Pope Francis’ birthday cake
We have just entered the new year of 2019. A new year brings a great deal of hope for renewed outlook on life which includes resolutions we sometimes make. As we begin the year and undertake our resolutions, we may liken the occasion of the new year to that of a birthday. Pope Francis recently celebrated his 82nd birthday Dec. 17. He once said that birthdays are the occasion to “remember all that God has done for us,” emphasizing that “memory is an aspect of life,” and that it is “a great misfortune to lose the memory of all that God has done for us.”
The music and art of Christmas
During the Christmas season we hear a great deal of music from popular Christmas songs to beautiful Christmas hymns and moving classical pieces such as Handel’s Messiah. The sounds of Christmas many times move us to happy memories as well as emotional responses, such as the tears that sometimes accompany hearing Silent Night. Music has the ability to touch our hearts and souls and to bring us out of ourselves and sometimes into the presence of God. A few weeks ago, at the conclusion of November, Pope Francis met with church choirs from around the world and reflected that music has the ability to make a deep impression on moments in people’s lives which mark their existence. He expressed that music witnesses “to the profoundness of the Word of God that touches the hearts of people.” He reflected that sacred music points to the beauty of paradise.
A beautiful life
On Dec. 8, we celebrate the patronal feast of our country, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The feast is a most important one for us as it points to the prominent role that Mary has in our lives of faith. Last year on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis reflected that Mary “lived a beautiful life” because she lived a virtuous life. The pope explained that, “the Word of God was her secret: close to her heart, it then took flesh within her womb. Remaining with God, dialoging with him in every circumstance, Mary made her life beautiful. Mary’s beauty is not found in her outstanding appearance, but in the total freedom from sin.” Indeed, understanding Mary’s Immaculate Conception will assist us more in finding the beauty of our lives.
The ‘apostolate of the ear’
The season of Advent is upon us. Advent affords us the opportunity to prepare ourselves to celebrate the birth of Christ at Christmas. It brings to us time to listen to the Lord as he speaks to us each and every day in our lives. There is a certain quietness that is appropriate for the Advent season. However, with so many things to take care of in preparation for Christmas, we can sometimes become overinvolved in activity that leads to unrest and disquiet. We are so busy sending cards, attending parties, shopping for gifts and decorating that it becomes very easy to lose sight of why we are doing all of these things. In addition, we have our daily lives and occupations to take care of as well as the many other matters that may come our way. At this time, right after Thanksgiving, we have a good opportunity to plan a season of Advent that will bring us into a deeper relationship with the Lord as we celebrate his birth with our families at Christmas. It is critical to have time for silence during the Advent season.
A month of remembrance and thanksgiving
We are already into the month of November. While we do not have the changing of foliage nor the cooler days in our weather, we know that November is here as the daylight hours continue to become shorter. Even though many had anticipated that we would remain on daylight savings time, approval by Congress was not given and so we just turned our clocks one hour back. We also know that November is upon us as so many of the winter residents have returned to Florida and we offer a warm greeting to them. Many of them will not miss the cooler weather they are leaving and may appreciate more the clocks being in sync with their homes in the north.
The ‘Hamlet Pope’
On Oct. 14, Pope Francis canonized one of the great Churchmen of the 20th century — Pope Paul VI. This is the third pope that Francis has declared a saint. St. Paul VI was an extraordinary shepherd of the Church during the years 1963 through 1987, in what were extremely turbulent times in the world and also in the Church. This was the time of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council and the period in which its reforms were implemented. Pope Francis has described St. Paul VI as one who “experienced in the full the Church’s travail after the Second Vatican Council: the lights, the hopes, the tensions. He loved the Church and expended himself to her, holding nothing back.” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has likewise acknowledged the difficult time during which St. Paul VI shepherded the Church and has referred to him as “super human.” St. Paul VI prophetically stood at the helm of the Church in one of its greatest storms.
Prayer listens to the truth
Recently, Pope Francis has been emphasizing the importance of prayer and silence during his homilies at morning Masses and in his public addresses. He has stressed that in the face of controversy and division, silence and prayer are an appropriate response. Such a response is the manner in which Jesus many times faced disruption and anger. The pope used the example of Jesus quietly passing through the crowd when the people were outraged at his words and drove him out of town to the brow of the hill in order to cast him over. He also used the ultimate example of the silence of the Lord on Good Friday when the crowd shouted for him to be crucified.
‘Every Life — Cherished, Chosen, Sent’
Each year October is used to inaugurate the Respect Life Program of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and is designated as Respect Life Month. Since we are already in the fall season, even in southern Florida we are reminded of the seasons of nature which reflect the seasons of life. We are graced with life from the moment of conception in our mother’s womb and our lives experience growth until our passing from this world. As Cardinal John Henry Newman so wisely stated, “Growth is the only evidence of life.” Life is a gift from God and is sacred at every moment and stage of its existence.
The deacon — the conscience of the Church
This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the restoration of the permanent diaconate here in the United States, as a result of the Second Vatican Council. This certainly is an occasion truly to celebrate. That was carried out at the recent Diaconate Congress held in New Orleans July 22-26. Present for that celebration was Pope Francis’ representative in the United States, the papal nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre. In his remarks at the end of the opening Mass for the Congress, Archbishop Pierre rightly praised the permanent deacons for their humble service of charity, proclaiming the word and leading the faith community in prayer.
The pope of surprises — start, stop, continue
From the very beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has frequently spoken of God as the “God of surprises.” In his words on Easter Sunday this year, he referred to God’s intervention in history, which culminated in the resurrection of Christ, as all acts of the “God of surprises.” Most recently, on the solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist, the pope asked the question of his audience in Rome, “Is our faith open to surprises from God? Because God is the God of surprises!” Pope Francis has made it abundantly clear that many times we judge God in terms of what we expect and are surprised when he acts in a different way outside of our boundaries.
Our Catholic schools — a second home
It seems like yesterday that I wrote this column on schools being closed for the summer and the children who attend them on vacation at home with their families. It is hard to believe that the schools are now open as we are more than halfway through August. While time does go by quickly, it may not seem that way for our young people as they begin another school year and anticipate the year and the years ahead of them. However, one day they will look back and appreciate the importance of these years in school. School years are precious ones and a great gift to all of us. We are especially grateful for our Catholic schools here in the Diocese of Palm Beach.
The Precious Blood gives us life
On June 30, Pope Francis spoke to various groups dedicated to the Most Precious Blood of Jesus. He noted that his audience with them came on “the vigil of the month of July, when Christian piety turns in a special way to the blood of Christ.” As we enter into the culminating days of this month, it is good to reflect upon the Precious Blood for, as Pope Francis expressed, “the blood of Christ is the fount of salvation for the world.” God chose “the sign of blood because no other sign can express so eloquently the supreme love of a life given for others.”
Summer — Complaining is forbidden
The summer has long begun, not only with its official opening on June 21, but also with the many signs of it that we have here in southern Florida. Schools have been closed for over a month, and some families have taken their children and gone on a well-deserved vacation away from our area. The winter residents are long gone and the heat of the summer is upon us. As we recently celebrated the Fourth of July, we know that we are truly in the midst of summer that is quickly passing.
The Birth of John the Baptist
The celebration of the Birth of John the Baptist, June 24, occurs during Religious Freedom Week. This year the celebration falls on Sunday and takes the place of the ordinary Sunday of the year in the liturgical cycle. The Birth of John the Baptist is a solemnity and therefore takes precedence in our celebration. It is fitting that we are able to celebrate this great feast on Sunday during Religious Freedom Week since John the Baptist was a tremendous example of a man who was not afraid to proclaim his faith and to go to his death for it. He truly was a living example of religious freedom and of the reality that Christ is the light of the world who enlightens our lives. John bore witness to the truth without compromise. He was ever faithful to the fullness of freedom, always following the words of Christ, “If you remain in my word, you truly will be my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:31).
Religious Freedom Week — ‘Serving Others in God’s Love’
For the past several years we have commemorated the Fortnight for Freedom invoked by the United States bishops as a two-week period of prayer and reflection upon the great treasure of religious freedom. The fortnight was a two-week period which began on June 21 and concluded on July 4. It was an opportunity for us to come together as believers across the nation and to celebrate what Pope Benedict XVI referred to as the “most cherished of American freedoms,” religious liberty. The Fortnight for Freedom has been a great blessing for us as the Church in the United States, bringing with it a greater appreciation for this precious liberty and the opportunity to join together to ensure that it is not threatened, especially in the context of today’s culture which brings with it so many confusing opinions. Last year the Fortnight for Freedom concluded with the Convocation of Catholic Leaders which called together all the dioceses of the United States in Orlando, Florida, as a very significant and faith-filled event in the history of the Church in our nation.