Friday, December 31, 2010

Homily for the Feast of Mary the Mother of God

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Remember, today is the 8th day of Christmas!

Did you make those New Year's resolutions yet or should I ask did you break one already? We all know the drill, New Year's resolutions made and New Year's resolutions broken. Simple truth is that every day we can resolve to be better or do better.

In our neck of the woods, many of us will eat black eyed peas and cabbage today, along with a little pork. This is supposed to bring us all good luck, good health and a liitle bit of wealth. My family has been doing this for years; I figure sooner or later that wealth part will happen!

One thing I have learned as I grow older is that trusting totally in God, year in and year out, is good enough for me. As people of faith, do we trust in God? Will we dedicate 2011 to totally trusting in Him? And where can we turn for an example of how to surrender totally to God? We can turn to Mary, whose feast we celebrate today as Mother of God.

This feast day developed in the earliest years of the Church and not without great controversy. Did Mary give birth to only the human nature of Jesus, or to the entire Jesus? The idea that Jesus would have two natures became a great heresy in the early Church. Following the example of the Apostles, Church fathers gathered in a council at Ephesus in 431 and declared that Jesus did not have two natures; he is completely human and completly divine. Jesus is indeed God in the second person of the Trinity. Therefore Mary was not Christokos, Christ bearer only but Theotokos, God bearer.

If we really think about it, this feast and this title for Mary, mother of God, is so much more about Jesus than Mary. And how appropriate as Mary has always, always pointed us and directed us to her Son.

In the Gospel we read today we are reminded of the role Mary played in truly being "mother" to her Son, her Savior and her God. She pondered and reflected on all these things even as she presented Him for his circumcision and declared his name, Jesus, the Emmanuel which means God with us! And in Jesus, God is with us!!

Can we follow Mary's example and trust in God's plan for each of us? Can we resolve in the year ahead to trust more fully in God, to grow closer to Jesus, to be Jesus to those most in need and like Mary, point others to Jesus? This should be our real challenge for the New Year; these things can be our resolutions!

If you eat some black eyed peas and cabbage today, enjoy your meal. But if your looking for a fulfilling life, good health and blessings, pray to God today and thank Him for the gift of His Son, Jesus, fully human and fully divine and for the example of Mary, who boldly proclaimed YES and became the mother of God!

Merry 8th day of Christmas and Happy New Year!

More good info on Mary as Mother of God!

Mary, Mother of God?

Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio

The mother of the messiah has been called many things in the last 2000 years –the Virgin Mary, Our Lady, the Blessed Mother. But call her “the Mother of God,” and you’ll see some Christians squirm.

This is nothing new. One day in the early fifth century, a priest preached a stirring sermon in the presence of the patriarch of Constantinople. His subject was the holy mother of Jesus. The preacher continually referred to Mary as the “Theotokos” meaning “God-bearer” or mother of God. This was no innovation–Christians had invoked Mary under this title for at least two hundred years. Nevertheless, at the close of the sermon, the patriarch ascended the steps of the pulpit to correct the preacher. We should call Mary the Mother of Christ, said Patriarch Nestorius, not the Mother of God. She was the mother of his human nature, not the mother of his divinity.

His comment sparked a riot. And the dispute rocked not only the congregation, but the entire empire. Cyril, patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt, immediately recognized that Nestorius’ Marian theology was a symptom of a much deeper problem, a problem with the incarnation itself. For to deny Mary the title “Mother of God” makes of Jesus a dichotomy, a split personality. It would mean that God had not really embraced our humanity so as to become human. Rather, the humanity of Christ is hermetically sealed off from the divinity, as if Jesus were two persons, as if human nature was so distasteful that God, in Christ, had to keep it at arm’s distance. It is OK, according to Nestorius, to say that in Jesus, God raised Lazarus, or multiplied the loaves, or walked on water. But it is not OK to say that in Jesus God is born or that God died.

Cyril, aware that this was a challenge to the heart of our faith, demanded that an ecumenical council be called to settle the matter. So in 431, the Council of Ephesus met, under Cyril’s leadership, and solemnly proclaimed that Mary is indeed rightly to be honored as the Theotokos, the Mother of God. It proclaimed that from the moment of his conception, God truly became man. Of course Mary is a creature and could never be the origin of the eternal Trinity, God without beginning or end. But the second person of the blessed Trinity chose to truly become man. He did not just come and borrow a human body and drive it around for awhile, ascend back to heaven, and discard it like an old car. No, at the moment of his conception in the womb of Mary, an amazing thing happened. God the Son united himself with a human nature forever. Humanity and divinity were so closely bound together in Jesus, son of Mary, that they could never be separated again. Everything that would be done by the son of Mary would be the act both of God and of man. So indeed it would be right to say that a man raised Lazarus from the dead and commanded the wind and waves, that God was born that first Christmas day and that, on Good Friday, God died.

The Council of Ephesus, once confirmed by the Pope, became the third ecumenical council of the Catholic Church, and its teaching in this matter is dogma, truth revealed by God which all are bound to accept.

So why does the Roman liturgy celebrate the Octave of Christmas as the Feast of Mary the Mother of God? Because this paradoxical phrase strikes at the very heart of Christmas. The songs we sing and the cards we write extol the babe of Bethlehem as Emmanuel, God-with-us. He is so with us that after Gabriel’s visit to the Virgin of Nazareth, the Divine Word can never again be divided from our humanity. What God has joined, let no man separate.

Celebrating Mary the Mother of God

Mary, Theotokos - Mother of God, Mother of the Members of Christ
By Randy Sly
Catholic Online (
Saturday marks the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

The Mother of God - what a marvelous yet serious responsibility she carried. Indeed, this was an incredible trust given by God. Only His Sanctifying Grace which kept her from the stain of sin could prepare her for this. And, revealing the mystery of human freedom, her "Yes" participated in His loving plan.

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - It may be New Years Day but it is also the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, in the Liturgical year. The New Year always begins by celebrating the beginning of the new covenant which came forth from the womb of the young woman, whose "fiat" changed the very history of all mankind.

In 431 A.D. the Third Ecumenical Council, which was held at Ephesus, declared that the Blessed Virgin Mary was indeed the Theotokos, the Mother of God. While the Church had always believed this, it was officially declared by the Council primarily because of a heresy initiated by Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople.

He and his followers, called Nestorians for obvious reasons, taught that Mary was the mother of the humanity of Jesus and not his divinity. They wanted to divide His natures. As with everything about the blessed Mother, her very life as well as her titles, had everything to do with her son, our Savior Jesus Christ.

In declaring her "Theotokos," the Fathers were declaring once and for all that Christ was truly the union of God and man, fully human and fully divine, which theologians call the "hypostatic union."

As St. Cyril of Jerusalem declared, "A mother does not give birth to a nature, she gives birth to a person".

John Henry Cardinal Newman also reminds us that it was through her that the Lord received His human nature. He wrote, "Mary was no mere instrument of God's dispensation. The Word of God did not merely pass through her as He may pass through us in Holy Communion.

"It was no heavenly body which the Eternal Son assumed. No, he imbibed; he sucked up her blood and her substance into His Divine person. He became man from her and received her lineaments and her features as the appearance and character under which He should manifest Himself to the world.

"He was known, doubtless, by His likeness to her, to be her Son."

Mary, as the Mother of God, carried our Lord in her womb for nine months. I love the way the Byzantine Catholic Liturgy declares this in the Great Compline of the Annunciation. "God is come among men; he who cannot be contained is contained in a womb. The timeless enters time."

The Mother of God also carried Him in her heart always, as a true mother would. Her life would be consumed for her son alone. This is shown by St. Luke's conclusion to the account of the nativity when he states, "Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart."

We must remember that her role as the Mother of God was not that of a surrogate mother. Unfortunately, many Christians today leave her at the manger. She was His mother always and continues to be even now in heaven.

The Mother of God - what a marvelous yet serious responsibility she carried. Indeed, this was an incredible trust given to her by God.

She had to be the fountain of God's grace and virtues for she was the Mother of God! Only His Sanctifying Grace which kept her from the stain of sin could prepare her for this. And, revealing the mystery of human freedom, her "Yes" participated in His loving plan.

Concerning her immaculate state, the West had traditionally place more emphasis on what is absent - her sinlessness. The East, on the other hand, has focused more on what is present - her holiness. This state of grace is so critical in her position.

Mary was his first comforter, first nurturer, first nurse, first counselor, first teacher, first friend and first disciple.

She was the one who cared for Him as an infant, helped him take His first steps, bathed Him, combed His hair, put Him to bed each night and provided love and comfort as He grew.

Can you imagine what it would have been like if the Mother of God was "dealing with issues" in her life? Can you imagine, "I'm sorry, Son, but mommy is just not in a good place right now! "All of the impediments that decorate our daily lives through concupiscence would have marred her motherhood.

We know very little about the life of our Lord prior to His ministry. We have a couple of snippets including the account at the Temple at age 12.

Again, St. Luke summarizes His early life in one simple yet significant verse. In chapter 2, verse 52 of his gospel, Luke writes, "Jesus increased in wisdom and strength and in favor with God and man."

This overview describes how Jesus grew into manhood, maturing mentally, physically, spiritually and socially. In His divinity, He was fully God; in His humanity, he still was being formed and the Blessed Virgin Mary was a part of that.

Mary was always a part of our Lord's life. She was there to participate in His first miracle at the wedding in Cana. She followed Him even when the crowds were so large that she sometimes had to wait to talk to Him and have someone tell Him that she was there. She would not relent in following Him, refusing to leave even during the scourging and crucifixion when almost all the others had fled.

Her role as the Mother of God continues today as Queen and Mother of the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "The Virgin Mary . . . is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and of the redeemer.... She is 'clearly the mother of the members of Christ' . . . since she has by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of its head. Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church."

Let us not pass by this day without spending time in thanksgiving for God's gift to us of the Blessed Virgin Mary or in meditating upon her most significant place in salvation history.

Pope John Paul II once wrote, "From Mary we learn to surrender to God's will in all things. From Mary we learn to trust when all hope is gone. From Mary we learn to trust her Son and Christ the Son of God."

This is truly the role of a mother - the Mother of God.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Another year comes to an end

2010 is just about done and it's time to reflect. For me personally, and many from these parts, 2010 will always be remembered as the year the New Orleans Saints won the SuperBowl. That historic victory by the men in black & gold was much more than a win on the football field but a win for a city and region that needed the emotional high the win provided. The Super Bowl aftermath has kept us sky high all year and the overall body of work in this season by our Saints has been great!

On a personal note what another great year. Our son Jimmy was married in May and our daughter Elizabeth successfully navigated Europe this summer. Additionally, she has passed some very important tests to prepare her for both graduate school and a teaching career. Wendy and I celebrated anniversary # 33.

Career wise I turned up the heat in my new position with the bank and was fortunate enough to earn great results in 2010. Being part of a new bank-wide business initiative and being a leader in those efforts was personally gratifying.

Much of 2010 as I reflect focuses on ministry. I had another full year of service to the men at Rayburn including my first experience with the Kairos retreat. My reflections back in March are worth a quick re-read to gauge the importance of this ministry. I baptized more new Catholics and presided at my first wedding. And I assisted in a much more involved way with the formation of our deacon candidates including the homily work for our recently ordained deacons. Ordination, celebrated just 3 weeks ago, was beautifully overwhelming! And the end of 2010 came the announcement of my new assignment as a deacon to the people at Most Holy Trinity Parish, which I look forward to eagerly, but will face saying a more permanent good-bye to the wonderful folks at St. Jane's.

On a bigger scale, we witnessed the devastation in Haiti, the horrible effects of the BP oil spill while escaping any harm from hurricanes. The economy stayed in the tank for all of 2010 and we saw the fallout in a pretty historic national election.

Through all of this it is always good to remember that God is faithful. No matter what happens in any year or no matter how we approach yet another New Year, the one thing we can depend on is God. He continues to care for us and asks us to trust only in Him.

Take some time this weekend to reflect back and look forward and pray for the wisdom to always remain in God's presence!

St. Sylvester

St. Sylvester

Feastday: December 31

St. Sylvester, born in Rome, was ordained by Pope St. Marcellinus during the peace that preceded the persecutions of Diocletian. He passed through those days of terror, witnessed the abdication of Diocletian and Maximian, and saw the triumph of Constantine in the year 312. Two years later he succeeded St. Melchiades as Bishop of Rome. In the same year, he sent four legates to represent him at the great Council of the Western Church, held at Aries. He confirmed it's decision and imparted them to the Church.

The Council of Nice was assembled during his reign, in the year 325, but not being able to assist at it in person, on account of his great age, he sent his legates, who headed the list of subscribers to its decrees, preceding the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch. St. Sylvester was Pope for twenty-four years and eleven months. He died in the year 335. His Feast Day is December 31st.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

St. Thomas Becket; in the octave of Christmas

St. Thomas Becket

Feastday: December 29

b.1118 d.1170

There is a romantic legend that the mother of Thomas Becket was a Saracen princess who followed his father, a pilgrim or crusader, back from the Holy Land, and wandered about Europe repeating the only English words she knew, "London" and "Becket," until she found him. There is no foundation for the story. According to a contemporary writer, Thomas Becket was the son of Gilbert Becket, sheriff of London; another relates that both parents were of Norman blood. Whatever his parentage, we know with certainty that the future chancellor and archbishop of Canterbury was born on St. Thomas day, 1118, of a good family, and that he was educated at a school of canons regular at Merton Priory in Sussex, and later at the University of Paris. When Thomas returned from France, his parents had died. Obliged to make his way unaided, he obtained an appointment as clerk to the sheriff's court, where he showed great ability. All accounts describe him as a strongly built, spirited youth, a lover of field sports, who seems to have spent his leisure time in hawking and hunting. One day when he was out hunting with his falcon, the bird swooped down at a duck, and as the duck dived, plunged after it into the river. Thomas himself leapt in to save the valuable hawk, and the rapid stream swept him along to a mill, where only the accidental stopping of the wheel saved his life. The episode serves to illustrate the impetuous daring which characterized Becket all through his life.

At the age of twenty-four Thomas was given a post in the household of Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, and while there he apparently resolved on a career in the Church, for he took minor orders. To prepare himself further, he obtained the archbishop's permission to study canon law at the University of Bologna, continuing his studies at Auxerre, France. On coming back to England, he became provost of Beverley, and canon at Lincoln and St. Paul's cathedrals. His ordination as deacon occurred in 1154. Theobald appointed him archdeacon of Canterbury, the highest ecclesiastical office in England after a bishopric or an abbacy, and began to entrust him with the most intricate affairs; several times he was sent on important missions to Rome. It was Thomas' diplomacy that dissuaded Pope Eugenius III from sanctioning the coronation of Eustace, eldest son of Stephen, and when Henry of Anjou, great grandson of William the Conqueror, asserted his claim to the English crown and became King Henry II, it was not long before he appointed this gifted churchman as chancellor, that is, chief minister. An old chronicle describes Thomas as "slim of growth, and pale of hue, with dark hair, a long nose, and a straightly featured face.

Blithe of countenance was he, winning and lovable in conversation, frank of speech in his discourses but slightly stuttering in his talk, so keen of discernment that he could always make difficult questions plain after a wise manner." Thomas discharged his duties as chancellor conscientiously and well.

Like the later chancellor of the realm, Thomas Moore, who also became a martyr and a saint, Thomas Becket was the close personal friend as well as the loyal servant of his young sovereign. They were said to have one heart and one mind between them, and it seems possible that to Becket's influence were due, in part, those reforms for which Henry is justly praised, that is, his measures to secure equitable dealing for all his subjects by a more uniform and efficient system of law. But it was not only their common interest in matters of state that bound them together. They were also boon companions and spent merry hours together. It was almost the only relaxation Thomas allowed himself, for he was an ambitious man. He had a taste for magnificence, and his household was as fine—if not finer—than the King's. When he was sent to France to negotiate a royal marriage, he took a personal retinue of two hundred men, with a train of several hundred more, knights and squires, clerics and servants, eight fine wagons, music and singers, hawks and hounds, monkeys and mastiffs. Little wonder that the French gaped in wonder and asked, "If this is the chancellor's state, what can the Ring's be like?" His entertainments, his gifts, and his liberality to the poor were also on a very lavish scale.

In 1159 King Henry raised an army of mercenaries in France to regain the province of Toulouse, a part of the inheritance of his wife, the famous Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Thomas served Henry in this war with a company of seven hundred knights of his own. Wearing armor like any other fighting man, he led assaults and engaged in single combat. Another churchman, meeting him, exclaimed: "What do you mean by wearing such a dress? You look more like a falconer than a cleric. Yet you are a cleric in person, and many times over in office-archdeacon of Canterbury, dean of Hastings, provost of Beverley, canon of this church and that, procurator of the archbishop, and like to be archbishop, too, the rumor goes!" Thomas received the rebuke with good humor.

Although he was proud, strong-willed, and irascible, and remained so all his life, he did not neglect to make seasonal retreats at Merton and took the discipline imposed on him there. His confessor during this time testified later to the blamelessness of his private life, under conditions of extreme temptation. If he sometimes went too far in those schemes of the King which tended to infringe on the ancient prerogatives and rights of the Church, at other times he opposed Henry with vigor.

In 1161 Archbishop Theobald died. King Henry was then in Normandy with Thomas, whom he resolved to make the next primate of England. When Henry announced his intention, Thomas, demurring, told him: "Should God permit me to be the archbishop of Canterbury, I would soon lose your Majesty's favor, and the affection with which you honor me would be changed into hatred. For there are several things you do now in prejudice of the rights of the Church which make me fear you would require of me what I could not agree to; and envious persons would not fail to make it the occasion of endless strife between us." The King paid no heed to this remonstrance, and sent bishops and noblemen to the monks of Canterbury, ordering them to labor with the same zeal to set his chancellor in the see as they would to set the crown on the young prince's head. Thomas continued to refuse the promotion until the legate of the Holy See, Cardinal Henry of Pisa, overrode his scruples. The election took place in May, 1162. Young Prince Henry, then in London, gave the necessary consent in his father's name. Thomas, now forty-four years old, rode to Canterbury and was first ordained priest by Walter, bishop of Rochester, and then on the octave of Pentecost was consecrated archbishop by the bishop of Winchester. Shortly afterwards he received the pallium sent by Pope Alexander III.

From this day worldly grandeur no longer marked Thomas' way of life. Next his skin he wore a hairshirt, and his customary dress was a plain black cassock, a linen surplice, and a sacerdotal stole about his neck. He lived ascetically, spent much time in the distribution of alms, in reading and discussing the Scriptures with Herbert of Bosham, in visiting the infirmary, and supervising the monks at their work. He took special care in selecting candidates for Holy Orders. As ecclesiastical judge, he was rigorously just.

Although as archbishop Thomas had resigned the chancellorship, against the King's wish, the relations between the two men seemed to be unchanged for a time. But a host of troubles was brewing, and the crux of all of them was the relationship between Church and state. In the past the landowners, among which the Church was one of the largest, for each hide [1] of land they held, had paid annually two shillings to the King's officers, who in return undertook to protect them from the rapacity of minor tax- gatherers. This was actually a flagrant form of graft and the Ring now ordered the money paid into his own exchequer. The archbishop protested, and there were hot words between him and the Ring. Thenceforth the King's demands were directed solely against the clergy, with no mention of other landholders who were equally involved.

Then came the affair of Philip de Brois, a canon accused of murdering a soldier.

According to a long-established law, as a cleric he was tried in an ecclesiastical court, where he was acquitted by the judge, the bishop of Lincoln, but ordered to pay a fine to the deceased man's relations. A king's justice then made an effort to bring him before his civil court, but he could not be tried again upon that indictment and told the king's justice so in insulting terms. Thereat Henry ordered him tried again both for the original murder charge—and for his later misdemeanor. Thomas now pressed to have the case referred to his own archiepiscopal court; the King reluctantly agreed, and appointed both lay and clerical assessors. Philip's plea of a previous acquittal was accepted as far as the murder was concerned, but he was punished for his contempt of a royal court. The King thought the sentence too mild and remained dissatisfied. In October, 1163, the King called the bishops of his realm to a council at Westminster, at which he demanded their assent to an edict that thenceforth clergy proved guilty of crimes against the civil law should be handed over to the civil courts for punishment.

Thomas stiffened the bishops against yielding. But finally, at the council of Westminster they assented reluctantly to the instrument known as the Constitutions of Clarendon, which embodied the royal "customs" in Church matters, and including some additional points, making sixteen in all. It was a revolutionary document: it provided that no prelate should leave the kingdom without royal permission, which would serve to prevent appeals to the Pope; that no tenant-in-chief should be excommunicated against the Ring's will; that the royal court was to decide in which court clerics accused of civil offenses should be tried; that the custody of vacant Church benefices and their revenues should go to the King. Other provisions were equally damaging to the authority and prestige of the Church. The bishops gave their assent only with a reservation, "saving their order," which was tantamount to a refusal.

Thomas was now full of remorse for having weakened, thus setting a bad example to the bishops, but at the same time he did not wish to widen the breach between himself and the King. He made a futile effort to cross the Channel and put the case before the Pope. On his part, the Ring was bent on vengeance for what he considered the disloyalty and ingratitude of the archbishop. He ordered Thomas to give up certain castles and honors which he held from him, and began a campaign to persecute and discredit him. Various charges of chicanery and financial dishonesty were brought against Thomas, dating from the time he was chancellor. The bishop of Winchester pleaded the archbishop's discharge. The plea was disallowed; Thomas offered a voluntary payment of his own money, and that was refused.

The affair was building up to a crisis, when, on October 13, 1164, the King called another great council at Northampton. Thomas went, after celebrating Mass, carrying his archbishop's cross in his hand. The Earl of Leicester came out with a message from the King: "The King commands you to render your accounts. Otherwise you must hear his judgment." "Judgment?" exclaimed Thomas. "I was given the church of Canterbury free from temporal obligations. I am therefore not liable and will not plead with regard to them. Neither law nor reason allows children to judge and condemn their fathers.

Wherefore I refuse the King's judgment and yours and everyone's. Under God, I will be judged by the Pope alone."

Determined to stand out against the Ring, Thomas left Northampton that night, and soon thereafter embarked secretly for Flanders. Louis VII, Ring of France, invited Thomas into his dominions. Meanwhile King Henry forbade anyone to give him aid.

Gilbert, abbot of Sempringham, was accused of having sent him some relief. Although the abbot had done nothing, he refused to swear he had not, because, he said, it would have been a good deed and he would say nothing that might seem to brand it as a criminal act. Henry quickly dispatched several bishops and others to put his case before Pope Alexander, who was then at Sens. Thomas also presented himself to the Pope and showed him the Constitutions of Clarendon, some of which Alexander pronounced intolerable, others impossible. He rebuked Thomas for ever having considered accepting them. The next day Thomas confessed that he had, though unwillingly, received the see of Canterbury by an election somewhat irregular and uncanonical, and had acquitted himself badly in it. He resigned his office, returned the episcopal ring to the Pope, and withdrew. After deliberation, the Pope called him back and reinstated him, with orders not to abandon his office, for to do so would be to abandon the cause of God. He then recommended Thomas to the Cistercian abbot at Pontigny.

Thomas then put on a monk's habit, and submitted himself to the strict rule of the monastery. Over in England King Henry was busy confiscating the goods of all the friends, relations, and servants of the archbishop, and banishing them, first binding them by oath to go to Thomas at Pontigny, that the sight of their distress might move him. Troops of these exiles soon appeared at the abbey. Then Henry notified the Cistercians that if they continued to harbor his enemy he would sequestrate all their houses in his dominions. After this, the abbot hinted that Thomas was no longer welcome in his abbey. The archbishop found refuge as the guest of King Louis at the royal abbey of St. Columba, near Sens.

This historic quarrel dragged on for three years. Thomas was named by the Pope as his legate for all England except York, whereupon Thomas excommunicated several of his adversaries; yet at times he showed himself conciliatory towards the King. The French king was also drawn into the struggle, and the two kings had a conference in 1169 at Montmirail. King Louis was inclined to take Thomas' side. A reconciliation was finally effected between Thomas and Henry, although the lines of power were not too clearly drawn. The archbishop now made preparations to return to his see. With a premonition of his fate, he remarked to the bishop of Paris in parting, "I am going to England to die." On December 1, 1172, he disembarked at Sandwich, and on the journey to Canterbury the way was lined with cheering people, welcoming him home. As he rode into the cathedral city at the head of a triumphal procession, every bell was ringing. Yet in spite of the public demonstration, there was an atmosphere of foreboding.

At the reconciliation in France, Henry had agreed to the punishment of Roger, archbishop of York, and the bishops of London and Salisbury, who had assisted at the coronation of Henry's son, despite the long-established right of the archbishop of Canterbury to perform this ceremony and in defiance of the Pope's explicit instructions. It had been another attempt to lower the prestige of the primate's see. Thomas had sent on in advance of his return the papal letters suspending Roger and confirming the excommunication of the two bishops involved. On the eve of his arrival a deputation waited on him to ask for the withdrawal of these sentences. He agreed on condition that the three would swear thenceforth to obey the Pope. This they refused to do, and together went to rejoin King Henry, who was visiting his domains in France.

At Canterbury Thomas was subjected to insult by one Ranulf de Broc, from whom he had demanded the restoration of Saltwood Castle, a manor previously belonging to the archbishop's see. After a week's stay there he went up to London, where Henry's son, "the young King," refused to see him. He arrived back in Canterbury on or about his fifty-second birthday. Meanwhile the three bishops had laid their complaints before the King at Bur, near Bayeux, and someone had exclaimed aloud that there would be no peace for the realm while Becket lived. At this, the King, in a fit of rage, pronounced some words which several of his hearers took as a rebuke to them for allowing Becket to continue to live and thereby disturb him. Four of his knights at once set off for England and made their way to the irate family at Saltwood. Their names were Reginald Fitzurse, William de Tracy, Hugh de Morville, and Richard le Bret.

On St. John's day Thomas received a letter warning him of danger, and all southeast Kent was in a state of ferment. On the afternoon of December 29, the four knights came to see him in his episcopal palace. During the interview they made several demands, in particular that Thomas remove the censures on the three bishops. The knights withdrew, uttering threats and oaths. A few minutes later there were loud outcries, a shattering of doors and clashing of arms, and the archbishop, urged on by his attendants, began moving slowly through the cloister passage to the cathedral. It was now twilight and vespers were being sung. At the door of the north transept he was met by some terrified monks, whom he commanded to get back to the choir. They withdrew a little and he entered the church, but the knights were seen behind him in the dim light. The monks slammed the door on them and bolted it. In their confusion they shut out several of their own brethren, who began beating loudly on the door.

Becket turned and cried, "Away, you cowards ! A church is not a castle." He reopened the door himself, then went towards the choir, accompanied by Robert de Merton, his aged teacher and confessor, William Fitzstephen, a cleric in his household, and a monk, Edward Grim. The others fled to the crypt and other hiding places, and Grim alone remained. At this point the knights broke in shouting, "Where is Thomas the traitor?" "Where is the archbishop?" "Here I am," he replied, "no traitor, but archbishop and priest of God!" He came down the steps to stand between the altars of Our Lady and St. Benedict.

The knights clamored at him to absolve the bishops, and Thomas answered firmly, "I cannot do other than I have done. Reginald, you have received many favors from me.

Why do you come into my church armed?" Fitzurse made a threatening gesture with his axe. "I am ready to die," said Thomas, "but God's curse on you if you harm my people." There was some scuffling as they tried to carry Thomas outside bodily.

Fitzurse flung down his axe and drew his sword. "You pander, you owe me fealty and submission!" exclaimed the archbishop. Fitzurse shouted back, "I owe no fealty contrary to the King ! " and knocked off Thomas' cap. At this, Thomas covered his face and called aloud on God and the saints. Tracy struck a blow, which Grim intercepted with his own arm, but it grazed Thomas' skull and blood ran down into his eyes. He wiped the stain away and cried, "Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit!" Another blow from Tracy beat him to his knees, and he pitched forward onto his face, murmuring, "For the name of Jesus and in defense of the Church I am willing to die." With a vigorous thrust Le Bret struck deep into his head, breaking his sword against the pavement, and Hugh of Horsea added a blow, although the archbishop was now dying. Hugh de Morville stood by but struck no blow. The murderers, brandishing their swords, now dashed away through the cloisters, shouting "The King's men! The King's men!" The cathedral itself was filling with people unaware of the catastrophe, and a thunderstorm was breaking overhead.[2] The archbishop's body lay in the middle of the transept, and for a time no one dared approach it. A deed of such sacrilege was bound to be regarded with horror and indignation. When the news was brought to the King, he shut himself up and fasted for forty days, for he knew that his chance remark had sped the courtiers to England bent on vengeance. He later performed public penance in Canterbury Cathedral and in 1172 received absolution from the papal delegates.

Within three years of his death the archbishop had been canonized as a martyr. Though far from a faultless character, Thomas Becket, when his time of testing came, had the courage to lay down his life to defend the ancient rights of the Church against an aggressive state. The discovery of his hairshirt and other evidences of austerity, and the many miracles which were reported at his tomb, increased the veneration in which he was held. The shrine of the "holy blessed martyr," as Chaucer called him, soon became famous, and the old Roman road running from London to Canterbury known as "Pilgrim's Way." His tomb was magnificently adorned with gold, silver, and jewels, only to be despoiled by Henry VIII; the fate of his relics is uncertain. They may have been destroyed as a part of Henry's policy to subordinate the English Church to the civil authority. Mementoes of this saint are preserved at the cathedral of Sens. The feast of St. Thomas of Canterbury is now kept throughout the Roman Catholic Church, and in England he is regarded as the protector of the secular clergy.

Are we really independent? Hope not!

Today I was without internet access for 6 hours; nothing I could do about it but it drove me crazy. I checked and double-checked and patiently(well maybe not so patiently) waited for it to fire back up. Just a couple of weeks ago we lost power at the house. Odd, nobody else seemed to be without power. Turns out our transformer blew. A couple of hours later, we were back in business. After an unseasonably cold couple of months I thought I better fire up the old lawn tractor. Dead. I'll have to charge that bad boy up to get going.

We are very dependent on things to make our lives comfortable and dependable. We hate being without the necessities; like power, phone lines, internet, etc.

As Americans, we like to think ourselves independent. In recent years, the fastest growing demographic among voters is independent. Of course, these independents need to realize what an amazing waste of time and effort it is to register independent. But I'll leave that alone for awhile. As people, I hope we can put our national bravado aside and realize that we truly need one another and do not necessarily have to be independent. I depend on my wife and I trust she depends on me. My children depend on us, and as we get older, and they do too, we may be depending on them. I like the fact that others depend on me, like my co-workers, clients, parishioners, the men at Rayburn, and maybe just those needing a friend or a trusted advisor. And I like the fact that I depend on others too, my co-workers, my clients, prospects, parishioners, the KC family, the men at Rayburn who do as much for me as I do for them.

As Catholics, I trust we all are comfortable being dependent on God our Father for our everything. And I trust we are o.k. with being dependent on Jesus for our salvation; his gift of the incarnation, his death and resurrection, his coming to us in the Eucharist and the Word. As Catholics, I'm cool with being dependent on the magisterium, the Pope and my Archbishop for moral leadership.

How amazing that in this week of Christmas the Church gives us so many holy examples of dependence. We love the Holy Family. How wonderful that God designed His plan that even Jesus, as a baby and young boy, was dependent for his earthly needs. Mary and Joseph were there to fill them. And Mary and Joseph, despite being His parents, dependent on Jesus, as we are, for their eternal life. The story of the magi and Herod and his evil designs showed how dependent the Holy Family was on God's providence and each other. The example of St. Stephen allows us to see how the apostles were dependent on deacons to serve the needs of widows and the poor. And his holy martyrdom helps us to see that we need not be overly dependent on this life but keep our focus on life everlasting. And then we have St. John, the youngest apostle, who was dependent on Jesus for everything. And Jesus then trusts him to take care of Mary at the foot of the cross. Was Mary's earthly needs dependent on John's generosity and hospitality? Probably!

Whenever we are faced with losing the comfort and luxury of all those things we are dependent on can we race back to these beautiful Christmas examples of the Holy Family, St. Stephen and St. John to remind us to be dependent on God first, His holy church and each other. Independence is so overrated!

Is it still "Merry Christmas" in your life

Merry Christmas! Yes, Merry Christmas. Faithful to my theme that Christmas is not a day but a season I'm still celebrating Christmas. Are you? I sure hope so. Even if you are not lucky to be off work this week(like I am), it's still Christmas!

Last year, it was chores for Christmas week. My wife and I cleaned out the attic all week. While necessary, not much fun. So this year we pledged no big projects. Instead, I'm looking for more opportunities to be "in the season". I'm trying hard to make daily mass(so far so good). After all there are so many rich feast days during Christmas. And I'm visiting with a few friends this week too; including a couple I have not seen in some time.

Tomorrow I hope to get my daughter on her flight to N. Carolina if all these delays have cleared up from the winter weather. And then my wife and I will quietly celebrate New Years weekend as I prepare to transition to my new parish assignment. As of next Monday I will be assigned to my new parish, Most Holy Trinity.

But in the meantime, it's days off work, time spent with family and friends and reminding everyone I see and meet, Merry Christmas; because it's not a day, it's a season!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Remembering the Holy Innocents

December 28th, which is the 4th day in the Octave of Christmas, is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. These first Christian martyrs, young babies, were slaughtered by Herod who wanted to make sure Jesus would be killed. Herod's plan would be frustrated by God and the message of an angel, but these innocent victims paid the ultimate price with their own blood.

Below is a beautiful sermon on this feast day Saint Quodvultdeus, bishop:

A tiny child is born, who is a great king. Wise men are led to him from afar. They come to adore one who lies in a manger and yet reigns in heaven and on earth. When they tell of one who is born a king, Herod is disturbed. To save his kingdom he resolves to kill him, though if he would have faith in the child, he himself would reign in peace in this life and forever in the life to come.

Why are you afraid, Herod, when you hear of the birth of a king? He does not come to drive you out, but to conquer the devil. But because you do not understand this you are disturbed and in a rage, and to destroy one child whom you seek, you show your cruelty in the death of so many children.

You are not restrained by the love of weeping mothers or fathers mourning the deaths of their sons, nor by the cries and sobs of the children. You destroy those who are tiny in body because fear is destroying your heart. You imagine that if you accomplish your desire you can prolong your own life, though you are seeking to kill Life Himself.

Yet your throne is threatened by the source of grace, so small, yet so great, who is lying in the manger. He is using you, all unaware of it, to work out his own purposes freeing souls from captivity to the devil. He has taken up the sons of the enemy into the ranks of God's adopted children.

The children die for Christ, though they do not know it. The parents mourn for the death of martyrs. The child makes of those as yet unable to speak fit witnesses to himself. See the kind of kingdom that is his, coming as he did in order to be this kind of king. See how the deliverer is already working deliverance, the savior already working salvation.

But you Herod, do not know this and are disturbed and furious. While you vent your fury against the child, you are already paying him homage and do not know it.

How great a gift of grace is here! To what merits of their own do the children owe this kind of victory? They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ. They cannot use their limbs to engage in battle, yet already they bear off the palm of victory.

And the prayer offered by the Church for these tiny martyrs:

Father, the Holy Innocents offered you praise by the death they suffered for Christ. May our lives bear witness to the faith we profess with our lips. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Super Bowl Champs are back in the playoffs; beat the Atlanta Falcons

What an exciting game tonight as the New Orleans Saints defeat Atlanta; the team with the best record in the NFC, and securing a return trip to the playoffs. For Saints fans, we can make two statements that just make us smile: Defending Super Bowl Champs and headed back to the playoffs! And by the way, this is the first time since 1991-1992 that the Saints are in playoffs in back to back years. Simply outstanding.

No matter what, Drew Brees is the man. He had some bad plays tonight including a very stupid interception. But just like the title of his book, Coming Back Stronger, tonight, Drew Brees came back strong and led his team to victory. And let's not forget our defense. After being gashed a week ago, this effort was stellar. The goal line stand, the two turnovers and coming up big on 3rd down late in game, all excellent efforts. And almost no Atlanta running game. Great effort.

And let's mention Pierre Thomas who finally came up big tonight. His clutch first down sealed the deal. And I'm even going to mention Garrett Hartley. The maligned kicker who cost us game 1 against Atlanta, hit a huge FG early on and has been solid lately.

So Saints fans rejoice. The New Orleans Saints, the World Champions of NFL football, are back in the playoffs and playing great football on the road.

Do I hear it? ..........the Saints are coming, the Saints are coming................

Quick update on Archbishop Hannan

Archbishop Hannan to be released from hospital

Posted on December 27, 2010 at 12:21 PM

COVINGTON, LA – Retired Archbishop Philip Hannan is expected to be discharged from the hospital Monday and released to a nursing facility.

Hannan, 97, has been battling pneumonia and was recently very ill. Archbishop Gregory Aymond had asked for prayers for the popular Hannan as he fought his illness.

Hannan became the leader of the Archdiocese of New Orleans around the time Hurricane Betsy delivered a blow to the city. He also saw the city through its integration battles and was a major factor in securing a historic papal visit in the 1980s.

>>>Please continue your prayers for this good and holy man, Archbishop Philip Hannan, Archbishop of New Orleans from 1965-1989.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

St John the Evangelist

.St. John the Apostle

Feastday: December 27
Patron of Asia Minor

St. John, Apostle and Evangelist (Feast day - December 27th)

St. John, the son of Zebedee, and the brother of St. James the Great, was called to be an Apostle by our Lord in the first year of His public ministry. He became the "beloved disciple" and the only one of the Twelve who did not forsake the Savior in the hour of His Passion. He stood faithfully at the cross when the Savior made him the guardian of His Mother. His later life was passed chiefly in Jerusalem and at Ephesus. He founded many churches in Asia Minor. He wrote the fourth Gospel, and three Epistles, and the Book of Revelation is also attributed to him. Brought to Rome, tradition relates that he was by order of Emperor Dometian cast into a cauldron of boiling oil but came forth unhurt and was banished to the island of Pathmos for a year. He lived to an extreme old age, surviving all his fellow apostles, and died at Ephesus about the year 100.

St. John is called the Apostle of Charity, a virtue he had learned from his Divine Master, and which he constantly inculcated by word and example. The "beloved disciple" died at Ephesus, where a stately church was erected over his tomb. It was afterwards converted into a Mohammedan mosque.

John is credited with the authorship of three epistles and one Gospel, although many scholars believe that the final editing of the Gospel was done by others shortly after his death. He is also supposed by many to be the author of the book of Revelation, also called the Apocalypse, although this identification is less certain.

A celebration of Diaconate Service

Today, December 26, 2010, on the Feast of the Holy Family, the community of Deacons in New Orleans celebrated the memory of our patron St. Stephen, first deacon & martyr. This date is normally the feast of St. Stephen; supressed today to honor the Holy Family.

The gathering spot for this annual event is St. Stephen Catholic Church, a grand and elegant old church on Napoleon Avenue in the garden district of New Orleans. Deacons, wives and candidates gathered for the celebration along with our Archbishop Gregory Aymond. And we gather first at the memorial, located in the rear of the church, to honor those who have gone before us. We pay special honor to the 6 Deacons who passed away in 2010 along with the 2 widows of still serving Deacons.

We also recognized the service of the ten remaining Deacons from the ordination class of 1980, celebrating 30 years of ordained ministry, and the ten remaining Deacons from the ordination class of 1985, celebrating 25 years of ordained ministry.

Then we gathered in prayer, a reading from the 6th chapter of Acts of the Apostles, a reflection on diaconate ministry from one of our own, Deacon Richard Brady, and an address by Archbishop Aymond. We sang our songs of service and retired to the hall for an afternoon of good food and fellowship.

I now share with you a couple of paragraphs from the reflection in today's program titled "We are standing on Holy Ground":

"Today as a community we stand on holy ground. Thirty-six years have come and gone, sixteen groups have been formed for participation in the ministry of Christ as Permanent Deacons, this offer of service to the People of God is represented in the lives of more than three hundred good men. In his faithfulness God continues to call forth co-workers in the vineyard. At present we have twenty men in formation, and thirty-four who have applied to enter into a deeper discernment of God's will for their lives.

Today as a community we stand on holy ground. We give thanks for those who serve as bishops, priests, deacons and religious. We know that the harvest is great but the workers are few. We beseech God to send us more co-workers for the vineyard. We pray especially for more vocations to the priesthood and religious life and are thankful for the great numbers of vocations to the ministry of deacon in the Church. May this celebration we share on the Feast of the Holy Family inspire us to answer yes again and again to God's invitation to be faithful, to love and to serve. To Him be Honor, Glory and Praise."

...and let's not forget St. Stephen; Deacon & Martyr

>>>Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family since this is the 1st Sunday after Christmas . December 26th is the Feast of St. Stephen which is supressed this year liturgically. As a Deacon, St. Stephen is one of my patrons and remains a great witness for all of us.

St. Stephen

Feastday: December 26

Stephen's name means "crown," and he was the first disciple of Jesus to receive the martyr's crown. Stephen was a deacon in the early Christian Church. The apostles had found that they needed helpers to look after the care of the widows and the poor. So they ordained seven deacons, and Stephen is the most famous of these.

God worked many miracles through St. Stephen and he spoke with such wisdom and grace that many of his hearers became followers of Jesus. The enemies of the Church of Jesus were furious to see how successful Stephen's preaching was. At last, they laid a plot for him. They could not answer his wise argument, so they got men to lie about him, saying that he had spoken sinfully against God. St. Stephen faced that great assembly of enemies without fear. In fact, the Holy Bible says that his face looked like the face of an angel.

The saint spoke about Jesus, showing that He is the Savior, God had promised to send. He scolded his enemies for not having believed in Jesus. At that, they rose up in great anger and shouted at him. But Stephen looked up to Heaven and said that he saw the heavens opening and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

His hearers plugged their ears and refused to listen to another word. They dragged St. Stephen outside the city of Jerusalem and stoned him to death. The saint prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" Then he fell to his knees and begged God not to punish his enemies for killing him.

After such an expression of love, the holy martyr went to his heavenly reward. His feast day is December 26th.

Homily for Feast of the Holy Family December 26, 2010

TV families have always intrigued me. As a young boy growing up in my family home I enjoyed watching shows like the Walton’s and Little House on the Prairie. Even today, in reruns, I enjoy these shows. But honestly, my favorite all time family show was about a very dysfunctional family in Queens, NY; All in the Family. There was something about good ole Archie Bunker that reminded me of so many adults I knew during my earlier years.

My family has been together for Christmas over these past few days and my wife and I are enjoying having our daughter home from college. One of the things we do is watch a couple of Christmas family movies, the Christmas story (you’ll shoot your eye out) and Christmas Vacation which just makes us laugh. And we also watch White Christmas together every year as a nice remembrance of one of my mom’s all time favorites.

I trust all of us have had some great family times during this Christmas season and cherish the gift of family.

Today the Church gives us the wonderful feast of the Holy Family, just one day after Christmas. As we read the Gospel of St. Matthew today we realize we are fast forwarding past the visit of the magi, which we will celebrate next week, and focusing on the family trials of the Holy Family. Yes, in the human condition, Jesus, Mary & Joseph are not immune from family concerns and difficulties. Herod is alarmed at the news of a newborn king, so he sets out to have Jesus killed. The angel tells Joseph what to do and the young family flees to Egypt. After Herod dies, Joseph, the loving and caring father, takes his family to Nazareth. Here the Holy Family would live and love and be together for many years.

Why did the Holy Family have to endure such challenges? Why did God just not make things easy and convenient for Jesus, Mary and Joseph? Could it be that the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies must be realized in this family drama? Is it possible that these events help us realize that Jesus is indeed the descendant of David as prophesized in Isaiah? Or quite simply, has God used the Holy Family to leave us a wonderful example of what every family must do? We certainly can learn about love and trust from the Holy Family and we can learn about total dependence on God from their obedience. If we think about it, the Holy Family is not holy because Mary & Joseph never struggled, never faced obstacles, never wondered what to do; the Holy Family is holy because they never lost faith and trust in God. Can we, in our own families, make that claim?

In our own family situation, can we imitate the love and concern for each other as the example of the Holy Family? If this question causes us to pause, and if it does that’s o.k., perhaps we can look to St. Paul whose letter to the Colossians tells us how we can be more like the Holy Family. His use of words like compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and love can be our guide. The church, then and now, challenges us to make our families the domestic church. Husbands and wives love each other, support each other, and pray with and for each other. Moms & Dads, love your children; show them affection and use discipline in a manner that will demonstrate your love. Children, love your parents, your brothers and sisters and be obedient.

And families make God first in your lives. Pray together! Can I suggest a prayer? The first mystery of the Rosary of the 7 Sorrows is this flight of the Holy Family into Egypt. Pray and reflect on their journey in the days ahead. Share meals together. Do something fun together. Make Jesus the center of your family life.

And in the week ahead, as a family, remember that we are still celebrating Christmas. As a family, approach the nativity scene and gaze upon our Holy Family as the example of our family. Do something special this week to keep Christmas alive and going, as a family.

You know, those crazy antics of Archie and Edith, Gloria and the meathead, were funny and provocative. But in the end, they really did put aside those family arguments and disagreements to love each other and stay together.

The Bunkers may not be the ideal example of family life, but Jesus, Mary & Joseph most certainly are. May we pray for the wisdom to follow their example and make God first in our family’s lives; and that’s truly All in the Family!

Celebrating the Feast of the Holy Family

All About the Feast of the Holy Family

The Feast of the Holy Family celebrates the family unit and the Holy Family: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The feast usually falls on the Sunday after Christmas. If Christmas is a Sunday, then the feast is celebrated on December 30th. In 2010, the feast falls on December 26.
Basic Facts

Liturgical Color(s): White
Type of Holiday: Feast; Holy Day of Obligation (if on a Sunday)
Time of Year: The Sunday between Christmas and New Year's Day; If both are Sundays, the feast is celebrated on December 30
Duration: One Day
Celebrates/Symbolizes: The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
Alternate Names: Holy Family Sunday
Scriptural References: Matthew 2:13-23; Luke 2:1-24, Psalm 128, Colossians 3:12-21.

The Holy Family is the name given to the family unit of Jesus: The Divine Son of God Jesus, his mother Mary, and his foster-father Joseph. We know very little about the life of the Holy Family through the Canonical Scriptures. They speak of the early years of the Holy Family, including the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the flight into Egypt, and the finding of Jesus in the temple. Various non-canonical works, including the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, try to fill in the blanks. However, even though these apocryphal works may contain some truth from oral tradition, they have been deemed unworthy of canonical status because of the way they present Jesus. While the exact details of the day-to-day life of the Holy Family may be unknown, we can still learn a lot from the stories we do have.

Devotion to the Holy Family is a recent development, but one that naturally grows out of a love for Jesus and his family. The cult of the Holy Family grew in popularity in the 17th century, and several religious congregations have been founded under this title. The Holy Family also became portrayed in popular art of the period. On October 26, 1921 the Congregation of Rites (under Pope Benedict XV) inserted the Feast of the Holy Family into the Latin Rite general calendar. Until then it had been celebrated regionally (see History below). Popes before and including Benedict XV (especially Leo XIII) promoted the feast as a way to counter the breakdown of the family unit. Today the Church celebrates the Feast on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year's Day (Known as the Feast of Mary Mother of God in the Catholic Church). If both Christmas and New Year's Day fall on Sundays, no Sunday exists between the two dates, so the Church celebrates the Holy Family Feast on December 30th. If the feast falls on the 30th, attendance is not obligatory. Up until 1969, the Holy Family feast was kept on the first Sunday after the Epiphany. It was transferred to its current date in 1969.

The Feast of the Holy Family is not just about the Holy Family, but about our own families too. The main purpose of the Feast is to present the Holy Family as the model for all Christian families, and for domestic life in general. Our family life becomes sanctified when we live the life of the Church within our homes. This is called the "domestic church" or the "church in miniature." St. John Chrysostom urged all Christians to make each home a "family church," and in doing so, we sanctify the family unit. Just how does one live out the Church in the family? The best way is by making Christ and his Church the center of family and individual life. Ways to do this include: reading scripture regularly, praying daily, attending Mass at least on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, imitating the actions of the Holy Family, and so forth, all done together as a family unit. In addition to cultivating positive actions, the Church understands that various actions and behaviors are contrary to God's Divine plan for the family, and these should be avoided. These include abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage, polygamy, embryonic stem-cell research, divorce, spousal abuse, child abuse, and co-habitation. Catholic Teaching is that a marriage must be open to children. Anything artificial that prevents this is contrary to divine law, although spacing births for a just reason is permitted (and may be licitly accomplished through "natural family planning"). Also, poverty, lack of health care, and other social justice concerns must be addressed by faithful Christians because of the negative effect these conditions have on the family unit. St. Paul gives us some advice on family life in Colossians 3:12-21:

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged (RSV).

The Holy Family feast is a good time to remember the family unit and pray for our human and spiritual families. We also may take this feast to reflect on the value and sanctity of the family unit, and to evaluate our own family life. What ways may it be improved? What would Jesus, Mary, and Joseph do? Finally, we can use this feast to ask ourselves what are we doing to promote the family within our own cultures, neighborhoods, and communities.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Remember, it's STILL Christmas

So it's Christmas night. All the food is devoured, presents are unwrapped, the excitement of waiting is over. Christmas day has come and gone. But wait; do not take that tree down, do not be afraid to play a Christmas carol, do not quit celebrating Christmas. As a season, Christmas lasts until we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. That's not until January 9, 2011. Christmas, as a day, continues as well as the Church teaches us that Christmas is an octave.

What does this mean? An octave is 8 days. In the church's liturgy, we celebrate Christmas as an octave. We sing the gloria at every mass, we light all the candles. We believe that the joy and significance of this feast, ranked 2nd on the Church calendar(Easter is 1st) deserves an octave celebration.

Each family has their own traditions. I pray that yours includes a celebration of Christmas that does not die when the clock strikes December 26th.

Keep celebrating Christmas; tis the season!

Christmas Mass at Dawn

Opening prayer: Almighty God and Father of light, a child is born for us and a son is given to us. Your eternal Word leaped down from heaven in the silent watches of the night, and now your Church is filled with wonder at the nearness of her God. Open our hearts to receive his life and increase our vision with the rising of dawn, that our lives may be filled with his glory and his peace, who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Gospel - Luke 2:15-20
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this Child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Closing Prayer: Lord, with faith and joy we celebrate the birthday of your Son. Increase our understanding and our love of the riches you have revealed in him, who is Lord for ever and ever. Amen.

Final Blessing: Lord, grant your people your protection and grace. Give them health of mind and body, perfect love for one another, and make them always faithful to you. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Midnight Mass

Opening prayer: Father, you make this holy night radiant with the splendor of Jesus Christ our light. We welcome Him as Lord, the true light of the world. Bring us to eternal joy in the kingdom of heaven, where He lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Chapter 2
1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus 2 that the whole world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
While they were there, the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son. 3 She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
4 Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
5 For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
6 "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."
When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us."
So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.
When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child.
All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.
And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.
Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.

Closing Prayer: God our Father, we rejoice in the birth of our Savior. May we share His life completely by livin as he has taught. We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.

Final Blessing:

When he came to us as man, the Son of God scattered the darkness of this world, and filled this holy night with his glory. May the God of infinite goodness scatter the darkness of sin and brighten your hearts with holiness. Amen.

God sent his angels to shepherds to herald the great joy of our Savior's birth. May he fill you with joy and make you heralds of his gospel. Amen.

When the Word became man, earth was joined to heaven. May he give you his peace and good will, and fellowship with all the heavenly host. Amen.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Mass of the Christmas Vigil

Opening prayer: God our Father, every year we rejoice as we look forward to this feast of our salvation. May we welcome Christ as our Redeemer, and meet him with confidence when he comes to be our judge, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.


Mt 1:1-25 or 1:18-25GospelThe book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ,
the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham became the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers.
Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah,
whose mother was Tamar.
Perez became the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram the father of Amminadab.
Amminadab became the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon the father of Boaz,
whose mother was Rahab.
Boaz became the father of Obed,
whose mother was Ruth.
Obed became the father of Jesse,
Jesse the father of David the king.

David became the father of Solomon,
whose mother had been the wife of Uriah.
Solomon became the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah,
Abijah the father of Asaph.
Asaph became the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Joram,
Joram the father of Uzziah.
Uzziah became the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah.
Hezekiah became the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amos,
Amos the father of Josiah.
Josiah became the father of Jechoniah and his brothers
at the time of the Babylonian exile.

After the Babylonian exile,
Jechoniah became the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
Zerubbabel the father of Abiud.
Abiud became the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
Azor the father of Zadok.
Zadok became the father of Achim,
Achim the father of Eliud,
Eliud the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar became the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.

Thus the total number of generations
from Abraham to David
is fourteen generations;
from David to the Babylonian exile,
fourteen generations;
from the Babylonian exile to the Christ,
fourteen generations.

Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,
which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
He had no relations with her until she bore a son,
and he named him Jesus.

The Gospel of the Lord!

Closing Prayer: Father, we ask you to give us a new birth as we celebrate the beginning of your Son's life on earth. Strengthen us in spirit as we take your food and drink. Grant this through Christ our Lord.

Solemn Blessing: Lord, Bless and strengthen your people. May they remain faithful to you and always rejoice in your mercy.

We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord.

True gift giving

Phil Johnson's Christmas Eve editorial: The Gift of the Magi

Posted on December 24, 2010 at 12:15 PM

(Former WWL-TV editorialist/news director and assistant general manager Phil Johnson died this past March, but we felt that this important local holiday tradition should continue.)

A long time ago, a man named O. Henry wrote a small story, utterly simple, that spoke volumes about happiness and sacrifice and the meaning of love. We told it last Christmas… in fact, we’ve been telling it every Christmas ever since 1962. We’d like to tell it again this year.

A man and his wife approached Christmas very much in love and very happy because they were together. And just a little sad because they were too poor to buy presents for each other. They had no children, and only one possession which each prized above any material thing: he, a beautiful gold watch, left him by his father; she, her long, cascading hair.

And it came to be the day before Christmas and they had no presents to give, one to the other. But on his way to work the man knew he could buy his wife a wonderful present.

And she, too, during the day of Christmas Eve, thought of a way to buy her husband a fine gift.

That night, the man came home, his gift for his wife tucked under his arm. She, too, had wrapped her present for him. They rushed to embrace – but stopped and just looked at each other. Then, through bittersweet tears, they exchanged gifts. The man opened his. It was a beautiful gold fob for his watch. But you see, he no longer had a watch. He had sold it to buy her a present – a sparkling gold comb for her beautiful hair. But she couldn’t use it. She had cut her hair and sold it to a wigmaker to buy a present for her husband.

They looked at each other – and their presents – and they smiled. And they knew that – in spite of all – they had indeed given each other the greatest gift – true love. Merry Christmas.

Now watch him deliver this beautiful story; this was a family tradition as long as I can remember. We actually would watch the news on Christmas Eve to see this:


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Close enough; now we celebrate Christmas...and don't stop

I'm writing this in the last few hours of December 23rd and soon it will be Christmas Eve. In some parts of the world, Christmas Eve vigil masses will be starting as soon as one or two hours from now. The celebration of our Christmas liturgies, beginning with the vigil, leaves Advent behind and ushers in Christmas. Why? Because Christmas is not a day; it's a season.

While I know how hard it is to delay putting up the tree and wrapping presents, Christmas just has not yet started. We have been celebrating Advent; the preparing for Christmas. Christmas will continue as a season this year until January 9, 2011 when we celebrate the liturgy of the Baptism of Jesus.

So this Saturday, when we wake up and begin our Christmas Day traditions, know that we have about 15 days to go. Christmas Day can begin with Midnight Mass, or Mass in the morning. We may open a few presents before midnight tomorrow night or have the big Santa explosion in the morning. Maybe everyone is coming to your house, or like us, off we go to the relatives.

Whatever your traditions are do not stop celebrating Christmas. The following day, December 26th gives us the day to remember the Holy Family. As we look at our nativity scenes in our homes we can recall all that the Holy Family endured in those early days of Jesus as a baby. Normally, the 26th is reserved for the feast of St. Stephen but this year he gets suppressed because of the Holy Family. As a Deacon, I usually gather with brother Deacons in New Orleans to celebrate good St. Stephen. We will do this again this year despite the calender working against him. Other great Saints we honor during Christmas season include St. John the Evangelist, St. Thomas Becket and St. Sylvester, to name a few.

And as we approach the excitement of the New Year and the fun and parties of New Years Eve we should remind ourselves that we are in the Christmas season. In fact it is such a wonderful tradition that we remember Mary as Mother of God on New Years Day. And we all can recall the celebration of "little Christmas" on the Epiphany, which used to be on January 6th but is now the second Sunday after Christmas day.

So this Christmas season, leave the tree up, keep the twinkling lights burning, keep that Nativity scene prominent and celebrate the season. Even when we all return to work or kids to school on January 3rd, wait til at least the following weekend to pack it all away. Keep the joy we experience going into Christmas day alive at least to the Christmas season is over!

The story of the nativity

The First Nativity
Many of us cherish the hand carved Italian wooden nativity with its crèche and hanging angel given to us as a gift, or a large Fontanini Nativity we bought when we first got married. Maybe you have a burnished gold one piece nativity passed down through the family or you have your eye on a stained glass nativity. During the holiday season our yard is bedecked with a beautiful, illuminated larger than life nativity. Now, we might think this tradition goes all the way back to the first Christmas in Bethlehem so many years ago. You may be surprised to learn that the tradition actually began with Saint Francis of Assissi:

In the early part of the thirteenth century Saint Francis of Assisi was troubled by the lack of holiness in the holiday season. There was a lot of drunkenness and desire. The fact that God came to earth as a man seemed to be lost in the preparations for the feasting and merry making.

As Francis often did when he was troubled, he went to a cave on Mount Subasio and prayed. In his solitude an answer came to him: he remembered the humble birth of our Lord. Saint Francis came up with a plan to remind people of the real reason we celebrate Christmas.

For weeks he prepared. Three of the monks were dressed as Kings. Other monks would come as shepherds. A farmer agreed to loan him a donkey, a cow, chickens and sheep. He found a carpenter to portray Joseph and a beautiful young maiden to portray Mary.

It was Christmas Eve and everything was set. He chose a cave on the edge of the village of Greccio because it reminded him of the biblical description of the manger. Even in his own time Saint Francis was well known. When word went out that he had arranged a special celebration of Christmas, people came from far and near.

(Imagine now that you are standing on the side of this hill, near the cave. It is just past sunset and the light is fading from a rose colored sky. Looking out over the valley you see hundreds of people gathering. Some are carrying torches, others candles. Each person carries their own light. From each home and village a stream of light flows towards the cave. These streams of light gather into a river of lights. Soon, a flood of light flows up the hill to the mouth of the cave. Each of us brings our own small light to make an ocean of light.)

Just as everyone arrived, Saint Francis realized that he had forgotten something. The shepherds and sheep were there, so were the three kings and their horses. There was a donkey, a cow and some chickens sleeping or scratching in the straw. Mary and Joseph were there. How could he? He had forgotten the most important thing! Saint Francis had forgotten the baby!

Just then he saw a spark in the straw. At first he thought the spark had leapt from a candle or torch, Saint Francis leapt to put it out. But then it took shape. A small ball of fire began to grow and softly glow. Right before the eyes of a thousand seekers, the glowing light took the shape of an infant. For the second time, God came to earth as a child. Everyone present witnessed a miracle.

Francis could not let the baby rest on the cold stone floor of the cave. He scooped the Christ child up into his arms and cuddled him. It dawned on him then and there, the true meaning of Christmas.

God came to earth not as a king but as the child of a poor carpenter. He was not born in a palace but in a manger among animals. Saint Francis realized God is there to take care of us, yes, but we also must nurture that of God within.

Though chaste, in that moment Saint Francis gave birth. For a moment he knew the pleasure of fatherhood. He also gained a deeper appreciation of our Father and his infinite wisdom. What a blessing for us all!

And so it has been to this day: throughout the world we celebrate the birth of Christ with the celebration of the nativity, an idea inspired by a poor man from Assisi.

Do you have a special nativity that you place near the tree at Christmas?

Whether your nativity set is table top or garden statues, when you arrange the decorations on your mantel or in your front yard think of Saint Francis and this story, the first celebration of the nativity. And maybe, just as they do in Italy, you may wish to set the kings and camels at a distance on the first night and inch them closer each day to remind us of that journey we all must make to be nearer to God. Keep the baby Jesus under wraps and place Him in the manger on Christmas Eve to remind us of the real reason for the holiest of seasons.

*This traditional story is based on the medieval book, “The Little Flowers of Saint Francis” and is retold by Brian “Fox” Ellis, author and storyteller. © 2008 All rights reserved.

Nuns helping rebuild New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS – Sister Paula Gonzalez — dressed in sweats and sneakers — was directing a fellow nun to the ceiling of a closet — the last area in need of insulation before the group begins hanging drywall in a house that has stood empty since Hurricane Katrina flooded it.

"We're all glad to be done with that nasty stuff," Gonzalez said. "Everyone has been itching for days."

Gonzalez, 78, of Cincinnati, is one of 86 nuns from various Roman Catholic orders around the United States and Canada who took part in the latest edition of Nuns Build. The program, begun in 2009, brings nuns to New Orleans twice a year to help rebuild houses flooded by Katrina in 2005, but are structurally sound and can be renovated.

There are still thousands of the houses in the metropolitan area. Many were owned by elderly or poor people without flood insurance and left with no means of reclaiming their homes.

The nuns worked with the St. Bernard Project, a nonprofit disaster recovery organization dedicated to rebuilding homes destroyed by Katrina.

The nuns have been part more than 23,000 volunteers have helped St. Bernard Project rebuild 319 families' homes. Money for the supplies is raised through donations.

In the latest effort, the nuns worked on 17 houses — swinging hammers, working saws, insulating, hanging drywall, painting, putting in flooring and installing doors and windows.

"We do it all," laughed Sister Winnie Brubach, 64, of Cincinnati, as she taped insulation into a closet ceiling. "We just showed up and started in on what they told us to do."

The sisters finished up their stay working at Patricia Gardner's home in the Gentilly section of New Orleans. The house, which was flooded to the roof by the failure of the city's levees following Katrina, was gutted when they arrived. By the time they left at the end of the week, the house had been completely insulated and ceilings and walls covered with dry wall.

"It will be one of our 'Homes for the Holidays' houses," said Amanda Catalani of the St. Bernard Project, said. The agency is working to have 25 houses restored in time for families to return to them before Christmas. A group of volunteers will pick up where the nuns left off at the end of their stay.

"It's doable, definitely doable," Catalani said. "We could use more volunteers, but we have 13 done so we believe we will get them all done."

The nuns working on Gardner's house ranged in age from 62 to 78. All acknowledged that when they entered their orders as young women they would never have imagined themselves involved in such a project.

Every nun working in the house wore full habits when they took orders.

"We were all in the penguin suits," said Sister Luke Boiarski, 62, of Nazareth, Ky., who was dressed in a T-shirt and jeans for the manual labor.

The voluminous habits with the starched wimples and veils were never questioned, said Sister Joyce Richter, 76, a teacher who now works in information technology and builds websites.

"We just thought 'This is our life,'" Richter said. "But over the years the changes have been drastic. It's been very freeing to put the habits away. I can't imagine us taking on something like this wearing them."

The nuns learned their construction skills on the job, they said.

"This is the first time I did this in my life," said Anita Gagnon, 75, of Halifax, Nova Scotia, as she helped put wall board on a bathroom ceiling. "Wait until I go home and tell my brothers."

>>>A wave of the stole to Deacon's Bench!

FlashMob at Lakeside in Metairie

FlashMob hits the largest shopping center in the New Orleans area(Metairie to be exact) and watch to the end as they sing a Christmas song of faith. Enjoy and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Midnight Mass on a December 22nd evening

Tonight was my last visit to Rayburn Prison before Christmas dawns. The Catholic community at Rayburn gathered with me and a visitor who tagged along with me to celebrate Christmas. It was a good night for the men because prior to our gathering they all received gifts and good wishes from the warden.

As we came together for prayer the men were anxious to sing some Christmas favorites. And we read the readings of Midnight Mass; the beautiful prophecy from Isaiah, the infrequent letter to Titus and the Lucan pronouncement of the Birth of Christ! I also read the proclamation of the Birth of Jesus which traces the historical timeline of Old Testament events leading to the His birth. I preached primarily on the light; how Jesus, the light of the world, has come to dispel the darkness of sin and division.

And the men were eager for the Eucharist tonight. It may be me, but they seemed to receive more reverently tonight.

The men sang beautifully again and after the final blessing presented me with a beautiful hand made Christmas card which included all their signatures and many wonderful personal expressions of thanks. Best Christmas Card I've ever received.

There is a part of me that would love to go back on Christmas Day but that can't happen(prison rules) and of course I will spend the day with family. Since these men cannot be with their families I will ask that all families pray for these men and the families that miss them.

Another late Advent Saint

Feastday: December 23

The people of Olkusz in Bohemia in 1431 had every reason to be suspicious of their new pastor. They knew what a Cracow professor would think of their small rural town. But even more insulting, their town was once again being used as a dumping ground for a priest who was "in disgrace."

John had indeed been kicked out of his university position -- unjustly. Rivals who resented John's popularity with the students had cooked up a false charge against him. John was not even allowed to appear at his own hearing or testify in his own defense. So at age 41, he was shipped off to be an apprentice pastor.

Certainly no one would have blamed John if he was furious at such injustice. However, he was determined that his new parishioners would not suffer because of what he happened to him.

But there was no overnight miracle waiting of him in Olkusz. He was nervous and afraid of his new responsibilities. And, despite the energy he put into his new job, the parishioners remained hostile. But John's plan was very simple, and came not from the mind but from the heart. He let his genuine interest and concern for these people show in everything he did. Despite working for years without any sign of success, he was very careful not to demonstrate impatience or anger. He knew that people could never be bullied into love, so he gave them what he hoped they would find in themselves.

After eight years, he was exonerated and transferred back to Cracow. He had been so successful that these once-hostile people followed him several miles down the road, begging him to stay.

For the rest of his life, he was professor of sacred Scripture at the university. He was so well-liked that he was often invited to dinner with nobility. Once, he was turned away at the door by a servant who thought John's cassock was too frayed. John didn't argue but went home, changed into a new cassock, and returned. During the meal, a servant spilled a dish on John's new clothes. "No matter," he joked. "My clothes deserve some dinner, too. If it hadn't been for them I wouldn't be here at all."

Once John was sitting down to dinner when he saw a beggar walk by outside. He jumped up immediately, ran out, and gave the beggar the food in his bowl. He asked no questions, made no demands. He just saw someone in need and helped with what he had.

John taught his students this philosophy again and again, "Fight all error, but do it with good humor, patience, kindness, and love. Harshness will damage your own soul and spoil the best cause."

In His Footsteps:
John put all his effort into a new and frightening job, that others might have considered beneath him. Today do something you have never done before or do something in a new way, perhaps something that has frightened you or you felt was beneath you. This can be something as simple as trying a different type of prayer or as complex as serving others in a new way.

Saint John of Kanty, you were unjustly fired from your work. Please pray for those who are jobless or in danger of losing their jobs that they may find work that is fulfilling in every way. Guide us to ways to help those looking for work. Amen

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Pope Benedict addresses abuse scandal in year-end message

Pope Benedict XVI says Catholic Church must reflect on what allowed child sex abuse
Published: Monday, December 20, 2010, 11:30 PM
By The Associated Press

Pope Benedict XVI told Vatican officials Monday that they must reflect on the church's culpability in its child sex-abuse scandal, but he also blamed a secular society in which he said the mistreatment of children was frighteningly common.

In his traditional, end-of-the-year speech to Vatican cardinals and bishops, Benedict said revelations of abuse in 2010 reached "an unimaginable dimension" that required the church to accept the "humiliation" as a call for renewal.

"We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen," the pope said.

Benedict also said, however, that the scandal must be seen in a broader social context, in which child pornography is seemingly considered normal by society and drug use and sexual tourism are on the rise.

"The psychological destruction of children, in which human persons are reduced to articles of merchandise, is a terrifying sign of the times," Benedict said.

He said that as recently as as the 1970s, pedophilia wasn't considered an absolute evil but rather part of a spectrum of behaviors that people refused to judge in the name of tolerance and relativism.

As an avalanche of cases of pedophile priests came to light, church officials frequently defended their previous practice of putting abusers in therapy, not jail, by saying that was the norm in society at the time. Only this year did the Vatican post on its website unofficial guidelines for bishops to report pedophile priests to police if local laws require it.

"In the 1970s, pedophilia was theorized as something fully in conformity with man and even with children," the pope said. "It was maintained — even within the realm of Catholic theology — that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. There is only a 'better than' and a 'worse than.' Nothing is good or bad in itself."

"The effects of such theories are evident today," he said.

The traditional Christmas speech to Vatican cardinals and bishops is an eagerly anticipated address that Benedict uses to focus the church hierarchy on key issues.

Benedict has previously acknowledged that the scandal was the result of sin that the church must repent for, and make amends with victims. He repeated Monday that the church must do a better job of screening out abusers and helping victims heal.

"It is fundamentally disturbing to watch a brilliant man so conveniently misdiagnose a horrific scandal," said Barbara Blaine, president of the main U.S. victims' group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

She said the scandal wasn't caused by the 1970s but rather by the church's culture of secrecy and fixation with self-preservation in which predator priests and the bishops who moved them around rather than turn them in were rarely disciplined.

"Whenever the pope tires of talking about abuse and starts acting on abuse, he should focus on taking immediate, pratical steps to oust those who commit, ignore and conceal clergy sex crimes first," Blaine said.

The sex abuse scandal, which first exploded in the U.S. in 2002, erupted on a global scale this year with revelations of thousands of victims in Europe and beyond, of bishops who covered up for pedophile priests and of Vatican officials who turned a blind eye to the crimes for decades.

Questions were raised about how Benedict himself handled cases both as archbishop in Munich and as head of the Vatican office that handled abuse cases.

Recently, the Vatican released documentation showing that as early as 1988 then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger sought to find quicker ways to permanently remove priests who raped and molested children in a bid to get around church law that made it difficult to defrock priests against their will.

While Ratzinger was unsuccessful then, Vatican rules now allow for fast-track defrocking. But victims advocates say the Vatican still has a long way to go in terms of requiring bishops to report sex crimes to police and release information and documentation about known pedophiles.

Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press wrote this report.

A Baby Boy comes to save us

Mary's baby boy comes to save us.

What a beautiful version by Reba McIntire with beautiful video.

Light from light; true light!

Tonight is the shortest day of the year for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. This is the first day of winter and darkness descends early. On a cold crisp winter night, I like the darkness. The darkness forces us to seek the light. And it's hard to do with all the artificial light we generate these days. And this time of year our yards and porches and roofs are covered in Christmas lights, as is the tree tucked away in a prominent place in our homes. Check out the highways and byways near any shopping center and we see a steady stream of headlights coming and going.

I love living far out in the country, on the edge of the woods. On these cooler winter nights, I like the darkness. Why? Because it forces me to seek the light. If I turn off the outdoor lights, including those adorning the front porch for Christmas, I can glance into a clear winter sky and see bright sparkling lights from stars light years away. If I try hard enough I may even see constellations and planets and other beautiful night lights. On occasion I may even see a shooting star. And last night I arose in the middle of my winter sleep to see the beautiful lunar eclispe.

All of this serves as a reminder to me that in the darkness of this world in which we endure, we must always seek the light; that true light which is Jesus, coming to us this week as a newborn king. His coming to us; to save us, is bringing the light of truth to all. Sometimes to appreciate his light we must turn down the lights that distract us from Him, our busy lives, our routines of hustle and bustle and all of our doing and our noise. Just like I must turn down that artificial light to see the lights of the beautiful sky, we must turn down the artificial lights that blind us from the light of truth.

So as we prepare for the celebration of Christ coming to us at Christmas, turn down the artificial light and focus on light from light, true God from true God. Welcome Jesus into your hearts and lives as the light of your life!