Second Sunday of Advent
December 9, 2018

St. John of the Cross - December 14

John is a saint because his life was a heroic effort to live up to his name: “of the Cross.” The folly of the cross came to full realization in time. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34b) is the story of John’s life. The Paschal Mystery—through death to life—strongly marks John as reformer, mystic-poet, and theologian-priest.

Ordained a Carmelite priest in 1567 at age 25, John met Teresa of Avila and like her, vowed himself to the primitive Rule of the Carmelites. As partner with Teresa and in his own right, John engaged in the work of reform, and came to experience the price of reform: increasing opposition, misunderstanding, persecution, imprisonment. He came to know the cross acutely—to experience the dying of Jesus—as he sat month after month in his dark, damp, narrow cell with only his God.

Yet, the paradox! In this dying of imprisonment John came to life, uttering poetry. In the darkness of the dungeon, John’s spirit came into the Light. There are many mystics, many poets; John is unique as mystic-poet, expressing in his prison-cross the ecstasy of mystical union with God in theCanticle.

But as agony leads to ecstasy, so John had histo Mt. Carmel, as he named it in his prose masterpiece. As man-Christian-Carmelite, he experienced in himself this purifying ascent; as spiritual director, he sensed it in others; as psychologist-theologian, he described and analyzed it in his prose writings. His prose works are outstanding in underscoring the cost of discipleship, the path of union with God: rigorous discipline, abandonment, purification. Uniquely and strongly John underlines the gospel paradox: The cross leads to resurrection, agony to ecstasy, darkness to light, abandonment to possession, denial to self to union with God. If you want to save your life, you must lose it. John is truly “of the Cross.” He died at 49—a life short, but full.

The Cardinal Virtues

The Virtues and Grace

1810 virtues acquired by education, by deliberate acts and by a perseverance ever-renewed in repeated efforts are purified and elevated by divine grace. With God's help, they forge character and give facility in the practice of the good. The virtuous man is happy to practice them.

1811 It is not easy for man, wounded by sin, to maintain moral balance. Christ's gift of salvation offers us the grace necessary to persevere in the pursuit of the virtues. Everyone should always ask for this grace of light and strength, frequent the sacraments, cooperate with the Holy Spirit, and follow his calls to love what is good and shun evil.

From the Desk of Deacon Denis


1812The human virtues are rooted in the theological virtues, which adapt man's faculties for participation in the divine nature: for the theological virtues relate directly to God. They dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity. They have the One and Triune God for their origin, motive, and object.

1813The theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character. They inform and give life to all the moral virtues. They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life. They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being. There are three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity.

From the desk of Fr. Agustin Estrada

My brothers and sisters, let us try to understand what Confession is: If we really understand it, with our mind and heart, we will feel the need and the joy of experiencing this encounter, in which God, granting us his forgiveness through the priest, creates a new heart in us, puts a new Spirit in us, so that we can live a life reconciled with Him, with ourselves and with others, so that we also will be able to forgive and love, beyond any temptation to mistrust and weariness. Over the course of some weeks and helped by the wisdom of my good friend his Excellency Bruno Forte, bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chieti-Vasto (Italy), in this small corner of our bulletin I want to offer some brief reflections that serve for the good of our soul and for the greater glory of God and his Church • Fr. Agustin Estrada, parochial vicar.

1. Why go to Confession?
Why must one go to Confession? It is a question that is posed again in many ways. Why go to a priest to tell one's sins and not do so directly to God, who knows and understands us much better than any human interlocutor? And, in a more radical way, why speak of my affairs, especially of those that even I myself am ashamed of, to someone who is a sinner like me, and who perhaps assesses my experience in a completely different way than I do, or doesn't understand it at all? What does he know is a sin for me? And some add: Does sin really exist or is it only an invention of priests so that we will behave well? I think I can answer this last question right away and without fear of being refuted: Sin exists, and not only is it wrong but it does evil. Suffice it to look at the daily scene of the world, where violence, wars, injustices, abuses, egoisms, jealousies and vengeance burst out. He who believes in the love of God, moreover, perceives that sin is love that falls back on itself, ingratitude of the one who responds to love with indifference and rejection. This rejection has consequences not only in the one who lives it, but also in the whole society. Precisely because of this, one must not hesitate to emphasize the enormity of the tragedy of sin and how the loss of the sense of weakens the heart in the face of the spectacle of evil and the seductions of Satan, adversary who tries to separate us from God. The profound reason that leads me to think this way is the experience of God's mercy that I feel in myself and that I see shine in so many humble people: It is an experience that I have lived many times, both giving forgiveness as minister of the Church, as well as receiving it. The joy stems from feeling myself loved in a new way by God, every time that his forgiveness reaches us through the priest who gives us in his name. It is the joy I have seen often on the face of those coming to Confession: not the futile sense of relief of the one who has "emptied the sack", but the peace of feeling well "within" oneself, touched in the heart by a love that cures, that comes from above and transforms us. To ask for forgiveness with conviction, to receive it with gratitude and to give it with generosity is a source of inestimable peace: Because of this, it is right and beautiful to go to Confession •

2. Confess to a priest?

You then ask: Why must one confess one's sins to a priest and not do so directly to God? Of course, one always addresses God when confessing one's sins. However, that it is also necessary to do so to a priest is something that God himself makes us understand: In sending his Son with our flesh, he shows he wants to encounter us through a direct contact that passes through the signs and language of our human condition. Just as He came out of Himself for love of us and has come to "touch us" with his flesh, we are also called to come out of ourselves for love of Him and to go with humility and faith to him who can give us pardon in his name with word and gesture. Only the absolution of sins that the priest gives in the sacrament can communicate the interior certainty of having been truly forgiven and received by the Father who is in Heaven, because Christ has entrusted to the ministry of the Church the power to bind and to lose, to exclude and admit in the Covenant community. Therefore, to go to Confession to a priest is very different from doing so in the secret of one's heart, exposed to so many uncertainties and ambiguities that fill life and history. You will never know absolutely if what has touched you is the grace of God or your emotion, if you have forgiven yourself or if He has forgiven you in the way He chose. Absolved by the one the Lord has chosen and sent as minister of forgiveness, you will be able to experience the freedom that only God gives and understand why going to Confession is a source of peace •

3. A God close to our weakness
Confession therefore is the encounter with divine forgiveness, which is offered to us in Jesus and transmitted to us through the ministry of the Church. In this effective sign of grace, meeting with endless mercy, we are offered the face of a God who knows like no one our human condition and comes close to it with very tender love. Innumerable episodes in the life of Jesus demonstrate this to us, from the meeting with the Samaritan woman to the healing of the paralytic, from the forgiveness of the adulteress to the tears in the face of the death of his friend Lazarus. … We have immense need of this tender and compassionate closeness of God, as a simple glance at our existence also shows: Each one of us lives with his own weakness, goes through sickness, draws near to death, is aware of the challenge of the questions that all this pose to the heart. No matter how much we wish to do good, the frailty that characterizes us all, exposes us continually to the risk of falling into temptation. The Apostle Paul described this experience with precision: "I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do" (Romans 7:24). It is the interior conflict from which is born the invocation: "Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24). To it responds in a special way the sacrament of forgiveness, which comes to rescue us always again in our condition of sin, reaching us with the healing power of divine grace and transforming our heart and our behavior. Because of this, the Church does not tire of proposing the grace of this sacrament to us during the whole journey of our lives: Through it Jesus, true heavenly physician, takes charge of our sins and accompanies us, continuing his work of healing and salvation. As happens in every love story, also the Covenant with the Lord must be tirelessly renewed: Faithfulness is the ever-new desire of the heart that gives itself and receives the love offered it, until the day that God will be all in all •

4. Stages of the encounter with forgiveness
Precisely because it was desired by a profoundly "human" God, the encounter with mercy that Jesus offers us takes place in several stages, which respect the seasons of life and of the heart. At the beginning, is listening to the Good News, in which we hear the call of the Beloved: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel". Through this voice the Holy Spirit acts in us, giving us docility to consent and believe in the Truth. When we are docile to this voice and decide to respond with our whole heart to Him who calls us, we undertake the journey that takes us to the greatest gift, a gift that is so valuable that it leads Paul to say: "We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God!" (2 Corinthians 5:20). Reconciliation is precisely the sacrament of the encounter with Christ who, through the ministry of the Church, comes to help the weakness of the one who has betrayed or rejected the Covenant with God; he reconciles him with the Father and with the Church, he re-creates him as [a] new creature in the strength of the Holy Spirit •

5. Celebration of the encounter
In the history of the Church, penance has been lived in a great variety of ways, communal and individual, which nevertheless have maintained all the fundamental structure of the personal encounter between the repentant sinner and the living God, through the mediation of the ministry of the Bishop or the priest. Through the words of the absolution, pronounced by a man who is a sinner who, however, has been chosen and consecrated for the ministry, it is Christ himself who receives the repentant sinner and reconciles him with the Father and in the gift of the Holy Spirit, renews him as living member of the Church. Reconciled with God, we are received in the vivifying communion of the Trinity and receive in ourselves the new life of grace, the love that only God can infuse in our hearts: The sacrament of forgiveness thus renews our relationship with the Father, with the Son and with the Holy Spirit, in whose name we are given absolution from our faults. As the parable of the Father and the two sons shows, the encounter of reconciliation culminates in a banquet of tasty dishes, in which one participates with a new robe, a ring and shoes on one's feet (cf. Luke 15:22f): images that express all the joy and beauty of the gift offered and received. Truly, to use the words of the Father in the parable, "let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found" (Luke 15:24)

6. Return to the Father's House
In relation to God the Father, penance presents itself as a "return home". Through becoming aware of our faults, we realize we are in exile, far from the homeland of love: We feel ill at ease, sorrow, because we understand that sin is a rupture of the Covenant with the Lord, a rejection of his love, it is "unloved love," and because of this is also source of alienation, because sin uproots us from our true dwelling, the Father's heart. It is then that we need to remember the house in which we are awaited: Without this memory of love we would never have the necessary confidence and the hope to make the decision to return to God. With the humility of the one who knows he is not worthy of being called "son," we can decide to call at the door of the Father's house. What a surprise to realize he is at the window scrutinizing the horizon because he has been waiting for a long time for our return! To our open hands, to the humble and repentant heart responds the free offer of forgiveness with which the Father reconciles us with himself, "converting us" in some way to ourselves: "While he was still at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him" (Luke 15:20). With extraordinary tenderness, God introduces us in a renewed way in the condition of sons, offered by the Covenant established in Jesus •

7. Encounter with Christ, Dead and Risen for Us
In relation to the Son, the sacrament of Reconciliation offers us the joy of the encounter with Him, the crucified and risen Lord, who through His death, gives us the new life, infusing His Spirit in our hearts. This encounter takes place through the itinerary that leads each one of us to confess our faults with humility and sorrow for our sins, and to receive forgiveness with gratitude full of wonder. United to Jesus in His death and on the Cross, we die to sin and to the old man that has triumphed in Him. His blood shed for us reconciles us with God and with others, demolishing the wall of enmity that keeps us prisoners of our solitude without hope and without love. The force of His resurrection reaches us and transforms us; the Risen One touches our heart, makes it burn in us with new faith, which opens our eyes and makes us able to recognize Him beside us and His voice in which there is need of us. All our life of sinners, united to Christ crucified and risen, is offered to the mercy of God to be healed of anguish, freed from the weight of guilt, confirmed in the gifts of God and renewed in the power of His victorious love. Liberated by the Lord Jesus, we are called to live like Him, in freedom from fear, guilt and the seductions of evil, to accomplish works of truth, justice and peace •

8. New Life in the Spirit.

Thanks to the gift of the Spirit that diffuses in us the love of God, the sacrament of Reconciliation is source of new life, renewed communion with God and with the Church, of which, in fact, the Spirit is the soul and the force of cohesion. It is the Spirit that drives the forgiven sinner to express in life the peace received, accepting above all the consequences of the fault committed and the so-called punishment, which is like the effect of the sickness represented by sin and which must be regarded as a wound to be healed with the oil of grace and the patience of love that we must have toward ourselves.  The Spirit then helps us to mature the firm intention to undertake a journey of conversion consisting of concrete commitments of charity and prayer: the penitential sign required by the confessor serves precisely to express this choice. The new life to which we are thus reborn, can show more than anything else the beauty and the force of forgiveness invoked and received always anew ("forgiveness" means precisely renewed gift: to forgive is to give infinitely!).  I ask you, then, why do without such a great gift? Draw near to Confession with a humble and contrite heart and live it with faith: It will change your life and give peace to your heart. Then your eyes will open to recognize the signs of the beauty of God present in creation and in history and from your soul will rise a song of praise •

9. Let Us Be Reconciled with God

Peace. That is what our heart desires so much and what St. Francis of Assisi expressed so well in his prayer. Only forgiveness, received and given, makes us capable of peace. "Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace: Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love." I hope that in our parish you will always find the Sacrament of confession available, and that in the celebration of this sacrament your soul meets the mercy and compassion of our Lord Jesus Christ • Fr. Agustin.