest through the sacrament of Holy Orders. This exchange continues throughout the Mass, Head and members conversing with one another and solidifying their communion. Jesus speaks his Word in the Old Testament readings and in the Pauline epistles, and the members of his body sing back to him in the responsorial psalm; Jesus announces himself in the Gospel, and the people chant back, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ;” Jesus breaks open the Word through the preaching of the priest, and the people respond with the Creed, a signal of their faith.
Having prepared the gifts (presented by the people), the priest says, “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the Father almighty.” This line is of great significance, for it signals the moment when Christ and the members of his body are turning toward the Father in order to perform an act of sacrifice and thanksgiving. How beautifully the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer expresses this dynamic: “Lift up your hearts!” says Christ to his people; they respond, “We lift them up to the Lord,” and then Jesus, through his priest, says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” What follows is the magnificent Eucharistic Prayer, directed toward the Father and prayed by Head and members together, the latter’s many sacrifices—small and large—subsumed into the former’s definitive sacrifice on the cross. At the conclusion of the liturgy, Christ sends his mystical body, now more perfectly ordered to the Father, back into the world to effect its transformation.
Cardinal Sarah imitates his master Joseph Ratzinger in insisting that silence rightly asserts itself throughout this entire process. The silence of gathering, recollecting, listening, praying, offering, etc. There is plenty of sound in the Mass, but unless silence is cultivated therein as well, we can easily lose sight of what we are doing in this most sublime of prayers.
Q. If someone is interested in becoming a priest, how does he go about it?
Discerning a vocation can happen in any number of ways. It might come as a surprise to the person called, or to family or friends. Sometimes, it is a gradual process, other times it is as quick and bright as lightning. Regardless of how it starts, a vocation to the priesthood or religious life requires a process of discerning, testing and preparing. The best place to being would be with lots of prayer, receiving the sacraments and attending daily Mass whenever possible. The talk to your pastor, or a priest you know and trust. Your diocese may have a vocation director who can provide you with guidance and information. The Serra Club is also a great source of information and contacts to help you discern if indeed God is calling you.
Remember that many young Catholic men have considered the priesthood. Some are ordained and others realize this is not their calling. However, we are all called to be of service to others as we practice our faith. These are extraordinary times in which we live and they require an extraordinary witness to faith and to God’s presence in the world. Our work, our ministry as Catholics is to be the body of Christ with and for others. The church needs priests. If God calls you to ordained service in the church, he will provide the grace, direction and support you need. Just listen and respond with all your heart, mind and soul.
You know well about the weekly help that the Outreach Center provides our Ward 8 neighbors with food and clothing. But, Assumption is now considerably helping many in need of financial assistance in coordination with Catholic Charities. The CC representative has been coming here for months, meeting individually with people who have called our office for emergency help with paying their bills. The financial outreach has grown so much (surprise, surprise) that the rep is maxing out regularly on the CC funds he has to offer. Weeks ago, I offered to cover as much of the difference as we can in each case, trusting that God would provide through friends or other donors who would very much like to help. He is doing exactly that, and we can figure on minimal amounts only coming from the parish budget. I don’t want to say “no” completely to anyone who comes to our door when it’s possible to say “yes” in some way. Wouldn’t we all want this to be the policy of a church office if we went there in an emergency?
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”
It has now gotten to the point that we can only offer help with utilities. We are no longer able to assist with rental payments. The CC rep is meeting with five or six people on average every month which has been an increase of about 100% from months ago. I jokingly wrote “surprise, surprise” above that the requests have increased because it’s obvious that the word has spread on the street that Assumption (with Catholic Charities) can help them. Please be assured that we employ a thorough process to determine if each request is legitimate. It is heartbreaking when people call us just after their heat, water or electricity has been suddenly turned off. That is exactly when we want to help our neighbors, just like we would want people to help us if we were in that dreadful situation. In today’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus names this the second commandment, and says it is like the first:
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind”
You have been living the second commandment for so long here, and it has flowed from living the first. Our love of God flows from His love for us. It’s “not that we have loved God, but that God first loved us” (1 John 4). So, God’s love is first, love of God is second, and love of neighbor is third. Clearly you know and show that God loves you. God’s love is demonstrable and visible in your spirit and joy. You know deep down what Isaiah 43:1-5 says – that He loves you! And, then you show your love for Him in your passionate commitment to worship and serve Him. You really do get all your heart, soul, and mind into it! So, you love God and you love your neighbor, but…
Do you love yourself? I truly hope that you love the person that God created in you. He created you like no one else ever! You are unique and in your uniqueness, you reflect the Divine Image like no one ever has. Trusting that you love yourself, I ask you to consider that there are qualities or habits in yourself that you don’t love. With the help of Confession (ahem), these are mainly things of the past, I hope. Nonetheless, you have been able to look past these things to love yourself overall. So, can you do the same with your neighbor?
“Who is my neighbor?” you might ask. Think of the person in your life that is the hardest person to love right now. That is your neighbor. It’s said about teams that they are as good as their weakest link. Well, we can say that our love is as good as it is toward our worst enemy. Can you overlook their worst qualities and habits to love them overall? Can you love them as you love yourself?
May you know the peace of Christ,
Fr. Greg Shaffer
3401 Martin Luther King Jr. AVE, SE
Washington, DC 20032
Fr. Greg Cell: 240-463-9960
Outreach Center: 202-561-5941
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