Mary, The Church, Christmas, and Jimmy Lai

Mary, The Church, Christmas, and Jimmy Lai

The Catholic Difference  By George Weigel
Dec. 23, 2022

Now, on Christmas Day, the nine months have been fulfilled. What began on the day of Annunciation is made visible to the world in the person of the newborn babe of Bethlehem, who is both Son of God and Son of Mary. History is forever changed.

The “little flock” of whom Jesus will speak in Luke 12:32 (“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”) is already here: in Mary and Joseph, humble servants of God; in the shepherds who leave the manger rejoicing; in the Magi who will come bearing gifts; in the slaughtered innocents and their grieving parents, precursors of the white-robed army of martyrs who will follow down the centuries. In a formal sense, the Church of Christ begins with the Paschal Mystery of the Lord’s passion, death, resurrection and ascension, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the first Christian Pentecost. Yet the Church is also present in Bethlehem in an anticipatory way.

Which is how it should be, since this axial moment in the human story, the birth of the incarnate Son of God, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, began with the fiat, the answer of a trusting and obedient young woman to the angelic salutation and summons to motherhood. As St. John Paul II never tired of teaching, Mary’s fiat — “Be it done unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38) — made her the first of disciples and established the paradigm of all discipleship: joyful obedience to the divine call. Everything else in the Church — evangelism, contemplation, authority, service — only makes sense in light of that Marian “yes” and the discipleship it uniquely expressed. Mary is the beginning of the Church. And Mary remains the model of the Church forever, because her Assumption reveals the destiny that God intended for humanity “in the beginning” — eternal life with the Thrice-Holy God.

At this Catholic moment, when so many — perhaps too many — are singularly focused on and disturbed by ecclesiastical dysfunction at every level of Catholic life, from the local parish to the Vatican, it is good, at Christmastide, to reflect on Mary and the Church — and on what Mary’s initial act of discipleship, that fiat which came to fruition “when Quirinius was governor of Syria” (Luke 2:2), means for us today. Hans Urs von Balthasar, pondering the First and Third Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, points that meditation in the proper direction:

“From the Mother’s disposition grows the disposition of the Church. The Church is not an external assembly of people brought together by a common religious purpose, but rather a reality that exists before we do and to which we owe what we are, through God and by the grace of God. No one helps himself to the sacraments; they are bestowed on a person as graces…The Church is responsible for us before God; she is to rear us in her pure and holy spirit and not in our own…[which is how we become] ‘ecclesial souls.’”

One of the great debates in the Catholic Church today touches this issue: Does the Church, created by God in Christ and formed in the image of Mary, create us? Or do we create the Church? To even hint at the latter is to empty the Church of its supernatural character and reduce Catholicism to an international non-governmental organization. Yet is not some part of that going on when it is suggested, in certain exercises of “synodality,” “listening,” “accompaniment,” and “discernment,” that the Church of the 21st century has the authority to modify or even correct the word of God? Or to refashion the Christ-given constitution of the Church? Or to bless in an uncritical way the spirit of the age?

Some months ago, my friend Jimmy Lai, the Catholic convert and prisoner of conscience in Hong Kong (about whose unjust persecution and imprisonment the Holy See has not managed to speak a single public word of protest) sent me from his cell in Stanley Prison a beautiful pencil-and-crayon depiction of the Annunciation entitled, simply, “Yes!” This courageous man with a truly “ecclesial soul” knows that the Church created him in baptism. And that grace has empowered him to live the virtue of fortitude and be a fearless defender of justice, truth and freedom.

Jimmy Lai will spend Christmas in prison, but he will be free in the deepest meaning of the word. For he is free in the truth of Christ, born for us that happy morning in Bethlehem of Judea.

George Weigel is a Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. George Weigel’s column “The Catholic Difference” is syndicated by the Denver Catholic, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Denver.

Photo Source: HISTORY FULFILLED—On Christmas Day, what began nine months ago has been fulfilled: what began on the day of Annunciation is made visible to the world in the person of the newborn babe of Bethlehem, who is both Son of God and Son of Mary. (Getty Images)

Be Mindful in Receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist

Be Mindful in Receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist

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COME,AND YOU WILL SEE  By Bishop Edward M. Rice
Dec. 23, 2022

The Church celebrates the Feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton on Jan. 4. Located in Springfield, we are blessed to have a parish in the diocese under her patronage. As we enter into the new year and a new semester of school—as we continue our Eucharistic Revival throughout the Church in the United States—let us turn to her as the patron of the Eucharist.
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton was born and raised in the Anglican faith but converted to Catholicism after her husband died. For this decision, she was scorned by her family and friends but dedicated the remainder of her life to the service of the Church. She founded the first parochial school and the first woman’s religious congregation in America. What many people do not know is that she also had a great love for the Eucharist. From her writings we hear “O, Food of Heaven, how my soul longs for you with desire! Seed of Heaven, pledge of immortality and that eternity it pants for: Come, come, my Jesus, bury yourself within this heart. It shall do its best to preserve that warmth which will bring forth the fruits of eternity. Oh, amen. Our Jesus.”
While the imagery and wording may sound a little archaic to us, her points are well made. Does my soul long to receive Jesus? I was recently at a Mass where the priest, prior to the distribution of Holy Communion, explained that those not of the Catholic faith were welcome to come forward with their arms crossed for a blessing. That, in and of itself, is nothing new – it’s fairly common. But then he also said that for those Catholics that were not in a state of grace, who have examined their conscience and should not be receiving communion, then they, too, should come forward with arms crossed and receive a blessing. He said it in such a tender and thoughtful way that I hope no one took offense. But he makes a good point—we should not receive the Eucharist unworthily. If someone is aware of mortal sin, if someone has scrutinized his or her actions, examined their conscience, and concluded that they should not receive Communion, then they should come forward with their arms crossed to indicate a blessing (and take advantage of the sacrament of penance and reconciliation so as to get back to the Eucharist!).


Prior to the reception of Holy Communion, the priest offers one of two prayers, said quietly with his hands folded, just before the reception of Holy Communion. The prayer reminds the priest that he himself must be in a state of grace in order to receive Holy Communion and avoid condemnation by receiving the Eucharist unworthily. The first prayer includes the following words: “Free me by this, your most holy Body and Blood, from all my sins and from every evil; keep me always faithful to your commandments, and never let me be parted from you.” The second prayer, shorter, has the same theme: “May the receiving of your Body and Blood, Lord Jesus Christ, not bring me to judgment and condemnation, but through Your loving mercy be for me protection in mind and body and a healing remedy.” Only after reciting one of those prayers does the priest then cry out, “Behold the Lamb of God…” followed by the response of the people “Lord, I am not worthy… But only say the words and my soul shall be healed.”

It is significant that these prayers are offered just before the reception of Holy Communion. The Church wants the priest himself and then the entire congregation to ponder the significance of this moment. And if someone comes to the conclusion that they are not in a state of grace, that they should not receive unworthily.

Is this harsh? Well, is stopping a child from touching a hot stove harsh? Is stopping a child from walking into traffic harsh? Is stopping a child from running with a scissors or a knife harsh? In all these cases there is the possibility of physical harm. And how much more so would there be harm to the soul for one who receives the Eucharist unworthily.

In her little prayer, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton desired, (even!) panted for the Eucharist. In her little prayer, she invited the Eucharist to be buried in her heart. And although the wording and imagery might be a little old-fashioned, the point is well made – let us long for the Eucharist, let us desire the Eucharist, let us invite the Eucharist— Our very Lord—to take root in our hearts. But, most importantly, let us always receive the Eucharist worthily, with intentionality and thoughtfulness, and with a clear conscience.

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!