Three Christmas Gospels Highlight Invisible God Made Visible

Three Christmas Gospels Highlight Invisible God Made Visible

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December 09, 2022, The Most Rev. John J. Leibrecht

The joys of past Christmases will again inspire my Christmas this year. For instance, I recall aunts and uncles joining my family for Midnight Mass at our parish church. Afterward, we enjoyed a freshly-prepared hot breakfast at home. Then, we went to the living room for an exchange of gifts.

Next to the Christmas tree, with its multicolored lights, was the crib scene. Mary and Joseph on either side of the new-born child lying in a manger. Looking on were two shepherds, one standing and the other kneeling. Off to the side was a donkey and cow at rest.

Christmas celebrates the birth of a child unique in all human history. The Church tells us about this child in three different Gospels proclaimed at the various Christmas Masses.


At Midnight Mass, the Gospel relates the familiar story of the pregnant Mary journeying with Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register in a census ordered by the Roman emperor. Then, Mary’s child is born. An angel of God appears to shepherds in the area: “A savior has been born for you who is Christ the Lord.” The shepherds hurry, the Gospel of the early Mass tells us to see for themselves, “… this thing that has taken place.” Amazed at all they saw and heard, they proceeded to share with others what had been told to them about the child, wondering if he could be the long-awaited messiah.


John’s Gospel at the late-morning Mass reveals more about who this child is: “In the beginning was the Word … and the Word was God … and the Word became flesh.” This son of Mary, named Jesus, is indeed the Son of God. The heavenly Father has sent his Son to make his dwelling among us. During the years of his life on earth, Jesus would serve in his Father’s name as the “true light which enlightens everyone.”

For Catholics and all Christians around the world, Christmas makes us grateful for the faith we have in Jesus Christ. Faith allows us to see in him the invisible God made visible. It makes possible our acceptance of Jesus as humanity’s Savior announced by the angel of God.

Jesus came to save us, the Scriptures say, from two things: sin and death. Our human weakness does not keep us from sinning, but through Jesus, our sins can be forgiven and, by means of our personal efforts, we are able to live a life based on love of God and love of others. While we are not kept from dying, death does not have the final word. Himself raised from the dead, Jesus promises his faithful followers a whole new life after life on this earth.


Therefore, for Christians, Christmas is more than a Happy Holiday. Christmas focuses our attention on the remarkable presence Jesus wants to have in our lives. One way we can maintain our focus on him—in our lives and certainly in this season—is by participating in Mass each weekend. At Mass the Christ born at Bethlehem becomes present on the altar when the priest prays the Lord’s own words over the bread and wine: This is my Body, This is my Blood. As the priest elevates the host and chalice, the Lord offers himself to the Father, inviting us to offer ourselves with him and to the Father.

Offering ourselves with Christ to the Father involves a willingness to die to one’s Self, to make an effort to be less Self-centered, more Other-centered so we can live in conformity with God’s ways and do good for others. In coming to us in Holy Communion, the Lord becomes the spiritual strength we need to act in accord with our offering of Self to the Father.

Mass is all-important to us Catholics. It deepens and transforms the relationship we have with God, who loves us beyond measure.

May you have a blessed and joyful Christmas, enhanced by good memories of past Christmases. And may Jesus Christ, who is our way and truth and life, be a lamp to your feet in order to light your path in the weeks and months ahead in 2023.

Do Your Part to Become a Saint

Do Your Part to Become a Saint

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COME, AND YOU WILL SEE By Bishop Edward M. Rice
Nov. 25, 2022

In these waning days of November, the month of All Souls, as we begin the season of Advent on Nov. 27, I want to remind you of the beautiful tradition of having a Holy Mass offered for the repose of the souls of the departed. This tradition, reaching back into the Old Testament illustrates the union of the Body of Christ in prayer. In 2 Maccabees 12:38-46, Judas Maccabeus orders that sacrifices be offered in the temple in Jerusalem for Jewish soldiers who had died. The Roman Catholic teaching on purgatory reflects its understanding of the communion of saints. We are connected to the Saints in heaven, those in purgatory and believers here on earth. The Catholic Church teaches that all sin, unfortunately, has a life of its own and may have bad effects even after the sinner repents. I share with you a beautiful quote that was recently sent to me. The author is unknown, but the words speak so beautifully of our spiritual relationship to one another: “All creation is taken up by Christ the Redeemer to be transformed and presented to the Father. In this way we also bring to the altar all the pain and suffering of the world and the certainty that everything has value in God’s sight.” In other words, nothing is lost to God: Everything belongs to God. In the month of All Souls, we are reminded of our mortality here on earth and should also be reminded of the ultimate goal of this life—heaven!

Do you know Leon Bloy? Born in France in 1864, he went from being an agnostic and intense anti-Catholic to a staunch defender of the faith. I offer a quote for consideration as we ponder the traditional “for last things”—death, judgment, heaven, and hell. “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is to not become a saint.” And so I remind us of our three diocesan priorities—growth in holiness— forming intentional disciples—and witnessing to the faith. May each one of us do our part to become a saint.


 I recently received a letter from a parishioner who asked me to encourage respect for the Holy Name of Jesus by bowing one’s head during the liturgy. I quote from her letter: Every chance I get, I have included in the petitions that we show respect for the name of Jesus by bowing our heads at His name. I had hoped that you would encourage this habit (which I have) by asking your clergy to do this (I have) and thus being an example to the people. I cannot understand your reluctance to do it (I am not). During a recent Vigil Mass that I celebrated in St. Sylvester, in Eminence, a woman from out of state said she noticed that I bowed my head at the Holy Name during Mass. She remembered it from her childhood and said she was inspired to renew the practice in her own life. However, this is a form of piety and I cannot legislate piety. So, like the woman in the Gospel who badgered the unjust judge until she got justice, I pass on her words to the clergy and to all the people of the diocese: Start bowing your heads at the name of Jesus or this woman will do me harm!


“O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.” For me, nothing says Advent like that beautiful song. I’ve always found the melody to be rather haunting and joyful at the same time, filled with expectation, hope, and longing. For the weeks leading up to the Feast of Christmas, the days of Advent call us to prepare the heart, to turn away from sin, and anxiously await Christ at his coming.

This time of year, society pummels us with advertising. In order to have a “good” Christmas, you need the latest gadget, the latest clothing, the latest toy. There is an alternative! As the Scriptures unfold for us week-by-week, we hear the beautiful details of how God is active, fulfilling the promises of the people of Israel. The prophet Isaiah calls us to beat our swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. He has this beautiful vision of the world where, “One nation shall not raise the sword against another… let us walk in the light of the Lord!” In the coming of the Lord, Isaiah reminds us, “There will be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain.” At the coming of the Lord, “The desert and the parched land will exult … They will bloom with abundant flowers.” The images of Isaiah are some of the most thought-provoking, challenging us to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ.

The Gospels of Advent challenge us to, “Stay awake and be ready, for the Son of Man will come when we least expect.” We hear John cry out, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His path.” The Gospel of the fourth Sunday of Advent gives us the details of Joseph, Mary, the Holy Spirit and the bestowal of His sacred name, Jesus.

It is during Advent that the Domestic Church, the home, plays such a significant role in celebrating this liturgical season. Celebrate Advent with an Advent calendar where each day you can reflect on the Scripture of the day. Place a manger scene in a prominent place in the home and have the kids place a piece of straw in the manger for every kind act, making a “bed” for the baby Jesus. I have a habit of praying the joyful mysteries every day during the Advent and Christmas season. It really helps to keep me focused. Make decorating your home a religious experience by singing a Christmas song before and after putting up the Christmas tree. Of course, the Advent wreath is most prominent. You can make your own Advent wreath with evergreens. Light the candles every evening at dinnertime and offer a little prayer. I have fond memories as a child of lighting the Advent wreath. The little pamphlet that came with the Advent wreath had certain prayers which indicated that on the first week, the father lit the candle; the second week the mother lit the candles, the third week the oldest child, and in the fourth week, the youngest child. And of course, we all fought to blow out the candles at the end of the meal.

Emphasis on the “Domestic Church” is a key factor as we strive to move from “maintenance to mission.” What the faithful experience on the parish level, especially the sacramental life, should bear fruit at home, the domestic church. Prayer should not be limited to the parish church. If so, there is a disconnect between life and faith. No, it is in the home, the “domestic church” that it all comes together. I am sure that everyone will see the Advent wreath when they walk into the parish church on the first Sunday of Advent. What a beautiful complement it would be to have an Advent wreath in every home. And how powerful it would be for a family to attend one of the scheduled communal penance services and experience confession as a family! Family reconciliation fulfills the words of Isaiah, where the wolf will lie down with the lamb, i.e., family members at peace with one another. So, celebrate Advent at home. Utilize an Advent wreath. Truly make your home the “domestic church.”

Longing for Christmas…Right Now!

Longing for Christmas…Right Now!

COME,AND YOU WILL SEE  By Bishop Edward M. Rice
Dec. 09, 2022

“For we need a little Christmas right this very moment…We need a little Christmas now.” This particular Christmas song was first performed in 1966 in the Broadway musical Mame. And by now you might be thinking, “What is wrong with Bishop Rice? Why isn’t he quoting a religious Christmas song, like “Little Drummer Boy,” or “O Come, All Ye Faithful?” Or how about the classic “Silent Night?” Those are beautiful songs and it is true that they are religious, except for the first one I quoted. But with all the things that have been recently going on in the world, and within the diocese, the thought popped into my mind – maybe we should not wait until December 25th. Maybe all of us “need a little Christmas right now.”

The other day, I told one of my siblings that it seems like every time I pick up the phone, someone has passed away. Some of them were beautiful deaths of family friends in their 90s, or a family death after a long illness. But also there was the tragic accident in Cape Girardeau where two young ladies passed away who were very active in the Newman Center at Southeast Missouri State University. A third fatality from the crash, the twin of a SEMO student also passed away, while the other three passengers in the car escaped with little injuries.

Over the past weeks, I’ve been craving for the joy and the peace and the hope that comes from the proclamation of the birth of Jesus. I realize that everyone is busy this time of the year and my busyness is nothing exceptional but still: I know I need a little Christmas right now. I need to cling to the promise proclaimed in the first chapter of Matthew, “She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.” I need a little Christmas now. There is a desire in my heart to hear the Angel say to me, “Do not be afraid. Look, I bring you news of great joy.” I need a little Christmas now. I need to hear the heavenly host of angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest. And on earth, peace to people of goodwill.”
“Do not be afraid.”
“He is the one who will save his people from their sins.”
“Peace to people of goodwill.”

The message of Christmas is a message for which the entire world yearns. All of us need a little Christmas
right now.

I must confess that I decorated my office right after Thanksgiving. I needed Christmas as soon as possible and I didn’t want to wait until December 25. And now, as we enter into the Christmas Season and the eight days that follow—the Octave of Christmas—the Church unfolds for us the beautiful, thoughtful feasts of St. Stephen Proto-Martyr, St. John the Apostle, the Holy Innocents, St. Thomas Becket and the Holy Family, culminating on the Eighth day with the Feast of Mary, Mother of God, Jan. 1st. On Jan. 8, we celebrate the Feast of Epiphany and on the following day, Jan. 9, with the Baptism of the Lord, we then enter once again into the Ordinary Time of the year, until Ash Wednesday on Feb. 22.

Let us take full advantage of this Christmas Season. As always, I encourage you if not on Christmas day, then at least sometime during the Christmas Season, to make your own personal pilgrimage to the manger scene in your parish church and visit the Christ Child, offering to Him the gift of your heart. Take a piece of straw in the manger and place it in your wallet or purse and let it be a reminder throughout the year that we are always in need of a little Christmas—the joy, the hope, the promise—that is given to us in the Christ Child. Be assured of my prayers for all of you. As your Bishop, it is my privilege to pray for you daily, remembering you and your families at the altar of God. As you receive the Eucharist, may you also receive Christ into your hearts and be particularly mindful of him being with you throughout 2023! Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Fall Faculty Meetings Celebrate Faith & Service

Fall Faculty Meetings Celebrate Faith & Service

Bishop Edward M. Rice and the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Deacon Rob Huff, recently hosted the annual two Fall Faculty Meetings under the banner of “Our Faith, Our Future.” These gatherings, held Oct. 19 in Cape Girardeau and Oct. 20 in Springfield, serve as an occasion of fellowship and faith to recognize the service of all Catholic school educators, celebrate the great gift of Catholic education, and to present the 2022 Distinguished Teacher Award to two teachers.

Deacon Rob Huff, who also serves the Diocese as Chancellor, welcomed and thanked everyone for their service to Catholic education. The meetings were held in Notre Dame Regional High School, on Oct. 19, and in St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School on Oct. 20. The Most Reverend Edward M. Rice, Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, celebrated Mass with all in attendance and spoke to the group about “The Identity of the Catholic School.” The featured guest speaker, Patty Schneier, who uses song, Scripture, and humor to candidly discuss the joys of living a faith-filled life, presented a morning session entitled, “Jesus in the Eucharist: The Source and Summit of EVERYTHING.” Her afternoon presentation was, “Theology of the Body in Bite-Size Pieces.” Schneier is from St. Louis and the author of Love Letters from Mom on What Matters Most.


In addition to recognizing the various service landmarks of the Diocese’s dedicated teachers, the highlight of these meetings is the presentation of two Distinguished Teacher Awards. This annual award is given to teachers nominated by their peers for their leadership, professional contributions, engagement within the school, and overall philosophy toward Catholic education. This year, one of the two Distinguished Teacher Awards went to Denise Darst, 3rd – 8th grade math teacher in St. Eustachius Catholic School, Portageville, MO. In addition, Darst is also home-room teacher to 5th and 6th graders, and the 3rd and 4th grade religion teacher. The second award was given to Leah Speakes, 8th grade and middle school science teacher in St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School (SEAS), Springfield, MO.


In addition to teaching math, Darst, volunteers to run concession stands, tutors, leads the daily rosary during Lent, completes an annual “Saints” learning project with students; sponsors math competition team, and has been a past cheerleading sponsor. Within her parish, she is the current president of Ladies Sodality, in which she has been an active member for over 30 years; the St. Eustachius PSR Youth Group Leader, and she annually attends the Steubenville Mid-America Youth Conference in Springfield and the National Youth Conference in Indiana with the youth group. She has been a Camp counselor for Camp Re-NEW-All over 20 years and has planned Totus Tuus summer camps for the past several summers. Darst is a member of the Parish Pastoral Council and started a weekly Lenten Book Club.

“Her philosophy of Catholic education starts with teaching students about their faith through example…by modeling the Gospel values,” said Tricia Rone, Principal of St. Eustachius Catholic School. “She is encouraging, kind, and sets a positive example. She strives to connect her students to God and to help them build a relationship with him. Denise wants her students to be the best version of themselves and wants them to love the Mass. She wants to make a difference and an impact on each and every student that walks through her door. She makes sure her students feel loved and valued. In the end, what’s important to her


Denise Darst was presented the 2022 Distinguished Teacher Award by Superintendent Rob Huff. Darst is a 3rd-8th grade math teacher in St. Eustachius Catholic School, in Portageville. This annual award is given to teachers nominated by their peers for leadership, professional contributions, engagement within the school, and overall philosophy of Catholic education. (The Mirror) 

is they leave St. Eustachius School knowing God loves them and in return, they have the desire and the faith to walk a Christian path.” In nominating Darst, Rone said, “It is hard to put on paper all the many things Denise has done over the years. She literally does anything and everything. She has a true servant’s heart. Denise has not slowed down for 36 years. She is loved by her students, peers, and parish community. [She] is beyond deserving of this reward.”


As an educator, Speakes, has completed her certification in Religious Education and serves as an Eucharistic Minister for her school and church. She organized and sponsored a summer trip to Washington DC for students at SEAS to provide an opportunity for her students to learn history beyond what a textbook provides. Her love of history led her to begin Camp Intervention at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School. Camp Intervention is a nationally-recognized STEM program that teaches learning through creativity and experimentation. She is certified by NASA to handle and share Moon rocks at STEM night in SEAS. Speakes is currently the Assistant Robotics Coach. For the past 11 years, Speakes has been the head coach of Science Olympiad, Middle School Coordinator, and a sponsor of the Student Council. She has served as a mentor for new teachers. She helped develop an after-school Study Hall program for students. And, she fosters volunteerism with her students through coordinating 30 hours of service in the community and church.

“It is in the verse from Galatians 5:13…serve one another through love…that I think of Leah’s


Superintendent Rob Huff awarded Leah Speakes the 2022 Distinguished Teacher Award. Speakes is an 8th grade and middle school science teacher in St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School, Springfield. This annual award is given to teachers nominated by their peers for leadership, professional contributions, engagement within the school, and overall philosophy of Catholic education. (The Mirror) 

philosophy of Catholic education,” said JoAnne Bailes, Principal of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School. “Leah sees Catholic education as an avenue to instill a love for learning and a love for one another. She leads with compassion, expecting the best from her students because of her love for them. Leah is focused on teaching students a love for learning, especially science, but her primary focus is building servants of the Lord. Her goal as a Catholic teacher is to model serving the Lord so that her students leave St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School, they will go out into the world making it a better place for others.”

“As an educator, Leah creates an atmosphere of positivity and respect within her classroom, parish, and church,” Bailes said. “I nominated Leah Speakes because of her dedication to our Springfield Catholic School system. Her faith life and love for learning are infectious. When you walk into her classroom, it is undeniable that she is passionate about science and her Catholic faith. As you look in one corner, you will see a cross made of recycled steel rods. In another corner, you will see a skeleton wearing a top hat. She lives her life with a desire to build her students up and to prepare them for the next steps in life. Year after year, I hear students and parents express their love for Mrs. Speakes and how she changed their lives. In my 20-plus years in education, I have not met a more accomplished and beloved teacher.”

The fall faculty in-service days are made possible by contributions to the annual Diocesan Development Fund (DDF).

“It is always a pleasure to gather with the faculties of our schools,” Deacon Huff said. “The Diocese is blessed to have such a wonderful group of educators.”

Written by Paula Wright

Published on November 11, 2022 in The Mirror