2018: Begin again, win again

IMG_20171218_145346Putting the final touches on 2017, we look at the year and try to discover the blessings in the midst of everything. If we are honest, we will see the good among the negative things, and we need that. Surely we all had our share of victories and failures on all kinds of fronts: personal; spiritual; moral; and physical, too. The important thing is to see the events of the year in a theological way, to see them a little more as God sees our lives: as a loving father watches his children, always in need of help, but capable to begin again, and therefore, to win again.

Lots of people do a kind of personal inventory with a view to set up resolutions that will be signs of improvement for them, and this is a good thing. The challenge is to make resolutions that are really going to “stick”, and guide us through the whole year, not only a few days. That’s the hard part. I am not sure what my resolutions are going to be for the year, but whatever they become I am going to try to make them so that they can be checked and evaluated on a regular basis: daily, or at least weekly. For example, “Did I smile at people I talked with during the day?” could be an interesting question to consider on a daily basis. Whatever the resolutions, make them in such a way that they can be easily checked.

It is significant that we make our resolutions in the presence of Mary this year. The last day of the year falls on the feast of the Holy Family, and the first day of the year, as always, on the solemnity of Mary the Mother of God. We remember that 2017 has been a most important year in the presence of Mary, as it was the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, so let us continue to make our resolutions under her protection and motherly care. Happy 2018!

Advent: a time to address the Blessed Virgin Mary

guadalupeIn this installment, which falls on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, guest blogger, Rev. Rene Schatteman, offers thoughts on how to bring Our Lady into the Advent season with more personal piety and vision. Enjoy!

Let us pray to Mary and this will help us live fully these joyful days as we look forward to Christmas. Let us say to Mary:

God the Father looked on you and loved you more any other creature. You are his favorite daughter.

God the Son looked forward to the day he would become man, become one of us, by taking our nature from you as his mother.

God the Holy Spirit had preserved you from Original Sin and gave you that fullness of grace right from the first moment of your existence.

As a child you were already full of grace, a delight to your parents and to God! You grew quickly in wisdom and in virtue.

Even as a teenager you were already a mature woman, virtuous in every way, with an intimate relationship with God

It was then that God sent his Archangel Gabriel to inform you of what he wanted of you: to be the mother of his Son, to bear him in your womb, to bring him into the world and to care for him as a mother cares for her infant child.

God looked upon you and saw that you were all fair, beautiful in body and soul. He knew that he could count on you, that you would be faithful to every grace he would give you.

You never disappointed God. You were always ready to offer a YES to God’s inspirations.

In this way, you kept growing in grace and in love, day by day, moment by moment.

With great joy and gratitude you brought Jesus Christ our Savior into the world. It was in Bethlehem, in a stable, on a winter’s night. Christ came as the Light of the World, our Redeemer and Lord.

St. Joseph was there with you and he too, with a joyful heart, took the Child Jesus in his arms and whispered to him his love and devotion. It was a glorious moment… and we are all preparing ourselves to commemorate that moment, to relive it at Christmas.

As a young mother you dedicated yourself to the care of your Son. Nothing distracted you. You were ever attentive to the needs of the Child Jesus. You cared for him; you spent yourself for him… Jesus: the object of all your efforts.

And this was not just for one day… it was your way of life: all for Jesus, all for the Love of the Lord. Mary, I want to learn from you. Teach me to say YES to whatever God asks of me. Help me to see how my day -with my tasks, my family, my parents and my siblings, my home, my school and my teachers, my friends- is the place where God wants me to be. Here I can find God; here I can show my love for God, here I can serve Jesus.

Mary, as your life progressed you came to know Jesus ever better. You learned from him because you kept your eyes fixed on him. You came to know his sufferings and you shared in them because you were one with him. You offered your Son to his Father, there on Calvary, when he offered himself for our salvation. You also experienced the joy of his Resurrection and in time, you helped the Apostles to be strong in their faith and in their commitment to Jesus. Mary, help me to be faithful in all things.

Compiled by Fr. Rene J. Schatteman

The practical theology of St. Nicholas

download (1)I like the fact that St. Nicholas is the patron saint of pawn shops and pawn brokers. According to some sources, the three gold balls suspended in the air outside pawn shops (or three neon balls in the window) come from the tradition that as Bishop of Myra St. Nicholas once threw three bags of gold through the window of a poor family so that three sisters could afford their marriage dowries. I guess the connection with quick loans at a pawn shop somehow connects with that story. In any case, St. Nicholas, whose feast is today, December 6, and who “became” our beloved Santa Claus, will always be a symbol of practical generosity, when giving is shown in specific gifts to specific persons (family and friends mainly). We need his example and we should look for ways to be more connected to the saint’s practical generosity in many different ways.

Another great saint, Josemaria Escriva, had particular devotion to St. Nicholas of Bari, and in 1934, named him one of the intercessors of Opus Dei, specifically as an intercessor for financial difficulties. In the centers of Opus Dei you will find a statue or painting of Saint Nicholas to help the members there remember the supernatural means of prayer and dependence on God’s Providence in the face of material need.

St. Nicholas was also well known for his participation at the Council of Nicea in 325. He is particularly known for purportedly slapping of the heretic Arius, who basically denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. My guess is that if he did, it wasn’t this hard…

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I guess it’s just another example of the humanity of the saints, and how we need to appreciate their humanity (and perhaps overlook a slap or two). And who but St. Nicholas has become so loved for his humanity in giving especially at Advent and Christmas time? Throwing gold and confronting heresies: his was a special practical theology of generosity worth studying and imitating.  Sancte Nicholae, Ora pro nobis!

Novena to Our Lady

The feast of St. Andrew, marks, the beginning of the nine days of special devotion (Novena) to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. It’s a great opportunity for us to show her our affection and love. Think of some prayers that will have a real effect on ourselves as we make our way through the Novena, and let’s be generous in our spirit of sacrifice as a sign of dedication to her and The Lord. For some inspiring ideas on living this Novena according to St. Josemaria, check out this PDFdownload

The Importance of Second Reactions

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Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people:
“What is your opinion?
A man had two sons.
He came to the first and said,
‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’
He said in reply, ‘I will not, ‘
but afterwards changed his mind and went.
The man came to the other son and gave the same order.
He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir, ‘but did not go.
Which of the two did his father’s will?”
They answered, “The first.”

This week’s Gospel (Matt 21: 28-32)  hinges on the delayed reaction of the first son, who changed his mind, and went out into the field as his father asked him. This son becomes a kind of hero in the parable because he is faithful. We, too, want always to be faithful, and we might find ourselves in similar circumstances of refusal, followed by a conversion of the moment, and then fulfilling God’s will in the end.

Isn’t it true that when faced by a difficulty in life, or an unexpected demand is placed upon us, we find ourselves in a position of rebellion? Why is this? It comes down to simple pride and humility. We go through our days building a kind of world of our making: work; family; recreation; free-time. Whenever that is interrupted we can easily rebel: “I will not go out to the field.” But this is usually just a first (prideful) reaction, and should not be taken too seriously as the final answer. Rather, one’s second reaction is usually the more humble, reflective, and considerate (“he changed his mind and went”).

The key to a proper second reaction is reflection. We need to pause, recollect ourselves, and then make a decision in favor of carrying out an act of service when asked for it. Let’s give ourselves a minute and reflect whenever we are approached with a new demand in our life of faith. Many times we are asked to “work in the vineyard today”; while our first reaction might be one of a rebellious “no!”, may our second reaction (the more important one because it is the reaction of conversion) be an action-item: like the faithful first son, may we always go out to the vineyard of the Lord.

Notes on Grace

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Contemplating the Hudson River the other day helped me realize that the Church Fathers were right to say the work of grace within each of us is greater than the whole work of creation. The justification of sinners transformed into loving Children of God is the greatest gift of all, and we are called to cherish and understand it the best we can. For some days in New York City I have been giving a course in Theological Anthropology, focusing on the workings of grace within us. If you have any interest in my class notes, click here on… GraceStudyNotes

Pastoral Days in the City

IMG_20170527_075050 (2)During the past few days I have been giving a Pastoral Theology class in the middle of Manhattan. It seems like just the right place take on such a project, as the “flock” of New York City needs attention and care just as much as those in the Midwest countryside, where I usually serve. So far, I have been struck by the amount of people “moving around, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt 9:36) but I am also moved by the fact that in city or in the country, we are all pretty much the same, and urgently in need of God’s mercy and a sense of community. The above picture of the Empire State Building was taken as I was on my way to celebrate Mass at an Opus Dei center near where I am staying. Although I like to be with all the people on the streets, still I enjoy the quiet and seeming emptiness of the streets in the morning. And speaking of buildings, I love how this panorama shot of the 9/11 Memorial seems to show the buildings around the memorial humbled and reverent.

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