In 1854, Pope Pius IX declared definitively the long held belief that when Mary was conceived by her parents, Sts. Anne and Joachim, that she was without original sin. This is why Mary is called the Immaculate Conception. She was given this singular grace so that she could be the perfect vessel to bring the Savoir into the world.
Interestingly, it was prior to this declaration that the bishops of the United States of America voted to select The Blessed Virgin Mary, Conceived without Sin as the patron for this young country. The selection was approved by Pope Pius IX in February of 1847. And henceforth, the United States of America now has Mary, the Immaculate Conception as the patron of our country.
To honor Mary, the Immaculate Conception as our patron, we even constructed a national shrine in Washington D.C. in her honor. Construction was begun in 1920 with the dedication in 1959. It is located on the campus of Catholic University of America. (If you are traveling to Washington D.C., it is worth a visit.)
This solemnity is of such importance, that all Catholics throughout the world are required to participate in mass on this day, but it has an elevated importance for the people of our nation. Just as St. Patrick is the patron of Ireland, Mary, the Immaculate Conception is our patron and we are under her protection and guidance to bring us to the savior, Jesus Christ.
It is for these reasons that we are required to attend a mass in recognition of Mary, the Immaculate Conception, even when it falls on a Saturday, as is the event this year. To assist in clarification of our obligations, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis sent out this statement:
“In 2018, the Patronal Feast of the United States of America – the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary – and the Second Sunday of Advent occur on back-to-back days, and both days remain obligatory this year. The faithful must attend Mass at 4 p.m. or after on Friday, December 7 or at any time on Saturday, December 8 to fulfill their obligation for the Immaculate Conception. The faithful must attend another Mass at 4 p.m. or after on Saturday, December 8 or at any time on Sunday, December 9 for the Second Sunday of Advent. Attending only one Mass Saturday evening, December 8 does not satisfy both obligations.”
To help us fulfill our obligation, mass times are available as follows:
Immaculate Conception mass:
Friday, December 7th - 6pm (Nativity of Mary)
Friday, December 7th - 7pm (St. Bonaventure)
Saturday, December 8th - 8:45am (St. Bonaventure)
Saturday, December 8th - 9am (Nativity of Mary)
2nd Sunday of Advent mass:
Saturday, December 8th - 4pm (Nativity of Mary)
Sunday, December 9th - 8:30am (Nativity of Mary)
Sunday, December 9th - 10:30am (Nativity of Mary)
As I mentioned last week at mass, I was on a week long silent retreat. And by silence, I don’t mean only of the voice, but of the mind. A true silent retreat is void of talking, music, visuals, electronics, and even reading anything other than the Bible (and occasionally a spiritual book). The purpose of this silence is sometimes misunderstood.
When I was speaking with a friend about my silent retreat, he replied, “That sounds wonderful. It will be a great opportunity to reconnect with yourself and do some selfreflection.” I thought about his response for a moment and I disagreed with him. The silence for a Christian is not about about focusing inward on the self, but is all about focusing outward to God.
My friend did not mean anything bad by his comment, but as we move into an era in our society, where more and more people are distancing themselves from God (as has been reported in the newspaper lately), people miss an essential truth: God loves us!
One of the basic tenants of our faith is that there is a God who is not just observing humanity, but is interacting with human beings on an individual and personal basis. And not merely interacting in the way that the Roman or Greek gods interfered in human lives, but our God is continually loving human beings. It becomes our great task to awaken, see and experience God’s love for us on a daily basis. And this is the purpose of the silence of a retreat. Many times, when God speaks to our hearts, it is in very quiet ways. In the book of First Kings, we see the prophet Elijah preparing to hear God and there was a strong wind, but God was not in the wind. There was an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. There was a fire, but God was not in the fire. Then, Elijah hears “a still small voice” and there was God.
It is in that still small voice, where we encounter God actively loving us. It is when we pay attention to God where we discover just how loved we are. When we settle our minds and hearts and clear away the “clutter,” we can choose then to hear God speak to us his words of mercy and love.
We need to choose to reduce the many noises and distractions in our lives so that we can hear God speak. This ought to be done by all of us on a daily basis. Think of the ways that you can bring about silence in your day. Not merely a silence of sound, but a silence of the mind with the purpose of paying attention to God. What adds to the “noise” in our minds and our hearts? Is it the amount of music that I consume? Is it my continual reading of the news? Is it my attention I give to social media? Is it the idol chatter I enter into? Is it my continual consumption with sports? Is it even the novels that I read? What adds to the “noise” in my mind that causes me to fail to see God’s love for me.
Silent retreats appear intimidating, but they are in fact a gift from God. I encourage all of you to attend a silent retreat at some point in your life so that you can receive His love for you. But let us not wait for a retreat opportunity, but let us choose to make periods of silence every day of our lives so that we can hear and connect with the God who loves us.
When I was attending NDSU, I became involved at the Newman Center near campus. A Newman Center is a Catholic parish that is specifies its ministries around college-age students. It was at the Newman Center where my faith came alive and I truly built a living relationship with Jesus Christ. One of the ways that my faith grew was through adoration of the Eucharist.
I recall one evening at about 9:30pm, I went over to St. Paul’s Newman Center to pray the rosary. Normally, the Newman Center would have been dimly lit. However, this time, the entire church was illuminated. As I walked in, my nose immediately caught the smell of incense. And there, on the altar, was a large round vessel made of brass and in the center was one of the larger hosts used at mass. Immediately, my engineering brain began the logical sequence: Catholics believe that the host at mass becomes truly Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God. Catholics worship God. We should logically have time to worship the Eucharist!
I climbed into the first pew available and spent the next hour in front of the Eucharist realizing that it is a beautiful thing to spend time with Jesus in the Eucharist. Jesus gave himself in the Eucharist to fulfill his promise from the very last sentence of the Gospel of Matthew: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matt 28:20) So it makes sense that not only would we keep the Eucharist in the tabernacle, but that Catholics throughout the world would have times to bring out the Eucharist to adore our Lord and Savior.
Our parish has had Eucharistic adoration on Fridays from 8:30am until noon for some time now. People from our parish take time out of their Friday mornings to spend time with Jesus. We have also, recently begun having an hour of adoration before daily mass on Tuesday through Friday from 7am until 7:55am. At the end of the time of adoration, the priest picks up the Monstrance with the Eucharist and blesses the people with the Eucharist itself.
I encourage all of you to make time to attend adoration at our parish or at any of the perpetual adoration chapels across the Twin Cities (yes, perpetual, meaning that there is someone at every hour of the day and night praying). In this time of adoration, you can pray in any way you choose: rosary, reading Sacred Scripture, Divine Office, spiritual reading, quiet meditation, even just sitting with Jesus as two good friends. A friend of mine once said, “I go to adoration, I look at Jesus and He looks at me...and we smile at each other.”
The Lord Jesus Christ gave us the Eucharist so that he can be with all of us for eternity. And now, in our Church, we have these great opportunities to adore him in the Eucharist.
May the Lord bless all of you through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
These are the last words of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Matthew. They are, if you will, the mission of the entire Church. It is the very nature of the Catholic Church to evangelize, which means to spread the Good News of the mercy and love of God, extending an invitation to become a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Very often, however, Catholics will think that it is a the duty of programs within the Church to share the faith. Or perhaps the mission of the priests who preach and the nuns who teach. While these programs or “professionals” are important, who can best share the faith with your friends whom you know personally? It is you!
When we think of faith, too often, we think of it as a list of moral teachings. While the teachings are important, the fullness of the faith is found in a living relationship with Jesus Christ. We all have friends and people whom we know well. We keep these friendships alive through our regular interaction with these people. Then, if we want to introduce someone to our friends, what do we do? First we tell the new person about our friend, but rarely does this help them become friends. The best thing is to do is to introduce the new person and your friend. Convince the new person to spend time with your friend and they will get to know each other...and the same applies for Jesus.
Faith is a living relationship that you have with Jesus and we want to introduce people to Jesus, not just tell people facts about Jesus. So how do we introduce people to Jesus? The same way we were introduced to Jesus...through the life of the Church. We got to know Jesus through the Sacraments, through the prayers, through the community gathered, through the Holy Scriptures with the guidance of Holy Tradition. And if that is not enough, there are so many writings from Saints and people alive today that help us to introduce Jesus to others. But the greatest tool to help faith come alive in the heart of others is you. You have the privilege and you are the most effective means of sharing the faith of Jesus with others...to share not just “the faith” but to share “your faith.”