Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Colossians 1:5 – Hope

...because of the hope being stored for you in heaven which you heard before in the word of the truth of the Gospel... 

After speaking about the faith and love of the Colossians, Paul goes on to discuss what lies behind those virtues: hope...the hope stored up in heaven for them and for us. 

The Greek word for hope is elpis, and it means expectation or confidence. The Catechism's glossary tells us that hope is “The theological virtue by which we desire and expect from God both eternal life and the grace we need to attain it.” 

A theological virtue is a gift God infuses into our souls to make us faithful and obedient to Him all the way to eternal life. Hope is one of these virtues, and it makes us long for that eternal life. It makes us thirst after the grace that God gives us to get us home to Him. What's more, it even encourages us to expect God to give us what we desire. We have confidence that God will indeed provide all the grace we need to get us home to Heaven. We know we can't save ourselves, but we trust that God will save us if we cooperate with Him, open our hearts to embrace His grace, and obey His commands. This is hope. 

Paul tells us that hope is stored up in Heaven for us. This might seem a little strange considering the definition we just explored. How can a gift like hope remained stored up in Heaven? Wouldn't God spread this theological virtue freely among us? 

Perhaps Paul is actually using a narrower sense of hope here, a more concrete sense rather than the abstract sense offered in the definition. We do this ourselves when we say something like, “It is my hope that he gets home safely,” and then when that happens, we sigh with relief and remark, “My hope has been fulfilled!” In the second instance, we are really referring to the object of our hope, that our loved one gets home safely, rather than the abstract concept of desire and expectation expressed in the first statement. 

Paul, then, is probably referring to the object of our hope in this verse, the concrete expectation we have, namely, eternal life. What we hope for is right now at this very instant being stored up for us in Heaven. God is preparing a place for us, an eternal life. He gives us the theological virtue of hope right now so that we can desire and expect that object and the grace we need to attain it. 

Isn't that amazing? God gives us a special virtue to help us desire and expect both eternal life and the grace we need to get there all at the same time that He is preparing the object of that hope: a home with Him forever.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Preparing for Mass: Pray

At Mass we encounter Jesus Christ. We meet Him in and through His Word, which He proclaims to us. We meet Him when we pray and sing as a community. We meet Him in a very special way when we receive Him, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the Holy Eucharist.

It makes sense, then, that to best prepare our hearts for these encounters, we need to strengthen our relationship with the One Whom we encounter, and to do that, we need to pray.

Try to get to Church at least fifteen minutes before Mass if possible. If you can't or if you find your particular parish a bit too noisy and distracting in the moments before Mass, take some time to pray at home, even if you have to get up earlier than normal. Ask Jesus to open your eyes, sharpen your mind, and expand your heart so that you may see, hear, and experience Him more fully at Mass. If you like, use some of the following prayer starters.

* Jesus, focus my attention on You at Mass, and help me overcome my distractions, especially...
* Jesus, during this Mass, I offer You...
* Jesus, during this Mass, I pray in a special way for...
* Jesus, when I listen to You in the Liturgy of the Word, help me understand...
* Jesus, when I receive You in Holy Communion, fill me with...
* Jesus, help me encounter You in this Mass so that I may...

However, whenever, and wherever you do it, just pray! Open up the channels of communication between you and Jesus so that you can better immerse yourself in Him during the Heaven-on-earth event you experience every week: the Mass.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Preparing for Mass: Learn!

Okay, answer the following questions honestly.

How much do you know about the Mass?
Can you explain each of its different parts?
Do you know why it takes the form it does?
Do you understand how the Mass relates to the Scriptures?
Do you feel that your knowledge of the Mass allows you to enter into it fully and actively?

To truly live the Mass, to experience it deeply and devoutly, we need to learn as much as possible about this great gift from God, this hour in which Heaven leans down to touch earth.

So to better prepare for Mass, we should study the Mass, and there are many excellent resources to help us with that. Here are just a few:

A Biblical Walk through the Mass by Edward Sri – This book provides an in-depth explanation of every part of the Mass.

Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brant Pitre – Dr. Pitre explores the Old Testament types (foreshadowing) of the Eucharist.

The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth by Scott Hahn – Dr. Hahn shows how the Book of Revelation provides us with a glimpse of the Heavenly Liturgy in which we participate at every Mass.

The Fourth Cup: Unveiling the Mystery of the Last Supper and the Cross by Scott Hahn – Dr. Hahn researches the Passover and its fulfillment in the New Covenant.

Letter and Spirit: From Written Text to Living Word in the Liturgy by Scott Hahn – The Bible comes alive in the Mass, as Dr. Hahn argues in this fascinating book.

Understanding the Mystery of the Mass by Fr. Matthew Buettner – Although this book is slightly out-of-date since the Mass revisions of 2011, it's still worth the read for its clear explanations of each part of the Mass.

The Wonders of the Mass by Paul O'Sullivan – This little book offers a beautiful spiritual account of the Mass and its miracles.

The Mass: Four Encounters with Jesus That Will Change Your Life by Tom Curran – Dr. Curran focuses on the intimate life-changing encounters with our Lord that we can experience at every Mass if we approach with openness and devotion.

The list could easily multiply, but this is enough to get started. Choose one or two of these, and read at least a couple chapters a week. The more you learn, the more you'll appreciate, the more you'll experience the joys of the Mass.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Preparing for Mass: The Collect

In the last post, we talked about getting in the habit of reading the Scriptures from the lectionary before Mass. But there's something else we should also review before heading to church on Sundays: the collect.

The collect (pronounced kol-ekt) is the prayer Father says right after the introductory rites, penitential rites, and Gloria. We sometimes call it the opening prayer, and it often reflects the readings and/or feast of the particular day.

It's easy to let the collect slip right by us. Father says, “Let us pray...” and that should catch our attention, but it doesn't always, and before we know it, Father is saying, “Amen,” and we have no idea what he just prayed.

That's why we should get in the habit of reading the collect before Mass. It's a beautiful, important prayer that we should be making our own each week.

Daily and Sunday collects appear on the Catholic Culture website. Just click on “Liturgical Year,” select “Today,” and navigate to the day you want (you might also enjoy the reflections on the readings).

The collect prayer for this coming Sunday, the Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, is as follows:

O God, Who through the grace of adoption chose us to be children of light, grant, we pray, that we may not be wrapped in the darkness of error but always be seen to stand in the bright light of truth. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Pray through the collect slowly several times. If you've already read the Scripture readings, see if you can discover corresponding themes; if not, look for them when you do go through the readings. You may want to write the collect out longhand, perhaps on a sticky note, and put it where you can see it easily. Then pray it periodically throughout the week.

Also spend some time meditating on the collect. What is God saying to you through it? What does it teach you about God and about yourself? How does it apply to your life right now? What inspiration does it give you to grow in your Christian journey?

If you take the time to pray and reflect on the collect before Mass each Sunday, you'll discover that the opening prayer that used to slide by quickly will now stand out as a moment of intimate encounter with God.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Preparing for Mass: Read Ahead

Going to Mass is the most important thing we do all week. Seriously.

At Mass, Heaven touches earth. Jesus becomes truly present on the altar, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. His sacrifice on the cross is re-presented that we may participate in it and that its saving effects may be applied to us.

At Mass, we receive Jesus into our bodies, our minds, and our hearts. He enters into us physically and spiritually, strengthening us, healing us, loving us.

At Mass, we hear Jesus speak to us through His inspired Word. As Mass, we pray as the Church, the Body and the Bride of Christ. At Mass, we offer ourselves completely, all that we are, all that we have, all that we think, all that we feel, all that we do, and Jesus gives Himself to us completely in return.

Why then do we so often hear people complaining that Mass is boring, that they “don't get anything out of it”? First off, they probably haven't been catechized properly; they don't understand what a marvelous, miraculous gift they're given every time they go to Mass.

Second, though, they don't get anything out of it because they don't bring anything into it. They don't prepare themselves ahead of time so that they may experience the Mass fully. That's what this series of posts will be about: preparing our minds and hearts for Mass.

We'll begin with something basic: before Mass, take some time to read Scripture readings from the lectionary. (They're readily available on the U.S. Catholic Bishops' website.) Read them slowly and prayerfully. Look for connections, especially between the First Reading, the Psalm, and the Gospel, which often concentrate on similar themes. Open your heart to receive God's personal message to you. What strikes you particularly? What resonates? If there is anything you don't understand, consult a commentary. You may wish to purchase Scott Hahn's Ignatius Catholic Study Bible (complete in the New Testament with several books of the Old Testament already available) or the Navarre commentary series. Your parish may have some of these volumes (or other commentaries) on hand; just ask.

Read through the Mass readings at least once, more times if possible, during the week, and take a little time to review them right before Mass. You'll find that you will pay closer attention during the Liturgy of the Word, and if you do get distracted, you'll be able to bring your attention back more easily. You'll also understand Father's homily much better!

So that's the first step in preparing for Mass: read ahead!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Notes from the Hours: The Whole Day

One of this morning's intercessory prayers from the Liturgy of the Hours reads, Remain with us the whole day, Lord, let Your grace be a sun that never sets.

It seems rather strange for us to ask God to remain with us the whole day. Of course, God stays with us! He never leaves us for a moment. He is, after all, omnipresent, everywhere all the time, and that means He is always beside each of us, too. Besides, if God left us to ourselves even for a moment, we would simply wink out of existence. We remain in being only because God keeps us that way, sustaining us, present to us at every instant of our lives, from conception on.

Why do we ask God to remain with us, then? What do we actually mean? Perhaps we are really begging God that we may remain with Him. It's so easy to get distracted. Our lives are filled to the gills with busyness, and we lose sight of God in the midst of the daily grind as we dash from one activity to the next and finally crash in exhaustion. God never leaves us, but we leave Him when He ceases to be the center of our lives.

So we ask God to remain with us, to give us the grace to keep Him in our minds and hearts throughout the day. He answers this prayer positively, but we must cooperate by setting aside time to pray, by turning our thoughts to God frequently as we go about our tasks, by listening to Christian music, by keeping sacred pictures and Bible verses in visible places, by remembering that God is always by our side.

He is indeed by our side with His grace, which is a sun that never sets. As we pray the second half our intercession, then, we realize that God's grace always surrounds us but also that we don't always open our hearts to receive it. Our sins, our weaknesses, our inattention, our laziness all put up roadblocks to God's grace, and we choose dimness and darkness, shutting out the light that God wants to give us.

So we pray that we may open up the shutters of our lives and allow God's grace, like bright eternal sunshine, to fill us and warm us and enlighten our every corner.

Remain with us the whole day, Lord, let Your grace be a sun that never sets.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Notes from the Hours: A Morning Prayer

In the Morning Prayer for Monday of Psalter Week 1, the Liturgy of the Hours presents a prayer that we should be praying every morning of our busy days:

may everything we do
begin with Your inspiration
and continue with Your saving help.
Let our work always find its origin in You
and through You reach completion.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Reflect on this prayer for a few moments.

Is everything you do in response to God's inspiration? Do you pay attention to the little movements in your mind and heart, the hints that God gives you to guide you along your daily path? If not, what is standing in the way? What is distracting you? How might you learn to focus more on God's inspirations?

Do you turn to God for help throughout the day, even while you are performing your regular duties? Do you include God in the little things of life? How is your recollection? Do you remember God frequently and say small prayers now and then just to keep in touch?

Does your work have its origin in God? Are you following His will in your life? Or is your work taking on a life of its own and perhaps hindering your walk with God?

Do you rely on God to bring your tasks to their proper completion? Do you allow Him to work out what's best for you? Do you put the results of each job, of each day, and of your entire life in His hands and trust Him with them?

How would your life be different if you took this prayer seriously and endeavored to live what you pray?