A New Beginning…Again

By , December 31, 2011 4:44 am

Everyone knows that tomorrow is New Year’s Day. Tonight there will be a lot of noise and silliness and, sadly, probably a few accidents because many people feel compelled to begin the New Year with a party.

In the Catholic Church, this day is set aside for yet another purpose. It has been designated by the Universal Church as the World Day of Prayer for Peace. Pray for peace? Do we really need to be reminded about that? Aren’t we all aware of the agony, the suffering, the waste of lives and material resources that war brings? Aren’t we conscious of how much pain is in our families because of violence and anger? We need peace in our living rooms, peace at the dining room table. We need peace at the playgrounds. We need peace between the nearly 200 governments that exist on this planet.

By all means, let’s make a key resolution that we will put praying for peace into our daily schedule for morning and night prayers and occasionally through the day when the thought comes to us.

Peace, what a beautiful thought. Peace, what a necessity. Peace, how elusive because of human failure.

May you have a happy and blessed New Year.

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The Beginning of a New Year

By , December 30, 2011 4:32 am

The beginning of a New Year can be a very measurable gift for self-help, self-improvement. People instinctively realize this and that is why so many of us make resolutions to live differently, to do things differently, to improve ourselves and improve the relationships that we have around us.

The other day, I referred to the fact that most New Year’s resolutions are sincere failures. That does not have to be the case because self-improvement really ought to be a concern and the goal of each and every one of us. How different life would be, how different our own individual lives would be, if each of us throughout our lives, throughout our years, steadily worked to improve ourselves to make us better persons, better human beings, better followers of Jesus.

Self-improvement is obvious and natural when we are young. We go from kindergarten to high school and from college to our professional work lives. As we make this journey, goals are set for us to improve ourselves and to accomplish new goals.

Then comes the crest!

Life levels off and we have our faith, we have our family, we have our work and we plod on into it day by day without giving much thought to improvement. I don’t mean to preach to the readers. Rather let me preach to myself for a moment. I have some very real weaknesses and these weaknesses manifested themselves in 2011. What am I going to do about them? What can I do to get rid of that bad trait, that habit of weakness, that lackadaisical approach to self-improvement?

I know the answer. I have to identify the issue. It doesn’t always have to be negative. It is really wonderful to pursue positive goals in our lives as well. However, let’s keep it on the negative for just a moment. What is the issue? Why do I do that? What can I factor into my life to make me avoid doing that in the future?

I do not do nearly as much serious reading as I should. Two of my weaknesses contribute to this. The first one is that I often find myself to be lazy. Secondly, I am addicted to the news. If I cut my news addiction in half, it would open up hundreds of hours for serious reading in the area of spirituality, theology, politics and economics. I am determined to do that and I will give you a report next year.

Now about my laziness….

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Looking Back

By , December 29, 2011 5:23 am

As January 1st approaches, all of us will hear a great deal about New Year’s resolutions. Regretfully, most New Year’s resolutions are sincere failures (is that an oxymoron?). People know that they ought to look ahead and endeavor to live better lives, solve problems more easily, avoid unnecessary problems, etc., etc.

I think, however, that we would do a better job at making New Year’s resolutions if we would take great care in looking back over the year just past. Let’s look back before we look ahead.

Was it a successful year? Were we blessed with good health? Were we able to avoid financial loss? Are these things for which we ought to be very thankful and to ask God to allow them to continue in the future? The average person doesn’t have complete control over his or her finances and we don’t have complete control over our health. However, we can control how we share life with the people around us, in our families, in our neighborhoods and on the job. Did I hurt Uncle Bill’s feelings last year? Did I do enough for my neighbor, Mrs. McClendan, when she was sick? We should examine our conscience for the year, not in terms of sin but in terms of positive, good acts. We should ask ourselves: Are we generous people? Do we make decisions on the basis of what is good for the people with whom we are sharing life? Are we cursed by the vice of selfishness? Whether we are or not is up to us.

Let’s plan for the New Year but let’s don’t do it until we really take a good look back. Onward through the fog.

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The Sacraments

By , December 28, 2011 5:20 am

The Sacraments are absolutely central in the life of most of the world’s Christians. For Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox, there is unanimity on the Sacraments and the fact that there are seven of them. Some of the earlier Protestant churches celebrate baptism and the Eucharist with great faith and fervor, and there are some Christians who deny the very idea of sacramentality.

For those who hold to the seven Sacraments, I would like to point out that they do two things: they parallel our regular lives in a very beautiful and meaningful way and of even greater importance is the fact that they fuse our lives into the life of Jesus so that with St. Paul each one of us can say, “I live now not I but Christ lives in me.” We are born into the natural family. When we are Baptized, we are reborn into the family of faith, which is the Church.

When we begin to grow, our human natures are nurtured by earthly food and drink and our life in the family of the Church our souls are nourished by the Eucharist. In our day-to-day life, we make mistakes and nature calls us to repentance. In our spiritual life, we sin and Jesus Christ invites us to repentance in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. With age comes responsibility. High school and college graduates in a special way symbolize moving on to more mature responsibilities. Confirmation gives us the grace to carry out the responsibilities that flow from our baptism and our commitment to Jesus of Nazareth. The family is the bedrock of all civilizations and the Sacrament of Matrimony provides the grace necessary for that awesomely important role in life, just as the Sacrament of Holy Orders provides the Church with leadership and sacramental services that this enormous community of faith requires.

Finally, as our earthly lives come to an end, the Church stands with us once again bringing the saving grace of Jesus Christ as we are prepared for death and to meet our Lord himself in judgment.

These sacraments provide markers on our spiritual journey, but more importantly, they make it possible for us to intimately share in the life of Jesus of Nazareth and in so sharing be united ultimately to God himself.

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The New Mass Format

By , December 27, 2011 5:07 am

A little over a month ago, some very minor changes were made in the way that we all prayed at Sunday Mass. Since they were very minor for the most part, the changes were much ado about nothing. However, this would be a good time to stop and think about the overall structure of the Mass. It virtually has not changed since the second century. It is essentially very simple and when we have that structure clearly in our mind, it makes us appreciate our Sunday celebration more easily and with greater clarity.

The Mass has two major actions that take place during its celebration. The first action is CONVERSATION and the second action is THE EXCHANGE OF GIFTS. The first half of Mass is a conversation between God and ourselves. We start by telling God that we are sorry for the failures of the past week and, for that matter, for the failures of our lives (the Confiteor) and then we express the awe that we have for God’s majesty by the praying of the Gloria. That is us talking to God. Next comes the Scripture readings and the homily and that involves us listening to God’s Word and some commentator on God’s Word. Overall, this first half of the Mass is a learning experience and very important for each one of us if celebrated properly.

Then you come to giving and receiving. On the altar is located bread and wine which was brought forward by the people. These gifts are very symbolic. They symbolize the work and the effort that the people put into their lives and, of course, their worship. They dramatically symbolize the lives of the congregation. Priest and people together take these gifts and present them to God, imploring him to accept them despite our weaknesses and limitations. Thus, ends our gift to God. God’s response occurs in the canon of the Mass as the ordained priest, having presented bread and wine from the congregation, now consecrates these simple gifts into the real Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, true God and true man. So in this phase of the Mass, giving and receiving are balanced off, just as they are balanced off in the part of the Mass which centered on conversation.

All in all, there is a long build up to that marvelous moment when the congregation comes forward to receive the Eucharist. Ideally, they come in procession to receive bread from heaven. The procession symbolizes the journey of God’s people in the desert. When all have received the Eucharist the whole congregation is holy, the whole congregation is united; every individual is now a brother and sister to Jesus of Nazareth, and then suddenly the Mass ends with the celebrant commissioning us to go out into the world and bring the message of Jesus Christ to that world.

It is very simple and very profound. It is a two-way interaction between God and his people – talking and listening, giving and receiving – Ita, missa est – go, the Mass has ended.

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A Plethora of Holy Days

By , December 26, 2011 4:49 am

This is a big week for John McCarthy. All of us began with the celebration of our Lord’s birth and now it opens into a series of feast days that have special meaning for me. Today is the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr. I took that name when I was confirmed at about 12 years of age but have never been overly interested in martyrdom for myself in the 70 years since.

Tuesday is my very special feast day, St. John the Apostle. He was the youngest of the 12 and very close to our Lord. I have tried to have a close relationship with him but the road has sometimes been rough. Wednesday is the feast of the Holy Innocents and although this marks that tragic day when the evil King Herod ordered the slaughter of young boys and babies throughout his kingdom, the fact is we have had countless martyred children since then. A tragic number of children die in every war, others starve to death or die unnecessarily of disease. Most cruelly, of course, is the fact that so many children in our abusive society die of mistreatment and neglect. And then there are the young girls who are forced into prostitution at an early age.

Friday is the feast of the Holy Family and what we need is HOLY families, more holy families and yet more holy families. If we had truly HOLY families, many of the problems in our society would be solved. Most of us are members of a family, either core members or extended families, and we must do whatever we can to protect young children. Let’s make that a special goal in the New Year.

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Joy to the World Indeed!

By , December 24, 2011 3:24 am

Today is the day that most of the world has been looking back to for 2,000 years. Today is the day to which the ancient world looked towards, not with clear knowledge but with undying hope. Today is the day that makes up for everything else that is sad and disappointing in the human story.

Today is the birthday of Jesus of Nazareth.

The fact that medieval historians were about four years off regarding the date of the birth of our Lord is of no consequence. What does matter is that HE CAME; that God stepped into the human story and joined us in our lives, in our travails, in our journey and, ultimately, in our triumph.

I would like to say something very profound about Christmas but I can’t. The day speaks for itself. All that I can say is that HE CAME and by that fact, we are all eternally blessed.

Have a happy Christmas.

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Happy Holidays?

By , December 23, 2011 5:13 am

Happy holidays!  Happy holidays? Happy holidays, indeed!

Several years ago, a number of department stores started directing their employees to stop wishing people a Merry Christmas and indeed to merely say happy holidays.  It is a free country and there is nothing wrong with that but it doesn’t do to people what a joyful expression from the heart that says Merry Christmas or, in other words, I wish you joy as we celebrate Christ’s Mass!

For the past 2,000 years, there has been so much pain, so much crime, so much disappointment that it is hard to see how people maintain some type of basic optimism and hope.  I think one of the things we do maintain is Christmas Day.  We celebrate and we remember that God’s love for the human family, so infinitely strong and beyond the ability of any one of us to comprehend it, is so wonderful, so complete that he himself stepped into our story, dealt with us in a nature identical with our own, except in all things of sin, lived with us, walked with us, taught us and ultimately offered his life in an agonizing act of obedience to his Heavenly Father.

Christ’s Mass has no meaning apart from Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  Jesus has come to us, Jesus will redeem us so it would not be improper to say Merry Christmas and Happy Easter, Merry Christmas and Happy Easter.   They go together, so yes, in that respect, I’ll say: Happy Holidays!

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Every Parish Has A Story

By , December 22, 2011 4:44 am

The Church has a long memory and it should because there is a lot to be remembered. Ever since Jesus commissioned the apostles to go forth and bring his message to the whole world, promising that he would be with them in the struggles that were before them, the story of the Church has been unfolding. Two thousand years have now passed. They are years filled with faith, courage, beauty, etc. They are also years that have been filled with sin, crime and human failure. That is the reality of life.

The universal history of the Church is well documented. How many Church history books do you want? How many books on one aspect or another would you like to see? In the United States at least we have also seen an increase in first-class history of individual dioceses, at least the larger ones like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, etc.

But what about the parishes? Every parish is a micronism of the Universal Church. It is all there – the spiritual leader, the teachers, sacramental life – all centering on faith in Jesus Christ and a hope regarding our eternal destiny. However, those stories don’t get remembered. Occasionally, when a parish anniversary comes up, 25 or 50 years, some heroic volunteer will come up with a history and although they represent well-intentioned and generous work, they are not real histories. When did Monsignor O’Toole build the new parish hall? When did the parking lot get paved?

Such facts need to be recorded but they do not get at the heart of what a parish is. Parishes should give insight into the mood and temperament of yesterday’s pastors. Outstanding leaders in the parish need to have their accomplishments recorded. Failures must be recounted and the struggles coming after defeats should always be remembered.

Let’s tell the whole story

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By , December 21, 2011 4:39 am

As Christmas approaches, is anyone in your family thinking about a turkey? A rib roast? Will you be blessed to have a wonderful family gathering with all the trimmings that go with the great feast, which is the Christmas dinner? Not everyone will be so fortunate.

I want to remind you of an extremely important program that operates in this city and all across our country, namely Meals on Wheels. I am writing this in the Christmas rush. I don’t have exact figures for everything that our local group is doing, but it involves thousands of people and vast quantities of food delivered to front doors of elderly people who are often sick and alone.

While we have always had hunger in our midst, it has become much more widespread in urban America. Sixty or seventy years ago, our families lived close together, not only in the same city but often in the same neighborhood. Today, families are scattered across the country. Meals on Wheels is a wonderful and generous response to that difficult situation. It lessens not only the pain of hunger, but isolation as well. These warm meals, delivered directly to the recipients, make a tremendous difference in the lives of these people for whom life is sometimes quite dreary.

The director of Meals on Wheels is Dan Pruett and his telephone number is (512) 476-6325. Could you:

a) Send a check today to Meals on Wheels
b) Volunteer to help Meals on Wheels
c) Send a check AND volunteer

Now there is the spirit of Christ! May God bless you all.

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