World Day of Prayer for Vocations

World Day of Prayer for Vocations

April 26 is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. It comes on the heels of a report that shows a significant increase in priestly ordinations.

Holy Cross Father Patrick Peyton, the famous Rosary Priest, used as his axiom, “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” The truth and wisdom of this adage is borne out by the dramatic increase in the number of priests to be ordained in the United States this year.

According to a Center for Applied Research on the Apostolate (CARA) report on the ordination class of 2015, the number of ordinations will increase almost 25 percent this year compared to 2014. The report reveals that 595 new priests will be ordained in the U.S. this year as compared to 477 last year, an increase of 24.7 percent.

CARA’s survey of the ordinands indicates that most of the men were about 17 when they first considered a priestly vocation. But, more than half (60%) completed college before entering the seminary, of which 15 percent had completed a graduate degree. Over one quarter of the ordinands had student loan debts averaging $22,500 when they entered the seminary. Their average age is 34.

More than half (51%) attended a Catholic elementary school. They were also more likely to have attended a Catholic High school and 45 percent of those who attended college, attended a Catholic institution.
Most have been Catholic since infancy but 7 percent are converts to the Faith. Eighty-four percent of their parents were both Catholic and more than one-third (37%) have a relative who is a priest.

Eight in ten (78 percent) had been altar servers and more than half (51%) had served as a lector. The vast majority (71%) were encouraged by their parish priest, close to half by friends (46%) and parishioners (45%) and by their mothers (40%).

While these figures are hopeful, they fall far short of meeting the need for priests in our country.
It was the Lord who told us: “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”(Matt 9:37)

Your parish community should pray together for vocations when you are gathered together for, “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13)

It is more important than ever to recognize that each of us must pray for vocations. And, we must also personally encourage young people we know, especially members of our families, to consider the priesthood or a religious life of consecrated service to Christ in His Church.

Don’t let hurt become hate

Don't let hurt become hate

All of us suffer hurts in our relations with others; family, friends, associates in the workplace. Often it is because we have been grievously wronged by someone’s actions or it could be a word said in anger or perhaps an oversight, deliberate or otherwise. Whatever the cause, we are hurt. We suffer an emotional reaction that may be anger, shock, disbelief or profound sadness.

How do we respond? Do we demand an apology? Do we nurse a grudge for years? Or perhaps we follow the exhortation to “don’t get mad, get even,” and plan revenge or at least retaliation. We might even consider forgiveness, only, of course, if the offender asks for it.

For a disciple of Jesus, there is only one possible response; unconditional forgiveness. Recently Pope Francis addressed this situation in a homily at Santa Marta Church in the Vatican. The Pope’s answer is that, “We have to forgive, because we have been forgiven. This is in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us about it there. Human logic is incapable of fathoming this. Human logic leads us not to forgive, to seek revenge; it leads to hate, division. How many families have broken up because [they were] unable to forgive, how many families! Children separated from their parents, husbands and wives who have grown distant from each other … It is so important to think about this. If I do not forgive I don’t, it appears, have the right to be forgiven and I do not understand what it means that God has forgiven me.”

Forgiveness is difficult, and I might add that possibly it is most difficult to forgive ourselves, even though we believe that God has forgiven us. It seems appropriate to recall a famous quote from Catholic Poet Alexander Pope, who suffered oppression for his faith under the English penal laws. Pope wrote in his Essay on Criticism. “To err is human; to forgive, divine.”

As we pray for the grace and the strength to forgive those who have offended us and to ask forgiveness of those whom we have offended, let us keep before us the words of Jesus as he hung on the cross: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Image credit: Flickr

Being open to the newness of God

Being open to the newness of God

Calling for openness to dialogue, in his homily last Thursday, Pope Francis cautioned against stubbornness and hardness of heart that blinds us to the newness of God. “Obeying God means having the courage to change paths … obedience often brings us along a path that is not the one I think it should be, but along another path.”

Citing the example of the leaders of the community who ordered the disciples of Jesus to stop preaching the gospel to the people, to whom Peter responded, “We must obey God rather than men.” Those leaders “had studied the prophecies, they had studied the law … they knew everything … but they were incapable of recognizing the salvation of God.”

“The one who doesn’t know how to dialogue does not know God,” the Holy Father continued. The cause of this unwillingness to dialogue is “hardness of heart and of head … a closing in on oneself.” Such people, the Pope said “didn’t know to dialogue with God, because they didn’t know to pray to hear the voice of God, and they didn’t know to dialogue with others. … They interpreted how the law could be more precise, but they were closed to the signs of God in history.”

Cautioning that we must guard against making the same error, Pope Francis concluded asking for prayers “for the teachers, for the doctors, for those who teach the people of God, that they would not be closed in on themselves, that they would dialogue, and so save themselves from the wrath of God, which, if they do not change their attitude, will remain upon them.”

Let us pray that each of us, in obedience to God, open our hearts and our heads to the newness of God to be found in dialogue with others.

Image credit: Pope Francis celebrates Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 5. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Safeguarding our children and vulnerable ones

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April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. It shouldn’t hurt to be a child. Childhood should be a time of joy and discovery. It should be a time of emerging from the womb of the family filled with wonder and innocence. The unfolding lives of our children are in our hands. We are the guardians of their journey.

Creating a safe environment for this to occur in the parishes, schools and institutions in the Diocese of Dallas is the responsibility of our Safe Environment Office. Of course, the family is most responsible for nurturing and protecting children, but it is incumbent upon our Catholic community to support and supplement the family’s responsibility.

As a first step, all those who work with children or vulnerable adults in our parishes and schools must receive initial training in providing a safe environment, which then must be updated annually. All volunteers, diocesan and parish employees, educators, priests, deacons, seminarians and candidates for the diaconate are required to receive this ongoing training. In addition, initial criminal background checks are made on this key group and are repeated every two years.

Incorporated in our Safe Environment Program is a “Ministerial Code of Conduct,” which provides a set of normative standards of conduct for all clergy, employees and volunteers in dealing with children and vulnerable adults.

Every parish and school has a Safe Environment Director who facilitates training and other programs specific to ministry needs. All children attending Catholic schools and faith formation programs receive age-appropriate education in safe environment practices and awareness. More than 60,000 children in the Diocese of Dallas received such training in the past year in addition to 2,116 diocesan/parish employees, 12,179 educators, 344 priests and 90 seminarians and deacon candidates.

Parishes, schools and other appropriate institutions are audited bi-annually by independent auditors to insure compliance with diocesan and national policies. In turn, the Diocesan Safe Environment Office is audited annually by an independent auditor to insure that the Diocese of Dallas is in compliance with the requirements of the Charter for the Protection of Children of Young People signed by the Bishops of the United States in 2002.

Our children are precious. We, as a diocese, are committed to insuring that they experience the secure and happy childhood they deserve.

 

We celebrate the unquenchable Light of Christ

We celebrate the unquenchable Light of Christ

Easter is the premier Christian feast and the summit of the Liturgical year. All liturgies preceding Easter anticipate it and those proceeding from the feast commemorate it. The readings and the gospels of the Easter Vigil and the Easter Day Mass (and the optional afternoon Mass) trace salvation history from creation to the road to Emmaus. A single element of the Easter Vigil encapsulates the essence of the Feast of the Resurrection. That is the Exsultet or Easter Proclamation [Listen Here]

Properly called the Easter Proclamation, the Exsultet (or Exultet) which means to rejoice or express great joy, is the name most often used. It is celebrated before the lighted Easter candle at the conclusion of the procession to the altar following the lighting of the Easter candle from the Easter fire. The darkness of the unlighted church has been dispelled as the Easter fire is spread through the church by worshippers’ tapers lighted from the Easter candle. Chanting of the Exsultet by rights is the function of a deacon, but may be done by a priest or, in a truncated version, by a cantor.

Its first lines call on heaven and earth to rejoice at Jesus’ triumph over death

Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven,
exult, let Angel ministers of God exult,
let the trumpet of salvation
sound aloud our mighty King’s triumph! …

Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice,
arrayed with the lightning of his glory,
let this holy building shake with joy,
filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.

Recalling God’s rescuing Israel from slavery in Egypt and guiding them to safety by a pillar of cloud and fire, the hymn compares the rescued catechumens from the slavery of sin through Baptism, to the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt.

This is the night,
when once you led our forebears, Israel’s children,
from slavery in Egypt
and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea.

This is the night
that with a pillar of fire
banished the darkness of sin.

This is the night
that even now, throughout the world,
sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices
and from the gloom of sin,
leading them to grace
and joining them to his holy ones.

Easter, when Christ overcame death, ransomed us from the slavery of sin and reversed the sin of Adam, which, ignominious as it was, provided the path to redemption

This is the night,
when Christ broke the prison-bars of death
and rose victorious from the underworld.

Our birth would have been no gain,
had we not been redeemed.

O wonder of your humble care for us!
O love, O charity beyond all telling,
to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!
O truly necessary sin of Adam,
destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!
O happy fault
that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer !

O truly blessed night,
worthy alone to know the time and hour
when Christ rose from the underworld!

Again we find the resurrection theme of light permeating the darkness, making this night “bright as day” and dispelling the results of Adam’s fall while restoring innocence. The Easter candle is offered to God as a solemn gift of the Church and sacrifice of praise.

This is the night
of which it is written:
The night shall be as bright as day,
dazzling is the night for me,
and full of gladness.

The sanctifying power of this night
dispels wickedness, washes faults away,
restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners,
drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.
On this, your night of grace, O holy Father,
accept this candle, a solemn offering,
the work of bees and of your servants
hands,
an evening sacrifice of praise,
this gift from your most holy Church.

But now we know the praises of this pillar,
which glowing fire ignites for God’s honor,
a fire into many flames divided,
yet never dimmed by sharing of its light,
for it is fed by melting wax,
drawn out by mother bees
to build a torch so precious.

The Exsultet concludes with a prayer that on this blessed night this blessed candle’s light may continue unceasingly to overcome the darkness of the world, be joined to the heavenly lights and be found still upon the return of Jesus, the unquenchable Morning Star.

O truly blessed night,
when things of heaven are wed to those of earth,
and divine to the human.

Therefore, O Lord,
we pray you that this candle,
hallowed to the honor of your name,
may persevere undimmed,
to overcome the darkness of this night.

Receive it as a pleasing fragrance,
and let it mingle with the lights of heaven.

May this flame be found still burning
by the Morning Star:
the one Morning Star who never sets,
Christ your Son,
who, coming back from death’s domain,
has shed his peaceful light on humanity,
and lives and reigns for ever and ever.

R:  Amen.

I pray that the Light of Christ may continue to shine brightly this Easter and in days to come.

Image Credit: The Resurrection of Christ Alonso López de Herrera (ca. 1585 – ca.1675), Wikimedia Commons

Good Friday of the Passion of the Lord

Good Friday of the Passion of the Lord

When we think of Good Friday the image that immediately comes to mind is the cross, which is the most common Christian symbol. There was a time when Catholics in America were called “cross backs.” We begin our prayers with the Sign of the Cross, which not only professes Jesus crucified but the Holy Trinity.

In the Roman Missal, Good Friday is called Friday of the Passion of the Lord, and the liturgy, like all the Triduum liturgies, recalls the events that culminated in the Resurrection. Good Friday is the only day of the year when no Mass is celebrated and the only other sacraments that may be celebrated are Penance of the Sacrament of the Sick.

St. Ambrose referred to Good Friday as a “Day of Bitterness.” The desolation felt by Christians on this day is represented by the barren altar and open tabernacle – the altar having been stripped after the conclusion of the Holy Thursday. There is no cross, there are no candles and no altar cloths, and no music or bells may be used.

The Liturgy of the Word consists of Isaiah’s account of the Suffering Servant, who “was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins.”It is followed by Psalm 31, a penitential psalm with the antiphon from Psalm 23, which Christ spoke from the cross, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” The second reading is the passage on Christ the High Priest from Hebrews, Chapter 4, “Brothers and sisters:
Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God.”
John’s Passion narrative is preceded by a short verse from the Letter to Philemon, emphasizing that were saved by Jesus’ obedience, “Christ became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Following a number of intersessions, the cross is unveiled in procession and public adoration begins after the priest and the ministers have reverenced the cross. When the adoration has been completed, the priest chants the ancient reproaches of God speaking to us for our commissions and omissions.

Although there is no Eucharistic liturgy, the Eucharist that has been reserved on Holy Thursday is distributed at the Good Friday liturgy, which used to be called the Mass of the Pre-sanctified. Distribution of Holy Communion is preceded by the Lord’s Prayer.

The liturgy concludes in silence as the priest and ministers leave and we are left to reflect prayerfully on Jesus in the tomb.

Image Credit: Parish Church of St. Barbara (Ramersbach), stained glass windows depicting the Man of Sorrows, Wikimedia Commons

Holy Thursday: Mass of the Lord’s Supper

Holy Thursday: Mass of the Lord's Supper

 

On Holy Thursday, as Lent ends and the Sacred Triduum begins, we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. During this Mass, the Church commemorates the Lord’s Passover: the institution of the Holy Eucharist that continues his sacramental presence among us, the institution of the priesthood by which Jesus mission and sacrifice are perpetuated in the world, and the institution of His unconditional love.

In the first reading from Exodus (12:1-8, 11-14), we are reminded in the Old Testament of the origin of the Passover Supper, which the Lord shares with His Apostles, and of Jesus’ identification with the Paschal (Passover) lamb whose blood saved the Hebrew children from death.

St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Church at Corinth (11:23-26), gives us the only narrative of the Lord’s Supper outside the gospels. The passage not only describes the institution of the Eucharist but also Jesus’ command to continue it, for which he instituted the priesthood. This passage from Paul also attests to the beginning of Sacred Tradition where Paul notes that he had received “from the Lord” the account of the Last Supper. This is the earliest description of that event in the New Testament, as the First Letter to the Corinthians was written before any of the synoptic gospels.

John’s gospel, which contains no record of the institution of the Eucharist in his narrative of the Last Supper, rather demonstrates Jesus’ witness of unconditional love when he washes the feet of the disciples. While the passage is understood as a mandate of service to others, it is primarily a reminder that service to others is done out of love and not out of duty or obligation. Jesus’ response to Peter’s reluctance to have his feet washed by the Lord is a reminder that we not only should give loving service to others but to accept the loving service of others with humility.

Of course, the Triduum recalls Jesus’ greatest gift of unconditional love, the giving of himself even unto death for our redemption.

Image Credit: The Last Supper by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834–1890), Wikimedia Commons

The Sacred Triduum

The Sacred Triduum

Our Lenten Journey comes to an end on Thursday evening when the Sacred Triduum (Three Days) begins. The Triduum is the summit of the liturgical year. It begins with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday evening and ends with Evening Prayer on Easter. It commemorates the heart of the Gospel, Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection.

Christians as early as the Second Century marked the Lord’s Passion and death with an all-night Easter Vigil, culminating with the celebration of His resurrection at dawn. Over the years, the observance was spread over three days. When persecutions by the Roman Empire ended and the Christians could worship openly, more feast days were added to the calendar and the important night of the Easter Vigil faded and for some Christians was overshadowed by the celebration of the Nativity. The liturgical celebrations of Holy Week virtually became private affairs for the priests, ministers and a handful of parishioners, with the Triduum eclipsed by Lent and Easter.

Restoration of the Triduum began with Pope Pius XII in 1955 and was completed by the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. The liturgies of the Lord’s Supper and Easter Vigil were to be celebrated in the evening when more people could participate. The center of the Good Friday became the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion, de-emphasizing private devotions and emphasizing the Crucifixion.

Because of the council’s reforms, there is more active and fruitful participation on the part of parishioners and the Triduum has been restored to its rightful place as the high point of the Church’s liturgical year.

It is my hope that you will enrich your Lenten journey by participating in the Triduum at your parish and taking advantage of the extra times being made available for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.