Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Still Trying To Decide What to Give Up for Lent?

It's Fat Tuesday. Do you know yet what you are giving up for Lent? If you are scrambling for ideas and still trying to decide, here are some helpful tips. (No, this won't be another "10 ideas for Lent" click-bait list).

What's Required?

First of all, know that you are not required to give up anything specific for Lent (or give up anything at all, really). All you are required to "give up" during Lent is meat on Fridays and Ash Wednesday, and food (in the form of fasting) on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting means only having one meal during the day, though it does not preclude taking other food if necessary so long as it does not equal another meal. Catholics 14 and older are bound to abstain from meat, while Catholics ages 18-59 are bound by the fasting law. All things considered, that's not much.

So Why "Give Up" Something?

If all that is required is what is mentioned above, why do Catholics typically give up other things during Lent? It's because Lent overall is a season of fasting, prayer, and charity. Fasting should be part of our Lenten experience. That's why we are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, marking the beginning and ending of Lent. But it's good to fast in other ways all through Lent. The US Bishops recommend fasting on all weekdays of Lent. This won't be possible for everyone, though. So most of us will choose to fast in a limited way by voluntarily giving up something, usually food-related.

So you may choose to fast from desserts, from snacking between meals, from meat, from coffee, from alcohol, or some other type of food. 

It's Not a Diet

Keep in mind our fasting is supposed to be for our spiritual benefit, not necessarily our health. If you want to give up carbs so that you can lose a few pounds by the summer, that's a diet, not fasting. Dieting for your health may be a praiseworthy endeavor, but that's not the point of the Lenten fast. Our Lenten fast is about both doing penance and also disciplining ourselves to learn to resist bodily pleasures. By denying ourselves something good that we desire (like chocolate or coffee), we learn to deny ourselves more illicit pleasures when the temptation to sin arises. 

With that in mind, the thing you choose to give up should be something good. Otherwise it is not a sacrifice. It should also be something that you feel attached to in some way. It should be something you will miss. If you only drink a couple of beers on the weekend, then giving up alcohol for Lent won't be much of a sacrifice for you. You may not even notice it. But if you habitually eat dessert after each meal, giving up dessert will have a great impact on your daily life. 

Try to choose something that you will feel the absence of each day. You want it to be difficult to give up -- but not impossible. Don't set yourself up for failure. You want your Lenten sacrifice to be hard, but not too hard.

It's Voluntary

Remember, too, that your Lenten fast is self-imposed. Apart from the requirements mentioned above, what you give up is up to you. That means you can make changes as you go, if you feel they are necessary. If you start out Lent by giving up caffeine, you may find two weeks in that it's much easier than you think. You don't miss it at all. It doesn't really feel like a sacrifice. Perhaps, then, you should consider giving up something else.

Alternately, you may find that without caffeine, you are especially grouchy. You feel miserable, and are making others around you miserable. It starts to negatively affect your friendships, or makes it very hard for you to study. This may also be a reason for giving up something else. Your Lenten sacrifice should be a sacrifice for you not for those around you.

Think Outside the Box

We typically think of giving up something food related, because of the connection to fasting. But you are free to do penance in other ways. One year my pre-teen daughter gave up her bed, sleeping on the floor of her room all of Lent. Some people will give up Netflix or social media. I had a student once who gave up eating with utensils.

Some will suggest giving up your time by devoting extra time during the day to prayer, spiritual reading, or doing charitable acts. These are all good things, and go right along with the Lenten practices of prayer and works of charity. So I'm not saying don't do them. Definitely do them. But, in my opinion, they don't really address the spirit of fasting. Fasting calls us to do without. It reminds us that the material things of this world, as good as they are, are not the greatest good. By voluntarily denying ourselves the happiness we get from food, drink, or other material things, we learn to turn to God as our primary source of happiness, and so grow one step closer to that eternal happiness we are called to enjoy forever in heaven.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

8th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

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Richard Carlson was one of the most popular motivational speakers of the twentieth century, considered an expert in happiness and stress reduction. I generally don't go in for motivational speakers, this Sunday's gospel reading reminds me of the line that made Carlson famous: "Don't sweat the small stuff... and it's all small stuff!"

Jesus tells us not to worry. He wants us instead to trust in God. He uses the examples of birds and wild flowers. God cares for these creatures of nature and provides for all of their needs. And aren't you and I much more important to God than birds and flowers? Why should we doubt that God will provide for our needs with even greater care?

But birds don't have test and exams. Birds don't have three papers due on Monday. Birds don't have to work two part time jobs to supplement their student loans. Birds don't suffer through breakups, fight with their parents, or worry about finding jobs after graduation.

I know from experience that college can be a time of high anxiety. I've stood on that precipice of adulthood, knowing you are only a couple of short years from grown-up responsibility, and having no idea how to go about finding a job, or a spouse. It can be hard envisioning yourself paying a mortgage when you are still learning how to balance a check book. When I was preparing to strike out on my own, the very idea of insurance filled me with dread! How can you not be worried about the future?

But something happened to me in college that changed my perspective. I found faith. God became the biggest thing in my life, and judged by the scale of His majesty, all my worries became "small stuff."

Don't get me wrong. Faith is not a magic pill that makes all your problems go away. Faith is no guarantee of health or wealth, friendship or security. We don't believe in the "Prosperity Gospel" peddled by TV preachers who promise fancy cars and luxury homes if you only pray hard enough. Our Lord is the Christ who told His followers that they would be persecuted and commanded that they take up their cross and follow Him to Calvary. Faith in God does not mean you will never suffer in life. You will.

Former Czech president Vaclav Havel once said that, "Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, no matter how it turns out." I think the Catholic version of that quote could read, "Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that God works all things for good" (Rom 8:28). 

There are Christians of deep faith who go hungry. There are Christians of deep faith who lack decent clothing. More astonishingly, there are Christians of deep faith who intentionally give up their material possessions to embrace a life of poverty. I'm thinking of the Franciscans and other similar religious orders. They do this because they know that God is the greatest thing in life, and in light of His love, even good and necessary things like food and clothing seem small in comparison.

Jesus tells us in our gospel reading, "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?" Food and clothing are good and important things. But they are not the most important things. Jesus tells us what is most important. "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness." 

If our relationship with God is the most important thing in our life; if we allow His kingdom to reign in our hearts, then we will know happiness and peace even amidst poverty, even amidst sorrow, even amidst illness -- even when we fail that exam, or don't get into that grad school we applied to. We will have hope, not that things will turn out well, but that we will be in God's friendship no matter how things turn out. We will know that whatever hardships befall us in this life, nothing can ever take God's love away from us. We will know that the suffering endured in this life is but a moment's pain in light of the eternal joy of our blessed reward in the life to come.

In short, Jesus tells us not to sweat the small stuff. And compared to our relationship with God, everything is small stuff.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Getting Ready for Lent

Ash Wednesday is March 1 this year, which means Lent is barely a week away. It's not too soon to start thinking about how you can grow spiritually this Lenten season.

Lent is a penitential season, and so we rightly think of Lent as a somber time to turn away from sin and toward Christ. But did you know the word lent actually comes from an old English word meaning "springtime?" Lent therefore is also a time of growth and renewal.

The season of Lent is meant to be a time marked by prayer, fasting and almsgiving (charitable acts). Here are some quick tips to help you get the most out of this Lent.

Don't Just Fast

It's common for Catholics to "give something up" for Lent; often it's food related -- sweets, coffee, alcohol, meat, and so forth. This goes hand in hand with the long tradition of fasting which the Church has always upheld, and which goes back to ancient Jewish practice. 

Food is good. Not only do we need a certain amount of food to sustain our lives, but we also derive enjoyment from eating. This makes fasting a good form of penance and a good spiritual discipline. By voluntarily denying ourselves the licit pleasure of certain kinds of food that we like, it becomes easier for us to resist illicit temptations when they arise. 

But to be spiritually beneficial, our fasting must be accompanied by prayer. Fasting without prayer is a diet plan, and Lent is not just a Catholic diet. It's about spiritual growth, not losing weight. Over and over again, in the scriptures, in the Catechism, in the writings of the Church Fathers and other saints, these two things are always mentioned together -- prayer and fasting, prayer and fasting, prayer and fasting. They are meant to go hand in hand.

So while it's good to "give something up" for Lent, you should at the same time increase your prayer. There are many different forms this can take. You can pray a daily rosary. You can try to get to a daily Mass a couple of times during the week. You can begin your day with a morning offering. You can do an examination of conscience each night before bed. You can simply set aside five minutes during the day to be silent and allow God to fill your heart.

A good rule of thumb is to start with your current prayer routine and add something a little extra. If you already pray the rosary every day, try adding a Marian litany afterwards. On the other hand, if  you currently are not praying at all, I wouldn't recommend jumping in with a daily rosary, daily Mass, reading the Bible for 30 minutes, and spending an hour in silent Adoration each day. Don't set the bar too high; all you will end up doing is frustrating yourself. The point is to grow spiritually, and we all must grow starting from where we currently are.

The same holds true for fasting. Don't try to give up too much. The point is to discipline yourself not torture yourself. Set yourself up for succeess, not failure.

Spiritual Reading

Many Catholics also like to use Lent as an opportunity for extra spiritual reading. It's hard to go wrong with the Bible. You might choose one of the books of the Bible that has always interested you and make a personal scripture study out of it. Or you might make a daily devotion out of reading the scripture readings for the Mass of the day. You can find these daily readings on the USCCB web site. You can even have them sent to your email each morning.

Outside of the Bible, there is no end to good spiritual books to read. St. Augustine's Confessions is the most read non-Biblical Christian book of all time. Have you read it? If you are looking for a more contemporary author, The World's First Love, by Fulton Sheen (or really anything Sheen has written), or Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis are modern classics. For something even more modern, you can read one of Matthew Kelley's books such as Dynamic Catholic, written specifically to inspire Catholics to reboot their faith. Ask someone whose faith you admire what books have been especially helpful to them.

Get Involved

If you haven't been very involved in campus ministry, or not as involved as you would like to be, Lent is a great time to check out what we've got going on. I especially recommend joining one of our Bible Study small groups. We have one that meets on Mondays at 5:00pm and another that meets on Thursdays at 6:00pm, both at the Starbucks on campus. These are student-led groups that explore the scriptures together each week and discuss faith, life, their joys and struggles. These groups are open to anyone, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, and are a great shot-in-the-arm for your spiritual life.

I also encourage you to accompany us to the Community Table on Tuesday afternoons, where we serve meals to the hungry from 4:00-6:00pm. This ties directly in to the almsgiving emphasis of Lent, performing a work of mercy to help those in need. While Tuesdays are our regular volunteer days, Community Table needs volunteers all during the week, so feel free to go in any day on your own. There are, of course, many other wonderful charitable organizations who could benefit from your service -- the Smoky Mountain Pregnancy Care Center, Safe Harbor, Neighbors in Need, local nursing homes and more.

Return to the Sacraments

Needless to say, if you've been away from the sacraments for a while, Lent is the perfect opportunity to come back. Because Lent is a penitential season, most parishes will have penance services and extra times for Confession. 

Here at CCM, we have Confession available every Sunday at 3:30 pm (30 minutes before Mass). We usually try to schedule an additional opportunity for Confession one Wednesday evening during Lent, so stay tuned for that. You can also contact Fr. Voitus to make an appointment (you can contact him through St. Mary's office number or email). 

If it's been a long time since you've been to Confession, here is a simple one-page guide that takes you through it step-by-step. You can also watch this short youtube video that walks you through the process. It's also perfectly OK to tell Father, "It's been a long time since I've done this so can you please walk me through it?" He will guide you in making a good confession. 

Of course it's important to spend some time before Confession thinking about your past actions, identifying your sins, and turning away from them in repentance. An "examination of conscience" is a good resource to help you do this. These are generally lists of questions meant to lead you in self-reflection. There are many out there: here is a short one from the Fathers of Mercy, and an even shorter one from the USCCB.

If you've been away from Mass for a while, we'd love to have you back. Our campus Mass is Sunday at 4:00 pm. Sunday Masses at St. Mary's are at 9:00 and 11:00 am. Remember that participating in Sunday Mass is a serious obligation for Catholics, so if you've missed Mass for anything other than a serious reason (illness, for example), be sure to get here a little early so you'll have time for Confession beforehand. Your mom taught you to wash your hands before eating dinner; you should take the same care to prepare your soul to receive Christ!

Be Intentional

Most of all, be mindful that Lent is not just another time during the year, just as Sunday is not just another day of the week. It's a time of repentance and spiritual growth, but it can only be that for you if you want it to be. Take advantage of this special season of grace offered by the Church to get all that you can out of this Lent. God bless!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Are Christians Wimps?

SEVENTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (A)

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Are Christians wimps? It's easy to see how some may get that impression. In this Sunday's gospel reading (Mt 5:38-48), Jesus says that when someone strikes us on one cheek, we are to offer the other one. He says if someone wants your tunic, to give him your cloak, as well. He says if someone presses us into service for one mile, we should go two miles. He says we should not refuse anyone who wants to borrow money from us.

Is Christ commanding us to be door-mats? Are we to allow others to walk all over us, and take advantage of us?

I don't think so. I don't believe Christ desires a wimpy Church. Christ desires a Church that is strong. But there are different kinds of strength. What Christ asks of us is not militant aggressiveness or egotistical defensiveness. Christ wants a Church that is strong in love.

The Christian is called to love without limits. What Jesus does in this gospel reading is to shatter our preconceived notions of how far our love should extend. "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy" is easy enough to understand. To love those who love us and to hate those who hate us seems natural. It makes sense. 

But Christ calls us to something higher. Christ says we are to love even our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. Jesus tells us that there is nothing praiseworthy about only loving those who love you. "Do not the pagans do the same?" 

When I was in college and I had friends who were involved in neo-pagan religions, especially Wicca. They told me that the key moral code of their religion is, "If it harms none, do what you will."  This is a passive morality. It doesn't so much tell us what to do, as what to avoid. Not causing others harm is good. But it's not good enough.

Our Christian morality goes farther than forbidding us from harming our neighbor; it commands us to love our neighbor. Love is more than just not causing harm. Love means working for their good. This is an active morality, one that calls us to go forth and do something

True love is not contingent upon anything else. True love is generous. True love is unconditional. This is what Christ is calling us to -- true and perfect love. "Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect," is what Christ commands. And how does the Father love us? He loves us so completely that even when we were His enemies, lost in our sin, He sent His only begotten Son to die for us; to be punished and persecuted for our sake, and to bless those who persecuted Him as He was being nailed to the cross. That is our new standard of love. 

So when someone strikes a Christian, we forgive them. When someone persecutes a Christian, we bless them. When someone hates a Christian, we love them. Anything less is a sin. 

Now I ask you again: Are Christians wimps?

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Love Behind the Law

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

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Have you ever wondered why we don't observe many of the laws given in the Old Testament, such as those prohibiting eating shellfish, or wearing clothing of mixed fibers?  But we continue to observe other Old Testament laws when it comes to things like sexual morality, murder, theft, or bearing false witness. Does this make Christians guilty of hypocrisy?

In the gospel reading for this Sunday, Jesus says, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish but to fulfill" (Mt 5:17). What does it mean to say Jesus "fulfills" the law?

I think a clue can be found in this Sunday's second reading, from St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. Elsewhere St. Paul is very adamant about the fact that the law of Moses was not sufficient to save us. He makes this point very strongly in his letters to the Galatians and to the Romans, for example. If simply obeying the many laws laid out in Leviticus and Deuteronomy were enough to justify us before God, Paul argues, then there would be no need for Christ. There would have been no need for the Incarnation, or Jesus' passion and crucifixion. Paul points to himself as a counter-example. He was the most zealous of all the Pharisees, observing the Mosaic Law as much as is humanly possible. But it wasn't enough. What the law does, according to Paul, is to demonstrate just how sinful man is. We all come up short by the measure of God's law.

But here in St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians, he says something curious -- not about the old law, but about the new gospel of Christ. He says, "We speak a wisdom to those who are mature" (1 Cor 2:6).

As children growing up, most of us had household rules we were expected to follow. Perhaps you had a limit on how much television you could watch, or how long you could spend playing video games. Perhaps you had a curfew. Maybe there were rules about sharing with your siblings or how you were to address your parents in a respectful manner. Often parents with well behaved children will only have a few general household rules to follow, while parents of more unruly children will need to put in place many more restrictive rules. But in either case there comes a time when the child grows up and leaves the home. The old rules of the parents no longer apply. It is hoped that you will have learned to behave well not because of the rules, but out of a desire to be a good person.

As mature adults, we don't need Mom and Dad's rules any longer, because we understand the principles that the rules were designed to teach us. Mom and Dad may have had a rule against playing with the stove. All we knew as small children was that we would get in trouble if we played with the stove, but as older children we learned that the stove could be hot and if we touched it we could hurt ourselves. Mom and Dad didn't make the rule in order to take away the joy of playing with the stove. They made the rule to protect us from being hurt. They made the rule because they loved us.

The commands of God are there for the same reasons -- to teach us God's wisdom, to form us in virtue, and to protect us from harm. They are there because God loves us. In this Sunday's gospel, Jesus shows us the love behind the law.

Old Testament restrictions that were purely disciplinary -- things like dietary regulations and wearing clothing of mixed fibers -- are no longer in effect, just like your curfew is no longer in effect when you grow up and leave home. Those disciplines have served their purpose. But other aspects of the law, those dealing with human nature and how we are to love God and our neighbor, remain. In fact, Jesus sets an even higher standard.

The law says not to murder. Jesus says we are not to hate.

The law says not to commit adultery. Jesus says we are not to lust.

The law says not to break a solemn oath. Jesus says to speak the truth at all times.

The higher standard set by Jesus is the standard of love. It's relatively easy to follow the letter of the Ten Commandments. But just because you avoid murdering, lying, cheating on your spouse, disrespecting your parents, and worshiping false Gods, this does not make you a paragon of virtue. It means you are not a complete jerk. Congratulations.

Jesus wants you to do more than obey the letter of the law. He is calling you to something higher than mere obedience. He is calling you to virtue. He is calling you to live the love behind the law. He is calling you to perfection.

This is hard, and we can't do it on our own. But here is the good news -- we don't have to. Jesus came to fulfill the law, and it is through and with Jesus that we can live according to the law of love We have the one who made the law as our Teacher. We have His Holy Spirit as our Advocate. We have the grace of God as the wind in our sails, driving us forward in the moral life.

But we also have a job to do.  Jesus is not letting us off the hook by fulfilling the old law. He's holding us to a higher standard. As our first reading says, we have a choice to make (Sir 15:17). Before us is life and death, good and evil. Let us choose virtue. Let us choose the path of Christ. Let us choose the love behind the law.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Light of the World

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

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The days are starting to grow longer and as the amount of daylight increases, so too light has been a major theme of our liturgies. Two weeks ago the Sunday reading proclaimed Christ as the great light shining on a people in darkness. This past week we celebrated the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also called Candlemas. The gospel for that feast reveals Christ as a "light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel" (Lk 2:32). On this day candles are blessed as a sign of the light of Christ come into the world.

In this Sunday's readings, the theme of light is put before us again and again. The first reading from Isaiah speaks of God's people shining like a light in the darkness when they follow God's commands to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the homeless. The psalm response says that "a just man is a light in darkness to the upright." In both of these Old Testament readings, light is tied to righteousness, upright moral living, and love of neighbor.

In the Alleluia verse before the gospel we hear Jesus identify Himself as the light. "I am the light of the world... whoever follows me will have the light of life" (Jn 8:12). Christ promises to share His light with those who follow Him, and in the gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus tells His disciples, "You are the light of the world," and admonishes them not to hide their light but to let it "shine before others" to the glory of God.

Christ is the light. Those who follow Christ share in His light, and by doing good deeds, living uprightly, and loving our neighbor, we share that light with others. Light symbolizes that which can be shared without loss. If I share half of my sandwich with you, that leaves me with only half a sandwich. But if I share the light of my candle by lighting the candle of another, the light from my candle is not lessened. Indeed, it has now increased, with two candles shining where before there was only one. So it is with our faith.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about light allowing us to see clearly. Darkness causes us to stumble around, not able to see where we are going. Light allows us to find our way. But light does something else for us. Light gives us focus.

My family keeps a small flock of sheep, who spend the night in a pen (called a "sheepfold," which is a term we sometimes come across in the gospels). My morning routine involves letting the sheep out to pasture. Often in the winter it is still dark when I do this, so I take a flashlight with me. I can see well enough to walk out to the pasture gate without the light, but I use the flashlight to see while I unlatch the chain holding the gate shut.

When I was doing this recently, I noticed something. The flashlight was shining on the gate, so I could see that very clearly. But at the same time everything else got darker. Of course the world did not actually become darker when I turned on my flashlight. But as I looked at where the light was shining, my eyes adjusted to the higher light levels, making everything outside of that beam of light disappear into blackness.

The light from my flashlight lit up what I needed to see, but made everything else vanish. The light gave me focus.

The light of Christ should also give our lives this kind of focus. It should highlight that which is truly important, and obscure the many distractions of this world that pull us away from the path we are to follow.

St. Paul speaks of this focus in our second reading. He tells the Corinthians, "I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2).  The light of Christ was shining in Paul. It gave him focus, allowing him to see nothing else. Paul preached one thing and one thing only to the Corinthians, and that was Jesus. He did not come to entertain them, to share in their gossip, to engage in debate about the fashions, philosophies or politics of the day. He came to share the light of Christ.

It is not that other things cannot be good or important. But the cares of the world look different in light of Jesus. In the light of Christ and what He has done for us -- sacrificing Himself for our sins, freeing us from death, restoring us to union with the Father -- the concerns of this world fade away. This is not say that we have no concern for the world, but rather that our primary concern is Jesus Christ and our concern for the world should be the concern of Christ.

When we stand in the presence of Christ's light, all we see is Him. Everything else is viewed in that light. When we look upon those who are hungry, we see Christ, and so we feed them. When we look upon the homeless, we see Christ, and so we shelter them. When we look upon the naked, we see Christ, and so we clothe them. When we look upon the stranger, we see Christ, and so we welcome them. When we look upon our neighbor, we see Christ, and so we love them.

We are not worried about trying to save the world, because the world already has a Savior. Instead, we love the world He has come to save. It is a world that contains suffering, yes. But it is a world made beautiful by His light.

So I implore you all today to let the light of Christ shine through you, in you, and before you. Orient your life by this light. Use it to navigate through the world. Allow it to illuminate your path. Let Christ's light do what it was meant to do. Let it give you focus. And let it shine out from you like a beacon, glorifying God by your works of love.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Throats & Candles

There are many good things about being Catholic (that whole forgiveness of sins, salvation and eternal beatitude thing is pretty awesome). But among the great things about our faith are all the interesting traditions. In early February, we have some particularly interesting traditions regarding candles and throats.

CANDLEMAS

February 2 is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also known as "Candlemas." It is traditional to bless candles on this day.

This day marks the presentation of Jesus in the Temple forty days after His birth, and in some places is considered the official end of the Christmas season. According to Jewish Law, a woman could not approach the Temple for forty days after giving birth to a male child, after which time she must offer sacrifice in Jerusalem (Lev 12:1-8). Mary fulfills this law, offering "the sacrifice of the poor," two turtledoves or pigeons. 

While at the Temple, the Holy Family encounter Simeon, who had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he wouldn't die before he had seen the Christ. When Simeon sees the baby Jesus, he cries out, "Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel" (Lk 2:29-32). 

Pope St. John Paul II called Simeon's words to Mary "a second Annunciation" (Redemptoris Mater, n16). The reference to Christ as the light to the Gentiles is perhaps why this day has become associated with candles -- the primary way of bringing light to darkness in the pre-modern world. The liturgy for this day includes rites for a procession and blessing of candles. For this reason, the feast became known popularly as "Candlemas" - the Mass of Candles.

ST. BLAISE & THE BLESSING OF THROATS

The day after Candlemas, February 3, is the feast of St. Blaise, bishop & martyr. St. Blaise was bishop of Sebaste in Armenia and was martyred during the reign of the emperor Licinius (r. 308-325 AD). He was also a physician and known as a healer of both men and animals. He is associated especially with ailments of the throat.

The association of St. Blaise with throat problems comes from an account of his healing of a young boy. When St. Blaise was imprisoned for his faith, he is said to have healed many of his fellow prisoners. One in particular was a young boy who was choking on a fish bone. St. Blaise prayed over the boy's throat and he was able to cough up the bone. Because of this, it is traditional to bless throats on his feast day.

Coming as it does immediately after Candlemas, the tradition further developed to bless throats using two crossed candles which had been blessed the day before. In the Catholic Church, we don't just bless things -- we bless things with blessed things!

 
At St. Mary's, Father Voitus will bless candles at the 9:00am Mass on Thursday, Feb. 2. If anyone has candles for personal use they wish to have blessed, they are welcome to bring them (you can also drop them off at the church any time beforehand, if you are unable to be at Mass, and pick up your blessed candles later). 

Father will also be blessing throats after the 9:00am Mass on Friday, Feb. 3, as well as after all Masses on Sunday, Feb. 5, including our Mass on campus.