Dear Friends,

On August 2, 1707 Mount Vesuvius erupted.  Early in the morning the volcano had begun throwing out dense clouds of smoke and ash.  By mid-day these clouds had thickened and spread to such an extent that the sun was hid from view, and the town of Naples was plunged into darkness.  It was as dark as a winter night.  The only light that was visible was the glare of the flames coming from the crater at the top of the mountain.  There were also streams of boiling lava flowing down the side of the mountain.  And the noise of non-stop thunder added to the terror of the inhabitants of the city below.   It was feared that the burning ashes would set fire to the houses, if even they escaped being buried altogether like that of Pompeii. 

At that time most of the residents of Naples were Catholic, and they knew their only hope was prayer.  The whole city made their way to the tomb of the town patron, St. Januarius.  His intercession was answered very quickly by God, a miracle.  In just a few moments the eruption was over, the lava stopped flowing and there was no more ash.  The darkness vanished, and the sun shined brightly in a cloudless sky.  One moment it was very dark and the next it was very light.

Forty days after his birth Jesus is presented in the Temple.  Simeon an old Jewish man had received a promise that before dying he would see the Christ.  He’d lived his whole life in a darkened fallen world.  But then in a moment of time he sees the promised light, one minute it’s the darkness of a fallen world and the next its divine light.     And he is so overjoyed he breaks out into a song, a canticle.  Looking into the face of the infant Jesus he sings out, “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled:  my own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people:  a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.”  And the Church prays this same canticle every night before going to bed.  Reminding herself that God keeps His promises, his light shines. 

Thirty three years late, after that presentation in the temple, on a hill outside the gates of Jerusalem Jesus hangs upon a cross crucified, he’s beaten, bruised, and bloodied.  And next to him is a crucified criminal and he too, like Simeon, looks into the face of Jesus and sees that very same light.  He sees beyond the ugliness of crucifixion into the Divine.  After a life of robbery and murder, a life of dark sin, a very dark life, he sees the Divine light.  It’s a moment of conversion.  One moment it is very dark, and the next it is very light. 

Now on that hill the devil is present as well.  But when he looks at Jesus he doesn’t see the Divine, he doesn’t see the light.  He sees only a naked, beaten, bruised, and bloodied man.  He doesn’t see the hidden divinity.  In a sense he is saying to Jesus, “In a very short time you’ll be mine.  There is no escape from death.”  A very dark moment, but the darkness of that Good Friday is followed by the light of Easter Sunday.  Death is conquered; it doesn’t have the final word.  Darkness has not overcome the light.  One moment its very dark and next its very light.

For Christmas I received this icon of Jesus in a boat with two of his apostles.  The tiny boat is surrounded by big dark, choppy, and stormy waves of water.  One apostle cowers in the front of the boat, he’s very frightened.  The other apostle stands looking at Jesus with his arms open imploring Jesus to help them.  He seems to be saying, “Do something Lord!  We are perishing!”  “Wake up!” And there is Jesus at the back of the boat sound asleep, very peaceful.  I was given this icon as a reminder that Jesus is always present, His light is always present.  Even in the midst of a storm, he is present.  Darkness has not overcome the light.  One author put it this way, “Jesus, you are there:  nothing, nothing happens, not a hair falls from our heads, without your permission.  I have no right to worry.  Perhaps He is sleeping in the boat, but He is there.  He is always there.  He is all powerful; nothing escapes His vigilance.  He watches over each one of us.  He is all love, all tenderness.” 

Our Lord’s light is always present, it can be found at the baptismal font, in the confessional, in the tabernacle, in the baptized souls of those around us, and in prayer.  May we have the faith of the people of Naples in 1707, the faith of Simeon, and the faith of the good thief.  Knowing always that darkness has not overcome the light, and it never will.    Good Friday darkness is always followed by Easter light!

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

From a homily by Saint John Chrysostom , bishop

For love of Christ, Paul bore every burden

Paul, more than anyone else, has shown us what man really is, and in what our nobility consists, and of what virtue this particular animal is capable. Each day he aimed ever higher; each day he rose up with greater ardor and faced with new eagerness the dangers that threatened him. He summed up his attitude in the words: I forget what is behind me and push on to what lies ahead. When he saw death imminent, he bade others share his joy: Rejoice and be glad with me! And when danger, injustice and abuse threatened, he said: I am content with weakness, mistreatment and persecution. These he called the weapons of righteousness, thus telling us that he derived immense profit from them.


Thus, amid the traps set for him by his enemies, with exultant heart he turned their every attack into a victory for himself; constantly beaten, abused and cursed, he boasted of it as though he were celebrating a triumphal procession and taking trophies home, and offered thanks to God for it all: Thanks be to God who is always victorious in us! This is why he was far more eager for the shameful abuse that his zeal in preaching brought upon him than we are for the most pleasing honours, more eager for death than we are for life, for poverty than we are for wealth; he yearned for toil far more than others yearn for rest after toil. The one thing he feared, indeed dreaded, was to offend God; nothing else could sway him. Therefore, the only thing he really wanted was always to please God.


The most important thing of all to him, however, was that he knew himself to be loved by Christ. Enjoying this love, he considered himself happier than anyone else; were he without it, it would be no satisfaction to be the friend of principalities and powers. He preferred to be thus loved and be the least of all, or even to be among the damned, than to be without that love and be among the great and honored.


To be separated from that love was, in his eyes, the greatest and most extraordinary of torments; the pain of that loss would alone have been hell, and endless, unbearable torture. So too, in being loved by Christ he thought of himself as possessing life, the world, the angels, present and future, the kingdom, the promise and countless blessings. Apart from that love nothing saddened or delighted him; for nothing earthly did he regard as bitter or sweet.


Paul set no store by the things that fill our visible world, any more than a man sets value on the withered grass of the field. As for tyrannical rulers or the people enraged against him, he paid them no more heed than gnats. Death itself and pain and whatever torments might come were but child’s play to him, provided that thereby he might bear some burden for the sake of Christ.

From a sermon by Saint Augustine, bishop
The Voice is John, the Word is Christ


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.


However, let us observe what happens when we first seek to build up our hearts. When I think about what I am going to say, the word or message is already in my heart. When I want to speak to you, I look for a way to share with your heart what is already in mine.


In my search for a way to let this message reach you, so that the word already in my heart may find a place also in yours, I use my voice to speak to you. The sound of my voice brings the meaning of the word to you and then passes away. The word which the sound has brought to you is now in your heart, and yet it is still also in mine.


When the word has been conveyed to you, does not the sound seem to say: The word ought to grow, and I should diminish? The sound of the voice has made itself heard in the service of the word, and has gone away, as though it were saying: My joy is complete. Let us hold on to the word; we must not lose the word conceived inwardly in our hearts.


Do you need proof that the voice passes away but the divine Word remains? Where is John’s baptism today? It served its purpose, and it went away. Now it is Christ’s baptism that we celebrate. It is in Christ that we all believe; we hope for salvation in him. This is the message the voice cried out.


Because it is hard to distinguish word from voice, even John himself was thought to be the Christ. The voice was thought to be the word. But the voice acknowledged what is was, anxious not to give offense to the word. I am not the Christ, he said, nor Elijah, nor the prophet. And the question came: Who are you, then? He replied: I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord.


The voice of one crying in the wilderness is the voice of one breaking the silence. Prepare the way for the Lord, he says, as though he were saying: “I speak out in order to lead him into your hearts, but he does not choose to come where I lead him unless you prepare the way for him.”


To prepare the way means to pray well; it means thinking humbly of oneself. We should take our lesson from John the Baptist. He is thought to be the Christ; he declares he is not what they think. He does not take advantage of their mistake to further his own glory.


If he had said, “I am the Christ,” you can imagine how readily he would have been believed, since they believed he was the Christ even before he spoke. But he did not say it; he acknowledged what he was. He pointed out clearly who he was; he humbled himself.


He saw where his salvation lay. He understood that he was a lamp, and his fear was that it might be blown out by the wind of pride.

Dear Friends,

There is a story that the Missionaries of Charity tell of Mother Teresa.   The story is about a Hindu man that Mother Teresa saw lying in the streets of Calcutta and whom she took home to one of the many houses they have for people who are dying.  She cared for him for many days, feeding him, bathing him, and simply talking with him as one person to another, giving him the respect that he deserved as a child of God.  As it became clear that he was soon going to die, she would say to him often, “You have nothing to be afraid of; soon you are going to be with Jesus, soon you are going to be with Jesus.”  As the man had spent most of his life as a  Hindu, he didn’t really know a lot about Jesus and so, moments before  he died he looked at this woman who had taken him in off the streets, provided him with food and shelter and clothing and dignity and asked her, “Is this Jesus anything like you?” 

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, also known as the Feast of the Manifestation. When Jesus made himself known to the whole world, not just to the Jewish people but to the whole gentile world as well.  In today’s Gospel there are a few key figures that we could focus on; there’s Jesus, His mother Mary, King Herod, the Magi.  And there’s the star.  It was the star that the Magi followed from some far away country.  The star led them to Jesus, God born in the flesh for the salvation of all the world.  Mother Teresa led that Hindu man to Jesus, just as the star led the Magi to Jesus.   Without the appearance of that star, presumably, the Magi would never have left their homeland, would never have met Jesus, and would have remained in ignorance not only about who God is but about the ultimate purpose of life and what it truly means to be human and how to be happy. 

As God once provided those Magi with that star so as to lead them to His son, so in every age He provides “stars” so as to help draw people to Jesus.  In his letter on “Hope” Pope Benedict wrote, “Human life is a journey.  Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route.  The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives.  They are lights of hope.”  “Certainly,” the Pope continues, “Jesus Christ is the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history.  But to reach Him we also need lights close by, people who shine with His light and so guide us along our way.”  Now as we know the greatest of all those close by stars is our Mother Mary.  But there have been countless other stars who have shown us the way, who have lived good lives, and have made Jesus known to us.  Blessed Teresa of Calcutta was one of them. 

As we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, as we reflect upon the stars in our lives.  The stars that have helped us to know Jesus and how to truly live.   I think that today our Lord is offering each of us a challenge.  That challenge is to become more and more a star ourselves.   Not a popstar, not a Kardashian type star, but a star of divine light.  The baptismal call, the mission, given by God to each of us is to, in some way, be intentional about helping others come to know Jesus.  We do this by the witness of our lives and by our words.  We can’t be silent about our faith.  It can’t be hidden. 

The mission is simply this:  to know Jesus and to make Him known.  The mission is to let the light of Jesus shine through us, not for an hour once a week but in all the hours of the whole week.  The mission is to have the intention in every situation, wherever we are, to bring Jesus by the witness of our lives and the words we 0speak. This was Mother Teresa’s intention; it’s why she made such an impression on the whole world.  She was a light of Christ.  She had the aroma of Jesus as St. Paul would say. 

Hundreds of years before Mother Teresa there was another star who single-handedly, not in legend but in fact, converted all of Ireland.  St. Patrick is famous for many things and there is a prayer that he prayed at the start of each day.  It’s called the Breastplate of St. Patrick; in it he prays to be so conformed to Jesus Christ that when others see him they see only Jesus Christ.  This is the ultimate goal of Christianity; to be another Christ.  It might be a great prayer for us as we begin 2023.  It goes like this:  “Christ be in the eyes of all who see me, in the ears of all who hear me, on the lips of all who speak of me, in the minds of all who think of me, in the hearts of all who love me.  Christ be before me, behind me, above me, beneath me; Christ on my right and my left.  Christ be my all.”

May our lives, like the Star of Bethlehem, Mother Teresa, and St. Patrick, help lead others to Jesus. 

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher Ankley

Dear Friends,

Every day in my email inbox I have something from Church Pop.  Their logo is a Popsicle on a stick with a halo around it, very creative.  The article/video they send is always interesting and orthodox.  Church Pop is a subsidiary of EWTN.  A few days before Christmas I received my usual Church Pop and it was an article about Precepe.  Precepe are the Italian version of the Nativity.  Precepe are more than just Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, a few animals, shepherds, and Kings.  They are usually whole cityscapes with shops, and houses, and farms, and courtyards, and lots of people.  Lots of people doing various activities, some are working, playing, resting, and just going on about their day.  Precepe are very busy and involved, and they take up a lot of space. 

And usually it’s very hard to find the Holy Family.  They are not in the front and center; they’re usually off to the side, almost hidden.  To find the Holy Family in the Precepe is like trying to find Waldo.  It takes effort.  And that’s the point.  Hardly anyone knew when the King of Kings was born.  Except for a few shepherds and the Wise men, nobody knew of our Lord’s birth.  The rest of the world went on; business as usual. 

Now the Shepherds knew because of the Angel’s message.  The angel came to them saying,  “Today in the City of David a Savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.  And this will be a sign for you; you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a

manger.”  But what was difficult then is not difficult today.  Today it’s not hard to find Jesus; it’s not hard to find our Lord.  He can be found in every tabernacle in every Catholic Church across the world.  Under the veil of Eucharistic Bread the fullness of our Lord’s humanity and divinity is present and waiting. 

Our Lord once said this about the Eucharist to a mystic, “Come to Me in the Sacrament of My love and I will fill you with the sweetness of My friendship.  Know that there is no companionship on earth that can be compared with Mine.  For this too did I institute the Sacrament and Sacrifice of My Body and Blood:  so that souls might find Me present in My churches and, by remaining in My presence, learn from Me all that I have heard from My Father.  For this reason do I call you friends.  You are My friends because, from the tabernacle where I am present, and from the monstrance that exposes Me to your gaze, I will share with you the secrets of My Heart.” 

Our Lord also told this same mystic, that to be in the presence of the Eucharist, whether in a tabernacle or a monstrance is to sit within the loving gaze of his Eucharistic face, a privileged place to rest and be in peace.  In our first reading we are given a blessing that prays for exactly this, to be in the presence of the Face of our Lord.  We read, The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you

peace!  To sit before the Eucharist (Tabernacle or Monstrance) is to let His Face shine upon us.

In this upcoming New Year, find some time each week, put it right into your schedule, to just come and sit with our Lord, here at St. Joseph’s/St. Jerome’s. He is not hard to find and don’t worry about what you’ll pray or say, you don’t need an agenda of prayer, just come and be.   He’s always here waiting, see what happens, you will not regret it.  The world out there may go on, business as usual, but in here, with Our Lord we have rest, peace, and consolation.  He graces us so that we can make Him present out there. 

The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace! 

Happy New Year!

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

On this final Sunday of Advent we are presented with two men, Ahaz of the Old Testament and Joseph of the New Testament.  One trusted in God the other did not.

Our first reading from Isaiah is one of the most descriptive prophesies foretelling of the future messianic king, the Christ.  Ahaz is a descendent of King David and he is the king of Judah; he’s  young and inexperienced.  And he’s expecting his country to be attacked from the combined forces of Israel and Syria.   Ahaz is not in a good spot and he’s wondering whether to trust in God or to maybe depend upon the neighboring army of Assyria, who he’s asked to help him in defense of his country.  God tells Ahaz to ask for a sign, but Ahaz refuses.  He’d rather decide his own fate and that of his kingdom rather than trusting in God.  He says, “I will not ask!  I will not tempt the Lord!”

Now Ahaz might appear to be holy and pious when he says, “I will not tempt God,”  but actually what he’s saying is that he doesn’t want anyone telling him what to do; he wasn’t going to allow this prophet of God to determine his plans.

God was inviting him to ask for anything no matter how big or how grand, but Ahaz was afraid to trust God, and so he refused.  Isaiah, frustrated responds, “Is it not enough for you to weary people, must you also weary my God!”

Sometimes I think we react a lot like Ahaz.  We’d rather put our trust in ourselves and in those around us who we can see rather than to trust in God, whom we can’t see.  Maybe God seems too out of reach for us, and in our weakness or fear, we just push Him aside and put our trust in our self or in  others.

As we know we are sometimes tempted like Ahaz to trust in our own ability to solve problems and find happiness.  We do this rather than being vulnerable by trusting in God. We do this because God might lead us down a path that is unfamiliar and uncomfortable.  We are not ready to reject the so-called happiness that the world offers.  Fr. Cantalamessa, the papal preacher, points out that the problem with this age (those who don’t follow Christ, and often even many who do), is that they’ve turned upside-down the manner of finding happiness.  Instead of making God their happiness, they’ve made happiness their “god.”  When you make God your happiness, God gives you happiness.  You find both God and happiness.  But when you make happiness your “god,” that is, when you seek happiness in money, power, pleasure, or honor rather than God, you lose both.  You lose both happiness and God.

There is a story of a young man who had avoided going to Church because he knew that if he started taking his faith seriously, he’d have to change his life.  It took him years to realize that his immoral lifestyle did not bring him happiness.  When he finally took the step to return to the Lord, everything changes.  Others told him that he wasn’t the same guy.  He agreed, “That’s right,” he said, “I’m happy now.”  Perhaps there are times that we think that embracing God in our lives would cost too much.  And, consequently we end up avoiding happiness.  There is a temptation in all of us to act like Ahaz.

Even after Ahaz rejects God, God tells him – I will give you a sign; the virgin will conceive and bear a son.  She will name him Emmanuel: Emmanuel meaning God is with us.  God is telling Ahaz, just as he’s telling us:  do not be afraid; trust me, I am with you.

In our Gospel from Matthew we have our second Advent man, Joseph.  And Joseph like Ahaz is also a descendant of David and he is told by an angel, “Do not be afraid to take Mary, your wife, into your home.”  What might he be afraid of?  There was the fear of what others might think.  Perhaps Joseph was fearful and worried about what this Mary was really like.  He knew he wasn’t the father of the child she carried.  Perhaps he was fearful of the religious authorities.  What if he was caught protecting Mary and she was viewed as violating the Law of Moses. Her pregnancy could be viewed as an offense punishable by stoning.  Or maybe he was afraid that he couldn’t love this child as a father.

 

But the angel told him- do not be afraid.

Trust God, for this child is special and so is his mother. It is the work of the Holy Spirit.  Do not be afraid, trust in God.  And so, unlike Ahaz, Joseph puts his complete trust in God.  God would figure out how to deal with the gossip, God would figure out how to deal with the Law of Moses, and God would figure out how to deal with his concerns about the child.

So: Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. In His earthly life, Jesus truly showed Himself to be God-with-us. As He healed the sick, and raised the dead, He visibly brought about salvation.

But what about now? Is He still today “Emmanuel, God with us” in so great a way? Yes! Just as He is announced as “Emmanuel” at the beginning of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 1:23), so His final words at the end of Matthew are: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus comes to live even more intimately in you than He did during the whole of His time on earth. And He wants each of you to know Him just as intimately.

In the Eucharist, He comes to you now in a way even more intimate than the way He was present, in the flesh, on earth. He comes to you now, not only from the outside, as He did when He walked the earth; He comes to you now also on the inside, when you take Him in, “God-with-us” becomes “God-in-you.”  And that is something we can trust.

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

Today the color of my chasuble has changed.  I don’t wear violet, today I wear roseThis rose color is a visual symbol that Christmas is getting closer. Just as the dark night sky begins to glow with a pale, rose-colored light as the sun starts to rise, so too the color of my vestments goes from dark to lightThe true light of the world is coming.

In our hearts too the color should be changing. For the first weeks of Advent, we’ve meditated on our need for God; we’ve meditated on our sinfulness, and on our helplessness in achieving salvation on our own.  Today we switch gears. Without forgetting our need for a Savior, we focus our attention more on that Savior himself.

Christ came on the first Christmas into a stable in order to lift up this fallen world.  And he wants to come again into our hearts this Christmas and every day for the same reason, to raise our fallen hearts.  When Jesus came to earth, he met the blind, and gave them sight; he met the poor, and gave them hope; and he met the lame, giving them strength.

He’s begun the very same work in us, and he’s eager to continue it. We are sometimes blinded by ignorance and selfishness, and so he offers us light in the teachings of his Church. We are sometimes poor in virtue, and so he fills us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We are sometimes lame and unable to pray as we should, or to bear witness as we should, or to love as we should, and so he heals and strengthens us in the sacrament of reconciliation and nourishes us with His very self in the Eucharist.

Today is Gaudete Sunday, and this word Gaudete means rejoice.   And we rejoice because we know that Jesus came to open a path from earth into heaven. Even in the midst of pain and sorrow the joy of the Christian is the joy of a hope guaranteed by God himself.  The joy of hope is a true joy, and Christ is its source.

This past Thursday was the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.  And for many years it’s been a tradition for families to set up their nativities right after this Solemnity.  We do it to relive with Mary those days full of trepidation that preceded the birth of Christ.  Now St. Francis set up the first live nativity in the year 1223.  In that year at Christmas St. Francis found himself in the small town of Grecchio.  This was a small Italian town built on the side of a mountain.  And St. Francis wanted Midnight Mass to be celebrated in a place large enough so that all of the people in town could attend.  Their Franciscan chapel was much too small.  So St. Francis went looking for a larger place to celebrate Mass.  And he found the spot.  He found a cave like niche in the side of the mountain near the town square.  “Perfect” he thought, so in this niche within the rock of the mountain he placed an altar.   And then he was inspired, this cave like niche reminded him of the very first Christmas where our Lord was born in similar circumstance.  He said to his brothers, “I want to make a memorial of that Child who was born in Bethlehem and in some sort behold with our eyes the hardships of His infant state, lying on hay in a manger with the ox and donkey standing by.”  And that’s what they did.  He found a manger for a crib and filled it with hay.  He then found both a donkey and an ox and tied them up next to the crib.  There were probably even a few sheep running around.  And that’s where the people of Grecchio celebrated Midnight Mass in the year 1223.  They celebrated Mass in a stable with a manger in their midst and with the townspeople crowding in and around animals.  At that Christmas in a very profound way the townspeople of Grecchio mediated on the hardships and humility of our infant Lord born into a stable.  They also meditated on his infinite love for us to be born in such a way just for us.  This custom of making a Christmas crib was probably not unknown before this time, but this use of it by St. Francis is said to have begun its subsequent popularity.  So we can thank St. Francis for this custom of setting up the Christmas crib.  I can tell you I have three of them set up in the rectory.

I’d like to end with a poem that was sent to me last week.  It’s about a woman named Bilfina, who was too busy for Jesus.

Bilfina, the Housewife, scrubbing her pane

Saw three old sages ride down the lane,

Saw three gray travelers pass her door—

Gaspar, Balthazar and Melchior.

“Where journey you, sirs?” she asked of them.

Balthazar answered, “To Bethlehem,

For we have news of a marvelous thing,

Born in a stable is Christ the King.”

 

“Give Him my welcome!” she said

Then Gaspar smiled,

 

“Come with us, mistress, to greet the child.”

 

“Oh, happily, happily would I fare,

Were my dusting through and I’d polished the stair.”

Old Melchior leaned on his saddle horn,

 

“Then send but a gift to the small Newborn.’

 

“Oh, gladly, gladly, I’d send him one,

Were the hearthstone swept

and my weaving done.

 

As soon as I’ve baked my bread,

I’ll fetch him a pillow for his head,

And a coverlet too,” Bilfina said.

 

“When the rooms are aired and the linen dry,

I’ll look at the Babe,”

But the three rode by.

 

She worked for a day, and a night and a day,

Then gifts in her hands, took up her way.

But she never found where the Christ child lay.

 

And she still wanders at Christmastide,

Houseless whose house was all her pride.

 

Whose heart was tardy, whose gifts were late;

Wanders and knocks at every gate.

 

Crying, “Good people, the bells begin!

Put off your toiling and let love in.”

 

In these remaining days of Advent, don’t let busyness get in the way of  meditating upon Christ in the crib, don’t hide Jesus until the 25th,  keep him out in plain sight.    Using the image of Christ in the crib to lift your heart and mind to the heights of heaven.  Put off toiling and let love and joy in.

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

As the days get shorter and Christmas gets closer the Advent wreath gets brighter. It’s a powerful reminder that light overcomes darkness. The light of Christmas, the light of Christ, overcomes the darkness.  The Church gives us the season of Advent to train us in attentive trust, so that we can give God permission to come into our lives.  To let the light of Christ come into our lives.  And so the gospel today brings us St. John the Baptist.  He’s a wild character, the last of the Old Testament prophets.

Now John the Baptist doesn’t mince words. He calls for repentance.  And this call to repentance is hard and relentless but despite this, people flocked to him coming from great distances.  John the Baptist didn’t tell people what they wanted to hear, he told them what needed to be heard.  And maybe that’s why he was so popular.  He was a genuine man and on top of that he was also very hopeful.  He offered hope.  “Our savior is coming.”

His call to repentance affected hearts.  People believed him when he said it was time to rethink their lives and to repent.  It was time to change.  So people began to speak up and to say what was wrong in their lives.  They admitted their guilt and their regret.  And to make the cleansing of their hearts and consciences visible John washed them in the waters of the Jordan.

For the Jews the Jordan River was a powerful symbol of hope and new life.  God did great things at the Jordan.  He cleansed Naaman, the Syrian, of his leprosy there and he took the prophet Elijah up to heaven at the Jordan.  But most of all God led the Israelites across the Jordan River at the end of their forty-year journey in the desert.  It was through the Jordan that God led his people to the Promised Land.   And now after being washed in the waters of the Jordan John’s followers were reentering the Promised Land with a radical reorientation of their lives.

There are four things we can say about repentance. Repentance is first the recognition that I am infinitely loved by God.  He is always looking upon me.  Repentance is second knowing that I have sometimes failed to live up to that love, that I have sinned, that I have grievously sinned.   Repentance is third, the knowledge, the heartfelt knowledge, that I need his mercy.  And finally Repentance is giving God a free hand to work in my life as he wants, “Do with me as you will Lord.”  And to live this way is supremely freeing.  It means that I don’t have to save myself.  It means that I allow Jesus to enter into my life, and take control.  I give myself to Him.  I trustTo repent is to ultimately trust in Jesus.

On Monday night I was Christmas shopping and the woman checking me out at the store asked me, “What do you do for a living?”  And I said I’m a Catholic priest.  Her face lit up and she almost shouted, “I love Jesus too!”  Then she said, “Wait here I have something for you.”  She went back to a cabinet to get a small object.  She handed it to me; it was a small red Lego piece.  The kind you step on, that really hurt.  “Did you know,” she said, “That the word Lego is an abbreviation for Let Go and Let God!”  In other words, Trust in the Lord, make Him your Rock foundation, and give yourself to Him.  The woman told me to keep in my pocket as a reminder to Trust, to let go to let God.

Cardinal John O’Connor of New York was consecrated a bishop in 1983 in Rome.  On his way down the aisle after the consecration, he blessed the people gathered in the church. Suddenly he saw a famous face, and went over to greet Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  He gave her a blessing, but was not prepared for what came next.  She grasped one of his hands in both of hers, and said to him: “Give Jesus a free hand! Give him permission!”  “Give yourself to Him.”  “Trust Him.” In other words, Let go and let God.  Cardinal O’Connor never forgot those words, and he said that he tried to make them a watchword for the rest of his life.

How, practically, do we give God permission? To give ourselves to God, to grow in trust, to let go and to let God.  Where do we start?  We’ve already taken the first step by coming to Mass. And did you know that when the gifts are being brought to the altar you too are being brought up to the altar.  The bread, the wine, the monetary gifts represent the whole of our lives being offered to God.  So as the men/women/ushers bring up the gifts to be offered to God the Father, you are there too.  You are offering yourself to the Father in Jesus, with Jesus, and through Jesus.  You are giving to the Father all your labor, all your hard work, all your joys, all your sorrows, all your struggles, all your pains, all yours sins, your everything.  You are asking to be made anew. You are asking to be renewed by grace.  Think about that as the gifts are being brought forward.  You are there too, in the basket of monetary gifts, the fruit of your labor, in the cruet of wine, in the paten of bread, you are there too.  You are giving yourself to God, did you know that?

And then when we receive Jesus Christ himself in the Eucharist; when we say “Amen” before receiving the Eucharist, we give Jesus permission to be the Lord of our Lives, and we affirm that we believe everything that the Catholic Church teaches for our happiness.  But for all of that to take deep root in our souls, we need to know what our Church teaches and why.  We need to know our faith to have a growing and deepening understanding.  So here’s a challenge, a bit of homework. Get a copy of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This is a shorter version of the Catechism, made up of short questions and answers. You can find it on Amazon – The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It costs $7.93.

Read a paragraph every day until Christmas, and take a few minutes to reflect on it. If it’s enriching your life, keep going after Christmas.  If we do that, if we study our faith, and we give ourselves to the Lord at Mass, we’re actively giving God permission to work in our lives by cooperating with whatever he wants to inspire in us.  Who knows what he might be asking of you, to find out, let go, let God.

I want to end by reading a hymn the school choir sang on Thursday after Communion.  It’s all about giving ourselves, with Jesus, to the Heavenly Father.  Putting ourselves on the paten, putting ourselves in the chalice.

On the paten with the Host
I offer up my lowly heart:
All my life, my deeds, my thoughts
Thine shall be as mine Thou art.

In the chalice let me be
A drop of water mingled there.
Lost O Jesus in Thy Love
Thy great sacrifice I share.

All today and ev’ry day
O Jesus let me live in thee,
So that I no longer live
But that thou may’st live through me.

When the gifts are presented, give yourself to the Lord, asked to be transformed by His saving Grace.

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

Our Gospel passage for today is part of a long conversation that St Matthew records in Chapters 24 and 25.  Up until this point in the conversation, Jesus has been explaining what the age of the Church will look like.  The age of the Church is the period of history between Our Lord’s resurrection and His second coming.

He has explained to his Apostles that the age of the Church will be marked by both wonderful growth and painful persecution.  He has explained that Jerusalem, the epicenter of the Old Covenant, will be destroyed to make way for the New Covenant.  He has explained that the world itself will eventually come to an end to make way for the new heavens and the new earth.  And then, by referring to the example of Noah, he explains that although these things definitely will happen, the Apostles can’t know when: “you do not know on which day your Lord will come.”

Why is Jesus telling them these things? Why does the Church remind us about them every year as Advent begins?   I’m glad you asked.

God wants us to know that our time is limited, that our lives, and history itself, will someday come to an end.  He wants us to know this, because he wants us to use our limited time wisely, to live as true Christians.  Jesus considers this lesson to be so important that he dedicates four separate parables to it before he finishes the conversation, driving the lesson home.  Jesus knows how easily even the most faithful disciple can become distracted by earthly life, forgetting that earthly life is but the path to the goal of eternal life.

Pope Benedict once said this about our future goal of eternal life in Heaven, “Here too we see as a distinguishing mark of Christians the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness. (Spe salvi, #2)  Human life is a journey. Pope Benedict then asks two questions, he asks, towards what destination? How do we find the way? Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route. The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives. They are lights of hope. Certainly, Jesus Christ is the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history. (Spe salvi, #49)  Life on earth is the path, not the goal.

I have a story about a woman who forgot this for a time.  St. Mary of Edessa was born in 4th century Syria.  Her parents died when she was only 7, but she was adopted by her uncle, St. Abraham Kiduania, and with this new home she began to live a remarkably holy life.

For 20 years, Mary lived as a hermit; following the advice of her hermit-uncle she sought a life of deep prayer and sacrifice.  One day a monk caught sight of Mary as he was visiting Fr. Abraham.  He was not a good monk.  And he made it his goal to steal Mary away from her life of prayer.  He spent a year befriending her becoming more and more friendly and familiar with her.  Eventually Mary gave in, but afterward she was horrified at what she’d done.  She was ashamed and hid from her uncle, the one who loved her, “How can I even try to speak with my holy uncle?”  She asked herself.  “Seeing that I am already dead and have no hope of gaining salvation. I’d better leave here and go to some foreign land where nobody knows me.” And so she left.

Mary of Edessa is one who should have known better.  After falling she should have remembered the infinite mercy of God and plunge herself into it.  To be a Christian, is to know that we are deeply loved by a God who sees us in all of our sin, and loves us anyway.  After falling Mary had only to turn to the Lord and ask for forgiveness; instead she gave into despair.  Her despair convinced her that having fallen once; she could never again be holy.  So Mary ran away from her home and took up residence in and began working in a house of ill-repute.

Meanwhile, Fr. Abraham was oblivious to all that had happened. But that night he had a vision of a dragon consuming a dove; two days later, in another vision he saw the same dragon with its belly torn open. He reached in to pull out the dove, miraculously unharmed. When he called out to his niece to tell her about it but received no answer, Abraham realized that she was the subject of the vision.  She was the dove, the daughter of his soul was gone and all he could do in her absence was to pray for her.

He prayed for two years before a report reached him that his Mary was living and working in a brothel. Fr. Abraham; like the Good Shepherd, was off without a moment’s hesitation, eager to bring his lost lamb home.

Abraham hadn’t left his hermitage in decades, but he disguised himself as a soldier and began his journey. He made an appointment with Mary, who didn’t recognize him until he began to cry, begging her to come home. Moved by his powerful love, Mary returned to her hermitage and began again a life of prayer. Within three years, God testified to her true conversion by giving her the gift of miracles. Through her prayers to God there were many miracles.   More than just being returned to her original state of holiness, Mary was brought through wickedness to greater prayer, greater virtue, and greater power in Christ.

While he spoke to Mary in her brothel, St. Abraham reminded her, “There is nothing new in falling down in the contest; the wicked thing is to keep on lying there.” St. Mary of Edessa is a powerful witness to what God is capable of when we offer him our sin—and what we’re capable of when we don’t.

Life on earth is the path, not the goal.  St. Mary of Edessa forgot the goal of Heaven and she forgot the Mercy of our Good God.  But her uncle was there to remind her and bring her back to the mercy of our Lord.

As Pope Benedict once said, “Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route.  The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives.  They are lights of hope.  As St. Paul said, “Put on the armor of Light, put on Christ Jesus!”   In other words, be a light of hope to those around you.

My prayer for us today is that we may be a light of hope, consuming ourselves, like a candle, giving light and warmth to those around us.  Always pointing the way to eternal life.

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

 

Dear Friends,

On January 17th 1871 a French family of four was working in their barn.  One of the sons named Eugene wanted to take a break so he went outside to get a breath of fresh air.  Once outside he came upon a vision of a very beautiful lady.  She was dressed in a blue gown covered with gold stars.  She wore a black veil and a crown on top of her head.  Eugene called to his parents and his little brother, Joseph, to come out and take a look.    The parents couldn’t see her but Joseph could.  Dad was very upset with his boys and told them to get back to work, Mom, however, knew her sons were not liars.  So she went and got the teacher, Sr. Vitaline.  Sister came and she brought with her 2 young girls, who immediately saw the lady.  As time passed a crowd gathered and as the hours passed it got bigger and bigger.  But only the children could see our Lady, no adult was able to see her.  Many prayers were prayed that day, and when the priest arrived more prayers were offered.

At that time France was in the midst of the Franco/Prussian war.  And things weren’t going so well for France.  The war was very close to Pontmain and the people of that region thought that they’d soon be overwhelmed by the fighting.  As the prayers continued the children excitedly informed the crowds of the changing appearance of the vision of our Lady.    She increased in size, and more stars were becoming part of her garment.  Our Lady also presented a banner beneath her feet.  It read, “But pray, my children.  God will soon answer you.  My Son allows Himself to be moved.” 

The war never made it to Pontmain.  And in a move that still defies military reason today, the Prussian army decided to retreat and go back to Paris. The prayers of Pontmain were answered.   And two months later in March a peace treaty was signed the war was over.   At the apparition site, next to the barn, a large basilica was built. It was consecrated in 1900.

The third statement on the banner, beneath Our Lady of Pontmain, always strikes me, “My Son allows Himself to be moved.” Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King and we have a King who allows Himself to be moved.  To be moved by our prayers.

Our Lady is sent as a Heavenly messenger to encourage and bolster and deepen our relationship with her Son.  To strengthen our dependence on a King who wants to rule our hearts, our minds, and our souls, a King who wants only the best for us.  These Marian apparitions give us a taste of Heaven a taste of our eternal calling.

Now the very first day that we begin to taste heaven is the day of our baptism, and on that day the life of heaven is literally poured into us.  While the water is being poured, the Holy Spirit at the very same time is being poured into our souls and hearts. In Baptism, we are immersed into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are freed from Original Sin and from eternal death. We are made God’s children and, as St. Paul tells us (in Philippians 3:20) we become citizens of heaven.  Heaven is not a prize to be won, but a gift given and received.

To become a citizen of heaven is to know that we are not the king; we are not the king of our lives, or of our destinies. Jesus Christ is our King, and the Sacrament of Baptism comes with a call to live actively as a servant of the one King of the Universe. Sometimes we might treat Jesus as if He were a “member of Congress,” just one voice among many competing in our hearts. But a Christian wants and strives to have Jesus enthroned in his heart as King, ruler of his thoughts, words, and actions. Jesus is God. He is perfect, and unlike any person we might find in Washington DC, He always does what it best for us, what will bring us to heaven with Him.

So what will heaven be like? In heaven we will finally know perfectly what it is to be loved and to love. We will never be bored. Heaven is not about sitting on clouds plucking harps like the chubby cherubs in Renaissance paintings. That is only a symbol of the perfect rest and peace the angels and saints experience in heaven. We will be surrounded by holiness and love, by angels and humans who love God and each other totally. We’ll be living in the midst of the Trinity’s infinite love. There will be no hatred, violence, anger or anxiety. No one will ever sin or even be tempted to sin.

To live in heaven is not just to be “somewhere up in the sky”, but to live in God’s very household, to see Him face-to-face. In the Old Testament, we read that no human can see God’s face and live (Ex 33:20), but in Baptism and the Holy Eucharist we are made more than human. Baptism makes us “other Christs” in the world, and the Holy Eucharist continues to transform us, to make us less and less earthly, and more and more heavenly, if we will just cooperate.  We gotta cooperate.  Salvation is about grace, and grace needs to be received willingly.

The British author C.S. Lewis once wrote that for many of us, the way we currently live, so attached to earthly things, the joys of heaven would be an acquired taste. And so our Christian life is about acquiring a taste for heaven now, about becoming heavenly now, about making sure we never take heaven for granted. As He reigns from the Cross in today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the good thief, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

This good thief, St. Dismas, inherits the Kingdom because he turns to Jesus for mercy and forgiveness. He cooperates with God’s grace. He looks into the face of Jesus and knows forgiveness and love.  As Our Lady of Pontmain presented on that banner beneath her feet, “My Son allows Himself to be moved.”

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher Ankley