Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Saint Valentine's Day

It is pretty amazing, maybe even miraculous, that we have very little information about a Saint who is known throughout the world as the Patron Saint of Lovers.  The Church recognizes one Saint Valentine, who died for the faith in Rome on February 14, 269 AD, but it is unclear whether he was a Roman priest, a bishop of Terni, a man who lived in Africa around the same time, or whether these three Valentines are one in the same person.  What is clear is that Saint Valentine’s feast day is celebrated all over the world by Christians and non-Christians as the day we take time to do something special for the people we love. 

The man we honor as Saint Valentine probably was a third century Roman priest, a dangerous vocation to have at that time.  For the first three hundred years after Christ died, it was illegal to be a Christian in Rome, so Christians had to hide their faith and celebrate the sacraments in secret.  If they were caught, they would be arrested, beaten and sometimes even killed.  The story goes that Emperor Claudius II enacted a law that prohibited young men from getting married so he would have more young men to serve as soldiers in his army.  Because the sacraments are so important to the Church, Valentine kept witnessing marriages and celebrating the sacraments even though it was against the law.  He was arrested and sent to prison.

The story continues that while in prison, Valentine was questioned about his faith by a judge named Asterius.  Asterius challenged Valentine to prove his faith by curing Asterius’ blind daughter.  Valentine prayed for the girl, laid his hands on her, and she was healed.  Asterius was so moved by God’s healing power that he released Valentine and forty other Christians from prison and became a Christian himself.  Valentine was arrested again for continuing to serve Jesus and his Church, but this time he was sent to Emperor Claudius.  Claudius liked Valentine, but he became so angry when Valentine tried to convince him to become a Christian that he sentenced Valentine to death.  Legend has it that Valentine sent a letter to Judge Asterius’ daughter on the day of his execution, signing it, “from your Valentine.”

We also do not know how Valentine’s Day began to be known as a day we celebrate love.  Some say that the tradition came about around the 5th century when several Roman priests encouraged the celebration of Saint Valentine’s feast day in place of a Roman holiday that fell on February 15.  Others say that Valentine’s Day has its origin in the medieval belief that birds choose their mates on February 14th.  Whatever the origin, there is no doubt that the popularity of Valentine’s Day is a tribute to the power of love.  The stories tell us that Saint Valentine lived a life of love – love for God and love for God’s people.  When we celebrate Valentine’s Day, we celebrate love, the greatest gift we receive from God, and the greatest gift we can share with others. 

Let us Pray:  Saint Valentine, pray that we may always love God and all we hold dear in our hearts.  Amen

Feast Day – February 14

Patron Saint of lovers, engaged couples, courtship

Symbols – Heart, roses, birds

Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Spirit of the Law - Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

          On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing more than 3 million slaves in the ten Confederate States.  Many historians see Lincoln’s bold act as a “Second American Revolution.”  Professor Joseph Fornieri agrees, but only to the extent that it “means that Lincoln completed the unfinished work of 1776.”[1]  According to Fornieri, Lincoln didn’t abolish or supplant our nation’s founding principles; he clarified and extended them to all.  Abraham Lincoln did the right thing because understood both the letter and the Spirit of the Law.  Today’s readings challenge us to do the same.  

          Today’s readings seem to contradict each other.  On the one hand, our first reading and our Psalm urge us to “keep the commandments,” to “walk in the law of the Lord.”   But in our Gospel, Jesus seems to be rewriting the very law that the Old Testament authors encourage us to uphold while telling us that he has “come not to abolish but to fulfill” that law.  What does he mean? 

Well, we first have to understand that God communicates his “mysterious and hidden wisdom” to us gradually.  God didn’t just dump the whole of Revelation on us all at once; he prepares us to welcome his supernatural Revelation in stages,[2] in the manner and at the times that he knew were best for us to receive them.  God’s Revelation culminates in his incarnate Word, Jesus Christ.  In other words, Jesus came to finish the story.  So when Jesus tells us that he has come not to abolish but to fulfill the law, he does so by adding himself to it.  Jesus perfected the law by imbuing every action under the law with his very love.  Jesus’ life, passion, death and resurrection teach us the true meaning, the Spirit of God’s law, which is love.    

          In our Gospel, “Jesus looks for the spiritual intent behind the commandments and tells people that this is what the law really means.”[3]  While the commandments focus on the final act, Jesus focuses on the origin of each sinful act, what the rabbis called ‘evil imaginings.’[4]  When Jesus speaks against killing, he identifies anger at the root of this sin and commands us to cure it with love through forgiveness and reconciliation.  When he speaks against adultery, he points to lust at the root this sin and commands us to cure it with love even by drastic means, if necessary.  When he speaks against swearing oaths, he calls out our propensity to lie as the underlying sin and commands us to cure it with love by simply telling each other the truth.  “While the Pharisees kept the external requirements of the law, Jesus teaches us to interiorize the law and observe its spirit.”[5]  In each instance, Jesus teaches us to follow the commandments in letter and Spirit by curing the root cause of our sins with his love.  

          Therein lies our challenge.  To understand and follow the Spirit of God’s law, we have to dig deeper; we have to take the words of the commandments to heart, find Jesus in them and act on them with love.  As we examine our consciences in light of God’s law, we have to identify the root causes of our sins and discern Christ’s loving approach to curing them.  Discernment requires faith, self-awareness and a lot of courage.  It isn’t easy to find fault in ourselves, let alone to fix it.  So we pray together with the psalmist, “Give me discernment, that I may observe your law and keep it with all my heart.”  If we address every moral issue we face from the heart, if we discern Christ’s loving approach in all of the challenges we face, we will always follow God’s commandments in letter and in Spirit, just as Abraham Lincoln did in issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.

President Lincoln didn’t see himself as a revolutionary.  He didn’t set out to abolish or supplant the principles of our founding with the Emancipation Proclamation.  Through discernment and, no doubt, a lot of prayer, Lincoln grew to understand that there was more to our founding principles than mere words.  He “recognized the incompatibility between the principles of the Revolution and the practice of slavery.”[6]  Abraham Lincoln understood both the letter and the spirit of the law, and he acted upon them with love, freeing more than 3 million people from slavery.  Christ calls us to uphold both the letter and the Spirit of God’s law and to act on them with love so that we can free ourselves from slavery to sin.




[1] Joseph R. Fornieri, Abraham Lincoln:  Philosopher Statesman (Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 2014) at 23.
[2] See Catechism of the Catholic Church 53.
[3] Jude Winkler, New St. Joseph Handbook for Proclaimers of the Word, Liturgical Year A, 2017 (New Jersey, Catholic Book Publishing Corp., 2016) at 75.
[4] John Shea, The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers: On Earth as it is in Heaven, Matthew, Year A (Collegeville, Liturgical Press, 2004) at 77.
[5] Winkler at 74.
[6] Fornieri at 24.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A Prayer for Our Times

A good friend invited her Facebook friends to post a prayer of healing for this most divisive time. Here’s mine:
Norman Rockwell, Golden Rule, 1961

Almighty God,
Gather us into the peace of your loving embrace.
Where there is discord, unite us;
Where there is pain, comfort us;
Where there is anger, soothe us;
Where there is sorrow, console us; and
Where there is fear, assure us.
Help us to see your divine image and likeness in everyone we meet; and 
Gather us into the peace of your loving embrace.
Amen

Monday, January 9, 2017

Careful, I’m Armed!

                Armigerous, to be more precise.  To honor my fiftieth year on this planet, I adopted a coat of arms.  How all of that came about was nothing short of a spiritual journey, which I will share in a subsequent post.  For the time being, I present my coat of arms for your amusement, and an explanation of the significance of its elements for your edification.  The arms were designed by me and Susi Galloway, and this particular rendition was created by Marco Foppoli.  For those new to the field, the blazon is the official description of a coat of arms in the language of heraldry.


The Coat of Arms of
Deacon Michael Andrew Meyer

Blazon: Per saltire Argent, first and fourth Sable, second Gules three bezants, third Gules a fleur de lis Or; overall a sword in pale Argent hilted and pommeled Or point inflamed proper upwards.

Above the escutcheon is placed a broad-brimmed, untassled galero Sable and the cross of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

Motto: Fides et Ratio

Significance: Deacon Meyer’s coat of arms is composed of a field divided into alternate black (Sable) and red (Gules) quarters.  The dominant features on the shield are the flaming sword and the saltire (X-shaped cross).  The flaming sword is a symbol of Saint Michael the Archangel, while the silver (Argent) saltire is a symbol of Saint Andrew the Apostle.  The flame itself is a symbol of light and enlightenment, the Hebrew word for which is meier (מֵאִיר).  These three symbols together cant (sing) Deacon Meyer’s name: Michael Andrew Meyer.

          Each device on the shield holds several meanings for Deacon Meyer.  The sword signifies the Word of God as described in scripture:  “Indeed, the word of God is alive and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword.” (Hebrews 4:12)  The flame, which appears in the coat of arms of the Diocese of Metuchen, where Deacon Meyer was ordained and serves, is a symbol of charity.  The flaming sword is a symbol of justice and order.  Thus, the flaming sword, in its components and as a whole, reflects the three duties (munera) of the order of deacons – proclaiming the Word of God, exercising Charity, and maintaining order in Liturgy.  The flame also serves as a nod to Saint Lawrence, the patron saint of deacons, who was martyred on a grill over an open fire.

          In the right (dexter) quarter of the shield (the left side from the viewer’s perspective), are three bezants (gold byzantine coins), a symbol of Saint Nicholas on whose feast day Deacon Meyer was born.  The three coins also recall for Deacon Meyer the treasures of the church – faith, hope and love – and the treasures of his life – his wife and two daughters.  In the left (sinister) quadrant of the shield (the right side from the viewer’s perspective), is a gold (Or) fleur de lis.  The fleur de lis, which appears in the coat of arms of Immaculate Conception Church, Annandale, NJ, where Deacon Meyer ministers, is a symbol of the Blessed Mother, to whom Deacon Meyer has a particular devotion.  It is also an ancient symbol of the Levites – the servants of the Jewish Temple after whom the order of deacons is modeled and the tribe from which Deacon Meyer’s wife is descended.

          The colors of the shield hold special meaning for Deacon Meyer as well.  Black, silver and red are the colors of the coat of arms of Saint Thomas More, the patron Saint of lawyers, Deacon Meyer’s profession.  Black, red, silver and gold also honor Deacon Meyer’s parents and ancestors, as these colors appear in the coats of arms of the regions from which they originated:  Rhineland, Germany, Hamburg, Germany, Reggio-Calabria, Italy and County Mayo, Ireland.

          For his motto, Deacon Meyer uses the Latin phrase, “FIDES ET RATIO,” which means “FAITH AND REASON.”  The motto is taken from Saint John Paul II’s 1998 encyclical of the same title, reflecting Deacon Meyer’s firm conviction that “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”  The colors of the shield subtly reflect this motto, with the gold and red light of faith complementing the black and white nature of reason (silver is often depicted as white on a coat of arms).

          The achievement is completed with external ornaments: an untassled. black clerical hat, called a “galero,” representing the diaconate in the hierarchy of the clergy, and the red Jerusalem cross of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, in which Deacon Meyer holds the rank of Knight Commander.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Epiphanies

Gentile da Fabriano, Adoration of the Magi, 1423
           On January 11, 1985, I had an epiphany.  My Uncle Jerry had died unexpectedly that morning, and I was feeling sad, angry and confused.  Sitting alone in my room, I had a sudden and profound realization that I had to choose:  I could believe, as I had been taught, that Jesus Christ suffered and died for us so that we could have eternal life with God; or I could live in disbelief.  I knew that there was no middle ground; it was either or.  If I chose to believe, then Uncle Jerry now lived in the peace of Christ, and I would see him again.  If I chose not to believe, he was gone forever.  I chose to believe.  On January 11, 1985, I had an epiphany, just like the magi did in today’s Gospel.  
      
          Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord.  The word epiphany comes from the Greek word epiphaneia (ἐπιφάνεια), which means appearing, manifestation or glorious display.  So on the Feast of the Epiphany we celebrate “the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Savior of the world.”[1]  On this Feast, the Eastern and Western Churches acknowledge three particular events as epiphanies of Jesus:  His physical manifestation to the gentiles when the magi visit from the East – today’s Gospel; his manifestation as the second person of the Divine Trinity at his Baptism by John in the Jordan; and his self-manifestation at the Wedding of Cana.  Of course, every moment of Jesus’ life on earth was a manifestation of his messianic purpose, and he continues to appear to us as Son of God and Savior of the world every day, inviting us to follow him.  The question, then, is:  How do we respond to these epiphanies?

             The Scottish theologian William Barclay proposes three possible responses to an epiphany of Jesus as the Christ.[2]  With your indulgence, I will add a fourth (not that you have a choice).  We’ll start with mine.  One response to an epiphany of Christ is curiosity.  We see this response in the magi who come searching for Jesus asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?”  We also see it in Herod, who assembles the chief priests and scribes to find out where the Christ was to be born and asks the magi to “bring me word” when they find him.  Curiosity is an essential initial response to any epiphany if that epiphany is to have its intended impact.  Without curiosity on our part, the epiphany goes nowhere.  It’s up to us.  So we have to ask ourselves:  Do we question, consider and contemplate the epiphanies in our lives, or do we ignore them or regard them with utter indifference?  Indifference is the response that Professor Barclay identifies in the chief priests and scribes.

           After ascertaining the location of the Messiah’s birth, the chief priests and scribes did nothing.  “It did not make the slightest difference to them.  They were so engrossed in their Temple ritual and legal discussions that they completely disregarded Jesus.  He meant nothing to them.”[3]  They had been told that the Christ had been born.  That’s a pretty big deal.  They determined the place of his birth.  That’s a pretty big accomplishment.  Then, they did nothing.  Pope Benedict comments that “it is remarkable that [Herod’s] Scripture experts do not feel prompted to take any practical steps as a result.”[4]  The response of the chief priests and scribes compels us to ask ourselves:  How often are we indifferent to the manifestations of Christ in our lives?  Are we so caught up in our own affairs that Jesus means nothing to us?

          Professor Barclay next identifies hatred and hostility as possible responses to an epiphany of Christ.[5]  We find this response in the words of Scripture that tell us that “[w]hen King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled and all of Jerusalem with him.”  Herod saw the newborn king of the Jews as a threat to his own sovereignty, so he responded with hatred and hostility, seeking to have Jesus killed.  The people of Jerusalem saw the news of the birth of the messiah as a disturbance in their daily lives that they met with hatred, hostility and even fear, rejecting Jesus from the outset.  The responses of hatred and hostility are particularly evident today as Christians are martyred for the faith or dismissed out-of-hand for asserting beliefs that are founded in Christ’s teachings.  The fact is that “God disturbs our comfortable day-to-day experience.”[6]  Epiphanies do just that.  So we have to ask ourselves:  Will we respond to God’s disturbing epiphanies with hatred and hostility, or will we respond as the magi did?

           The most fitting response to an epiphany of Christ in our lives is adoration.  “[W]hen we become aware of the love of God in Jesus Christ, we, too, should be lost in wonder, love and praise,”[7] just as the magi were.  In the original Greek, “[t]he wise men do a proskynesis before the royal child, that is to say, they throw themselves onto the ground before him.”[8]  You didn’t know you’d be fluent in Biblical Greek after this homily, did you?  Proskynesis (προσκύνησις) is the only homage worthy of a divine king.  So again we have to ask ourselves: When we experience epiphanies of Christ in our lives, do our hearts throb and overflow as Isaiah tells us they will in our first reading?  When we acknowledge the gift of eternal life in Christ, do we accept the stewardship of God’s grace and use our gifts in the service of the Gospel, as Saint Paul did in our second reading?  When we find the Son of God lying in the manger or reposing in the Tabernacle, do we come and adore him?  Do we respond to the epiphanies in our lives like the chief priests and scribes, like Herod or like the magi? 

          I’ve been blessed with many epiphanies of Christ in my life, but I can’t say that I responded like the magi did every time.  Certain epiphanies stand out as particularly profound and transformative, though.  I’ve found Christ manifest in the order and beauty of the cosmos on a crisp, star-studded night in the Catskills.  I’ve felt Christ truly present in the Eucharist as I’ve elevated the chalice at Mass.  I’ve seen the passion of Christ played out in the sunken eyes of a beggar woman in Bangalore India.  I suspect that I might have disregarded all of these epiphanies, or maybe even greeted them with hostility, if it hadn’t been for the epiphany I experienced some thirty years ago.  On January 11, 1985, I chose to believe that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, the Son of God and the Savior of the world, and my life has been all the happier for it.




[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church 528.
[2] William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1 (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2001) at 34-35.
[3] Id. at 35.
[4] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth:  The Infancy Narratives (New York, Random House, 2012) at 105.
[5] Barclay at 35.
[6] Pope Benedict XVI at 103.
[7] Barclay at 35.
[8] Pope Benedict XVI at 106.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Morning


                It’s amazing to think how much Christmas morning has changed during my lifetime.  From the lyrical tiny tot with my eyes all aglow of my earliest Christmas mornings, to the whiny snot with my eyes all a-glare of my skeptical, present-hungry teenager years, from my first Christmas with my wife, where every gift seemed to be an ornament emblazoned with “Our First Christmas,” to the lump-in-the-throat blessing of watching our own small children explode with excitement at the sight of their presents under the tree, it seems like every Christmas morning of my 51 years has been somewhat different. 

                Some things about Christmas mornings have been constant over the years, though.  I’ve been fortunate to have been “home for Christmas” every year, no matter where home may have been at the time.  I’m blessed with family and friends who, though not always physically present on Christmas morning, always extend their Christmas greetings via cards, phone calls and now texts and social media postings.   Last, and certainly not least, I have received socks and chocolate every Christmas for about as long as I can remember.  My family obviously knows me well as a heavy user of both – dark chocolate, if you’re taking notes.  All of these things, of course, could change, so I cherish them every year while they last. 

There is one thing about Christmas morning that will never change – the unwavering feature of every Christmas since the first:  On Christmas morning “a child is born, a son is given: and the government shall rest upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called  Wonder Counselor, mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”  (Isaiah 9:6)  Every Christmas morning, God’s Word is made flesh and dwells among us to share in our humanity so that we may come to share in his divinity.  Every Christmas morning, indeed, every day of our lives, the birth of the Christ Child offers us a new dawn, a new beginning, a second, third or even fourth chance.  In short, the birth of the Christ Child offers us hope. 

          My wish for you and your families on this Christmas morning is that the hope of the Christ Child may always be a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path.  Have a Blessed Christmas Morning, now and all the days of your life.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas Mourning

                While skating through various social media outlets, I found several posts nestled among the eggnog recipes, glittery angel babies and videos of tiny tots with their eyes all aglow that didn’t fit the typical holiday mold.  They were sad posts:  posts about missing loved ones, holiday depression and dreading Christmas.  It seems like 2016 has been particularly hard on people for lots of reasons.  It seems like a lot of people are dealing with Christmas mourning.

                From the commercials, to the decorations, from the parties to the caroling, everything about Christmas tells us that we’re supposed to be happy.  But life can be tough, and the challenges of life don’t go on holiday just because it’s Christmas.  I’m sure we’ve all experienced Christmas mourning at one time or another:  perhaps the first Christmas after the loss of a loved one, or during a persistent illness; maybe when we couldn’t afford Christmas gifts because money was tight, or a time when we spent Christmas alone.  The fact is, Christmas isn’t necessarily the “Hap-, Happiest Season of All” for everyone.

                So what do we do about Christmas mourning?  Well, a good first step is to acknowledge that Christmas mourning is real.  People really suffer – even on Christmas – and it’s ok not to be jolly every second of the day from Santa’s arrival in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade until the Magi depart for their own land on Epiphany.  Whether self-imposed or foisted upon us by the well-meaning chap at the company holiday party who can think of nothing better to say than, “Cheer up; it’s Christmas”, the expectation to be happy only exacerbates our woes.  We need to give ourselves and others a break and accept that it’s OK to mourn every once in a while, even if that once in a while may fall on Christmas.

                Second, we should honor our Christmas mourning.  When I was in Deacon School, we were taught that we need to honor every emotion because every emotion is legitimate.  If you’re mad, be mad; if you’re sad, be sad; give each emotion its due.  We take the time to honor our emotions so we don’t repress them in an unhealthy way.  Honoring our emotions, whatever they may be, helps us to deal with them, put them in proper perspective and not allow them to dominate our lives.  Christmas is no different, and in my experience, there’s nothing more therapeutic than having a good cry while the choir sings Silent Night during Midnight Mass!  

Third, and most importantly, we need to remember that we’re not alone.  Christmas is the celebration of the Incarnation of the Christ – the moment in history when God humbled himself to share in our humanity, to prove that he is “God with us.”  In Jesus, God shares the fullness of the human experience:  mourning, weeping, suffering, pain and death included.  We’re never alone in our suffering, not just because others are suffering too, but because God himself suffered for us and with us in Jesus Christ.  What a blessing it is to have a God who loves us so much that he joins us in our suffering.  Aligning our suffering with Christ’s passion and death turns our attention to the glory of his resurrection – our sure hope that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

I'm not in a proverbial “bad place” this year, but I know a few people who are.  To them I say, I understand, but God understands perfectly.  Rest assured that a certain poor deacon will be offering his Midnight Mass for your Christmas mourning and may even join you in a good cry while the choir sings Silent Night

O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:  come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.  Amen