One of my regrets from our wonderful trip home to Rochester earlier this week is that we were unable to assist at Mass at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in my mother’s (and sisters’) Irondequoit neighborhood due to its current Sunday-only worship schedule.  You may recall that the former bishop, one of the last surviving Bernardin-Jadot appointees, effectively and vindictively closed the parish during the waning days of his episcopate when he pursued a scorched-earth policy against Rochester’s few remaining centers of orthodoxy.  Among his first acts as the new ordinary, Bishop Salvatore Matano last year restored the parish as the new home of the Latin Mass community, and it now celebrates Masses in the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms every Sunday.  (Can I get a Te Deum!?)  Hopefully, by my next trip home, weekday Masses will be added.  St. Thomas was the home of the late and holy priest-historian Fr. Robert Francis McNamara, and many of his works have been painstakingly preserved online by parishioners.  They are wonderful.  Aside from his terrific lives of the saints, Saints Alive!, there are his rich, historically detailed reflections on the Sunday lectionary, conveniently indexed to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  If more family catechesis is on your list of New Year’s resolutions, you now have another great resource. Here is Fr. McNamara’s reflection on this Sunday’s Feast of the Epiphany:

Kings shall pay him homage

Christian tradition has made three Kings out of the three Wise Men. Whether they were royal is not important; but it would certainly have been appropriate for the first Gentiles who were invited to greet the infant King of Kings, to have been of kingly state.

King St. Louis IX of France became a sort of fourth Wise Man when he devoutly visited the shrines of the Holy Land around the year 1250. Those were the days of the crusades – armed Christian expeditions against the Moslems of Palestine who had seized Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and the other places of pilgrimage made holy by Christ’s presence. As a young king, Louis followed the crusade movement with great devotion. In 1239, he accepted as a most precious gift the crown of thorns of Christ, given to him by the French crusader, Emperor Baldwin II of Constantinople. To house this crown of thorns King Louis built a beautiful little church that still stands in Paris, “La Sainte Chappelle.”

In 1244, St. Louis was gravely ill. Blessed with the relic of the sacred crown of Christ, he suddenly recovered. In thanks, he vowed to head a new crusade to the Holy Land, where the Moslems were threatening to recoup their losses. Louis landed in Egypt and set out against the enemy. “Never did any one behold so fine a man,” one of his officers said. “He appeared towering over all his people, head and shoulders taller than they, a gilded helmet on his head, a German sword in his hand.” A truly royal figure!

Actually, Louis’ campaign failed. He was himself captured, then ransomed. But he was nevertheless able to make his way as a pilgrim to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Thus he fulfilled the dream of the psalmist: “Let us go where He is waiting and worship at His footstool” (Ps. 132, 7)…”All kings shall pay Him homage, all nations shall serve Him” (Ps. 72, 11. Today’s responsorial psalm.)

-Father Robert F. McNamara

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Q353: There is a lot of talk about “light” and “glory” and “stars” in today’s readings. Surely there is more going on here than just pious words?

Both the Old and the New Testaments are full of images that speak symbolically of the real presence of God. One image that looms especially large is the image of light. The “pillar of fire” that accompanied the Hebrews during the initial phases of the exodus journey, and the “burning bush” episode with Moses are two great examples from the Old Testament. In the New Testament, John’s gospel is exceptional in its recognition of this ‘light’ imagery as standing for God’s presence, He whose “light shines in the darkness” (John 1).

The nation of Israel had destroyed its relationship with Yahweh by falling away from the truth that there is One God, and that he commands his people to live their lives His way. Their “darkness” – the sins of apostasy, idolatry and lack of a true spirituality – eventually caused them to be led away into exile to Babylonia in 587 B.C. After seventy years during which they could ponder the real reason for their misfortunes, the prophet we refer to as “Third Isaiah” announced that their relationship with Yahweh was being restored: His light once more was being restored to the Israelites (Is 60:1-6). Once again they are called to be His servants, focused on God and not on the worldly allurements or distractions.

The light theme continues into the gospel today (Matt 2:1-12), where we see a “star” shining in Bethlehem over the “true light that shines in the darkness,” the child Jesus. Here we find the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy from Third Isaiah that all nations would be drawn to this light. They will come to do homage and worship and praise the Lord, the One who will shepherd His people.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! On this celebration we call “Epiphany,” we celebrate the adoration of Jesus by those Magi drawn to the “light of the world” and guided to him by the “light of a star” (CCC #528). The long-awaited Messiah of the world has come. In the Holy Spirit, Christ fulfills the Old Testament symbols of light and glory (CCC #697). Are you focused on God first, or on worldly allurements – i.e., does light or darkness govern your life?

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Nations Shall Walk by Your Light

All through their history the Israelites were ever conscious of their covenant relationship with God and of the promises God had made to Abraham, Moses and David. They were vividly aware that these promises had been fulfilled only in part — due to Israel’s infidelities. Isaiah today consoles them with the assurance that God is faithful, even when they are not. He describes in poetic language the future fulfillment of God’s promises. Not only will they be reunited in the land of promise, but all the nations of the earth will see the glorious works of God. Then will be fulfilled the promise to Abraham that all nations will be blessed in his offspring and will come bringing gifts and praise for the wonderful work of god. St. Luke sees all these things coming beginning in the in the birth of Jesus. The Gentile Magi come bearing gifts and worshipping God. By baptism we share in the life of the Child of Bethlehem and so our lives should reflect the light that enables people to see the wonderful works of God.

God our Father, you led the wise men by the light of a star to worship your infant son, guide us by his teachings to a life reflecting to friends and strangers something of your promise fulfilled.

 
Fr. McNamara was also the author of the standard history of my home diocese, The Diocese of Rochester in America: 1868-1993.

Those interested in learning more about Fr. McNamara can consult his cousin Ann Maloney’s new biography, A Priest Forever: The Life and Times of Fr. Robert F. McNamara.

Our Pastor made an interesting observation today in his homily.

The old “Christmas Proclamation” that is part of the morning liturgy of the hours states in Latin, “A nativitate Abrahae, anno bis millesimo quintodecimo.”

Translation: From the birth of Abraham, the year two thousand and fifteen

We are now as far removed, time wise, for Jesus as Abraham was.

He went on to say that it’s probably off by a couple of years.

 

An examination of parental conscience from Pope St. John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio:

“Do you teach your children the Christian prayers? Do you prepare them, in conjunction with the priests, for the sacraments that they receive when they are young – Confession, Communion and Confirmation? Do you encourage them, when they are sick, to think of Christ suffering, to invoke the aid of the Blessed Virgin and the saints? Do you say the family Rosary together…? Do you pray with your children, with the whole domestic community, at least sometimes? Your example of honesty in thought and action, joined to some common prayer, is a lesson for life and an act of worship of singular value. In this way you bring peace to your homes: Pax huic domui. Remember, it is thus that you build up the Church.”

The New York Times ran an article yesterday on the impressive growth of vocations among the Dominicans in the UK, which the reporter attributes to the order’s self-conscious embrace of tradition, especially the familiar habit. This connection appears to be a revelation to the reporter and forms the thrust of his story, as though he wasn’t aware of forty years of evidence to prove the point. It got me thinking about two religious orders that to varying degrees are active locally: the Dominicans, famously at their priory in Madeira on the campus of St. Gertrude Catholic Church, and the Jesuits, who serve St. Xavier parish downtown and St. X high school in Finneytown.

Blessed Cardinal Newman supposedly quipped, “The surest sign of life is growth,” and by that measure applied locally the Dominicans are very much alive, as the priory hosts a growing number of novices and your priests. Their appeal is straightforward: traditional orthodoxy — visibly represented by the habit — and communal asceticism. It’s the appeal they’ve had for virtually all of their 800 years of existence (with some notable, temporary lapses in the confusion after Vatican II).

And the Jesuits? Not so much. They exist mainly in the imagination of alumni from the high school. It is rare to find young or new members of the Society of Jesus in Cincinnati. In the last decade, the parish downtown featured a dynamic pastor who was literally the “poster boy” for vocations, as photographs of him in very nonclerical running gear were featured in promotional material designed to attract new members. His parish experienced an initial burst of growth, but it always seemed anchored in his admittedly engaging personality. He left town for destinations unknown a couple of years ago, and I am told he abandoned the order to pursue a career as a fitness coach. The parish has resumed its sleepier existence.

Is there a moral to the story? It is abundantly clear that a deliberate, authentic, and visible embrace of orthodoxy and tradition are the keys to vocational growth, but what might be less so is the effect that has on the “recruits” themselves, irrespective of their numbers. Call it truth in advertising, but a vocational effort that shows a man in a habit — or a collar — is going to attract someone drawn to a life of service, subordination, and the pursuit of holiness. A vocations program featuring as its centerpiece a man in running gear — or civilian clothes in general — is probably going to attract a man drawn to something else.

My brief review of Msgr. Alfred N. Gibley’s We Believe: A Simple Commentary on the Catechism of Christian Doctrine, recently republished in a digital edition, for Amazon:

Msgr. Gibley’s gift for aphorism and analogy is striking, and one can only imagine what it was like to hear his explication of the faith as a student at Cambridge when the man was in his prime. He explains and elaborates on the simple text of the Catechism of Christian Doctrine, a.k.a., the venerable “Penny Catechism” of England & Wales, in much the same way that Baltimore Catechism 4 provides additional commentary for BC 1 and 2. Kudos to TAN and Amazon for releasing this modern classic in the Kindle format. Here’s a sample from his response to Q7 of Chapter 1 that stands the modernist interpretation of the Gospel on its head:

“[S]o much of our modern Christianity gives the impression that what we are here for is to put the world right. To make a true contribution to putting the world right, we must first establish the kingdom of God in our own hearts. This primary duty is ours all the time and any effect we have outside ourselves will be either an overflow, a consequence or an instrument of that. The primary province for each of us is not the Third World but our own hearts.”

And here he is later in the chapter on the advantages of memorization:

“Some people now deride the system of teaching by heart, saying that it is pure parrot-work without any value. That is nonsense. A child who learned the whole Catechism by heart often did not understand the exact or precise meaning of what he was learning at the time. But once he had got a definition clearly in his mind he had something to come back to and ponder again and again for the rest of his life. In the modern method of teaching, the child has nothing to come back to or ponder.”

I’m looking forward to devouring the rest of the book on my next trip.

For more on Msgr. Gibley’s fascinating life, see this post, this obituary, and this essay.

St. Joseph Church in Dayton, Ohio is the unofficially designated urban parish in the city offering confession 6 days a week, Mon-Fri 11:30-12 and also on Saturday afternoons. The confession line is always a steady stream of demographically diverse Catholics.

Having noticed a blurb online in the weekly bulletin that confession yesterday was instead going to be at 11, I figured it would be sparsely attended, given the deviation from its normal time, and the closeness of the holiday. To my surprise, not only was the confession line already full upon my arrival, but the never-before-seen-used confessional booth on the other side of the naive was also being used, it too had a full line. It was quite a beautiful and fitting end to Advent.

Also observed in line for confession was a local pro-abortion and pro-same sex marriage politician/elected public official. Usually such discussions involve said-individuals presenting themselves for Holy Communion, but this made me wonder about such individuals presenting themselves for absolution when no public renunciation of support for such causes had ever been issued. In this instance, while doubtful but still possible, the individual observed may have indeed been there yesterday to repent for those public positions involving non-negotiable matters of faith, and as part of the counsel he received in the booth was the necessity on his part to publicly retract his support, which is coming at any moment. But it all begs the question, of how do you receive absolution, if you don’t also confess your support for these immoral causes given the fact one is a publicly elected official?

The other night I picked up three classics for my Kindle from Msgr. Ronald Knox for under $3:

Placed on Sunday, December 21, 2014

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