On the First Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave to Me…

XRF_12daysThere are some radio stations that started playing Christmas songs even before Thanksgiving, which is crazy. Some people have even been listening to that music since before Thanksgiving, which is even crazier (looking at you, SHVP Office Staff…)! Some Christmas music is sing-songy and completely devoid of meaning (I mean “woop-de-doop and dickery-dock”? Really???), but many of our Christmas carols have a very profound meaning. One of my favorites is “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”, a soft and beautiful Marian carol, which, by the way, is chock-full of some serious theology!

The carol I want to focus on is the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” It seems a pretty fun, nonsensical song with a bunch of strange gifts that most normal children would find strange. But actually, this song has a very important purpose. Between 1558 and 1929 in England, it was illegal to be Catholic – not just publically, but privately as well! Open teaching of the Catholic faith would, at times, bring torture and execution. This carol was written as a catechism song to teach young Catholics about the most important gifts of their faith. Now in all fairness, this theory has come under fire, and some of the sources haven’t been totally verified. But really, this is a bulletin article not a scholarly journal, so I’m just going to go with it for fun.

Each of the twelve gifts represents a tenant of our Catholic faith. For example, the partridge in a pear tree given on Christmas Day is, of course, Jesus Christ. The legend goes that a partridge would act wounded in a tree, struggling and crying out to draw predators away from their young. In the same way, Christ was born ultimately to take upon himself the sins of us all to protect us and give us life. Pretty cool, right? But that’s not all! Here are the rest of the gifts:

Two Turtle Doves – the two natures of Jesus, both human and divine

Three French Hens – Faith, Hope, and Charity, the theological virtues

Four Calling Birds – the four Evangelists who wrote the Gospels

Fiiive Goooold Riiiings – the first five books of the Bible, called the Penteteuch

Six Geese A-Laying – six days of Creation

Seven Swans A-Swimming – the seven Sacraments

Eight Maids A-Milking – the eight Beatitudes

Nine Ladies Dancing – the nine choirs of angels

Ten Lords A-Leaping – the Ten Commandments

Eleven Pipers Piping – the eleven faithful Apostles

Twelve Drummers Drumming – the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed

So there you go. I bet you won’t think of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” as just a silly song in the future! These are just a few of the things that make us love our faith even more! Merry Christmas!

Christian Heroism

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This past Friday, I gave a talk for a group of men at my previous parish for “Advent by Tail Light”, a tailgating celebration in preparation for Christmas.  I was looking for a topic particularly important to men, and what has been resting in my heart for the past few weeks has been the idea of heroism.  It’s something attractive, something powerful, something motivating – and something of which I believe our world and our Church is in such dire need.  Enjoy!

Catholic and Loving It! New beginnings…sort of…

I love my Catholic faith. I love it! It’s what helps me to get up in the morning, what drives me to desire Mass every day, and what guides me through my daily ministry. Frankly, it is what gives my life meaning – as a man, but especially as a priest.

But I have to be honest; it hasn’t always been this way. I was raised in a good Catholic family, and we went to Mass every Sunday with my grandmother, my aunt and uncle, and my cousins, but I’d say I didn’t start taking my faith seriously until high school. The more I learned and intellectually understood the precepts of my Catholic faith and the more neat little tidbits of “Catholic culture” that I discovered, the more I grew to love it and sought to figure out what God wanted me to do with it. Ultimately, that quest led me to the seminary and the priesthood, and now, it leads me here to Sacred Heart.

There are so many little pieces of our faith that put together, and make it so beautiful. I think of it like a mosaic down at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. If you can believe it, there are 41.5 million pieces of glass in 7,000 difference colors, covering 83,000 square feet, and each of those tiny pieces are gorgeous! But together, they make the Cathedral the magnificent place of worship that we know and love today. In the same way, there are many little pieces and facets of our faith which are beautiful in themselves, but together, they create a Church and a Catholic faith which I think is worth our admiration and love!

One of the greatest problems among all of us in the Church is that most of us simply don’t know the beauty of those little pieces, so it’s hard to actually love our faith. My goal over the next few weeks, months, and who knows, maybe years (?), is to dust off some of those beautiful little pieces, and hopefully share with you why indeed I am “Catholic and loving it!”

Where will we go from here? I’ll have to figure that out myself, but tune in next week to find out!

Updates!!!

Hi everyone,

I’m still transitioning into the new parish, but I decided to make a few more transitions on the blog as well!  There’s a slightly different look to it now, which is neat, but the bigger update is that soon, I will (hopefully) be posting homilies in audio form!  The parish has the ability to record them, and I’ve worked up the courage to just go ahead and post them, if I can figure out how to do it on WordPress.  The other big update is that in a few weeks, I will be starting a new column in the bulletin here, continuing my writings on the saints and a number of other fun Catholic things!  I am hoping to post some new content by the end of the week, assuming everything works okay with the audio recorder!  See you soon!

Fr. Grosch

 

Updates Coming!

So for those who read this who aren’t members of my parish, I have received a new assignment from His Excellency, the Lord Archbishop of Saint Louis.  Because of that, my time has been soaked up a lot lately with the business of moving.  However, I am going to try to get current, at least with my saint bios on the Desert Fathers.  Also, because I don’t know the practice of my new parish, I might be changing the way I do some things on here (audio maybe?!?).  I also might have to take a break from the saints until I get settled in.  Please stay tuned, pray for me, and keep the faith!

The Communion of Saints: St. Anthony of the Desert

st-anthony-the-greatToday’s saint is St. Anthony the Great/of Egypt/of the Desert/the Abbot.  No, this isn’t the St. Anthony you pray to in order to find your lost remote control.  If anything, I guess St. Anthony would be the one you pray to in order to become lost – lost in the love of Christ.

St. Anthony of the Desert was one of the most influential men in the early Church, but not for the typical reasons.  He wasn’t a great writer, a great speaker, or a martyr – he was the greatest of the Desert Fathers, a movement of people who sought solitude from the busy and corrupt life of the world to embrace simplicity and prayer.  Today, we would call this movement “monasticism” – monos is the Greek word for “alone.”  St. Anthony was far from alone; he just sought different company.

Most of what we know about St. Anthony comes from The Life of Anthony, a biography written by St. Athanasius, who knew and followed Anthony himself.  Anthony was born in Lower Egypt in 251 to wealthy landowners.  He was born and raised a Christian.  His parents died at an early age, and left him the wealth of the family, along with custody of his sister.

One day during Mass in 313, Anthony heard the famous quote of Christ speaking to the rich young man in the Gospel of Matthew: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The young man in the story turned away sad, but Anthony felt compelled to take his place and do as Christ asked. He gave away part of the family estate and sold the remaining 207 acres, donating the funds to his sister and to care for the poor.  He entrusted his sister to a community of Christian women, and went off to follow Christ in the solitude of the Nitrian Desert, where he spent the remainder of his life. Anthony wandered the deserts, living in an abandoned Egyptian fortress, absorbed in prayer and entirely dependent on God.  He spent his days practicing discipline (imagine a life-long Lent!), and with fasting and purity of heart, he faced his temptations.

Even though he longed to be alone, such an extreme example of asceticism, prayer, and dependence on God attracted a lot of followers.  People followed him out into the desert for a number of reasons. Some came to ask him questions and seek spiritual counsel.  Some sought to follow his example, and he encouraged others to form supportive monastic communities. Some travelled all the way out into the desert just to argue with him about the faith.  At one point, a group bishops even journeyed into the desert to summon him to the Council of Nicaea in 325 to give witness to his faith and inspire the Church.

St. Anthony, in drawing so close to Christ in solitude, chose to leave his earthly life the same way. He wanted to die alone – not out of a loneliness or depression, but to be in his uniquely intimate relationship with the one who created him.  Two other monks, Macarius and Amatas, were helping to take care of him by this point, and Anthony left what few belongings he had to them and his followers. He then gave them a blessing, they left him, and he died in 356 at the age of 105.

The truth is, not all of us are called to be monks – some are, but not all.  Still, there is something admirable and inspiring about St. Anthony’s radical dedication to prayer and love of Christ.

Homily from the Solemnity of the Lord’s Nativity

A few weeks ago, one of our musicians asked me a question: “What’s your favorite Christmas song?”  Now you have to understand, that is a nearly impossible question for me, not so much because I love Christmas songs, but because I’m indecisive.  Someone asked me to come up with a Christmas playlist for a party, and it was agonizing.  I was looking through my iTunes library, and all I had were things like “Lo, How a Rose”, “Ave Maria” by Chanticleer, and a Christmas CD from Frank Sinatra.  You can tell why not many people ask me to make playlists…

So I may be indecisive in terms of my favorite Christmas song, but I’m very decisive when it comes to my least favorite.  My personally most loathed song – past, present, and future – is Andy Williams’ “It’s the Holiday Season.”  There is no way you should be able to get away with lyrics like “doop-de-doop” and “dickery-dock” when you’re singing about the Lord’s Nativity.  It’s almost so cheery that it’s annoying.  Sometimes it can seem shallow, because after all those wonderful Christmas parties have gone away and the presents that you’ve spent so much time buying and wrapping are strewn all over the floor, the cheer fades away.  Thing about the gift that’s given in that song – socks of presents, peppermint sticks for Old St. Nick.  There has to be something deeper to give this day real meaning.

Maybe a nice alternative to the Andy Williams’ song would be the beautiful song “O Holy Night,” based off of a poem written by a wine merchant in 1847 to commemorate the renovation of the parish church organ.  Maybe we can reflect on the lyrics to that song:

O Holy Night!

The stars are brightly shining,

It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,

Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,

for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

So if the gift of Andy Williams’ song is peppermint sticks, what’s the gift of this song?  Freedom.  The gift given by the Christ Child in this song is freedom.  It hits a deeper cord, and all of us can connect with that, because we’ve all had the feeling of being weighed down by guilt.  To continue:

Truly he taught us to love one another.

His law is love, and his Gospel is peace.

Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,

And in his name, all oppression shall cease.

Think about the ones who are chained in this song – the poor, the lonely, the marginalized.  Earlier this month, our Holy Father, Pope Francis said, “Our hearts will be filled with the joy of the Lord’s Birth. By leaving a spare place at the dinner table on the Vigil of Christmas, we remember the poor, the hungry, people who are alone, the homeless, the marginalized, the war weary, and especially children! Jesus, the Son of God made Man is present in all of them. Let us open our hearts in order that they may share in our joy.”

But the truth is, brothers and sisters, we are also that slave!  We are the ones whose chains the Lord came to break.  I remember earlier this year visiting a man who was dying.  He was in his home on a hospice bed that had been shipped in by his family.  His daughter and son-in-law came to let me into the house, and they were in tears – I have that effect on people, I suppose.  So I went in to visit this man, and he was so weak that he could barely speak a word, but his face lit up when he saw me.  I had the opportunity to bring him Viaticum, the last Communion to the dying, and I heard his confession.  Obviously, I can’t give you the details (it was nothing big), but there were some things that this man had held on to for 20 or 30 years that he was still carrying with him!  He was still chained by the guilt of these past faults.  And I remember after Confession, as I was putting on my coat to leave, he said, “Father, thank you.  Now I’m free.  Now I can go home.”  Wow.  That’s one of the blessings of being a priest.  When these chains of sin or guilt seem abstract or melodramatic, I get to see Christ break them in a real and concrete way every day.

It’s a simple message that God gives us through this child.  He gives it by becoming a human being, just like us.  He gives it by becoming a helpless baby.  He gives it by coming down from the splendor of heaven to live a regular life right in the middle of the pain, injustice, sorrow, and suffering of our fallen world, as if to say something that each of us needs to hear – “I haven’t given up on you.”  Even if we’ve given up on ourselves, even if we’ve given up on practicing our faith frequently, even if we’ve given up on God entirely, he hasn’t given up on us.  That child is more powerful than our selfishness.  His loving smile is more firm and faithful than our infidelity.  His wisdom is deeper than our ignorance.  His star in the night sky is brighter than our darkest darkness.  God hasn’t given up on us – he invites us back to his manger’s side today.

Now it’s easy to say these words, and it’s easy to sing them, but it’s not always easy to believe what they have to say.  No matter how nice we dress up today, or what kind of gifts we give to others, we all know what’s underneath.  We all know our weaknesses, failures, and regrets, some of which we might bring with us today.  But on this feast, the Lord tells us that we no longer need to be afraid – he hasn’t given up on us.  He wasn’t born in a marble palace in a crib lined with velvet.  He chose to be born in a damp, smelly cave full of moldy straw and animal droppings.  Maybe we think that our hearts are like that cave, and we don’t really believe that God’s love should be there or can be there.  Christmas proves that he can, and he does, and that he longs to be there.  On this holy night, this night divine, he comes into the dark, smelly cave of our hearts and fills it with light, joy, and peace.

So what’s the best response?  As the song tells us, fall on your knees, hear the angel voices.  Hear the voice of God speaking to you today.  That’s why we are here – to give thanks and praise to God for all he has done for us, as we do every time we come to Mass.  We give him thanks for not giving up on us, but for the gift of freedom.  This is a gift not wrapped under the tree, but wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, on this Holy Night, this Night Divine.

Saints of the Roman Canon: St. Lawrence of Rome

lawrenceWe’re still trekking through the saints of the early Church, and today brings us to St. Lawrence of Rome.  He was born in Huesca, Spain around the year 225.  As a young man, he travelled to Zaragoza, where he met Sixtus II (can you believe it’s this guy again?), and went with him to Rome.  Lawrence was ordained by Sixtus as the first of seven deacons in Rome, given the title of “archdeacon.”  At this time, the deacon’s job was a very practical one, as they were in charge of the material needs of the seven regions in Rome and cared for the treasury of the Church.  They would use this treasury for the distribution of alms and food among the poor of the city.

After Pope Sixtus II was killed in August of 258 by the decree of Emperor Valerian, the prefect of the city captured Lawrence and demanded that as archdeacon and caretaker of the treasury, he would hand over the riches of the Church.  Lawrence asked that he would have three days to gather the wealth, which he promptly used to distribute as much property and riches to the poor as he could to prevent it from being seized (C’mon, prefect!  You should have seen that one coming!).

On the 3rd day, Lawrence gathered together a group of Christians from the streets of the city – poor, crippled, blind, sick and suffering – and led them to the prefect.  He presented them saying, “These are the treasures of the Church.  The Church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor.”

"The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence" by Giacomo dall'Orio
“The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence” by
Giacomo dall’Orio

Clearly, the prefect didn’t really find this to be funny, and had his men prepare a gridiron with hot coals beneath it.  Lawrence was then bound and placed on the grill!  As you can already see, Lawrence is known for his sense of humor, and after being left on the gridiron for a while, he made the famous cheerful remark: “I’m well done on this side.  Turn me over!”  Hence, St. Lawrence is the patron of cooks, chefs, and in particular, grillmasters.

St. Lawrence’s body was buried outside the walls of Rome, and to this very day, it has never been moved.  Over the tomb was built the minor basilica of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls, which is considered one of the seven major basilicas in Rome, alongside St. Peter’s and St. Paul Outside the Walls.  He was clearly held in high esteem in the early Roman Church, and even today, we celebrate his feast with a higher solemnity than most other saints.

Oh yeah, and the gridiron used in his martyrdom was preserved in the church of San Lorenzo in Lucina, also in Rome.  Sounds like a new place just made it onto my Roman itinerary!

The Holy Apostles: St. James the Just

And here is a cool icon of St. James celebrating Mass!
And here is a cool icon of St. James celebrating Mass!

Our apostle for this week is St. James.  No, not that one, the other one – St. James the Lesser.  It’s not the greatest nickname, but it was used to distinguish him from the other St. James, the son of Zebedee, who we learned about a short time ago.  St. James the Lesser was also called James the Just, a much better nickname I would say, and was the son of Alphaeus.

St. James is sometimes referred to as the “brother of the Lord.”  This can sometimes be deceiving for us, because we often think of “brother” as a biological term.  In ancient Jewish culture, however, this phrase could be interpreted a number of ways other than being an actual biological brother of Jesus.  James’ mother, who was also named Mary (this is starting to get confusing, isn’t it), was either a sister or a close relative to the Blessed Mother, and so according to the custom of the time, James would be referred to as the “brother of Jesus.”

After the Resurrection, St. James was made the first bishop of Jerusalem, taking care of the infant Church in what seemed a pretty prestigious honor.  Tradition holds that he was the author of the Letter of James in the New Testament.  Now, this isn’t specifically stated in the letter, but evidence suggests that it was written some time after St. Paul’s writings, meaning that it was probably written around 59 AD.  Well, St. James the Greater had been dead for 14 years by that point, so there you go!  Also, many of the early Fathers of the Church support the claim.

The Letter of James was written against some of those who were preaching and teaching things about Jesus that weren’t true, and abusing some of the teachings that had gone before, especially from St. Paul.  It is a very interesting and valuable letter.  It much of the basis for our understanding of the relationship between faith and works, that “faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (2:17)  It also discusses the means to live a holy life, and makes specific reference to the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick: “Is anyone among you sick?  He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord.” (5:14)

St. James was martyred in Jerusalem – we know that much.  But what is interesting is that one of the sources we have isn’t a religious source, but the famous secular historian Josephus, who himself was a Jew.  Apparently, St. James was accused of violating the Jewish Law in Jerusalem.  The Roman procurator at the time had just died, and the new one had not yet arrived in office, so the high priest took advantage of the confusion to condemn James to death by stoning.  And so St. James shared the crown of martyrdom, just as so many other apostles had done before.

Really not as much is known about St. James the Just than other apostles, and there certainly aren’t as many fantastic legends.  But what we do know is that James was one of the human men who became the foundation of the Church.  This wasn’t an achievement of St. James by his own right, but as a gift from God, and he was able to share more deeply in Christ’s life through his own suffering.  Let’s pray that we too can be instruments of grace for Christ to use and build up his Church!