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Living the Word

Living the Word: The Epiphany of the Lord, Jan. 3, 2016

Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5,6; Matthew 2 1-12

They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. (Mt 2:11)

While the world has quickly moved away from Christmas to the next holiday, the Church only began its celebration at sundown Dec. 24 and will conclude the Christmas season next Sunday, Jan. 10, with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The Catholic faith is truly countercultural, and these Christmas season feasts in January prove that assertion. Today's feast, the Epiphany, follows the Magi from the East as they come to adore the newborn child. Having escaped the clutches of Herod, the Magi enter the home of Mary to bring their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the newborn savior of the world.

The beauty of these feasts after Christmas Day is that the faithful can take a step back and really feel the meaning of the birth of Jesus Christ. The gift giving is done, the Christmas trees are either put away or added to the mulch pile, and all are lamenting that they ate far too much during the Christmas season. So with all of the commercial festivities of Christmas now complete, the faithful can now follow the example of the Magi of today's feast. They can make the journey to the newborn child. They adore the Word made flesh. Finally, they offer him the very gift of self. Ah, the true meaning of Christmas!

Throughout Advent Christians journeyed to the newborn child of Christmas. Time was spent in prayer. The candles of the Advent wreath were slowly and patiently lit. Christians sought meaning, purpose, and salvation in the word of God made flesh in Jesus. On Christmas day, the faithful symbolically arrived at the manger scene. In the life of Jesus, there are four important stops that are crucial to the faith of the Christian: the manger scene, the upper room where the Last Supper was shared by Jesus and his companions, the foot of the cross, and the empty tomb of the Resurrection. The place of Jesus' birth, the first Eucharist, the death of Jesus, and his Resurrection remind the faithful that Jesus came to guide God's people to eternal life.

Today, with the Magi, the faithful stand in awe and wonder at what God has done. Unlike the words of this column that will disappear, God's Word became flesh and will live forever. God has been born in time and space, to real parents and in a real community. Living among humanity, God took on human flesh to bring hope and salvation to all. That's what we see lying in that manger! Born humble, homeless, and poor, this newborn will be the salvation of all. With the Magi we stop at the spot of the birth of the son of God to adore this Christ child. Our journey will not stop there; it must continue to the other important stops along Jesus' journey. But today, in silence the faithful kneel in adoration at the crib of Jesus, this infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, who is the Way, Truth, and Life.

The Magi offer the newborn child and his mother Mary gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They made that long journey across the desert to adore the child, and then to offer all they had. Beware stopping at the manger! When the faithful come to adore the Christ child, he demands a response, and not a halfhearted assent to some obscure theological truth. No, this infant demands the total giving of self to his and our Father. He demands commitment to faith and obedience to the will of God the Father. Once the faithful have stopped at the manger, there is no going back! One's life will be changed forever at the realization that this child is the Word made flesh, as God has joined the human family in the person of Jesus, so now the human person is swept up into the life of God through Jesus' divinity. Redemption is now at hand. Come let us adore, that we, too, are redeemed and saved. Come let us give of ourselves to him, that in him we will know God. Thus is the true meaning and mystery of Christmas!

Questions for private reflection . . .

What do you see when you look into that manger? What affect does Jesus, the newborn child have on your life?

Say a prayer at the manger asking God to help and inspire you to live the Christian life fully in following this infant in swaddling clothes through his Last Supper, cross, and Resurrection.

Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois is the principal of Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington. Msgr. Bourgeois may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
 

Living the Word


Living the Word
Ash Wednesday, February 10, 2016

By Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois

Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 51; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2;

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

"Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God." (Jl 2:13)

For the task-oriented personality, Lent is a relatively easy season. The rules are simple. The faithful are asked to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On the Fridays of Lent, one is to abstain from eating meat. Otherwise, the practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are pretty much left up to the individual to decide how in his life he can live these important Lenten traditions. Overall, there is very little in Lent that requires any real work, if the person so interprets Church practices in that way. Today's reading from Joel moves the person away from a checklist of Lenten rules, and more toward the conversion of one's heart.

Lent is the season of internal preparation for that great event of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the most important moment of human history in which God definitively handed the human race salvation through his son, Jesus Christ. He suffered and died that he might identify fully with the suffering and death of humanity. To his cross, the person takes all of his sin and suffering in the search for redemption, forgiveness, and salvation. Jesus breaks the bonds of sin, suffering, and death in his resurrection. While not eliminated from the human race, sin, suffering, and death will not have the final say. Light, peace, and eternal life will be the final chapter! That is the power and glory of the death and resurrection of Jesus, a mystery which should bring tears to the eyes of those who believe. This is what Jesus has done for you. Is there anything more important than salvation? To the foot of the cross, the faithful bring their sin, suffering, and death. To the cross Jesus takes it all. The faithful go there as there is no where else to go. Only in Jesus will they find salvation and hope. The motto of the Holy Cross Fathers says it all: "Hail the Cross, Our Only Hope."

On this Ash Wednesday, the prophet Joel advises his people to "rend [their] hearts…" Change them, make them new, start fresh. These are all possible interpretations of "rending" one's heart. The faithful are asked to do so specifically in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, or generosity. Rending one's heart is real work. A true Lenten journey is not for the faint of heart. In other words, let's make it real!

Prayer is the chief activity of Lent. It is accompanied by fasting and generosity. In fasting, one goes without food or activities in order to realize that it is only Christ who can fill the human person. In giving away time, talent, and treasure, one realizes that Christ and service to his people supersedes everything else. It all leads back to prayer. Fasting and almsgiving will open up time and space for Christ in prayer, if done wholeheartedly.

In conclusion, here are two suggestions for your Lenten prayer. First, spend some time in prayer, very quietly, simply gazing upon a crucifix. See your savior and your Lord on that cross. Know he did this for you. It is for your sin, suffering, and death that he suffered, died, and rose that you might have life. With eyes of faith, see through the cross to the empty tomb. Second, pray over and read the passion and death of Jesus as recounted in the Gospels of Palm Sunday (Lk 22:14- 23:56) and Good Friday (Jn 18:1-19:42). Keep looking at that crucifix while you read the story of the death of Jesus. Read it over and over, slowly and deliberately. In doing so, you will "rend" your heart, and be one with your Lord as he suffered, died, and rose from the dead for you. You will be ready to celebrate the joy of Easter, because you have understood and felt the death of Jesus, which leads up to that great feast. So, let's make this Lent real!

For private reflection …

In addition to the prayer activities mentioned in the column, think of ways your fasting and almsgiving can go beyond the minimum standard so as to aid in your life of Lenten prayer.

Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois is the principal of Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington. Msgr. Bourgeois may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 19, 2016

Zechariah 12: 10-11, 13:1; Psalm 63;

Galatians 3: 26-29; Luke 9: 18-24

"O God, you are my God whom I seek; for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water." (Ps 63:2)

"Then [Jesus] said to all, 'If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.'" (Lk 9:23)

It is rather ironic–or maybe not ironic at all and simply God's plan–that these readings would be assigned to this particular Sunday in June. This weekend in the Diocese of Burlington Bishop Coyne will ordain Mr. Joseph Sanderson to the transitional diaconate and Deacons Matthew Rensch and Curtis Miller to the priesthood. Following their ordinations, Deacon Sanderson and Fathers Rensch and Miller will either assist at or celebrate Masses of Thanksgiving at which these readings will be used. How these readings speak to those of us in Holy Orders! Both quotes above are great beginning points for those to be ordained priests and a reminder for someone like me who is already a priest.

The journey to the priesthood begins when the candidate realizes his "flesh pines and...soul thirsts" for God. While all people experience this call, the one to enter Holy Orders realizes in the depths of his heart and soul that God has called him to enter an ordained relationship with him. "This sacrament configures the recipient to Christ by a special grace of the Holy Spirit," says the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1581), "so that he may serve as Christ's instrument for his Church. By ordination one is enabled to act as a representative of Christ, Head of the Church . . . "

The priest feels drawn into a life in which he gives himself totally, body, mind, heart, and soul, to Christ and his Church. Through the priesthood, he satisfies the thirst of his soul as recounted in Psalm 63. This relationship with Christ then overflows into service to God's people. It is a total giving of one's self, and thus it is a joyful life marked by simplicity, obedience, and celibacy. The heart, mind, body, and soul are given to God.

Jesus makes it clear that anyone who wishes to follow him must "deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow [him]." On Good Friday, the priest holds the wooden cross for all to venerate. He knows from his own prayer that it is only through the cross of Jesus that salvation and redemption will come to God's people. The individual crosses of the people must come to the cross of Christ, which is a window to resurrection and hope. The priest has given his life for that cross, and now leads others through it. A priest's life is not a career. He does not seek advancement or career opportunities. His life is set before him. He sets out to minister in the places the Church needs and directs him, as that is how he knows and hears God's will. The priest knows it is not about him, but about Christ and his Church.

The celebrations of the sacraments are the center of the priest's life. His life comes together fully in those moments. He has felt God's call into a deep, unique relationship with him that is marked by prayer. He celebrates the sacraments in humility as he himself is in need of the forgiveness and healing of those same sacraments he provides for God's people. He does so in the person of Christ, for it is Christ who baptizes, forgives sins, and anoints through the priest. It is Christ's body and blood that is made evident upon the altar in the Eucharist.

The priest has felt the need of Christ in his own life. He has given his life for that relationship. He now brings that relationship to each person he meets in celebrating the sacraments, healing God's people. Indeed, he is an icon of Christ, for it is through him that the faithful see Christ, the one to whom the priest is configured through Holy Orders.

Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois is the principal of Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington. Msgr. Bourgeois may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. (See official on page 3.)

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