Co-Redemptrix

Bulletin Letter, Epiphany

Every new year starts with the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. We often think of this title as a great honor for the Blessed Mother, but it has more to do with being clear about who Jesus is. Mary, being the Mother of Jesus, is the Mother of God because Jesus is God. Jesus is the eternal Son of God and Second Person of the Holy Trinity who at the time of the Annunciation joined to Himself a perfect human nature in the womb of Mary. This was declared dogmatically at the Council of Ephesus in 431. Since then, three other dogmas about Mary have been defined: her Perpetual Virginity, her Immaculate Conception, and her Assumption—body and soul—into heaven at the end of her earthly life.

Another title of the Blessed Virgin that has been the subject of controversy, even recently, and often not well-understood is “Co-Redemptrix.” The word itself is simply the feminine form of the word ‘redeemer’ with the added prefix co- which means ‘with.’ This title has often been misunderstood to imply equality between Mary and Jesus in the work of redemption, but the prefix co- does not imply equality. In fact, it often implies subordination. The Church refers to priests as coworkers or collaborators with the bishops, but bishops are obviously of a higher rank in the Church’s hierarchy. A copilot would be another example: one who assists but is not in command of an airplane.

What is actually meant by Co-Redemptrix is that Mary cooperated and participated in a unique, powerful, and subordinate way in the supreme and irreplaceable work of redemption wrought by Jesus, her Divine Son. As only a mother could, she suffered with Him along His way of the Cross, her own heart breaking as she witnessed her Son, her own flesh and blood, scourged and torn and crucified for our salvation. And she offered her sufferings to God, united to those of Jesus, for the sake of the Church.

Even St. Paul would tell the Colossians, “I rejoice now in my sufferings for you, and I fill up what is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for the sake of His Body, which is the Church” (1:24). There is no value lacking in the afflictions of Christ. What is lacking is the conformity of our flesh to Christ’s Passion. “Deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow” your Lord and Teacher, crucified for our salvation. Our Blessed Mother as Co-Redemptrix shows us how in a preeminent way. St. Paul and every Apostle and disciple of Christ strove to do the same.

Son of God and Son of Mary

Homily, Mother of God

As I was growing up, math always came easily to me. In fact, all of my siblings and I were good at math when we were in school. To give you some idea, all six of my brothers studied engineering of one kind or another, and my oldest sister is a high school math teacher, so I think it was something genetic that allowed us all to excel in mathematics. And I believe it was in Math class that I first heard about the transitive property or transitive relations. Now I realize that many people struggle with math, and hearing something like ‘transitive property’ might drudge up painful memories or just a general sense of confusion or hopelessness, and it’s probably still a little early after a late night of New Year’s parties to be talking about logic, but stay with me, and I’ll try to illustrate what I’m saying with simple examples.

Let’s use Star Wars as our first example. There’s a new movie out but in one of the original trilogy, we find out that Darth Vader is the father of Luke Skywalker. We also know that Luke Skywalker is a jedi. Therefore, Darth Vader is the father of a jedi. Now for those who aren’t as familiar with Star Wars, let’s take another example. As I mentioned before, my brothers are engineers, and my mother is also the mother of my brothers. Therefore, my mother is the mother of engineers. Make sense? That’s the transitive property at work. We use it all the time, without even thinking about it. We substitute ‘engineers’ in one sentence for ‘brothers’ in another statement, because we know that these two terms refer to the same individuals, that the brothers are engineers, so the mother has the same relationship to both.

Now the Solemnity that we celebrate today honors Mary with the title ‘Mother of God,’ but it also safeguards what we believe about Jesus Christ. This is why it’s always been difficult for me to understand why so many non-Catholics have a problem with this title of the Blessed Mother. If we believe Jesus is God, the Son of God, with the same divinity as God the Father and the Holy Spirit, if we believe that Jesus was truly God even at the time of his birth, and if Mary is the Mother of Jesus, then, quite logically, Mary is the Mother of God.

Of course, we know that the divinity of Christ does not originate in Mary the way that His humanity does. Mary doesn’t give birth to God the Father. And God the Son—as God—has His origin from the Father from all eternity, before time began and before Mary even existed. But calling Mary the Mother of God reminds us that the Incarnation is real. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He was really born in time and history from a human mother for our salvation. And the Baby that Mary gave birth to and that we adore in the manger scene did not become the Son of God at some later time, but already, from the moment of His conception in Mary’s womb through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was the Son of God in human Flesh. And the Incarnation is so real that whatever can be said of Jesus in His humanity can also be said of the Son of God, because ‘Jesus’ and ‘Son of God’ refer to the very same Divine Person, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. So Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is also called Mother of God because Jesus is God.

This title of Mary is also Scriptural, because we find in Luke 1:43 at the Visitation, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth asks, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” The Mother of my Lord. Who is Elizabeth calling “my Lord” if not the Lord of all, the God of Israel, believing that the Messiah would somehow be identical with God Himself, as we hear from St. Paul in the second reading today, that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” of God. We have confidence that God is close to us, that He really shares in our humanity and raises it up in His divinity. In this Eucharist, Jesus really feeds us with His Body and Blood so that He can also feed us from the fullness of His divine nature. Jesus nourishes and raises up our own body and blood with His, so that in every aspect of our lives, we can live more and more as sons and daughters of God by His grace in us.

As we begin the year 2020, we pray for the resolution to recommit our lives to Christ, to share patiently even in the sufferings of His Cross so that we can share also in the joy and fullness of his Resurrection. We pray for the logic of recognizing Christ for who He really is, Christ our Life and our Light, our Lord and our God, and the confidence to know that staying close to Mary, the Mother of God, will help us stay focused on Christ during this new year and to follow Him wherever He leads us. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

The First Thanksgiving

Bulletin Letter, Christ the King C

During my assignment at the Cathedral in Sioux Falls, one of the other priests there started a small garden next to the rectory, growing basil, peppers, and tomatoes. Every so often, he would use a very fragrant fertilizer made from fish parts. If you’re familiar with the story of the first Thanksgiving, you’ll recall that the Native American Squanto taught the Pilgrims to plant their crops along with placing fish in the ground for fertilizer. This helped them to even have a harvest to celebrate Thanksgiving in October of 1621. What we probably don’t realize, and what most history books don’t mention, is that the feast in 1621 among English settlers was actually not the first Thanksgiving Feast held in what is now the United States.

The First was actually celebrated among Spanish settlers near what would become St. Augustine in Florida on September 8, 1565, more than half a century earlier. After making it to shore, the chaplain of the expedition, Fr. Francisco Lopez, celebrated Mass (the word ‘Eucharist’ comes from the Greek for ‘Thanksgiving’) to give praise and thanks to God for a safe voyage. Being September 8, they celebrated in honor of the Birthday of Mary, the Mother of God (nine months after the observance of her Immaculate Conception on December 8).

After Mass, Fr. Lopez ordered that the natives from the Timucua tribe be fed along with the Spanish settlers. That first Thanksgiving meal consisted of the supplies of the voyage, salted pork, garbanzo beans, ship’s bread, and red wine—after the Body and Blood of Christ received during Mass, of course. The meal may have also included Caribbean foods collected when they made a stop in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on their way to Florida. If the Timucua natives contributed food, it would have likely included corn, fresh fish, berries, or beans.

Even the presence of Squanto and what he did to aid the survival of the Pilgrims leading up to the later English Thanksgiving was due in part to the help of Spanish Catholics. Squanto had been taught English and trained as an interpreter by settlers from previous expeditions in New England, but one of the officers took him back to Europe and planned to sell him into slavery. Franciscan friars in Spain found Squanto and ensured his freedom, instructed him in the faith, and likely baptized him. He later made his way to England, where he worked as a shipbuilder while improving his English. He joined an expedition to return home, where the Pilgrims would meet him a year later at Plymouth.

This Thanksgiving, we praise God for the many blessings He continues to share with us, our families, our friends, our State and country. We thank Him especially for the great gift of our Catholic faith, the salvation Christ won for us, and the nourishment He provides in His own Body and Blood in the Eucharist, that First and most awesome Thanksgiving meal.

O Morning Star

Welcome Letter, Christmas on the Prairie 2019

With great joy and gratitude to God, I have the privilege to welcome you, on behalf of all the volunteers, staff, performers, and sponsors, to the annual Christmas on the Prairie Concert. This is actually my first time attending, and I have appreciated the many welcomes extended to me as I settle into ministry in such a magnificent church.

The theme of this 16th concert, “O Morning Star,” reminds us to keep our eyes open to even the first signs of the coming dawn. Very fitting that today is December 8, usually observed in the Church’s calendar as the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary within the womb of her mother, Good St. Anne.

God prepared for centuries—through the Patriarchs and Prophets and all the trials of His people Israel—for the sending of His Son into the world in our own flesh. One of His final preparations was to choose a mother for His Son. When God revealed Himself to Moses on Mt. Sinai, He instructed the Israelites to make from pure and incorruptible materials the Ark of the Old Covenant, to house the stone tablets of the law, a jar of manna, and Aaron’s staff. So much the more would God make pure and unblemished, even from the first moment of her existence, the mother who would house and nourish in her womb the Word made flesh, the true Bread from heaven, our Eternal High Priest.

The Immaculate Conception was when God preserved Mary from every stain of sin so that His only Son would have a fit dwelling place through which to enter the world. It was also the first great victory over Satan and the dominion of sin, a signal that his reign on earth was coming to an end. This is why the Virgin Mary is often called our Morning Star. Even as the planet Venus reflects the rays of the sun, so Mary reflects the light she receives entirely from God, and she signals the coming of full Dawn, Jesus our Savior, who is one God with the Father and Source of all Light.

“The night is far spent, and the day is at hand. So we should cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12). In darkness, we still await the Final Dawning and Return of Christ our Light at the end of the age. Until then, let’s draw near with Mary to the manger scene, to learn with her how to reflect this Child’s Light to others, so that we too can be lights and signals of hope amid the darkness of our world today.

May His Light shine and guide you in all your ways.

Aim High

Homily, Solemnity of the Assumption

In the 1960s, there was a lot of excitement about the missions to the moon. My parents and some of you might even remember those years, but as you can tell by looking at me, I definitely don’t remember the ’60s. I hardly remember the ’90s. But, from what I’ve heard, the lunar missions represented the striving of all mankind to overcome our limitations. There was a sense that these events were significant, not just for America or for the astronauts involved, but for every human being. If even one human person succeeded in landing on the moon, then it became at least possible for any human being to reach the moon because we all share a common humanity. This communal sense of accomplishment was well expressed by Neil Armstrong as he stepped onto the lunar surface, saying, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The mystery we celebrate today, on this Solemnity of the Assumption, is a much more significant leap for all mankind. As God raises up to the glory of heaven His chosen and uncorrupted Ark of the New Covenant, the body and soul of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we are given sure and lasting hope of what God’s grace is able to accomplish for our frail humanity. You see, it’s one thing for the Lord Jesus to ascend into heaven, Jesus, who is fully human but also fully divine. We would expect someone who first came down from heaven as God, to return there after His triumph over sin and death. But today we celebrate something very different, that God “has looked with favor on his lowly servant” and given a share of His heavenly glory, and an anticipation of the resurrection of the dead, to one among us, a pure creature. One who had never before been to heaven, beyond the confines of this passing world, the Blessed Virgin Mary is now raised up, above all the angels, and our own human nature, body and soul, is given a more certain hope of the inheritance promised to each one of us through our Baptism, we who have become a new creation in Christ.

So if you are weary of life in this passing world, with all its war, violence, and politics, take courage, because God “has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.” If you tire of bodily food, and hunger instead for the food that lasts forever, place your hope in God, who “has filled the hungry with good things” and sent the rich away empty. But if you’re comfortable, satisfied with your life here on earth, complacent to simply enjoy as much as possible all that this world has to offer, take heed, because this world is passing away. Only those who have begun to live for heaven even now, will be able to follow where our Blessed Mother has gone before us. Not everyone was able to go to the moon, but only those with the necessary discipline and training.

How much are you willing to sacrifice? What sins are still weighing us down and binding us to the earth? Mary gave herself entirely. She lived her life completely for God. Why can’t we? “The Almighty has done great things,” and “nothing will be impossible for God.” By the power of God’s grace, we can serve Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, as Jesus commands us. If we hope to reach where Christ and the Blessed Virgin have gone before us, we must strive to follow their example. If we’re still just living for this world only, why should we expect to reach anything beyond it?

You’ve probably heard the saying: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Too many of us when it comes to our spiritual lives, just sort of drift. We don’t really aim for anything too specific, or if we do, we set our sights far too low. Heaven is beyond anything we could ask or imagine. There is no sacrifice too big in exchange for enjoying everlasting friendship and union with almighty God. May our Blessed Mother teach us to value those things which are truly important in life, to put first things first. To aim high, so that we’ll be able to follow her in living for ever.

The Assumption and Days of Obligation

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Time Sunday 19C

This week, we celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven, the oldest Marian Feast on the calendar. In the East, it is more often called the Dormition, or “falling asleep” of Mary, recalling that she was preserved throughout her life from original sin and from any personal sin. Free from sin, like Jesus her Son, she was not subject to death in the way that we are. Death is one of the consequences of sin, so being without sin, she did not have to die. If Mary died, it was not from any necessity but allowed by God to unite her more closely with the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, who freely accepted Death upon the Cross for our salvation.

Whether she died or not, what we know for sure is that at the end of Mary’s earthly life, she was assumed, taken up, body and soul into the glory of heaven. “Go up, O Lord, to your resting place; you and the ark of your strength” (Psalm 132:8). Mary was the incorruptible Ark of the New Covenant. The old Ark of the Covenant in the Temple contained the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, the staff of the high priest Aaron, and a jar of manna that fed the Israelites in the desert. Mary, the New Ark, housed in her womb for nine months Jesus Christ, God in the Flesh. She bore the eternal Logos, the Law that shapes and governs all that exists, the High Priest and Mediator of a New and Eternal Covenant, He whose Flesh is the Bread from heaven that sustains us for everlasting life.

The Assumption is a holy day of obligation. We’ll have Mass at 7pm on Wednesday in Hoven and at 7 pm on Thursday in Bowdle. Hopefully everyone is able to make it to one of those times. Attendance at the Supreme Sacrifice of Christ in the Mass on every Sunday and holy day of obligation should be the priority of our spiritual lives. Except when serious obstacles arise, failure to keep the Lord’s Day holy in this way is a grave sin. Travel or being out of town, vacations or sporting events are not excuses. What does our effort or lack of effort to get to Mass say to God about how much we really value our relationship with Him? When we’re willing to go such distances and bear with such inconveniences for work, shopping, or sports, should we not be willing to endure much more for the Body and Blood of Christ?

Waste Your Life on Jesus

Homily, Epiphany

As we begin the new year 2019, many of us take the opportunity to look ahead and to mark on our calendars the significant events and celebrations of friends and family, including birthdays, weddings, graduations, but how often do we look forward to the celebrations we will share together as the family of God? Today, the light of God’s glory has been revealed to the nations, as the three magi arrive to adore the Christ Child and to see His Mother. That light and revelation of God will only increase throughout the year, as we celebrate the mystery of the Cross, the saving death of Christ, foreshadowed even today in the gift of myrrh, and as the overwhelming light of the Resurrection dawns upon us, to scatter all darkness and to destroy sin and death forever.

God has big plans for us this year, if we are willing to spend it with Him, if we strive to place Jesus at the center of our families, at the center of marriages, at the center of all that we do in school, at work, in our free time. Jesus is Emmanuel, God-with-us, and He wants to be with us always. Do we welcome Him? Or does Jesus take a back seat to so many other things in our lives? Do we fill our schedules only to give God what is left over, if there is anything left? At the bidding of a star, the three magi uprooted their entire lives. They put all their other plans on hold, to walk hundreds of miles just for a chance to search for the newborn King of the Jews. How many miles would we be willing to walk for God? How many months or years of our lives would we be willing to give in search of Jesus?

In my own life, whether I realized it or not, I was always searching for Jesus. I had lots of interests. I was always an excellent student. I could have pursued pretty much any field of study or career, but I ultimately decided to waste my life on Jesus. Do you know why? It’s not because I thought it would be an easy life. It’s not even that I thought I could make much of a difference as a priest, although I probably thought so at one time. As the culture continues to shift away from God and as different scandals continue to break in parts of the Church, I fully expect to receive the hatred of the world in return for my service. So why am I still here? Why are you still sitting here on a Sunday morning? Why am I willing, even to waste my life in the priesthood? Only because Jesus Christ deserves it.

Jesus deserves everything. The One who gave everything on the Cross for our salvation, for my salvation, He deserves everything in return, whatever smallest good that I am able to accomplish by His grace, whatever small tribute we are able to lay at the feet of Him and His Mother. The magi brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh over many miles to waste them on a Child too small to make any use of them. And Jesus still deserves more. How much are we willing to give Him? How much are we willing to waste on Jesus? He deserves more than just some time on Sunday. He deserves more than what is left over in our schedules and in our energies and resources. In 2019, how much more are you willing to waste on Jesus Christ?

Vader, Father of a Jedi; Mary, Mother of God

Homily, Mary, Mother of God

When I was in school, math always came easily to me. I come from a family of engineers. To give you some idea, all six of my brothers studied engineering of one kind or another, and my oldest sister is a high school math teacher, so I think it was something genetic that allowed us all to excel in mathematics. And I believe it was in Math class that I first heard about the transitive property or transitive relations. Now I realize that many people struggle with math, and hearing something like ‘transitive property’ might drudge up painful memories or just a general sense of confusion or hopelessness, and it’s probably still a little early after a late night of New Year’s parties to be talking about logic, but stay with me, and I’ll try to illustrate what I’m saying with simple examples.

Let’s use Star Wars as our first example. In one of the movies, we find out that Darth Vader is the father of Luke Skywalker. We also know that Luke Skywalker is a jedi. Therefore, Darth Vader is the father of a jedi. Now for those who aren’t as familiar with Star Wars, let’s take another example. As I mentioned before, my brothers are engineers, and my mother is also the mother of my brothers. Therefore, my mother is the mother of engineers. Make sense? That’s the transitive property at work. We use it all the time, without even thinking about it. We substitute ‘engineers’ in one sentence for ‘brothers’ in another statement, because we know that these two terms refer to the same individuals, that the brothers are engineers, so the mother has the same relationship to both.

Now the Solemnity that we celebrate today honors Mary with the title ‘Mother of God,’ but it also safeguards what we believe about Jesus Christ. This is why it’s always been difficult for me to understand why so many non-Catholics have a problem with this title of the Blessed Mother. If we believe Jesus is God, the Son of God, with the same divinity as God the Father or the Holy Spirit, if we believe that Jesus was truly God even at the time of his birth, and if Mary is the Mother of Jesus, then, quite logically, Mary is the Mother of God. Of course, we know that the divinity of Christ does not originate in Mary the way that His humanity does. As God, He has His origin from the Father from all eternity, before time began and before Mary even existed. But the Incarnation is real. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He was really born from a human Mother. The eternal Son of God joined together in his one Divine Person His divinity and our humanity. The Incarnation is so real that whatever can be said of Jesus in His humanity can also be said of the Son of God, because ‘Jesus’ and ‘Son of God’ refer to the very same Person. So Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is also called Mother of God because Jesus is God.

This title is also Scriptural, because we find in Luke 1:43, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth asks, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Mother of my Lord. Who is Elizabeth calling “my Lord” if not the Lord of all, the God of Israel, believing that the Messiah would somehow be identical with God Himself, as we hear from St. Paul in the second reading, that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” of God. As we confess in the Creed, Jesus was true God and true man. That is why we honor Mary with the title Mother of God. That’s why we have confidence that God is so close to us, that he really shares in our humanity and raises it up in His divinity. In this Eucharist, He really feeds us with His Body and Blood so that He can also feed us from the fullness of His divine nature.

As we begin the year 2019, we pray for the resolution to recommit our lives to Christ, to share patiently even in the sufferings of His Cross so that we can share in the joy and fullness of his Resurrection. We pray for the logic of recognizing Christ for who He really is, Christ our Life and our Light, our Lord and our God, and the confidence to know that staying close to Mary, the Mother of God, will help us stay focused on Christ during this new year and to follow Him wherever He leads us. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

With One Voice

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Time Sunday 22B

Already in my three years of priesthood, I’ve done a number of funerals and burials for veterans of our nation’s military. Anyone who has witnessed the same would likely agree that the graveside military rites are very impressive and moving, an expression of gratitude on behalf of the country they served to protect, and a sign of solidarity with the veterans that still live.

Also in my time as a priest, I’ve already witnessed the funerals of several other priests, now fellow brothers who strove to serve and defend the people of God in Christ’s Church. If you’ve been to the funeral of a priest in recent years, one of the most profound moments actually takes place outside, at the very end. As they load the body into the hearse, the bishop and the fellow priests in attendance all join together in singing the Salve Regina, the Latin of the Hail, Holy Queen, a hymn to our Blessed Lady from “this valley of tears,” a hymn that almost all of us learned during our time in seminary as the closing of each day at the end of Compline. So as the day of his short life comes to a close, we bid farewell to our brother by joining our voices in this plea for a Mother’s care.

The Salve Regina is part of our common heritage, not just as priests, but as fellow Catholics on a worldwide and historical scale. In 1974, Blessed Pope Paul VI published a booklet of simple chants, Jubilate Deo (“Sing to God”), that he hoped would continue to unite the voices of all Catholics. It is a powerful experience to be able to join people from all over the world in the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei. Even if we never travel outside these United States, our voices echo those of Catholics not only from other parts of the world but down through the ages of history, with countless Saints and Doctors of the Church now in heaven.

At Masses during the week, since getting the St. Michael Hymnal at Cathedral, I’ve been trying to teach some of the chants from this booklet, that—by Bl. Paul VI’s design—is to form a “minimum repertoire of Gregorian chant.” I also do this so that I don’t have to look at the hymnal myself, as I purify vessels and clear the altar after Communion. I’ve mainly focused on the beautiful hymns to our Blessed Mother, as these are used seasonally in Compline and seem very appropriate after receiving Jesus in Holy Communion. The Wikipedia article on “Jubilate Deo” has a full listing of the Latin Mass parts and hymns that every Roman Catholic should be able to sing. It’s actually a relatively short list.

With one voice, we lift our hearts to God. Thank you for your willingness to learn together, things new and old.

Beneath the Cross

By Fr. Vincent McNabb, O.P.

“Ecce Mater Tua. ‘And He gave him to His Mother.’ This sounds like a prelude to the sweetest words ever uttered on Calvary. For how else could He give a son to His mother but by saying, ‘Woman, behold thy son?’ (John 19:26).

“The Catholic tradition on the meaning of these words gives us a fair idea of Our Blessed Lady’s place in Tradition. From the first times, I believe, these words were taken to mean that Our Divine Lord on the Cross had two thoughts in His poor suffering mind. He was a son; thus He thought of His Mother. He was a Saviour, and He thought of sinners. The longing to see His Mother’s grief stayed made Him give her St. John as her son; now He Himself was leaving her. The longing to comfort His shepherdless flock made Him give His own Mother to be their Mother. You may deny this tradition and say it is untrue; but you cannot deny that for hundreds of years it was held to be true; and you have a hard task before you to prove that your opinion of the nineteenth century is truer than the constant opinion of the second and third centuries.”

As quoted in Daily Readings in Catholic Classics, edited by Fr. Rawley Myers