Sunday, January 10, 2021

Don't Mess With It: Homily for the The Baptism of the Lord

10 January 2021


Her seven sacraments are the lifeblood of the Catholic Church.  Without the sacraments there is no church. They define the Church and those who are part of it. Everything else about the Church grows out of and is secondary to her sacraments.  Baptism is the first and definitive sacrament of the Catholic Church. It can never be repeated.  It can never be undone. It can never be overturned or revoked.  One can reject the graces of baptism.  One can live in a way that attempts to deny it.  But, once baptized, one remains baptized, indelibly marked as having died and risen in Christ.  


Baptism is the door through which all must enter to partake fully of the Church’s life.  Without baptism there is no spiritual life.  Without baptism there is no light of Christ. Without baptism there is no partaking of the Eucharistic banquet.  Without baptism there is no forgiveness of sin or reception of the Holy Spirit.  Without baptism there is no hope.  Baptism is not simply a naming ceremony complete with photo opportunities.  Like all of the Church's sacraments it must be administered according to proper form, using proper matter for the sacrament, and with the proper intention on the part of the priest administering it and the one receiving it.  


Form.  Matter.  Intention. 


Each sacrament has a unique form consisting of words and ritual actions. The  form combined with the necessary matter:  water, bread, or sacred oils, are the visible signs of invisible grace.  Baptism is the first and the sine qua non.  


The defining moment of baptism is the pouring on of--or immersion in--water with the spoken formula:  "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."   There can be no variation in the formula if the baptism is to be valid.  There can be no variation in the formula if the stain of original sin is to be removed. 


Recently the press was abuzz with the story of a young priest whose ordination was declared invalid because at his baptism the deacon--I am tempted to modify the word deacon by idiot--chose to baptize him using an invalid formula by saying, "WE baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" so as to create an artificial sense of community.  


Further beneath contempt are those pervert the formula even more and baptize in the name of a creator, a redeemer, and a sanctifier so as to avoid nouns that suggest gender.  Those baptisms are also invalid as the Boston Paulist Center and Boston's now defunct Jesuit Urban Center discovered a number of years ago. 

One can only describe baptismal formulae along the lines of, 'the mother, the father, the godmother, the godfather, we all baptize you' as pathetic and bizarre, raising questions about both the motivations and sanity of the one administering the sacrament.


The sacraments are not to be trifled with. The sacramental formulae are never to be reworded or changed so as to be politically correct, 'gender sensitive' (whatever that may mean),  or a reason to make everyone feel good about being there.  One's presence witnessing a sacrament, baptism, marriage, or ordination, for example, is itself a grace, it need not be specifically acknowledged as in the introductions to some bad banquet speeches.


In response to reports of liturgical abuses in which children are baptized with formulae that are gender-free, all-inclusive, or other transgressions of the form of the sacrament, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ruled in August of 2020 that baptisms using a modified formula are, and were, invalid requiring that the sacrament be administered according to valid and proper form.  


The document went on to explain that modifying the sacramental formula on one’s own initiative is both a severe liturgical abuse and a wound inflicted upon the communion of the Church. 


Violating the integrity of baptism through rewording or reworking it represents the height of narcissistic arrogance in the one who chooses to do so. Jesus himself gave the formula for baptism in the final two verses of Matthew's gospel, important verses that include three commands and a promise:  


The first command is: Go and make disciples of all nations. 


The second command is:   Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit.  


The third is: Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you. 


Matthew's Gospel concludes with a promise: "And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”


No priest, no liturgical committee, and no special interest group has the right to change the baptismal formula so as to suit delicate sensitivities or bizarre social trends.  That Jesus was baptized is indisputable. All four Gospels give accounts.  The importance of Jesus’ baptism is not how it was performed, or at what exact spot in the Jordan He was baptized. The importance of Jesus’ baptism is its significance for us.  There are three understandings of baptism to explain that significance.  


The most obvious is washing, which is the literal meaning of the Greek roots of baptism.  For us, washing includes the remission of original sin.  But sin was the only human trait.  Jesus did not share with us.  He united Himself with us sinners to redeem us from sin but He Himself was free of sin.  Then why was He baptized? 


Another New Testament understanding of baptism is dying and rising.  The prayer for the blessing of the water in the ritual highlights this understanding:  "We ask you, Father, with your Son to send the Holy Spirit upon the water of this font.  May all who are buried with Christ in the death of baptism rise also with Him to newness of life."  As Jesuit theologian Xavier Leon-Dufour explained, “Baptism kills the body in so far as it is an instrument of sin and confers a share in the life of God in Christ.”  


A third understanding is that of  birth in the Spirit, a very Pentecostal theme that is a homily in and of itself.  


While it is possible to conduct a semester-long seminar on the sacrament of baptism,  its meaning, significance, and ritual,  there is one fact which unites all understandings of baptism, without which there is no share in the life of Christ. 

Whether understood as cleansing from sin, dying and rising to new life, or new birth in the spirit, Jesus Christ is the agent.  Jesus is present at that sacrament.  In the only valid formula: "I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" the priest or deacon, is NOT acting in his own name, in the name of the Church, in the name of the parents, siblings, godparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, close friends, and the old lady down the street.  


As the words of baptism are intoned it is Jesus who is present and welcoming the child or adult into His life. That is more than sufficient.  No other presence need be recognized.


The photo is an example of right place, right time, and having the camera on one's person.  It was taken in the late afternoon while I was wandering through the Jesuit Residence in Lyon, France the day I arrive.  The chapel is to the viewer's left and a meeting room to the right.  The light show lasted about five minutes.  Given my miserable sense of direction it would have taken longer than that to find my room in the large and rambling former monastery (Visitation Nuns).  

+ Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord

Is 60:1-6

Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-13

Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6

Mt 2:1-12


It is difficult to avoid at least some element of personal sentimentality at Christmas.  The ghosts of Christmas past always figure in at some point.  I grew up in a town populated by Poles, Slovaks, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, and a few Irish and Welsh.  The town was overwhelmingly Catholic.  Each ethnic group held to the traditions it brought over from Old Country, including when and how the feasts were celebrated.  For us Poles the wigilia complete with opÅ‚atki and pierogi, was critical.  Each parish featured hymns and carols in the language of the parish's ethnic group.  The four RC parishes were Polish, Slovak, Lithuanian, and Irish--I think the Irish sang in English.  Not all of the Catholics in Plymouth, PA celebrated Christmas on the same day, at least not back then. 


My family home was one yard, one garage, and two houses away from Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church. I attended many Divine Liturgies there as a kid primarily because it was close.  My brother noted that   the closeness was offset by the length of the Divine Liturgy and the fact that it was in Church Slavonic, although, in my brother's case, Latin was as much of a mystery to him as Church Slavonic was to both of us.  Every year in high school our Ukrainian Catholic classmates got "Russian Christmas" off.  It wasn't even a question  of them being in class on January 6 and 7. It was routine. The difference was because the Ukrainian Church still used the Julian Calendar where dates are thirteen days after the same date in the Gregorian calendar. Thus, December 25 is January 8 for adherents of the Julian Calendar. Epiphany in the Roman Church almost coincided with Christmas in the Eastern Rites and Orthodox Churches.  Epiphany in the Eastern Churches wasn't until mid-January.


No matter the calendar, the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord is celebrated twelve days after the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord, traditionally on January 6 for the Roman Church and January 18 for the Eastern Rite. However, in its sometimes bizarre thought processes, some episcopal conferences have translated  the Feast of the Epiphany to the Sunday between January 2 and January 8. One benefit is that more people attend Mass on Sunday than they do on a weekday. The change in the date of the observance  does not diminish its importance. 


Epiphany derives from Greek roots that mean:  to show forth, to reveal, to open up.  Dictionaries define an epiphany as," a sudden intuitive realization of the essence or meaning of something, . . . ."  One could ask if we didn't already celebrate that sudden realization on Christmas. The answer is both yes and no. This is where the three gift bearers come in.


The word "kings" does not appear in Matthew's Gospel.  Those who bore the gifts were called magi, wise men or astronomers.  They were not monarchs. The word kings and their names only came into use around the sixth century.  Their number is another problem.


Matthew used the plural in his gospel but did not give a number. There could have been as few as two or many more than three.  Because the gifts were described as gold, frankincense, and myrrh, tradition holds that there were three magi.  Despite the custom calling them Kasper, Melchior, and Balthazar they were not named in scripture. 


In the end, the number of magi, their names, their ethnicity, and their kingly or non-kingly status, is an irrelevant distraction from their true importance.


The magi are important because they represent the first Gentiles to recognize and worship Jesus.  They represent the first Gentiles who realized that Jesus was the Messiah for whom the world had waited.  They were also part of a mostly unacknowledged dimension of the Nativity of Our Lord. that dimension is the underlying threat, danger, and violence hovering over our celebration. 


"When King Herod heard of this he was greatly troubled and all Jerusalem with him."  


Herod's jealousy and the duplicity underlying his conversation with the magi gets closer to the reality of Christmas than do the lyrics of  "O Little Town of Bethlehem"  or the interminable song "We Three Kings of Orient Are."  In Herod's malevolence and evil desires we see the first shadow of the cross, we can make out the road that led to Calvary.


"Go and search diligently for the child.  When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage."  


Imagine this request from a crazed megalomaniac whose potential for brutality was unlimited. Who can trust a sociopath who executed several members of his own family?  Who can believe the equivalent of a late-term abortionist who ordered the killing of all male children under the age of two in the vicinity of Bethlehem. 


The first reading from Isaiah told Jerusalem that the glory of the Lord would shine upon her.  In the context of Isaiah's prophecy the reading from Ephesians is consoling because it reassures the Gentiles that they are included in the promise.  


In an increasingly secular culture, Christmas is interpreted as a celebration of  peace, love, light, and innocence.  They are goods in themselves.  But the Nativity is also a story of suffering, danger, hardship, threat, and persecution.  It reflects real life as most of us live it.


Once we wash away the sloppy sentimentality we can begin to understand the true meaning of Christmas.  Once the treacle is gone we can begin to understand that the "Christmas story" did not end when the magi returned home.  We can then see the truth of Dag Hammarskjold's words when he wrote:


On Christmas Eve, Good Friday

was foretold them

in a trumpet fanfare.  


Christmas is not magic.  It is not just for children. It is for all people.  It does not need a celebration of food, booze and consumer insanity.  It has nothing to do with a holiday; it has everything to do with a holy day.


We hear of the gold, frankincense, and myrrh, the gifts brought by the magi. Those gifts are heavy with meaning:

Gold:  the symbol of kingship.

Frankincense: the fragrant smoke of which is the symbol of offering to God. 

Myrrh: an embalming oil symbolizing the death that Jesus would undergo for our sakes.


We cannot separate the wood of the manger from the wood of the cross.  Christ did not come to Earth as a feel-good Hallmark movie.  Jesus came to earth and lived as part of a violent and heart-wrenching drama. The Light of Christ is meant to illuminate the darkness that dwells within the human heart, if we allow it to do so. The gift of love manifested in the Child Jesus came at great cost.  And because of that cost, much is demanded of us.


 The photos are of the creche at the Abbey of Regina Laudis. It is identical to the one on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is one of two made in Naples dating back to 1720. It has been restored and, in normal times, is on view in a climate controlled barn on the property. I've taken many shots of it over the years. No comment or description necessary on them.

The display is huge, the width of a two-car garage. It depicts all peoples of the world. The workmanship on the garments and the ceramic faces etc. is impeccable. The artist captured a sense of movement. During normal times it is open to the public from Easter to about Epiphany. At the moment, it is closed to the public, as is the rest of the Abbey.

+ Fr. Jack, SJ, MD


Wednesday, December 23, 2020

23 December

23 December 


O Emmanuel, 

Rex et legifer noster, 

exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum:

veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.


O Emmanuel, 

God with us, our King and lawgiver, 

the expected of the nations and their Savior: 

come to save us, O Lord our God.



Photo:  Chapel of the Holy Spirit at Campion Center, Weston, MA.  The four advent candles lit for the final time.  


Meditation:  Advent has run its course.  Tomorrow we begin the Great Feast, commemorating that Jesus Christ, true God and true man, was born into this world on which we too live and die.  Try to put the sloppy sentimental imagery out of your head.  What we call "The Christmas Story" does not end with the angels' Hosanna, in Excelsis.  It is barely the beginning of the story of our redemption.  There was much to be suffered before the final chapter in the history of our salvation through Jesus' saving act would be written. 





Give us, O God, the vision 

which can see Your love in the world 

in spite of human failure.

Give us the faith to trust Your goodness 

in spite of our ignorance and weakness.

Give us the knowledge that we may continue to pray 

with understanding hearts.

And show us what each one of us can do 

to set forward the coming of the day of universal peace.


                                                        Frank Borman,

                                                            Apollo 8 space mission, 1968


Background for this prayer.  On Christmas Eve 1968 the Apollo 8 astronauts, Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman broadcast live from their space capsule.  Each of them read part of the Creation narrative from Genesis chapters 1-10 while orbiting the moon.  An interesting side note is that Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the chronically hostile notorious atheist, sued the U.S. government claiming that the astronauts violated the first amendment.  The Supreme Court dismissed the suit because of lack of jurisdiction.  Borman wrote the above prayer for Christmas Day.  It is most appropriate today. 


Lagniappe: 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel.'  Even more appropriate tonight than the first day of Advent.


(English, the late Jessye Norman)

22 December


O Rex gentium, et desideratus earum, 

lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:

veni, et salva hominem, 

quem de limo formasti.


O King of the gentiles and their desired One, 

the cornerstone that makes both one: 

come, and deliver man, 

whom you formed out of the dust of the earth.



Photo:  The holy oils at the Cathedral of St. Matthew in Washington, D.C. 

The sacraments of baptism, confirmation, ordination, and the anointing of the sick include anointing with specifically blessed oils: the oil of catechumens, sacred chrism, and the oil of the infirm. 


Meditation:   Both the Old and New Testaments refer to the king being anointed with oil.  David was anointed with oil.  Jesus' feet were anointed with oil just before his death.   The anointing we receive at baptism and confirmation joins us to Him in a share of His Passion.  Consider the great gift of anointing.  What does it mean to me? 




The Anima Christi appears on the fly-leaf of The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  It is an ancient prayer that was not written by Ignatius.  However, it is obvious Ignatius knew the prayer and entered deeply into it.


Anima Christi, sanctifica me.

Corpus Christi, salva me.

Sanguis Christi, inebria me.

Aqua lateris Christi, lava me.

Passio Christi, conforta me.

O bone Jesu, exaudi me.

Intra tua vulnera absconde me.

Ne permittas me separari a te.

Ab hoste maligno defende me.

In hora mortis meae voca me.

Et iube me venire ad te,

Ut cum Sanctis tuis laudem te.

In saecula saeculorum.




Soul of Christ, sanctify me 

Body of Christ, save me 

Blood of Christ, inebriate me 

Water from Christ's side, wash me     

Passion of Christ, strengthen me 

O good Jesus, hear me 

Within Thy wounds hide me 

Suffer me not to be separated from Thee 

From the malicious enemy defend me 

In the hour of my death call me 

And bid me come unto Thee 

That I may praise Thee with Thy saints 

and with Thy angels 

Forever and ever.    



Anima Christi (sung)

Monday, December 21, 2020

21 December


O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, 

et sol iustitiae: 

veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris 

et umbra mortis.


O dawn of the east,

brightness of light eternal, and sun of justice: 

come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness 

and in the shadow of death.



Photo Sunrise over Cohasset Harbor in August 2020



Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.

Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.

Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.



Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace. 

The final prayer of the Mass before communion, the final prayer before we acknowledge our unworthiness and ask that Christ be with us despite that unworthiness.  In the Agnus Dei we ask that he not only have mercy on us but that he grant us peace, peace in our world and peace within our own selves.  


Allow the 'Dona Nobis Pacem' from Bach's B minor Mass to swirl around you no matter if you are seeking peace for yourself, for another, or for our deeply troubled world.  Pray for a return, or even a partial return, of civility and respect in our country's social and political life.  Pray for peace to come at the dawn of the Son of God, Son of David, and Son of Mary.




Dona Nobis Pacem (Grant Us Peace) from the Mass in B minor by J.S. Bach. 

Masaaki Suzuki  conducting the Bach Collegium Japan




Let your goodness, Lord, appear to us, 

that we, made in your image, 

may conform ourselves to it. 


In our own strength 

we cannot image your majesty, power, and wonder; 

nor is it fitting for us to try.  

But your mercy reaches from the heavens, 

through the clouds, to the earth below  


You came to us as a child, 

but you brought us the greatest of all gifts, 

the gift of your eternal love.  


Caress us with your hands, 

embrace us with your arms, 

and pierce our hearts with your love.                               


                                                            St. Bernard of Clairvaux, (1090-1153)

Saturday, December 19, 2020

20 December

O clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel: 

qui aperis, et nemo claudit; 

claudis, et nemo aperit: 

veni, et educ vinctum de domo 

carceris, sedentem in tenebris.


O Key of David, and scepter of the house of Israel, 

who opens and no man shuts, 

who shuts and no man opens: 

come, and lead forth the captive 

who sits in the shadows from his prison.


Photo:  The door leading to the monk's cells at a Trappist monastery.  After compline the men ascend the stairs in silence as they return to cell for some sleep before rising at 3:00 AM for prayer.



The door to eternal life is never locked from the inside.  As we read in scripture Jesus refers to himself as the gate, the door, the way, and other images of himself as the portal to eternal life.  We lock our doors at night or when we are out of the house.  We do so for our own safety.  Jesus' door is always open.  That too is for our own safety.  Only we can lock that door from the outside when we refuse the gift of faith.  We can unlock it through prayer.


Royal Choral Society: 'Since By Man Came Death' from Handel's Messiah


Prayer:  Prayer for Generosity


O Lord, teach me to be generous

To serve you as you deserve

To give and not to count the cost

To fight and not to heed the wounds

To toil and not to seek for rest 

To labor and not to ask for reward

Save that of knowing I do your holy will

                                                            St. Ignatius of Loyola

Friday, December 18, 2020

19 December


O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, 

super quem continebunt reges os suum, 

quem gentes deprecabuntur: 

veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardare.


O Root of Jesse, that stands for an ensign of the people, 

before whom the kings keep silence 

and unto whom the Gentiles shall make supplication: 

come, to deliver us, and tarry not.



Photo: The seal and motto (Stat crux dum volvitur orbis) of the Carthusian Order.  The photo captures the sky reflected in a window of the St. Bruno Center atop Mt. Equinox in Arlington, VT.


MeditationConsider the tree that grew from the root of Jesse.  The roots of that tree anchor the earth even as it revolves and hurtles through space.  The tree is a symbol of life.  It is the symbol of eternal life.  The tree in the garden of Eden represents the triumph of man's hubris and disobedience over humility.  The tree on which Jesus hung reverses the equation; humility and obedience conquered hubris once and for all.  


Gaze at a cross with or without a corpus hanging on it.  Imagine carrying its weight on your shoulders for the sake of someone else.  Imagine Jesus doing the same for the entire universe.  


Lagniappe:  Ennnio Morricone conducting orchestra and chorus in a suite from his music for "The Mission."




Patient Trust (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ)


Above all, trust in the slow work of God

We are quite naturally impatient in everything

   to reach the end without delay.

We should like to skip the intermediate stages. 

We are impatient of being on the way to something

   unknown, something new. 

And yet it is the law of all progress

   that it is made by passing through

   some stages of instability—

   and that it may take a very long time. 


And so I think it is with you. 

   your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,

   let them shape themselves, without undue haste. 

Don't try to force them on, 

   as though you could be today what time

   (that is to say, grace and circumstances

   acting on your own good will)

   will make of you tomorrow. 


Only God could say what this new spirit

   gradually forming within you will be. 

Give Our Lord the benefit of believing

   that his hand is leading you, 

and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself 

   in suspense and incomplete.