The Baptism Of The Lord

Place yourself at the scene: You see a small crowd gathered around a large, wild-looking man with hair and beard gone bushy – almost savage looking. He – John the Baptist – wears only a tunic made of camel and preaches that the Messiah is near. This John is an almost ferocious–looking creature, but people followed and listened, hungry for not simply spiritual direction but for the sorely-needed Chosen One. They follow this man, this preacher, to the Jordan River.

One by one, John baptizes them with water. He cautions them though: There is one coming who will baptize in water and the Holy Spirit. That is what we all need, because in that baptism is grace.

And one day, as John is preaching and baptizing, Jesus come to the Jordan. John halts: That is Him! That is the Lamb of God! He is the one who will take away our sins!

What does Jesus do? He doesn’t step up on higher ground and begin preaching. He doesn’t tell everyone that what John has said is right on target. No, he wades into the water, and is baptized.

This striking scene, that we celebrate today, gives us much to ponder. As Catholics, we too are baptized. And we are baptized in water and the Holy Spirit. This baptism (along with confirmation and Holy Orders) leaves an “indelible seal” upon us. That mark or seal actually changes us, and it’s permanent. We can’t undo it, even if we stop attending Mass, even if we declare ourselves a witch or warlock, even if … we are marked with the sign of Christ for all eternity. For children, it is the parents’ responsibility to nurture the faith of their child, to care for the child’s soul. As the child gets older, more and more of the responsibility for one’s relationship with God shifts to the individual, until that person reaches maturity. And each of us, when we dies, will need to account to God as to how and why we chose what we did for the care (or lack thereof) for our soul.

Jesus’ baptism was NOT a superhero movie scene. He did not enter the Jordan an “ordinary” man and emerge as a shining god or an all-powerful king ready to smash the Roman empire. No, it was a picture-perfect example of what we are to do. We need to seek the Lamb of God through trusted sources. We need to be humble enough to admit that we need help, that we need the grace God makes available to us. We need to strip off all the worldly things that hold us back from our beloved Father. Most importantly, we need to continuously seek ways to live out our baptismal promises: to reject Satan, to believe in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to live our faith as the Church teaches.

There are not “magicicians” or superpower heroes among the faithful. Instead, there are those who – every day – decide to live out their faith. As Father Bede Jarrett said, “Baptism doe not set us right, but, by the high privilege is affords, it gives us the power to set ourselves right.” And with the grace of baptism, so we must set ourselves right, every day.

All Saints

The Saints Go Marching In: Not Truly Dead, But Alive In Christ

Tomorrow, Catholics celebrate All Saints’ Day and Wednesday is the celebration of All Souls’. The Church knows that there are many holy men, women and children who will never be formally recognized as saints; the celebration of All Saints’ allows us to ponder our own destiny with the multitude of holy souls now enjoying God’s eternal love and presence. All Souls’ Day reminds us that, as Catholics, we never presume that someone is in Heaven, and our prayers for the dead are necessary and good. The Catechism states:

1054 Those who die in God’s grace and friendship imperfectly purified, although they are assured of their eternal salvation, undergo a purification after death, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of God.

1055 By virtue of the “communion of saints,” the Church commends the dead to God’s mercy and offers her prayers, especially the holy sacrifice of the Eucharist, on their behalf.


Catholics are often accused of praying to the dead (Ok, we kinda do that. It’s called “intercession.”) or worshiping the dead (No, we don’t.) While we understand that our earthly bodies with die, we know our soul is eternal. It is that soul which God created and has set in place for all eternity, made to be with Him forever.

At the core of the practice of praying to the saints is the belief that the saints are alive in Christ and full members of the community of believers, the Mystical Body of Christ. As St. Paul proclaims:

“For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39)

When we live a life of grace and virtue, if you “put to death the deeds of the body,” then we will live (Rom 8:13). Yes, every person’s time on this earth must come to an end, but if we die in grace and righteousness, then we’ll live forever with God in heaven. The fact that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – prophets who died a long time ago – can still be declared by Jesus to be the God of the living (cf. Mt 22:32) is proof that the saints are very much alive. [emphasis added]

In 1938, jazz legend Louis Armstrong recorded, “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Like many Gospel and jazz songs, the origins of this song are unclear, and there are several versions of it. However, the jazz version remains the best known. It is a “folk version” of our wish to join in the heavenly “parade” of holy men, women and children:

Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call
Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call
I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in
Oh, when the horsemen begin to ride
Oh, when the horsemen begin to ride
I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Oh, when the saints go marching in
I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in.

We are meant to desire Heaven. Each and every one of us should consider ourselves destined to be saints; it is only our sinful choices that keep us from this. We “want to be in that number:” those who have overcome sin, by the grace of God, and then die in the peace of Christ. Tomorrow, as we begin the month of November, we pause to thank God for the saintly lives we look to imitate, for the men and women we have known personally who strived to be like Christ in their own lives and now have moved on from this world, and to remember to pray for the dead – for we know that they are not truly dead, but alive in Christ.

Below, jazz musician Wynton Marsalis offers his take on the “Saints” hymn. He calls it a song of “revelation and redemption.” It’s not a bad way to kick off the month of November for Catholics, as we pray for our dead, and look forward to joining the saints in Heaven.

catholic home

5 Ways To Keep A Catholic Home

When you’re a guest in someone’s home, you can learn a lot about your hosts’ family just by looking around. Lots of family pictures tell you that they value family. A room with a piano and other musical instruments tells you they are musicians.

If someone walked into your home, would they know how much your faith means to you?

Don’t think you need to turn your home into a shrine, with statues and candles at every turn. However, you can use a few creative methods to make your space more of the domestic church our homes are meant to be as Catholics. Here are just some ideas:

  1. Celebrate baptism days. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy; simply enjoy a good meal with a nice dessert. Of course, use this opportunity to pull out your child’s baptismal candle and the white garment given to them on the day of their baptism. Talk about what these mean, and how your child can live out his/her baptismal promises. If your child’s godparents live close enough, invite them to the celebration.
  2. Make sure the liturgical year is celebrated at home. Even if you’re not crafty or an artist, you can still enjoy making memories and reinforcing the faith with your kids by making Lenten paper chains, lighting Advent candles, and setting up a Nativity scene. Even the youngest members of the family can join in  fun, simple ways to bring your Catholic faith home. It also reinforces that our faith is not just for church on Sunday, but the way we live every day.
  3. Buy a holy water font and fill it with holy water. Many people are a bit taken back by this, but indeed, it is perfectly acceptable for us to have holy water fonts in our home. You can put one by the entrance you and your family use the most, blessing yourselves as you come and go. Or consider putting one in every family member’s bedroom. It re-connects us with our baptism and is another wonderful way to reinforce the domestic church. (By the way, if you’re not sure where/how to get holy water, ask your pastor. Most churches either have a dispenser in the church or allow  you to get water from the baptismal font.)
  4. Use Catholic art. Perhaps a small statue or a picture of your child’s patron saint in his/her bedroom would be a good place to begin. You can also create a family altar. It doesn’t require a lot of money, but it’s a terrific reminder that we have “friends in high places” who are eager and willing to pray for us.
  5. Make sure you have at least one crucifix prominently displayed in your home. This isn’t simply a way to display your faith, but a way to remind us constantly of Christ’s greatest gift to us. In addition, we know every time we look at the crucifix that we are called to suffer in communion with Him, sacrificing in a small way every moment of every day in imitations of Christ’s great sacrifice.

Oh, and one more thing: go to Mass! Even if you can only go on Sundays, the Mass is the single most important prayer of the Church and the family. Yes, sometimes it’s hard to get there: kids are wiggly or grouchy, we want to sleep late, we are on the road for a long weekend. However, there is not any excuse (other than great sickness or caring for the someone who is ill) that should keep us from Mass. A healthy family spiritual life always begins and ends with the Mass.

As we look to the end of this Year of Mercy, it is so important that we remember our homes should be places of comfort, mercy and forgiveness.

In our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our schools, in our workplaces – we can be bearers of God’s mercy. Furthermore, in this jubilee year, we are challenged to break out of our routine lives and go the extra mile by actively seeking out those who are in need of the grace and peace of Jesus’ merciful touch. The notion of “jubilee” is an invitation to be “extravagant” ambassadors of mercy: merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful – without boundaries, without constraints, with our hearts full of solidarity for all humanity.

So, then, as we become agents and witnesses to mercy, we will be able, as a family of faith, to recreate our local parishes into “oases of mercy” for the life of the world around us. In a world too often experienced as a barren desert, bereft of true mercy and compassion, we will provide an oasis of healing and tenderness, because we ourselves have been touched and changed by mercy.

With just a few simple and on-going changes to our homes, we can ensure that we are truly living our faith whether we are at home, at church, or out in the world. “You are the light of the world,” Christ teaches us, “… your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”

Ignatius of Antioch

St. Ignatius of Antioch: Early Believer, Early Martyr

Ignatius of Antioch is one of the earliest believers and one of the earliest martyrs in the Church. By the year 107 A.D., Ignatius served as bishop of Antioch (its ruins are located in modern-day Turkey.) Sentenced to death my a Roman emperor, Ignatius was taken prisoner and brought to Rome.

Both on the journey to Rome and while imprisoned, Ignatius continued to lend pastoral support to his church in Antioch. The letters he sent survived far longer than he did; the Church treasures these letters as not only historical documents, but as testimony of how the teachings of Christ were passed on by the earliest Christians.

The content of the letters addressed the hierarchy and structure of the Church as well as the content of the orthodox Christian faith. It was Bishop Ignatius who first used the term “catholic” to describe the whole Church. These letters connect us to the early Church and the unbroken, clear teaching of the Apostles which was given to them directly by Jesus Christ. They also reveal the holiness of a man of God who became himself a living letter of Christ. The shedding his blood in the witness of holy martyrdom was the culmination of a life lived conformed to Jesus Christ.

Once in Rome, Ignatius faced the fate of so many early Christians: the arena. The lions released, Ignatius died a a martyr’s death. In one of his pastoral letters, he wrote, “Permit me to imitate my suffering God… I am God’s wheat and I shall be ground by the teeth of beasts, that I may become the pure bread of Christ.” God answered Ignatius’ heartfelt and humble prayer.

Today, the Church celebrates this humble man. His example as both bishop and martyr remain for us, his brothers and sisters in Christ, nearly 2000 years removed.

nativity of mary

The Nativity Of Mary: Happy Birthday, Immah!

On September 8, the Church celebrates the Nativity of Mary. Essentially, it’s a birthday party!

We know that this liturgical recognition of Mary’s birth dates back to about the 6th century (and dates 9 months from the feast of the Immaculate Conception, on December 8.) We don’t really know much about the birth of Mary, but what we do know come from a book known as the Protoevangelium of James. It is not part of the New Testament, but scholars believe that is has solid evidence of early Church traditions and includes substantial historical information. Because it is not part of the Bible, it is not considered infallible, however.

With that being said, this book contains some information about Mary’s parents, St. Joachim and St. Ann:

The “Protoevangelium of James,” which was probably put into its final written form in the early second century, describes Mary’s father Joachim as a wealthy member of one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Joachim was deeply grieved, along with his wife Anne, by their childlessness. “He called to mind Abraham,” the early Christian writing says, “that in the last day God gave him a son Isaac.”

Joachim and Anne began to devote themselves extensively and rigorously to prayer and fasting, initially wondering whether their inability to conceive a child might signify God’s displeasure with them.

As it turned out, however, the couple were to be blessed even more abundantly than Abraham and Sarah, as an angel revealed to Anne when he appeared to her and prophesied that all generations would honor their future child: “The Lord has heard your prayer, and you shall conceive, and shall bring forth, and your seed shall be spoken of in all the world.”

St. Augustine claimed Mary’s birth as:

… an event of cosmic and historic significance, and an appropriate prelude to the birth of Jesus Christ. “She is the flower of the field from whom bloomed the precious lily of the valley,” he said.

Jesus likely grew up calling his foster father, St. Joseph “Abba” and his mother “Immah.” Both are Aramic for the more endearing terms of “daddy” and “mommy.” By God’s extraordinary grace, all baptized Christians are the adopted sons and daughters of God, brother and sister to Jesus, and kept under the protection of Mary, our Blessed Mother. While it’s not likely that the Holy Family had birthday cake with streamers and balloons, we can still celebrate with what Mary would like best: our prayers.

Hail, Infant Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou forever, and blessed are thy holy parents Joachim and Anne, of whom thou wast miraculously born. Mother of God, intercede for us.

We fly to thy patronage, holy and amiable Child Mary, despise not our prayers in our necessities, but deliver us from all dangers, glorious and blessed Virgin.

V. Pray for us, holy Child Mary.

R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us Pray: O almighty and merciful God, Who through the cooperation of the Holy Ghost, didst prepare the body and soul of the Immaculate Infant Mary that she might be the worthy Mother of Thy Son, and didst preserve her from all stain, grant that we who venerate with all our hearts her most holy childhood, may be freed, through her merits and intercession, from all uncleanness of mind and body, and be able to imitate her perfect humility, obedience and charity. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Queen of Heaven

Hail, Queen Of Heaven! Pray For Us!

The church has acknowledged Mary as “queen” since its earliest days. As soon as Mary accepted God’s plan for her to be the Mother of the Savior, our King, she was Queen. Mary was never a queen in a palace, attended by ladies-in-waiting, nor did she rule over any lands. Like her Son, Mary’s royalty was wrapped in mystery and humility. This royal family lived in simplicity and obedience to God.

In 1954, Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam (Queen of Heaven). Sixty years later, this encyclical sounds as fresh as if it was written yesterday. Bearing in mind that Pope Pius was addressing a world still recovering from a horrific world war, he knew that weary hearts needed a mother’s love:

Following upon the frightful calamities which before Our very eyes have reduced flourishing cities, towns, and villages to ruins, We see to Our sorrow that many great moral evils are being spread abroad in what may be described as a violent flood. Occasionally We behold justice giving way; and, on the one hand and the other, the victory of the powers of corruption. The threat of this fearful crisis fills Us with a great anguish, and so with confidence We have recourse to Mary Our Queen, making known to her those sentiments of filial reverence which are not Ours alone, but which belong to all those who glory in the name of Christian.

Today, we watch these same circumstances unfold around us. Our neighbors in Louisiana are overcome with the aftermath of flooding. Our cities have been on fire with riots and shootings all summer long. Our Syrian brothers and sisters have been driven from their homes, their cities, towns and places of worship destroyed. How do we continue to be faithful in our sorrow? We must turn to Mary, our Queen.

Pope Pius XII pointed out that referring to Mary as “queen” is nothing new to Christians:

6. In this matter We do not wish to propose a new truth to be believed by Christians, since the title and the arguments on which Mary’s queenly dignity is based have already been clearly set forth, and are to be found in ancient documents of the Church and in the books of the sacred liturgy.

7. It is Our pleasure to recall these things in the present encyclical letter, that We may renew the praises of Our heavenly Mother, and enkindle a more fervent devotion towards her, to the spiritual benefit of all mankind.

8. From early times Christians have believed, and not without reason, that she of whom was born the Son of the Most High received privileges of grace above all other beings created by God. He “will reign in the house of Jacob forever,” “the Prince of Peace,”the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” And when Christians reflected upon the intimate connection that obtains between a mother and a son, they readily acknowledged the supreme royal dignity of the Mother of God.

9. Hence it is not surprising that the early writers of the Church called Mary “the Mother of the King” and “the Mother of the Lord,” basing their stand on the words of St. Gabriel the archangel, who foretold that the Son of Mary would reign forever, and on the words of Elizabeth who greeted her with reverence and called her “the Mother of my Lord.”Thereby they clearly signified that she derived a certain eminence and exalted station from the royal dignity of her Son.

The pope warned about exaggerating Mary’s role in the church and in our lives, saying that any recognition of Mary’s “divine dignity” must always be attributed to the “infinite goodness that is God.” That is, Mary has no power or ability or role that God Himself has not granted her; she does nothing of her own will but only that of God’s.

Pope Pius XII concluded this encyclical:

51. By this Encyclical Letter We are instituting a feast so that all may recognize more clearly and venerate more devoutly the merciful and maternal sway of the Mother of God. We are convinced that this feast will help to preserve, strengthen and prolong that peace among nations which daily is almost destroyed by recurring crises. Is she not a rainbow in the clouds reaching towards God, the pledge of a covenant of peace? “Look upon the rainbow, and bless Him that made it; surely it is beautiful in its brightness. It encompasses the heaven about with the circle of its glory, the hands of the Most High have displayed it.”Whoever, therefore, reverences the Queen of heaven and earth – and let no one consider himself exempt from this tribute of a grateful and loving soul – let him invoke the most effective of Queens, the Mediatrix of peace; let him respect and preserve peace, which is not wickedness unpunished nor freedom without restraint, but a well-ordered harmony under the rule of the will of God; to its safeguarding and growth the gentle urgings and commands of the Virgin Mary impel us.

52. Earnestly desiring that the Queen and Mother of Christendom may hear these Our prayers, and by her peace make happy a world shaken by hate, and may, after this exile show unto us all Jesus, Who will be our eternal peace and joy, to you, Venerable Brothers, and to your flocks, as a promise of God’s divine help and a pledge of Our love, from Our heart We impart the Apostolic Benediction.

By acknowledging Mary as Queen, we acknowledge Her Son’s Divinity. She shines only in reflection of His Light. She is our mother, because we have been adopted by God the Father through our baptism in Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Salve, Regina, mater misericordiae; vita, dulcedo et spes nostra, salve. Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope.

ordinary time

7 Ways To Make Ordinary Time Less “Ordinary”

We are in the midst of Ordinary Time. If you check the thesaurus, “ordinary” is equated with “humdrum,” “routine,” “run-of-the-mill.” Is this what the Church has in mind for this particular part of our liturgical calendar?

No. The highlights of the liturgical calendar are Easter and Christmas. Ordinary time is about the points in between, focusing on the life of Christ. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

Ordinary Time is a time for growth and maturation, a time in which the mystery of Christ is called to penetrate ever more deeply into history until all things are finally caught up in Christ. The goal, toward which all of history is directed, is represented by the final Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

For those of us who live in the northern hemisphere, we are enjoying longer and warmer days. People head off on summer vacations, make plans to be on the water for a quiet evening of fishing or a day of water-skiing adventures. We slow down. We sit by the bonfire and talk and sing. Our neighborhood walks are dotted with a few stops to catch up with the neighbors. Ordinary time is not “humdrum” or boring; it’s just a different rhythm.

How can we make Ordinary Time a more spiritual time? How can we, as the U.S. bishops say, grow and mature in our faith? Here are 7 ideas:

  1. Take your Bible to the bonfire. There is something about a fire on a quiet summer night that is perfect for meditation. Choose one of the Gospels at random and spend a bit of time praying. Or look over the upcoming Sunday’s Gospel reading. Let the Holy Spirit, who first came to us in fire, lead you in prayer.
  2. Vacation to a different parish. Even if you’re not traveling, ordinary time is a great time to go visit a parish near you that maybe you’ve never been to, or haven’t seen in a long time. You could visit your diocese’s cathedral, or a little country church. Either way, it’s a great reminder that we are the Universal Church and every Catholic church in the world is our home. If you’d like, pack a picnic lunch and make a day of it!
  3. Get into a rhythm of prayer. Priests and religious are bound to pray the Divine Office every day, but it’s a fine prayer for the lay faithful as well. It can be a little tricky learning how to do this, but practice makes perfect, and that goes double for prayer. There are websites that offer assistance in this. Another fine option is Magnificat monthly magazine, which is a truncated version of the Office (and, they have a children’s version!)
  4. Have your home blessed. The blessing of a home is a long-standing Catholic tradition. Why bless our house? Because we who live there are a domestic church; it is the nursery of faith and the place where our faith is lived out. Ask your pastor to bless your home, and ask if he’ll stay for dinner. What a wonderful way to spend a summer evening!
  5. Ditch the electronics for a day. Yup, this is hard. We will want to check our phones, catch a baseball game, beat our latest score on a video game. But just for a day, ditch the electronics. Head outside. Play tag. Decorate the sidewalks with encouraging messages. Have the neighbors over for ice cream after dinner. Give the dog a bath. Wander. Read. Take a nap. Enjoy the quiet, because this is where God speaks to us.
  6. Make the outside of your home look Catholic. Plant a Marian garden. Find a statue you really like (Mary, St. Francis of Assisi perhaps) and give it a fitting place of prominence. Plan a day for the kids to make garden stepping stones that reflect their faith.
  7. Make Catholic attractions part of your summer vacation. If you are on the road this summer, find a Catholic attraction or two to visit. Maybe it’s a shrine that features a huge cross, or a grotto dedicated to Mary, lovingly made by hand. This doesn’t mean you have to forgo a trip to the water park or skip mini-golf; just plan on one more stop that reminds us that the Catholic faith is big and bold and beautiful, and expressed in many loving ways.

Ordinary time is not meant to be boring or mundane. Enjoy this time of year, and find ways to move closer to Christ, because in Him we live and move and have our being.

(Don’t forget to enter our “Ordinary Time, Extraordinary Giveaway.” Three folks will get a great summer bundle of fun!)