The Days Dwindle Down

It’s officially autumn, even though here in the South it doesn’t feel like it. We like to hang on to the heat and humidity just as long as we can. But no matter what we do, the subtle signs of autumn are creeping in each day. The heat fades fast once the sun sets and the mornings are cool. Our gardens, which were lush and flourishing just weeks ago, are dried and barren, their summertime bounty long gone. Acorns and nuts have fallen to the ground and drawn the squirrels out of the trees to collect a winter’s groceries. Apples are ripening in the orchards. It won’t be long until the dogwoods turn red and the air will be spiced with the smoke of burning leaves. Fall isn’t here just yet, but we can feel it coming.  

There’s something melancholy about autumn. It’s a season of endings. Vacations are over. Long, lazy days are done. All our summer dreams have faded. Fall means getting back on a schedule, buckling down to business, and getting serious about things. The world around us is preparing for the cold winds of winter, Things are slowing down, conserving energy, taking their time.  

Falls reminds us that everything in life and in time must come to an end. From the moment we were conceived, our life has been unwinding and eventually all our earthly hours will be spent. Autumn brings us this message every year. In the flaming gold of the poplar or the blazing red of the maple, there’s decay and death lurking beneath those glorious colors. In fact, it’s in their dying that the beautiful colors burst forth.  

People often complain that “life isn’t fair.” And it isn’t in many ways. Good people suffer while bad people prosper. Relationships break down. Families fall apart. But in one profound and universal way, life is indeed quite fair and equitable to every one of us. We’re all going to die. Death is that one inevitable event that each of us has to confront and experience. It’s the most level of all the playing fields. And no matter how hard we try to distract ourselves from thinking about it, it’s coming for us all.  

It’s a good season for reflecting on endings. And it’s a good season for repenting and making things right with the Lord. For Christians, death is the end of our earthly lives and the opening of the door to eternity with Jesus Christ. If you’ve been away from the Sacraments, now is the best time to return, to experience God’s mercy in confession and His nourishment in Holy Communion. In these shortening days, when the sun slips more quickly over the horizon, we’re drawn ever more to the One True Light Who dispels all darkness. As we’ll soon gather for feasts and celebrations with our family and friends, let’s be reminded to prepare for the coming of that Star in the east that will show us all the only way out of death.  

“…It’s a long, long while from May to December,

But the days grow short when you reach

September.

When the autumn weather turns the leaves to 

flame,

One hasn’t got time for the waiting game.”

          —Maxwell Anderson

                “September Song”

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Finding Jesus 

It’s my honor to share this reflection from my friend, Fr. Nicholas Blackwell who is a Carmelite priest in New York. I know his words will touch your heart, as they did mine. 

Finding Jesus

For the past few days, I have sensed that my soul is deeply at peace—a “peace of God, which transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:7)”, and I find myself wondering what to do with it. To whom shall I extend this gift of peace, which was, no doubt, planted in me by the Lord? I feel ashamed before Jesus, and I confess to Him that I have been hoarding this heaven-sent gift. I haven’t yet put it to any good use. Tell me, Lord, I asked, what must I do with it?

Within minutes, Jesus responded. While standing side-by-side in a long line at Wendy’s just afterwards, next to a homeless man, all bundled up in several layers of clothing, with a blanket wrapped around to protect himself from the cold, he suddenly leaned to one side and fell over, hitting the floor hard. Instinctively, I reached down to lift him up and, as I got him back to his feet, our eyes locked. What a biblical presence of gratitude began flowing within me! A rush of joy welled up inside me, realizing that this man—a stranger—had allowed me—a passerby, to help him regain his dignity! I knew at that moment that I had just encountered Christ, and I could feel precisely what Simon of Cyrene must have felt when his eyes met Christ’s on the Via Dolorosa! 

The Incarnate God

As Christians, we believe that the human person is made in the image and likeness of God, which is why we are called to love our neighbor with our whole heart, because God is present in them. As he ordered his food, I noticed his blanket was being dragged in a puddle of soda that was left on the floor. When he walked to his table he left a wet trail of soda behind him. Then an image from our Lord’s passion came to me. While Jesus was caring His Cross, He was covered with blood, and Jesus would have left a trail of blood behind him. Jesus allowed His precious blood to be split on the ground (the blood of not only a man, but the blood of God also). I knew I had to sit by this man.

Remaining with Jesus

Finding a seat by him was not hard. People seem to avoid him like the plague; many people (as it seemed to me) did their best to avoid looking upon him. I watched as he just sat with his food in front of him for a while looking at it, as if he was giving thanks for this gift he has received. Then he began to take huge bites of his burger, but he chewed it very slowly, because he had so few teeth in his mouth. When he finished his food, he removed the lid to his coffee, as he was about to open the creamer he dropped it and just stared at it on the ground. He knew if he reached for it, that he would fall again. Seeing this I got up from my seat, picked up the creamer, and gave it to him. Our eyes met. His eyes were so cloudy and blue, like you were staring up at a mildly cloudy sky. I felt so humble that God gave me this opportunity to help him.

Seeing Jesus

This man is one of God’s children. With that thought I almost cried, in fact my eyes began to water. All I felt was a wonderful spirit of gratitude. This man had one blanket. I have three. This man had one coat. I have three. As I finished up my meal I noticed he kept looking out the window and ever so gently he would occasionally shake his head “yes.” I have no idea the thoughts that were going through his head, but I knew God loved him, and I knew in my heart I loved him too. Now, God does not desire or will that His children would suffer, like this man obviously has, but suffering comes about through our own sinful choices. This homeless man is undoubtedly not a perfect person, but even during his suffering he can change lives. He changed mine, by simply allowing me to help him when he needed it. Love could enter the world through that man. God decided to make Himself known through that man. Finally, God gave me the eyes to see that He dwelt in that man. Jesus said to His disciples, “love one another as I have loved you.” For a finite period, I could live that command and I ask Jesus to give me the grace to continue living life like that! 

    —Fr. Nicholas Blackwell 

(If you enjoyed this reflection, please visit Father’s website at thefrankfriar.com. He also posts on YouTube and in podcasts as the Frank Friar.) 

O Come, Let Us Adore Him

If you’re a Christian, you can’t help but imagine what it will be like to finally be in the presence of Jesus. We think of it as a wonderful, overwhelming moment of love when all our troubles end and we gaze upon our Savior. Even more overwhelming to imagine is that He will also be gazing upon us, looking into our eyes and our hearts with the Love that only He can impart. There will never be a more perfect love than what we see in His eyes. Surely that will be a glorious day.  

The thing is, you don’t have to wait until heaven to gaze upon Jesus. In my parish, we have Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. What’s that? Let’s look at the words Jesus used at the Last Supper when He instituted the Holy Eucharist. “He took a loaf of bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and gave it to them saying, “This is My Body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” And He did the same with the cup after supper saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in My Blood”(Luke 22: 19-20). If we believe the words of Jesus as the Gospels record them, then we know the bread and wine truly become His Body and Blood. This is our Holy Communion at every Mass. Some of HIs Body is reserved in the Tabernacle near the altar. This Presence of Christ remains in every Catholic Church around the world. In Adoration, the Body is placed in a vessel called a monstrance and placed on the altar. We can come into the church and pray in the presence of Jesus Christ. 

Let me tell you about my own experience. The first time I went to Adoration was way back in the ’80’s. I was a fairly new Catholic and really had no idea what it was all about, but I went anyway. There were a couple of other people in the church at the time, silently praying. I kneeled down, looked at the Blessed Sacrament on the altar and still had no idea what to do. So I prayed. I read the hymnal. I made a grocery list in my head. It took many visits to Adoration for it to sink into my hard head and heart that the Lord Himself was there in the room with me, sharing His time with me, waiting for me to recognize Him, hidden in the appearance of bread on the altar.  

That began a love affair with Adoration. How could it not? One famous description of what this devotion “feels” like is that you are looking at Jesus and He is looking at you. It really is that heavenly moment that most of us try to imagine, when we are together with our Lord. Sometimes I pray, or read Scripture, or say a Rosary, but most of the time I’m just there with Him, sharing an hour in His presence. Maybe it sounds boring, but it isn’t. When I’m there with Him, I don’t always need words at all. I usually stay an hour or so, but sometimes it feels like five minutes. And yes, I have fallen asleep on occasion. Just like the Apostles who couldn’t stay awake with Him in the garden. In Adoration, it’s not so much about what I do, but just that I’m there. I ask Him to change my heart in that old Catholic prayer: make my heart like Yours, dear Jesus. Take away anything in me that isn’t You.  

Adoration isn’t magic—it’s worship. Because Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist on the altar. Our churches should be filled to the rafter. They surely would be if we were giving away hundred dollar bills. Yet many pass by the Creator of the universe, searching for whatever they think will make them happy. Spoiler: nothing else will. I invite anyone to open the church door and come inside. Come and see the Lord. Come spend a few minutes in the presence of our Savior. He’s waiting for you there in the Eucharist. He offers you peace and acceptance. In a world that’s full of conflict and pain, He is love and healing. Come, let us adore Him.  

How many of you would say: I should like to see His face, His garments, His shoes. You do see Him, you touch Him, you eat Him. He gives Himself to you not only that you may see Him, but also to be your food and nourishment.”

      —St. John Chrysostom (349-407 AD)

Old Time Religion 

I know that many of you reading this aren’t Catholic, but I think you’ll find we have some common ground here. What I’m writing about today is the way in which we worship the Lord. In many protestant churches, there’s an ongoing discussion about “traditional” or “contemporary” worship. We Catholics are also involved in a somewhat similar (but not equivocal) discussion. Some Catholics are drawn to the Traditional Latin Mass while others prefer the Novus Ordo Mass, which is a more modern liturgy. There are some important differences between these Masses but both are valid and a Catholic is free to attend either one, or both. We all have our preferences and today, I’ll share mine. Please do remember that both Masses are the public worship of our Church and it must pain our Lord to see any division arise between the members of His Body.  

Let me begin by saying that I entered the Catholic Church during my college years in the late 1970’s. These were the years of guitar Masses, liturgical dancing, holding hands, and a lot of “improvisation” in the Liturgy. Of course, I didn’t know how awful any of that was because it was all I’d ever known. I believed those college Masses were the definition of Catholicism. I didn’t know anything could be better because it was already the most incredible thing I’d ever experienced as a Christian. Because in the Mass was the presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. They could have had clowns riding unicycles and I’d have still been kneeling at the altar in tears, because my Lord and Savior was there, in the hands of the priest, and I was able to receive Him in Holy Communion. As the years passed and I grew in the faith, I began to seek out the Traditional Latin Mass whenever I could. I didn’t immediately understand its attraction, but here are the reasons I continue to love it.  

1. It’s beautiful. The altar is dressed with fine linens and lace. Candles flicker off the sacred vessels. The vestments worn by the priests, deacons, and altar boys are the best we can offer to the Lord. Likewise, the people in the pews wear their best. There is a sense that we are in the presence of the Almighty and we want to offer Him the finest we have. 

2. The Mass is our focus, not the priest, not the choir, nor any of us in the pews. As the priest faces the altar, like the congregation, we all join together in offering our prayers to Him. So often, in the Novus Ordo Mass, it becomes a “priest show” as our eyes focus on what he’s doing and not the offering of the Mass.  

3. There is holy silence. Oftentimes it seems we are uncomfortable when there’s “nothing happening.” We have to fill each second with words or music or it feels wrong. Being silent in the presence of God is a very ancient and holy practice. I don’t know about you, but I need that and it is a vital part of the TLM.  

4. Latin calls me out of what’s familiar and leads me into the sacred. I’m far from completely literate in Latin, but I use the Missal and make my way along with everyone else. This unfamiliar and ancient tongue transforms the words of my mouth from rote responses into conscious affirmations. I pay attention. I listen more closely. I like that my public worship of God doesn’t use the language of the marketplace or the boardroom., but uses words at once more intimate and more universal.  

5. The music in the TLM is also ancient and beautiful. The voices and instruments surprise me with unexpected harmonies and images. This isn’t top-forty stuff, thank goodness. I wonder why we so often settle for mundane music when we can have the melodies of the angels instead. The Lord deserves our best in everything, after all.  

There are dozens more reasons that I seek out the Traditional Latin Mass when it’s available. Certainly our Lord is present in either Liturgy. I appreciate the reverence of the TLM, the sense of holiness and awe, and I keep returning to it again and again. But I’ll always love the Novus Ordo Mass, as well, since it was my doorway to the Eucharist. It was this Mass that answered my heart’s longing for God.  

Late have I loved You, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved You.”

                  —–St. Augustine (a convert like me)