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Mary’s Faith-filled Song: The Magnificat, Journey of Faith

Mary’s Faith-filled Song: The Magnificat, Journey of Faith

Advent and Christmas form a unique “Marian Season.”  Christians recall that it was Mary (along with Joseph), awaiting the birth of her son, who celebrated the very first advent.  Mary made a unique faith journey, preparing for Christ’s nativity for nine full months.  During this time Mary can be heard singing the Magnificat, a song of praise, the same canticle she probably sung repeatedly during the nine months of her pregnancy, the original advent season.

An Advent Hymn.  “The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn,” preached Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian killed by the Nazis during the Second World War.  “It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might say, the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung.  This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings; this is the passionate, surrendered, proud, enthusiastic Mary who speaks out here.”

Bonhoeffer Continues. “This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols.  It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind.”  Yes, Mary sings a song that proclaims God’s gracious, effective compassion and liberation!

Faith and Service.  It is helpful to recall the context of Mary’s Magnificat hymn.  Mary has generously said fiat [yes, let it be] to the invitation to become the Mother of God through Gabriel’s Annunciation (Lk 1:26-38).  Her deep faith and willingness to serve have prompted her to make the arduous journey to Ain Karim, a trip of over sixty miles from Nazareth. 

Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth (Lk 1:39-45) is a generous act of service; though pregnant herself, she does not hesitate to be of service to another much older Jewish woman, six months pregnant with her first child.  What a scene of great joy!  Mary and Elizabeth, both faithful women of Israel, have been uniquely blessed by the Most High.

In Luke’s Gospel, Mary’s Magnificat is the long and beautiful prayer-poem she uttered on this emotion-filled occasion. 

Joining Mary’s Song.  The Magnificat, which the entire Church says daily during Vesper prayer, must remain a challenge for us—at Christmas and always.  Christians need to constantly integrate prayer and praise of God (worship) with commitment to social transformation (justice).  To glorify God demands striving to be anawim, opting for the poor, the hungry, the powerless.  To be Christian demands a reversal of values; one must become “counter-cultural,” challenging the status quo

We join with Mary in both praising God for his loving-kindness and in generously embracing the poor of this world.  Indeed, it is only in this two-fold way that our celebration of the Advent-Christmas season will be authentic!  May you, your loved ones and family enjoy a “Magnificat Advent-Christmas,” filled with both singing God’s praises and serving our needy neighbors.  I will already wish you a “Mary Christmas”!     

James H. Kroeger, M.M.

First Sunday of Advent

Fill our hearts to overflowing with your love

O Blessed Virgin Mary that we might join you in praising

the wonderful works God is doing in this world through you with Jesus.

Behold, the mighty fall from their thrones even as God raises up the lowly.

The poor are filled with good things even as the rich are sent empty away.

In and through you, O Blessed Mother, God’s word took flesh and was born

to turn our world upside down that we might seek and find your Son

not in palaces and mansions but in the lowly and humble dwellings

of the poor and oppressed.

Teach us, Mother Mary, to rejoice ever in the wonders of God-With-Us,

Emmanuel! Promised from of old now born in the fullness of time

to dwell among us who have no power save in the Name of Jesus, our Lord.

Come, Lord Jesus, return soon that we might live with you forever.

Amen.

By Fr. Joseph Veneroso. M.M.

   

   

Christ: Our Crucified King, Journey of Faith

Christ: Our Crucified King, Journey of Faith

If asked what movie I have seen most frequently in my whole life, I would have to reply: A Man for All Seasons.  This 1960s film was based on a striking play written by Robert Bolt.  In explaining his choice of Thomas More for the drama, Bolt gave this rationale: “A man takes an oath only when he wants to commit himself quite exceptionally to the statement, when he wants to make an identity between the truth of it and his own virtue; he offers himself as a guarantee.” 

Profound Vision.  Thomas More was martyred in 1535 at age 57.   Reflecting on More’s life, Bolt affirms that “a clear sense of the self can only crystallize around something transcendental.”  Thomas More explains this radical self-awareness, faith and commitment to his daughter Margaret when she visits him in prison: “When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his own self in his own hands.  Like water.  And if he opens his fingers then—he needn’t hope to find himself again.  Some men aren’t capable of this, but I’d be loathe to think your father one of them.”  Indeed, More exemplifies “a Christian saint, as a hero of selfhood.”   

Christ the King Feast.  Coming at the end of the liturgical year, this feast is a wonderful opportunity for reflection on the depth of our acceptance of Christ as our King, our Crucified King.  Thomas More gave his answer—with his life.  Jesus had truly become his King!  In deep faith, More could even say to his executioner: “Friend, be not afraid of your office.  You send me to God.” 

More’s Example.  I distinctly remember the 2010 visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United Kingdom.  As an aside, I recall the vivid image of the Pope and Queen Elizabeth, standing side by side—both with full heads of white hair!  One of the pope’s speeches was given in Westminster Hall; the trial of Saint Thomas More occurred in that very place; he was condemned to death for refusing to follow the rebellion of King Henry VIII against papal authority on divorce.  Thomas More adhered to God and his personal conscience; his final words on the scaffold were: “The King’s good servant, but God’s first.”

More’s Faith.  More’s convictions are vividly revealed in his letters from prison in the Tower of London; they manifest a deep devotion to the suffering Christ.  For More, Christ was his suffering-crucified King.  More is truly a “man for all seasons.” 

Our Prayer.  Each day as we Christians say the Our Father, we pray: Your

Kingdom come!  And, what kind of kingdom do we work, pray, and suffer for?  As stated so beautifully in the Preface of today’s Mass, we ask God to establish “an eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.”  O, crucified-risen Lord, may your kingdom come!   

James H. Kroeger, M.M.

 

Solemnity of our Lord Jesus, Christ the King

Jesus, my Lord, my king, my God, my all,

I kneel before your throne of grace

and ask only that you give me the courage

and strength to be true to my baptismal vows

to know, love and serve you above all

with all my heart, mind, soul and strength.

May your kingdom come upon this earth

that your justice, truth and peace

might prevail. Help all to seek and find

holiness and love in everyday

things and ordinary actions.

May your reign embrace all peoples

nations and cultures, that your Gospel

might be preached, received and

believed around the world in every place

and in every heart.

Grant that I might drive from my soul

any obstacle or distraction to my

answering your call to follow you

no matter where your Spirit takes me

knowing full well it ends at the Cross

where at length I offer my life to you.

Amen

By Fr. Joseph Veneroso. M.M.

   

   

Reading the “Signs of the Times, Journey of Faith

Reading the “Signs of the Times, Journey of Faith

Today is the second-to-last Sunday of the Church’s liturgical year.  Next Sunday we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King; then we begin the season of Advent.  Our readings today, especially from the prophet Malachi and the evangelist Luke, are not easily understood.  They are a type of writing known as “apocalyptic literature.”

The readings capture our attention through a variety of images.  The prophet Malachi writes that “the day is coming, blazing like an oven” and it will set all evildoers on fire.  Jesus says that “the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”  These dramatic images are not meant to overwhelm us with fear.  Rather, they are a clarion call to profound faith in God.

Living in Turbulent Times.  If we are honest, we must admit that we do live in uncertain times.  There is the ongoing war in Ukraine.  Recent typhoons and hurricanes have brought unbelievable destruction.  I recall the consoling words of the Philippine bishops during a time of national unrest in 2018; they wrote: “we are often so easily overcome by fear and panic….  There is nothing that can calm us down in these turbulent times, except the quiet recognition of Him who assured us of His abiding presence: ‘Be not afraid; it is I’” (Mt 14:27).

Interpreting Life’s Events.  In his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis exhorts us to an “ever watchful scrutiny of the signs of the times” (EG 51).  This task of examining current realities in the light of Christian faith is “a grave responsibility” (EG 51).  Francis proposes using “an evangelical discernment” which is “the approach of a missionary disciple” who is guided by “the light and strength of the Holy Spirit” (EG 50).  Christian faith demands “recognizing and discerning spirits” and ultimately “choosing movements of the spirit of good and rejecting those of the spirit of evil” (EG 51).

“Signs of the Times” Approach.  This Christian approach to “faith-reflection” on current realities was promoted by the Second Vatican Council.  In its document Gaudium et Spes, we read: “The Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel” (GS 4).  We are to give a “faith-reading” to life’s events, engaging in “the theological interpretation of contemporary history.”  All Catholics are to respond to the signs of the times.  This “social engagement” is essential to the Church’s evangelizing mission in the contemporary world.

Following Pope Francis.  Our Pope is deeply involved in a “faith-reading” of the signs of the times.  He asks us to examine the many challenges present in today’s world.  “Let us look upon them as challenges which can help us to grow” (EG 84).  “Challenges exist to be overcome!  Let us be realists, but without losing our joy, our boldness and our hope-filled commitment” (EG 109).

James H. Kroeger, M.M.

 

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lord of all times and seasons,

You Who are the Alpha and the Omega

the Beginning and the End of all time,

space, things visible and invisible,

send forth your Spirit of wisdom

and understanding that I might

read the signs of the times aright.

You, for whom a thousand years

pass like a single night and

a single day passes like

a thousand years, may we look

at this passing world and realize

all things pass away but

you alone last forever.

In these uncertain times and confusing

events, let my faith in you never waiver.

You Who alone are the still point in

an ever-changing world, grant that

I put my faith in you alone and trust

in your promise to remain ever

at my side till the end of time,

amen and come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Amen.

By Fr. Joseph Veneroso. M.M.

   

   

Living and Dying for One’s Faith, Journey of Faith

Living and Dying for One’s Faith, Journey of Faith

Today’s first reading narrates the inspirational story of seven martyr brothers and their brave mother who endured a fierce religious persecution from the pagan Seleucid kings two centuries before the birth of Christ.  They remained faithful to their monotheistic religion; they noted that it was their choice “to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him.”  This is an early expression of “resurrection faith,” a central theme of today’s Gospel.

Have you ever asked yourself: Would I be willing to die for my faith in Christ?  Probably, we will never have to face this choice.  A more realistic question is: How can I truly live my faith commitment on a daily basis?  If we practice our faith well, serving our needy brothers and sisters, then a faith-filled death will almost naturally follow.  Here we can draw inspiration from one of the Church’s contemporary saints, Oscar Romero.

Saint Oscar Romero.  As Archbishop of San Salvador in Central America, Romero was assassinated on March 24, 1980 as he was celebrating Mass in the Divine Providence cancer hospital where he lived.  On February 3, 2015 Pope Francis officially declared Romero a martyr of the Catholic faith, the first declared martyr after Vatican II!  He was beatified on May 23, 2015 and canonized on October 14, 2018 (only four years ago)!  Romero was known, respected, and loved as a defender of the poor during one of the most difficult periods in El Salvador (1970s-1980s), during which five priests, numerous catechists, and countless Catholic laity were assassinated. 

The living example of Romero is always relevant: “The hope we preach to the poor is in order that dignity be restored to them, and to give them courage to be themselves, the authors of their destiny.….  The Church has not only embodied herself in the world of the poor, giving them hope, but she is firmly committed to their defense.”  Pope Francis never tires of repeating: “I want a Church which is poor and for the poor” (Evangelii Gaudium 198).

Romero’s Faith Vision.  Romero has eloquently expressed his deep faith in Christ and resurrected life after death: “If God accepts the sacrifice of my life, may my death be for the freedom of my people.  A bishop will die, but the Church of God, which is the people, will never perish.  I do not believe in death without resurrection.  If they kill me, I will rise again in the people of El Salvador.”  Undoubtedly, Romero’s words clearly echo the same resurrection faith expressed in today’s scripture readings.

Reflection.  What should “living our resurrection faith” and “remembering Saint Oscar Romero” mean for us today?  This means to become active, to witness to our resurrection faith, promoting social justice.  As a martyr of the Church’s “option for the poor,” Saint Oscar Romero is truly an inspiring “contemporary icon” for us, members of Christ’s servant-Church.          

James H. Kroeger, M.M.

 

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

O most merciful God of life and love

in each generation you raise up saints

who show us in various ways how to live

their faith in our ever-changing world.

By their example give us courage

to live our faith daily in the face of failures,

opposition and even persecution asking

only that our small sacrifices may

give glory to you as we witness to your truth.

In this month of all souls, as we pray for

All the faithful departed, may they, in turn

intercede for us who still struggle here below.

We pray, too, for all those who have died,

especially for the souls of those who have

no one to prayer for them.

Grant them Eternal peace and joy in your presence

as we enter into the communion of saints

and the community of all souls.

Above all, God of power and might,

grant me the grace to live the gospel

in small things no less than great,

in hours of sadness no less than joy

and in disappointments no less

than triumphs and success

that whatever I say or do

may be for your glory

through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

By Fr. Joseph Veneroso. M.M.

   

   

Authentic Change of Heart, Journey of Faith

Authentic Change of Heart, Journey of Faith

Today’s Gospel story of Zaccheus, the “short guy in the sycamore tree,” is both well-known and popular.  Who is this man, what is his identity?  He was a chief “publican” and a corrupt man.  Publicans were Jews who worked for the foreign Romans; they betrayed their own homeland and people.  As a tax collector, Zaccheus sought money in customs tariffs and various illegitimate means.  He exploited people, benefitting himself instead of helping others.

As Jesus approaches, Zaccheus becomes curious.  Zaccheus thinks to himself: I would like to see him, just to satisfy my curiosity.  Then, he takes a surprising action; he does a foolish thing; he actually climbs a tree!  As Jesus approached, he spotted him and said: “Zaccheus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”  We can only imagine Zaccheus’ astonishment!

God’s Mission.  Commenting on this Gospel, Pope Francis offers a beautiful insight.  “Why does Jesus say ‘I must stay at your house’?  What duty does this refer to?  We know that his highest duty is to implement the Father’s plan for all of humanity, which is fulfilled in Jerusalem with his death sentence, the crucifixion and, on the third day, the Resurrection.  It is the Father’s merciful plan of salvation.”

“In this plan there is also the salvation of Zaccheus, a dishonest man who is despised by all, and therefore in need of conversion.  In fact, the Gospel says that when Jesus called him, they all murmured ‘He has gone into the house of a sinner.’  The people saw Zaccheus as a scoundrel who became rich at his neighbor’s expense….  They began to whisper: ‘Jesus is going to his house, the house of the sinner, the exploiter.’”

God’s Mercy.  Pope Francis continues: “Guided by mercy, Jesus looks for him precisely.  And when he enters Zaccheus’ house, he says: ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he is also a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’  Jesus’ gaze goes beyond sins and prejudices.  And, this is important!  We must learn this.” 

“Jesus’ gaze goes beyond sins and prejudices; he sees the person through the eyes of God, who does not stop at past faults, but sees the future good….  Jesus does not stop at appearances, but looks at the heart.  And there he sees this man’s wounded heart: wounded by the sin of greed, by the many terrible things that Zaccheus has done.  He sees that wounded heart and goes there.”

God’s Compassion.  “Jesus attitude toward Zaccheus shows us another way: that of showing those who err their value. The value that God continues to see in spite of everything, despite all their mistakes….  It gives people the confidence which makes them grow and change.  This is how God acts with all of us.”  Friends, let us appreciate how our God is both a God of mercy and a God of surprises!

James H. Kroeger, M.M.

 

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

You gaze upon my past, Lord Jesus,

yet still come with me to my home.

You look upon my sinfulness,

Lord Jesus, and still call me by my name with love.

You see beyond my faults and failings

and gently show me what I yet

may still become by your grace.

O Lord, you know I am not worthy

that you should enter my house,

call me by name, or merit your mercy

and yet you deign to be with me

not just because of who I am but more

because of who you are.

Your presence empowers me to repent

and your grace enables me to make

amends for all I have injured or betrayed,

knowing now that your power to save me

is infinitely greater than my power to sin.

Amen.

By Fr. Joseph Veneroso. M.M.

   

   

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We are a Catholic Society of priests and brothers based in the United States. We are dedicated to missionary work overseas in over 20 countries. Additionally, we animate Catholics in the United States to follow their own baptismal call to share God’s compassion and love with the poor, the sick, and all those in need.

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L-R Tom O'Brien, Ray Finch, Joe Everson, Russ Feldmeier

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The life of a Maryknoll missioner is challenging, fulfilling, and deeply rewarding. Follow your baptismal call to mission by sharing God’s compassion with the poor, the sick, and people most in need.