The Fourth Sunday of  Advent

We have come to the last stretch of the Advent Season, and still we have much to discover about the events that surround the remarkable birth of Jesus, Our Savior and King. We would have normally expected that such an important event would have been accompanied by fanfare and a cast of thousands. But instead the coming of Jesus Christ unfolded in a very modest and simple fashion. In fact, the Gospel of this Sunday from Saint Luke develops this point very clearly in a number of ways.

To begin with, God chooses a very small town called Nazareth barely known by the rest of the inhabitants of Israel. Nevertheless, it is here that Jesus would mingle with common average people and, connect with their value system. In such a town, it would also be easy enough for everyone to get to know you and even be part of your family circle. In some parts of the world today the reality of a small town still exists.

Without minimizing her tremendous worth in all of this scene, it is a young maiden by the
name of Mary  who is visited by an angel. She is only 13 or 14 and is  invited to take on an impossible dream, that of becoming the God –Bearer, the one who would miraculously give birth to Jesus , the Redeemer of the world. Talk about a shock for such a young girl! Can you imagine one of our teenage girls today, so taken up by Peoples Magazine or Entertainment Tonight, could be capable of accepting such a   tremendous challenge, such an upheaval in her life’s future plans? Yet, the whole history of salvation would hinge upon this young girl’s decision, and only this innocent maiden, from this little unknown town is called upon to carry the day.

Another simple way in which God enters this world of ours is by the birth of a very small baby. God could have come riding on great white horse with a legion of soldiers accompanied by angels, a blast of trumpets with clashing cymbals. But instead God chooses to come into the world as a small baby. 

Who can resist a baby, so vulnerable, and so defenseless, unable to walk, or to talk? But, again, is God not  trying to say something terribly important yet terribly simplistic, that some of the greatest things can  come in small packages? Given enough time to grow to be loved and encouraged, one can reach the heights of a great accomplishment no matter the insignificant personal history that we may have accrued.

Finally, the coming of Jesus also begins with one of the smallest words in our vocabulary, the word “Yes”.
After the angel Gabriel had assured Mary of how all of this could come to pass, a virgin birth, a conception by the Holy Spirit, there was a moment of silence, a gasp filled with unbelief. Yet the  humble response to becoming the mother of the Messiah and the Son of God was the

incredible and simple word “Yes”. With that 3 letter word “Yes”, the whole story of Redemption, and of Salvation was set into motion.

With the Birth of Our Savior, we are assured, with no small promise at all, that if we follow in His footsteps, we shall live forever more because of Christmas Day – in a city that would be  called the New Jerusalem , along with this young girl called. . . 

...Mary, who now is called  the Mother of all People, and with Jesus the Christ, Our Gentle Healer, singing and praising with one voice “Glory to Our Mighty God and  King!”   
                                                   Fr. Andre Patenaude, M.S.

4th Sunday of Advent – December 21, 2014 His Holiness Pope Francis...


The annunciation

II SAM 7:1-5, 8-12, 14-16; ROM 16: 25-27; Lk 1: 26-38
One of the most beautiful of the modern Christmas songs was written by a man who is best known, perhaps, as a comedian. His name is Mark Lowry. Lowry is also a musician of some note. He performed for many years with the Gaither Vocal band. In 1984 he was asked to pen some words for his local church choir, and he wrote a poem that began like this, “Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water? Mary, did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?” A few years later guitarist Buddy Greene added a perfectly matching tune and a wonderful song was born. “Mary, did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod? Mary, did you know when you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God!” Each of the little couplets touches the heart in a wonderful way. “Mary, did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation? Mary, did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?” The song’s been around now for nearly two decades. Mary, did you know . . . ? How could Mary know what was happening to her when the angel Gabriel came to her long ago? Only Luke tells this story and we have it in today’s Gospel.
Introduction: Today’s readings focus on the circumstances leading up to the first coming of Jesus which sets the pattern for his coming to us now and at the end of time. The Gospel stresses the key role of Mary in the work of our salvation. Today’s Scripture texts describe God’s promise to David and its fulfillment in Jesus, the Son of David. They also tell us that God's preparation for the coming of Jesus was full of surprises. The first reading surprises us by telling of God’s promise to David that he would have a long line of royal descendants culminating with a final king, Jesus Christ. In the Responsorial Psalm, the Psalmist recalls all of God’s promises, and surprises us by describing God’s promise to David and his descendants in terms of a Covenant. Today’s Gospel surprises us by telling us that this King  would be born to an ordinary virgin, not by means of sexual relationship, but through the Holy Spirit, and that Jesus would become a descendant of David. This would occur through Joseph, Mary’s betrothed husband and the legal father of her son, as Joseph was "of the house of David." The Gospel narrative surprises us also by reminding us that God’s promise is best fulfilled not in buildings, or even great kings like Solomon, but rather in humble souls like Mary, who trusted in God’s promise.  The second reading also surprises us with Paul’s explanation of the unveiling of God's plan for human salvation through Jesus. Thus, the unfolding of God's plan of salvation though history has contained many surprises.
First reading (2 Sam 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16): The historical background: Moses had led God's people in their escape from Egypt around the year 1250 B.C. Joshua led them on an invasion of Palestine around 1220. Judges ruled them from 1200 to 1025. The last Judge, Samuel, anointed for them their first King, Saul, around 1030. David succeeded Saul in 1010. David’s first step was to capture Jerusalem from the Jebusites and make it the political capital of his kingdom. Once David had completed the building of his palace, he wanted a more beautiful house to accommodate the Ark of the Covenant representing God’s presence in the midst of His chosen people. For over 200 years, the Ark of the Covenant had been a "mobile shrine," kept in a tent so that it could be easily carried to any place to which the people moved or where Yahweh's special presence was needed. David wanted to build a special Temple in Jerusalem to house the Ark. He hoped that making Jerusalem the religious center of Israel would ensure the continued loyalty of all twelve tribes.
Though Nathan, the prophet, initially accepted the plan, as we heard in the first reading, he eventually returned to inform the king that Yahweh was more concerned with turning David's family into "His house" than with residing in a house Himself. In other words, God's presence in families is more important than is His presence in buildings. That is why the Lord spoke to David through his prophet Nathan and promised him a line of kingly succession. God said that David was not to build a house for God; rather God would build a house for David by establishing the family of David securely on the throne of Israel forever. God kept His promise for four centuries allowing the descendants of David to serve as kings of Israel in unbroken succession. But in the 6th century BC, the Babylonians conquered Judah and ended the succession of Davidic kings, prompting Israel to look for a different kind of fulfillment of God's promise to David. In other words, Israel began to look for the Messiah, a descendant of David who would come at the end of time to eradicate evil from the world.  We find the beginning of the fulfillment  of  this  hope  in  today’s  Gospel  where  the angel tells Mary that the son she is about to conceive will sit on "the throne of his father David, and reign over the house of Jacob forever" (Lk. 1: 32-33). The text reminds us that we are not on earth to do things for God, but to reflect and build on what God is doing for us.
Second Reading, (Romans 16:25-27): Since St. Paul had not founded the Church of Rome nor visited it earlier, his letter to the Romans  was a kind of introduction of himself to the Christians in Rome and a partial synthesis of his theology. The section of   Paul’s epistle which we read today is a prayer praising God for revealing through the Gospels "the mystery kept secret for long ages,” to all nations. In other words, God worked through His chosen people in the past, and He can and will work in and through the Gentiles by the risen Jesus. The Church has selected this prayer in the final week of our preparation for Christmas to remind us of the sublime facts commemorated at Christmas, namely, how, in becoming man, Christ elevated our nature by uniting it with his own Divine nature and made us adopted children of God with a claim to eternal life and the possibility of sharing in God's kingdom forever.
Exegesis: The context: Luke was a Gentile converted by St. Paul at Troas about the year 50 A.D.  Later, he became a fellow-worker with Paul in spreading the faith. Luke's Gentile Christian community lived a generation or more later than the apostles, after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70  Since they were not Jews, Luke had to explain to them how Jesus was the Messiah promised to the Jews by God through the prophets.  He also explains how the Messiah had his human origin while retaining his Divine nature.  In the Acts of the Apostles, he shows how Jesus continued to operate among his apostles and the early Church.  Hence, today, the  narrative of the infancy of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel was intended to teach the  Gentile converts their Christian heritage and to keep them focused on their new  religion's mission. This ”Annunciation" of the birth of Jesus  also established  Jesus in good-standing among the Jews, since King David, presented as Jesus’ ancestor, was the most revered early King and the original Messiah (literally, "anointed as king" and earthly savior of the nation of Israel).
The unique selection of Mary and Gabriel’s unique salutation:  In the two annunciations described in Luke’s Gospel, neither Elizabeth (Zechariah's wife) nor Mary appears to be a likely candidate for motherhood.  Elizabeth is too old and Mary is a virgin engaged to Joseph, of the house of David (v. 27). Joseph’s betrothal to Mary was   binding, and it made Mary his legal wife. The angel's salutation to Mary, “Hail, full of grace,” reminds us of God's words to Moses at the burning bush, "I will be with you" (Ex 3:12), the angel’s salutation Gideon, "The Lord is with you,  you  mighty  warrior"  (Jgs 6:12)  and  the  Lord's  assurance  to Jeremiah, "Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee" (Jer 1:8). Luke says that Mary is perplexed by Gabriel's words, "Rejoice, blessed one!"(Greek), translated as “Hail, full of grace.” Mary is described as "full of grace,” filled with God's favor and graciousness, something which she has in no way earned, but which was given as a gratuitous gift by God.   Mary is told by the angel Gabriel, the messenger of God that the Lord is literally with her. She is the new Ark, a tent and temple. God is literally and physically in her, and thus she is the greater house of God promised to David.
Mary’s perplexity versus Zechariah’s doubts:  Mary's question, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" is natural, very much like Zechariah's, "How will I know that this is so?  For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years" (1:18).  However, the angel struck Zechariah mute for his unbelief because Zechariah asked for a sign -- tangible proof that the angel was telling the truth.  Mary's question, on the other hand,   springs from an understandable confusion.  Mary is fully aware of the significance and consequences of the angel's message. In a flash, she recognizes the new challenges that will emerge in her betrothal and the crisis into which this pregnancy could throw both families (see Dt 22:13-21 and Num 5:11-31). That is why the angel reminds Mary, "Nothing is impossible with God."  He will "empower" her ("the spirit will come upon you") and "protect" her ("overshadow you"), two duties of a Middle Eastern husband. 
The Virgin Birth: In Luke’s Annunciation scene, we are face-to-face with one of the major doctrines of the Christian faith – the Virgin Birth.  There are two great reasons for accepting it.   (i) The clear literal meaning of this passage in Luke and Matt.1:18-25, is that Jesus was to be born of Mary without a human father.   (ii) It is natural to argue that if Jesus was, as we believe, a very special person, he would have a special entry into the world. Since this conception is the work of God's direct power, Mary's virginity is unaffected as is her integrity before her natural husband. "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you" (v. 35).  The word "overshadow" is also used at the Transfiguration (9:34) and in a story of Peter's healing ministry (Acts 5:15).  In all these places the verb clearly refers to Divine presence and power.   The angel makes it clear that the child "will be holy" and "will be called Son of God" (v. 35).  The word "virgin" appears three times in this passage, which shows that Luke clearly intends to emphasize Mary's sexual purity as seen in Jesus’ virgin birth.  
Son of David and Son of God: For Luke, the child would not only be a distant grandson of David -- he would be God's own Son. "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David "   On  several occasions,  Luke   uses the phrase " Most High"  to refer to God (1:76; Acts 7:48; 16:17), so that "Son of the Most High"  means  "Son of God."   Luke uses this title several times to refer to Jesus (1:35; 22:70; Acts 9:20).  "....  “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end" (vv. 32b-33).  This is a fulfillment of the promise that God made to David, who wanted to build a Temple for God as described in today’s first reading.   God forbade David to build the Temple, but said, "The Lord will make you a house...  I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever" (2 Sm 7:11-13).  Knowing that David's son, Solomon, built a temple, it is natural to assume that the offspring who "shall build a house," refers directly to Solomon.  However, the complete fulfillment of the promise was not to be found in Solomon but in Jesus, since   Solomon built a Temple that stood for only  379 years (966 BC – August, 578 BC), whereas   Christ will build "a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (2 Cor 5:1).  
“For nothing will be impossible with God.”   It is ironic that Zechariah, who asked for a sign, was punished (1:20), while Mary, who did not ask for a sign, was given one.  If Mary wanted to know how she could bear a son while remaining a virgin, she need only to look to her kinswoman Elizabeth who, despite her age, was pregnant.    If God could create new life in old woman, He could surely do the same in a young virgin.  “For nothing will be impossible with God" (v. 37).  Again, Luke adopts OT  language.  When the Lord announced the impending birth of Isaac, Sarah laughed.  The Lord responded by saying, "Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?" (Gn 18:14 -- see also Jesus' comment at Luke 18:27).  This is truly Gospel – Good News – for those of us who find ourselves in impossible situations.   As we walk with the Lord, however, no situation is beyond redemption. 
“May it be done to me according to your word.” Mary does not require confirmation, but responds in faith. She agrees to carry out the Word Gabriel has addressed to her. Her response again calls forth OT language -- Abraham's "Here I am" (Gn 22:1) -- Isaiah's "Here am I, send me" (Is 6:8) -- Hannah's "Think kindly of your maidservant" (1 Sm 1:18) -- Samuel's "Here I am" (1 Sm 3:4).  Raymond Brown says “Mary's response qualifies her as Jesus' first disciple.  Subsequent references to her are consistent with this pattern (Luke 1:45ff; 8:19-21; 11:27-28; Acts 1:14).  Her humble acquiescence to the will of God commends itself to every believer:  “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let what you have said be done to me." Mary is thus presented as the perfect disciple. Those who find out what God wants of them and accept His message as Mary did are Jesus' true followers. Those who only hear the Word but never put it into action are deceiving themselves. Christian Faith is a matter of continually making Jesus a part of our lives.  
The significance of Mary’s yes: Jesus' earthly existence begins with Mary’s “Yes” in today's account of the Annunciation.  Although we normally regard the birth of Jesus as the beginning of God's presence among us, the Church teaches that the conception of Jesus in Mary's womb by the power of the Holy Spirit took place at the moment that Mary agreed to be the mother of Jesus. If Mary had said “No,” instead of “Yes,” history might have been different – although we know that God's plans would not have been frustrated. Mary's “Yes,” changed the world. Her obedience to God's call changed the lives of all of us.   How many times have we said “No,” to God? How different would things be – for us and for others – if we had said “Yes,” to him more often?
The frightening consequences of Mary’s “Yes”: Mary's choice was no easy one. As a teenage girl, betrothed but not yet married to Joseph, she was being asked to become pregnant by a Heavenly Source. Betrothal was regarded as a full commitment to one's future spouse, and for such a girl to lose her virginity was tantamount to adultery, a sin punishable by death.
Life messages: 1) We need to say a courageous and generous “Yes” to God as Mary did.  True obedience comes from a free choice made in the light of what is true and good. It often requires a great deal of courage, because it can involve going against the tide of social expectations. True obedience also aims at putting oneself at the service of something/Someone that is greater than oneself by accepting what God clearly wants us to do or what He wants to do through us. Jesus' own moment of greatness, like his Mother’s, came when he said “Yes,” to his Father, and Jesus' own obedience is our model. Will we surrender to God and allow God to do what, from our human point of view, seems impossible?  Will we surrender our agenda, our will and our kingdom to God and allow God’s agenda, will and Kingdom become a reality for and through us?  It is by saying, with Jesus and Mary, a  wholehearted  and  totally  unconditional  “Yes,”  to  God  that Jesus will be re-born in me or maybe even born in me for the first time. By my saying “yes,” Jesus will be born or reborn in others too.
2) We need to try to learn God’s plan for our lives: The Good News in today’s Scripture message is not only that God is making provision for the salvation of His people, but also that He has a plan for each individual person. Just as God called Mary, He calls every mother to raise her child in the awareness of God’s  nurturing presence, His unconditional love and His guiding commandments.   In many cases, our work for God seems rather ordinary, but each ordinary task which we carry out, fits into God's plan in ways that we cannot yet understand. God desire not the skill of our hands, but the love of our hearts.  The Babe in the Manger reminds us of what God has done and is still doing for us. What are we doing in return? Let us show our gratitude to God by living as true followers of Christ: “Behold, here I am Lord, your humble and grateful servant. Let it be done to me according to Your word.”  
3) St. Francis said, "We are the mother of Christ when we carry him in our heart… and we give birth to him through our holy works which ought to shine on others by our example.”
Here is another De Mello story. The young hermit (sannyasi) came to the master in hermit robes and asked. "For years I have been seeking God. I have sought him everywhere that he is said to be: on mountain peaks, the vastness of the desert, the silence of the cloister, and the dwellings of the poor." "Have you found him?" the master asked. "No. I have not. Have you?" What could the master say? The evening sun was sending shafts of golden light into the room. Hundreds of sparrows were twittering on a nearby banyan tree. In the distance one could hear the sound of highway traffic. A mosquito droned a warning that it was going to strike…And yet this man could sit there and say he had not found God. After a while the young hermit left, disappointed, to search elsewhere. Since God can be found everywhere, we must continually look for Him and especially, perhaps in the most difficult places. That is why in the first reading today; God tells David that He cannot be contained in a man-made temple. As we prepare to celebrate the reality of Christmas, the feast of Emmanuel, (God-With-Us), let us be prepared to recognize the God whose presence can be known and experienced in the  distressing problems of life.
Source: Homilies of Fr. Anthony. Kadavil

Pope: God walks in history with us and adjusts it's course

Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Casa Santa Marta - OSS_ROM
18/12/2014 12:21
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Thursday invited the faithful to rely on God even in the darkest hours, even if sometimes we do not understand how He is working, because he always walks with us in the history of Salvation.
The Pope’s words came during his homily at morning Mass in the Casa Santa Marta.
Listen to the report by Linda Bordoni
"God’s will has been to save us in history" - the Pope said - our Salvation "is not sterile, as in a laboratory. No! It’s history. He has walked through history with his people. "Therefore – he said - "there is no salvation without history. And to get to the point: history goes back a long time":
"And so, step by step, history is made. God makes history, we make history; and when we fail, God makes adjustments and sets history back on course, walking with us all the time. If this is not clear to us, we will never understand Christmas! We will never understand the Incarnation of the Word! Never! It’s a story that goes forward in time. 'Father, is history over with the story of Christmas?'; 'No! The Lord continues to save us in history. And he walks with his people. '"
In this story - Pope Francis continued – there are those chosen by God, those people that He chooses "to help his people to move forward," like Abraham, Moses, Elijah. For them "there are some bad times", "dark moments, awkward moments, bothersome moments". Perhaps they are people who just want to live peacefully, but "the Lord inconveniences them. The Lord inconveniences us to make history! So often he puts us on roads that we don’t want to walk". So much so that Moses and Elijah, at a certain point, would rather die, but then they trust in the Lord.
The Gospel of the day speaks of "another bad moment in the history of salvation", that of Joseph who discovers that his betrothed, Mary, is pregnant: "He suffers, he sees the village women chatting in the market; and he suffers. ‘This is a good one, I know her! She is a woman of God. What has she done to me? It’s not possible!” If he accuses her, she will be stoned. But that is not what he wants to do, even although he does not understand. He knows that Mary "is incapable of being unfaithful." "In difficult moments such as these" - the Pope said - "those chosen by God to make history, must take the problem on their shoulders, without understanding." Like that – he said - "the Lord makes history."
"That’s what Joseph does. The man who in the worst moment of his life, the most obscure, takes the problem upon himself. And he takes the blame in the eyes of others in order to protect his bride. A psychoanalyst could perhaps say that this dream of Joseph’s is the condensation of anxiety, which seeks to be expressed... let them say what they will. But what did Joseph do? After awaking from the dream he took Mary as his bride. 'I do not understand, but the Lord spoke to me and said she will give birth to a son who will appear to be my son!'".
"To make history with His people - the Pope said – for God means to walk and to put his chosen ones to test." In the end He saves them: "Let us always remember, with confidence, even in the worst moments, even in times of illness, when we realize we have to ask for the Last Rites because there is no way out, to say: 'Lord, history did not start with me and will not end with me! You go ahead, I am willing to come with you'. And to put ourselves in the hands of the Lord. "What then do those who are chosen by God teach us?
"That God walks with us, that God makes history, that God puts us to the test and that God saves us in the worst moments, because He is our Father. And according to Paul He is our daddy. May the Lord help us to understand this mystery of Him walking with His people in history, of testing His elected ones, as well as the greatness of their hearts as they take upon themselves the pains, the problems, even the blame for our sins – Let us walk forward with Jesus across history. "

(Linda Bordoni)


    'Let yourselves be consoled' during Advent, Pope Francis says

    Pope Francis says:
                   "Let yourselves be consoled' during Advent"

    by Elise Harris

    .- In his Angelus address on Sunday, Pope Francis asked that during Advent the faithful prepare for the Lord’s coming by being open to God’s consolation, which we must receive personally before giving to others.

    “It is he who brings us to the source of every true consolation, that is, to the Father. And this is conversion. Please, let yourselves be consoled by the Lord! Let yourselves be consoled by the Lord!” the Pope told those present in St. Peter’s Square for his Dec. 7 address.

    He referred to the day’s first reading, taken from the book of Isaiah, in which the prophet offers the people a message of mercy, consolation and hope.

    When Isaiah tells the people “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God,” he is opening the doors of consolation and freedom to the people of Israel, who had been in exile and can now look forward to the future, and their return home, with hope.

    “And this is the reason for the invitation to let ourselves be consoled by the Lord…Isaiah addresses the people who have passed through a dark time, who have undergone a very hard trial; but now the time of consolation has come,” the Roman Pontiff noted.

    The Lord will now turn their sadness and fear into joy with the freedom and salvation he brings, and he does this with the gentle care and tenderness of a shepherd who cares for his flock, the Pope said.

    “He will give unity and security to the flock, they will graze, the scattered sheep will be gathered
    safely, he will pay special attention to the weakest and most fragile,” he observed, explaining that this is the same attitude that God has with each one of us.

    Pope Francis then noted that because God looks at each person this way, we are called to follow Isaiah’s invitation to spread the Lord’s message of hope and consolation to all people throughout the world.

    “But we cannot be messengers of the consolation of God if we do not experience first the joy of being consoled and loved by him,” he said, observing that we experience this love through reading the Bible, silent prayer, and by going to confession.

    The Roman Pontiff asked that each one take Isaiah’s words to heart, because “today there is a need for people who are witnesses of the mercy and tenderness of the Lord, which shakes up those who are resigned, revives the discouraged (and) ignites the fire of hope.”

    Many people are currently in desperate need of this message of consolation, the Bishop of Rome observed, especially those oppressed by suffering, injustice and tyranny, as well as those enslaved by power, success, money and worldliness.

    “Poor things, they have a false consolation, they do not have the true consolation of the Lord!” the Pope said, explaining that Christians can give it to them because they themselves receive it from Christ.

    Isaiah’s prophesy is like “a balm on our wounds” and serves as a motivation to work diligently in preparing for the coming of the Lord, who will tear down the walls of evil and iron-out the wrinkles caused by vanity and pride.

    However, the Roman Pontiff noted that many times people are afraid of being consoled by the Lord, and prefer to remain in sadness and desolation, where it feels safer.

    “Do you know why? Because in sadness, we feel almost like the protagonists. Instead, in consolation, the Holy Spirit is the protagonist, it is He who consoles us; it is He who gives us the courage to come out of ourselves.”

    Pope Francis then asked that all remain open to the consolation of the Lord, and pointed to the Blessed Virgin Mary as the avenue that God himself chose and prepared to come into the world.

    “Let us entrust to her the expectation of salvation and peace for all men and women of our time,” he prayed, and led pilgrims in the traditional Marian prayer.

    Tags: Sunday Angelus, Pope Francis

    Final report:
    Vatican thanks women religious, stresses focus on Christ
    Religious sisters take part in a Eucharistic procession to the Basilica of St. Mary Major on June 19, 2014. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
    Religious sisters take part in a Eucharistic procession to the Basilica of St. Mary Major on June 19, 2014. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

    .- The Vatican has published the results of its apostolic visitation examining the quality of religious communities across the U.S. in a report described as realistic yet encouraging.

    Voicing thanks to women religious for their service to the Church, the Vatican congregation in charge of religious life also encouraged them to remember to keep Christ at the center of their communities.

    The congregation asked the women religious to “carefully review their spiritual practices and ministry” to ensure that they are “in harmony with Catholic teaching about God, creation, the Incarnation and the Redemption.”

    Launched in 2009 to examine the quality of religious communities across the U.S., the visitation included meetings, questionnaires, and visits to about one-quarter of the country’s religious communities.

    It involved 341 religious congregations, to which approximately 50,000 women in the U.S. belong.

    The survey presented religious communities several questions concerning religious orders’ vocation promotion, admission and formation policies, and fidelity to and expression of their vows. The reflections also asked respondents about their concerns for the future of their religious order.

    It is distinct from the inquiry into the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a canonically-approved body which has over 1,500 leaders of women religious communities as members.

    The LCWR has been assessed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who raised concerns of dissent from Church doctrine on theological topics including homosexuality, the sacramental priesthood and the divinity of Christ.

    Mother Mary Clare Millea, the Connecticut-born Superior General of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, was the apostolic visitor who led the survey of U.S. religious communities along with a team that she hand-picked.

    Mother Millea was one of a panel of seven speakers on Dec. 16, which also included the Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz.

    She told journalists that although she was initially “overwhelmed” with the task, she maintained a complete and “deep trust” in the congregation’s decision to enact the visitation.

    The report, signed by Cardinal Braz de Aviz as well as Archbishop Jose Rodriguez Carballo, secretary for the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, recognized that although this visitation was in some ways “unprecedented,” they are a normal phenomenon in the life of the Church.

    “We initiated the visitation because of our awareness that the apostolic religious life in the United States is experiencing challenging times,” the cardinal told journalists.

    He affirmed the need for new vocations, as well as an exploration of themes such as a congregation’s community and spiritual life, their work and apostolate, in light of the modern call for “credible and attractive witnesses of consecrated religious who demonstrate the redemptive and transformative power of the Gospel.”

    Report topics range from finances to vocations, prayer, evangelization, and the role of women in the Church. It provides a presentation of the visitation’s findings as well as points of guidance from the congregation at the end of each section.

    As to the declining number of women religious in the U.S., the report revealed that the peak number of vocations seen between the 1940s-1960s was “relatively short-term” and “not typical” in terms of the history of vocations in the country.

    Rather, the report explained that such a peak would probably not be seen again. The report’s findings revealed that the numbers dropped due to the fact that many sisters left their congregations after the 1960s, couple with the fact that fewer women have joined communities since.

    With the drop in new arrivals, institutes are spending vast spiritual and material means in order to promote vocations.

    Interviews with various communities revealed that often entrance candidates seek to live in a “formative community” and be “externally recognizable” as consecrated women, which is a challenge for institutions that don’t observe these practices.

    As for the sisters’ spiritual life, the visitation found that institutes generally have written guidelines for receiving the sacraments and strict spiritual practices.

    However, the congregation cautioned each community to “evaluate their actual practice of liturgical and common prayer,” and to do whatever is needed to foster each member’s personal relationship with Christ.

    Finances were also touched on in the report, which revealed that ongoing losses exist due to a variety of reasons, including the under-compensation of religious women for their ministry over an extended period of time.

    Other reasons include a lack of sisters working due to low membership, the subsidizing of sisters who work for the poor by their institutes, the low salaries of sisters who work in ecclesial structures as well as changes to the United States healthcare system.

    “Changes in the healthcare system in the United States, resulting in uncertainty regarding the availability of government funding for the future needs of the elderly is a particular concern,” the report observed.

    In terms of ecclesial communion, the report revealed that although many religious described themselves as integral members of the universal Church, they expressed a desire for there to be “greater recognition” on the part of pastors for the contribution of women religious.

    Some spoke in the survey of feeling like they did not have enough input into pastoral decisions that affect them despite having “considerable knowledge and experience.”

    The report also recognized the refusal of some communities to participate in the visitation’s mandate, which Cardinal Braz de Aviz called a “painful disappointment” for everyone involved.

    However, he used the occasion as an opportunity to assure the congregation’s willingness to engage in a “respectful and fruitful dialogue” with the institutes that were not fully compliant.

    The report commissioned those institutes that felt apprehensive or betrayed by the visitation to use the current Year of Consecrated Life as an opportunity to make steps toward “forgiveness and reconciliation” so that “an attractive witness of fraternal communion” be given to all.

    Sr. Sharon Holland, I.H.M., president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, told journalists that she is “concerned about those who may still be angry…It’s a concern for me because it’s not healthy to remain angry.”

    Although she said she doesn’t know all of the reasons why some women religious feel that way, “sometimes when we’re fearful and feel powerless then we externalize that in anger, but underneath that there’s a fear or hurt or anxiety over what will happen.”

    Despite the fact that there are still those who remain angry with the visitation, Sr. Holland said that “I think a lot of us have come beyond that.”

    “There is an encouraging and realistic tone in this report,” she said. “Challenges are understood, but it is not a document of blame or of simplistic solutions. One can read the rest and feel appreciated and trusted to carry on.”

    In the report, the congregation affirmed Pope Francis’ call for a greater participation of women in the life of society and the Church, as well as his resolve that “the ‘feminine genius’ find expression in the various settings where important decisions are made.”

    With a reference to the pontiff’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, the report explained that “we need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church.”

    The report closed by using the biblical encounter between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth shortly after the Annunciation as an analogy of overcoming fear and uncertainty in order “to joyfully embrace their role in God’s plan of salvation.”

    “So too the apostolic visitation offered new opportunities for women religious to discover God’s presence and salvific action in fruitful communication with other religious, with the Church’s pastors and lay faithful.”



    Wednesday, December 17th Advent Reflections with Pope Francis....

    2014-12-17 Vatican Radio

    (Vatican Radio) God saves "a repentant heart," while he who does not trust in Him draws "condemnation" upon himself. This message was at the heart of Pope Francis’s homily during morning Mass at the Casa Santa Marta.
    Listen to the report by Linda Bordoni
    Humility saves man in God’s eyes, while pride is a loser. The key lies in the heart. The heart of a humble person is open, it knows repentance, it accepts correction and trusts in God. The heart of the proud person is the exact opposite: it is arrogant, closed, knows no shame, it is impervious to God's voice. The reading from the Book of the prophet Zephaniah and from the Gospel of the day guide Pope Francis in a parallel reflection. Both texts, he notes, speak of a "judgment" upon which salvation and condemnation depend.
    The situation described by the prophet Zephaniah is that of a rebellious city in which, however, there is a group of people who repent of their sins: this group, the Pope said, is the "people of God" possesses the "three characteristics" of "humility, poverty, and trust in the Lord." But in the city there are also those, Francis says, who "do not accept correction, they do not trust in the Lord." They will be condemned:
    "These people cannot receive Salvation. They are closed to Salvation. ‘I will leave within you
    the meek and humble; they will trust in the name of the Lord’ throughout their lives. And that is still valid today, isn’t it? When we look at the holy people of God that is humble, that has its riches in its faith in the Lord, in its trust in the Lord - the humble, poor people that trust in the Lord: these are the ones who are saved and this is the way of the Church, isn’t it? This is the path I must follow, not the path in which I do not listen to His voice, do not accept correction and do not trust in the Lord. "
    The scene of the Gospel tells of the contrast between two sons invited by their father to work in the vineyard. The first refuses, but then repents and goes to work in the vineyard; the second says yes to the father but actually deceives him. Jesus tells this story to the chief priests and the elders of the people stating clearly that it is they who have not wanted to listen to the voice of God through John and that is why the Kingdom of Heaven will be entered, not by them but by tax collectors and prostitutes who did believe John. And the scandal provoked by this statement, Pope Francis said, is identical to that of many Christians who feel "pure" just because they go to Mass and receive communion. But God, he says, needs much more:
    "If your heart is not a repentant heart, if you do not listen to the Lord, if you don’t accept correction and you do not trust in Him, your heart is unrepentant. These hypocrites who were scandalized by what Jesus said about the tax collectors and the prostitutes, but then secretly approached them to vent their passion or to do business - but all in secrecy - were pure! The Lord does not want them. "
    This judgment "gives us hope" - Pope Francis assured the faithful - provided, he concludes, that we have the courage to open our hearts to God without reserve, giving Him even the "list" of our sins. And in explanation of these words the Pope recalled the story of the Saint who thought he had given everything to the Lord, with extreme generosity:
    "He listened to the Lord, he always followed His will, he gave to the Lord, and the Lord said to him: 'there is still one thing you have not given me’. And the poor man who was good said: 'But, Lord, what is it that I have not given you? I have given you my life, I work for the poor, I work for catechesis, I work here, I work there ... ‘ 'But there is something you have not  given me yet' .- 'What is it Lord? 'Your sins'. When we will be able to say to the Lord: 'Lord, these are my sins – they are not his or hers, they are mine… They are mine. Take them and I will be saved'- when we will be able to do this we will be that people, ‘that meek and humble people', that trusts in the Lord's name. May the Lord grant us this grace. "


    Sacrament of Reconciliation
     is available
    Daily from 1:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
    No Confessions on
    December 25th, 2014
    and January 1st, 2015 

    Our Lady asks us:
    "Do you pray well my children?"
    During this season of Advent how have you set aside time
     to be with Jesus in your heart?
    Have you made an extra effort to reflect in our weekly Sunday's Advent
    How has this touched you?


    Remembering Newton Tragedy 12-14-2012....


    Sandy Hook Elmentary School, Newtown , CT


    December 14, 2014 ... Third Sunday of Advent ...WHERE IS OUR SOURCE OF LIGHT?



    The evangelist John, in line with the Gospel we have read in the Second Sunday of Advent, unfolds further details regarding Jesus’ cousin, Elizabeth and Zachariah’s son. Indeed, the evangelist reminds us the dialogues John the Baptist entertained with the Priests and the Levites, who came to him from Jerusalem to question his identity: was he the awaited Messiah, God’s anointed one? “No” –John answered– “I’m [simply] a voice of one crying out in the desert ‘make straight the way of the Lord’ as Isaiah the prophet said” (John 1:23). While praying this New Testament passage, St Augustine wrote: “John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that lasts for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word who lives forever. Take away the word, the meaning, and what is the voice? Where there is no understanding, there is only a meaningless sound. The voice without the word strikes the ear but does not build up the heart.” (Serm 293, 3: PL 1328-1329).

    John the Baptist –writes the evangelist– “came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light” (John 1:7). This passage echoes the Prologue of the same Gospel: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9).

    When we compare the Gospel reading of this Third Sunday of Advent with the apparition at La Salette, we find a striking parallelism between John the Baptist and Our Lady. They both came to testify to the light. Both John the Baptist and Our Lady are Christ-centered. They find their consistency in being “second” and not “first”, and in pointing to the One who is the light, so that, enlightened by Him, we can become and be light. They both are “voices” pointing to the One who is the “Word” made flesh.

    We often talk about “New Evangelization” and about news ways to share our faith in our contemporary society. But both John the Baptist and Mary remind us that one thing is actually essential: to be exposed to the One who is the Light in order to follow him and have the light of life: “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” (John 8:12)

    In this Third Sunday of Advent we are invited to ask ourselves: where do we find our source of “Light” so that we can become and be “light?”
    Our Tradition has always pointed out two main sources, i.e. the Eucharistic table and the table of the Word of God (especially the so called Lectio Divina). While most of us are quiet familiar with the first one, what about the second one?
    What place has the Bible (studied and prayed) in our own lives?
    How much time do we devote to be exposed to the Word of God?

    God bless you.

                                          Fr. Flavio Gillio, M.S.
    Mass at the Vatican by His Holiness Pope Francis...