Fr. Bloomfield's Blog

I am a Roman Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, currently assigned to Divine Child Parish in Dearborn, Michigan. When I manage to keep the page updated, hopefully something interesting can be found here!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Canon Law Questions?

Check out Dr. Ed Peters, holder of the Edmund Cardinal Szoka chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, here in Detroit. He provides a wealth of good information, and his blog provides excellent information on contemporary canon law questions.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Mass (Daytime) Homily

In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he has spoken to us through His Son.

Merry Christmas! It's wonderful to be able to celebrate my first Christmas Mass as a priest here with all of you, especially as we welcome so many of you back from college and as you visit families and friends here in Canton.

As we come to Mass this afternoon our hearts are filled with great joy at the mystery of the Incarnation – God becoming one of us, to live among us, and to share His own life with each of us. But as we hear the readings this afternoon, we may be surprised to hear no mention of shepherds and angels; we don’t hear the story of Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem for the census; we don’t hear of the newborn babe lying in a manger because “there was no place for them.”

Instead, we hear deep and mysterious poetry and prophecy: words from the Prophet Isaiah, from the beginning of the Letter to the Hebrews, and from the beginning of the “Last Gospel,” the Gospel of St. John. Has the Church forgotten that today is Christmas? Shouldn’t we hear about the Birth of Jesus Christ? Shouldn’t we take time to hear the Christmas story?
After all, our own celebration of Christmas – the Nativity scenes, the gathering of families, the decorating of the tree, and the exchange of gifts, and so much more – relies on the truth that God has become a man. So why don’t we hear about it today? And what do the readings of today’s Mass teach us about Christmas?

The Church hasn’t gone completely mad in choosing these readings today; in fact, we did hear St. Luke’s gospel and the famous Christmas story yesterday evening, as we watched and waited with Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. I strongly encourage you and your families to take out the family Bible when you get back home today, and read together as a family the first two chapters of St. Luke’s Gospel. Ponder anew the mystery that is contained in those words.

But the Mass during the day changes our focus from earth to heaven, in a way. We jump to the eternal meaning of the events of that first Christmas, some 2000 years ago. Through the eyes of St. John, we delve deeply into a world in darkness. And we go even to the very beginning of time itself: in the Beginning. In the beginning, the Word was with God and the Word was God. Everything that exists has come to being through Him; He created the world. The entire universe cannot contain the infinite God. And now we arrive at the mystery of Christmas:

This infinite God has become one of us. The Word was made flesh, and “pitched His tent” in our midst. The sheer magnitude of the mystery overwhelms our minds and our hearts! As St. Augustine says, “the Son of God became a man, so that in turn men could become Sons of God.” Our Lord takes a human nature so that we can share in His Divine nature. At the heart of this mystery is a remarkable exchange of gifts, far better than any present we may receive this Christmas. No iPod, no Osterizer, no Cuisinart, or even the biggest big-screen television can match this gift.

The Son of God, God Himself, through whom everything was created and whom the universe cannot contain, was made a man in the womb of the blessed Virgin. He sets aside His divinity, as it were, to share our humanity. The sights and sounds of the Nativity remind us of just how humbling this is: no place for Mary and Joseph to rest; no real bed, so a feed-trough must suffice; no recognition from the world, just a band of tired shepherds.

Why does God do this? Why does He come to us, from a Virgin-Mother? Why does He come, God Himself, as a little Child? Why do only shepherds, and not the royal court of every earthly kingdom, come to pay Him homage?

The answer to this mystery is found in the joy that fills our hearts today. Joy at the truth that God is not content with His creation; joy that we are not left alone; joy that He is now one of us, forever. This joy arises in our hearts when we realize that one, and only one, reason could exist: Love.

We discover this truth later in St. John’s gospel: “For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Son” (3:16). But this truth is shouted from every word of the verses we just heard. “And the Word was made flesh and made His dwelling among us.” In this moment, eternity is transformed. God has visited His people and set them free. Nothing about humanity remains the same. God has reached out, not just to Mary and Joseph and the shepherds; we come and adore Him in the manger; our sufferings, pain, and distress are borne by Him; our hopes and dreams, desires and ambitions, goals and purpose become His own. God Himself desires to share His infinite abundance with each of us.

He establishes His relationship with each of us, because He now shares our humanity. So if you look to your left or your right, you also see one for whom Jesus became a man. No-one, no matter from where they come, what nationality or citizenship, is separate from the Love of God in Jesus Christ. Rich or poor, saint or sinner -- Christ has become a man for each of us. God is one with his people.

This Christmas, while we meditate on the mysteries of our Faith, whether in St. John’s gospel or St. Luke’s, God asks for a gift in return. You won’t find it on sale at Kohl’s – or even Ikea. It isn't an item at BestBuy, or Meijer's or even at a Super WalMart. In one sense, it isn’t much, but on the other hand … well, one of my favorite Christmas carols tells it best.

The song is “In the Bleak Midwinter,” written in the 19th century. The last verse tells it all:

But what can I give Him, poor as I am;
If I were a Shepherd, I would give a lamb.
If I were a wise-man, I would do my part.
But what can I give Him: give my Heart.

Give your hearts completely to Jesus this year, as never before. He has given Himself to us, unconditionally; may we open our hearts and our homes to receive the joy of the Christ-child today and every day, throughout this Christmas Octave, and every day after that until we meet Him face to face.

What can I give Jesus this Christmas? I will give Him my heart.

Faith Seeking Understanding for December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas! Today, with great and unsurpassed joy, the entire Church rejoices at the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. The ancient prophecies have been fulfilled, the longed-for Messiah has come, God is now a man. The startling reality of the Incarnation – God taking on human flesh – ought to strike us with us a renewed sense of wonder and awe. Such a profound mystery cannot be captured by simply attending Mass and singing Christmas carols at home. We ought to take time to read the scriptural account of the Birth of Christ in St. Luke’s Gospel (Chapters 1 and 2) and meditate on its meaning during this Christmas season.

Those of you who have attended the Epiphany Faith Festivals already realize that Christmas does not end on December 26th; in fact, Christmas day itself lasts for eight days. The Christmas Octave, as it is known, celebrates Christmas for the entire week, until the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, on January 1st. The Octave is the Church’s way to extend the joy of Christmas – and its graces and blessings – throughout the week. The “Christmas Season” extends to the Baptism of the Lord (January 15th this year). Aside from giving us extra time to recover from the hectic pace of holiday travel, family visits, and Christmas parties, the full Christmas season allows us to meditate on the great mystery of Christ’s birth. But what is this mystery?

Abbot Guéranger describes the mystery as twofold: first, the eternal God – not contained by time or space – has become a man; second, a virgin has become His mother. When we stop to ponder such a change to the natural order – a God-man and a virgin-mother – we begin to realize just how much our own lives need to change. Yet God has not been content to stop His transformations there: He brings each of us into His divine life through Baptism and Confirmation, forgives our sins through Confession, feeds us with Himself in the Most Holy Eucharist, and more. The Incarnation makes possible the entire Sacramental reality that is now ours. God uses His material creation to transmit Himself. Such considerations rightly boggle our minds, but simultaneously inflame our hearts with the love of our God: a God who became one of us so that we could become one with Him.

“So what?” we may now ask ourselves. God is now a man, His mother has remained a virgin; He uses the material world to convey His grace. But what does it mean today? It means that the world is no longer the same – or rather, while everything seems to remain the same, everything is different after the Birth of Christ. God now dwells with His people; He shares our nature, He shares our sufferings, and He has shares our inevitable death. God, whom the entire universe could not contain, has become a man and walks among us. Do we experience the depth of this mystery? Have our lives been utterly transformed by the reality that God Himself is now one of us?

May we meditate deeply on this mystery as we celebrate Christmas this year, and ponder the effects of Christ’s birth on every aspect of our lives. Then we see that all our good works, our prayers, our sacrifices, and sufferings are transformed by this mystery. By giving completely of ourselves, just as God did in becoming man, we enter into the very heart of the mystery of the Trinity itself: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16-17).

Have a Blessed and Holy Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 18, 2005

This isn't exactly as I preached it, but the ideas are close. May it help our preparations to welcome the birth of our Savior.

“Let it be done to me according to your word.”

The rhythm of the Church year has again shifted. We aren’t with John the Baptist in the desert any more. During this final week of Advent – one that is a full week long this year – we focus on the Blessed Virgin Mary. Almost as by an echo, today we hear again the Gospel for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

No better Christmas preparation exists than to contemplate the mystery of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her role in Salvation History. As Catholics, we are blessed with devotion to the Virgin Mother of God, especially through the beautiful prayer of the most holy rosary. Mary intercedes for us body and soul before the throne of her Divine Son. Mary is the recipient of the promises of salvation. She is completely free from sin, from the first moment of her existence. She remained faithful to her Son, even to the foot of the Cross.

All of the graces, privileges, and honors given to the Blessed Virgin exist because of the event we just heard: the Annunciation. St. Augustine tells us that Mary “conceived the word in her heart before she conceived Him in her womb.” The fulfillment of Mary’s faith in Yahweh, made possible by her sinlessness and rich interior life of prayer and reflection, happens at this moment: “The Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us.”

The mystery of a Virgin giving birth – the mystery of Mary being a Virgin before and after the birth of her son – is eclipsed only by the more wonderful truth that God Himself is the child in Mary’s womb. The joy that is ours is boundless, in knowing that God has become one of us, to redeem us from our sins and restore us to life with Him for all eternity. And what is Mary’s response to this earth-shattering revelation? That she will be the Mother of God?

“Let it be done to me according to your word.”

Are our hearts prepared to make the same response to God this Christmas? As we kneel in prayer during these final days of preparation, can we echo Mary’s words – or does fear captivate our hearts and prevent us from giving everything to God? Mary’s answer to the angel must be our own. But what inner strength gave her the complete freedom to say, “Yes” to God so absolutely, so perfectly?

She was free from sin and she was constant in prayer.

As we celebrated on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Mary was completely free from sin. She was conceived without Original Sin, and never committed even a venial sin throughout her entire life. Her soul was filled with the love of God throughout her entire life.

Secondly, Mary maintained a life of constant prayer. She knew our Lord, even before the Holy Spirit came upon her to conceive Jesus in her womb. Several times throughout her life, we read that “Mary pondered these things in her heart.” She constantly referred her will to God’s will in prayer. She knew, because of her intimate relationship with God, that she could trust Him beyond her own knowledge. As strange as it must have seemed to now be the mother of God’s only Son, she had absolute trust in Him, because she knew Him in prayer. Her heart was free to give herself completely to God: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.”

Mary is an example for each of us. Her unconditional “Yes” to God is a model for our own response to His initiative: He reaches out to us daily, asking us to bring Christ into the world anew.

But we aren’t free from sin – how can we be free at all when we’re bound by our daily faults? How can we choose God when we so often choose ourselves instead? And how can we maintain “constant prayer,” with so many distractions and obligations? Time seems so short.

God gives us the grace of repentance and the certainty of our forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This Wednesday, we will be hearing Confessions from 5 – 9 pm. This opportunity to unburden our souls from sin is a perfect way to prepare for the coming of the Christ-child. And by a regular reception of the Sacrament of Penance, our hearts become accustomed to being open before the Lord. We grow in humility, grace, and true freedom when we strive to avoid sin and grow in virtue – and to repent when we sin. We can then say, “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

By maintaining a constant desire for God, we can begin to “pray always,” keeping the presence of God in our souls, and developing our relationship with Him. Practically, though, we also need to pray at certain times to call our minds back to these good intentions. The rosary is an excellent example of prayer that is both vocal and mental. Another favorite prayer of mine is the Angelus, which mediates on the mystery of today’s Liturgy: the Annunciation. Traditionally, the Angelus bells would ring in the parish church at 6 am, noon, and 6 pm. When the bells rang, the people would stop and recall the mystery of the Incarnation with the following prayer:

[recite the Angelus]

You can find the Angelus in many prayer books, or on the Internet. You don’t need to pray it at those exact times, but when we recall the great gift of Jesus Christ to us at morning, noon, and evening, our hearts will start to respond more and more generously when God asks us to serve Him in the unborn, the poor, and those who don’t know Him. The practice of daily prayer helps unite our hearts and minds to God, growing in trust to be able to answer His invitation to serve Him: “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

What is God asking of you this Christmas? What difficult path does God ask you to share with Him? What suffering, challenge, or difficulty has He placed before you?

May we answer with the Blessed Virgin: “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Faith Seeking Understanding for December 18, 2005

We have finally reached the final week of Advent: the birth of our longed-for Messiah draws close. The Sacred Liturgy of these days of watching and waiting for the Christ-Child helps us prepare our hearts and homes by reflecting on the beautiful images and prophecies of the coming of Christ. Each day is different, emphasizing a different fulfillment of an Old Testament type or prophecy, drawing us more deeply into the mystery of the Incarnation.

The Liturgy of the Hours celebrates in a particular way by singing the seven “O Antiphons.” These Antiphons are sung during Evening Prayer at the Canticle of Mary or “Magnificat.” They are called “O” Antiphons, because each verse in praise of the coming Christ addresses Him in a new title, always beginning with “O.” In Latin, the opening words are as follows: 1. “O Sapientia” (Wisdom), 2. “O Adonai” (Lord), 3. “O Radix Jesse” (Root of Jesse), 4. “O Clavis David” (Key of David), 5. “O Oriens” (Rising sun), 6. “O Rex Gentium” (King of Nations), 7. “O Emmanuel” (God-with-us).

These antiphons begin on December 17th, and continue until the Vigil of Christmas. Some Latin scholars have observed that the first letters of the prophetic titles (in reverse) create the sentence, “Ero cras,” or “Tomorrow, I will be.” Also known as the “Great Antiphons,” these seven verses in praise of our Lord have been referenced in Christian literature since the 5th century, and are an important part of our Catholic liturgical heritage.

Each title is based in the prophecies of Isaiah. Throughout the book of Isaiah, the messianic reign is described in these terms; as we pray the “O” Antiphons and prepare our hearts during this final week of Advent, we begin to sense just how much the Jewish people anticipated the coming of their longed-for Savior. The preparations of our homes, the purchasing and wrapping of gifts, the cooking and cleaning, and all the other “final touches” of Christmas anticipation have one goal in view: to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. We can join with the Church in praying these antiphons each day:

December 17: O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.

December 18: O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

December 19: O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

December 20: O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel, controlling at your will the gate of heaven: come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.

December 21: O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

December 22: O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

December 23: O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Opinion Piece in Detroit Free Press

Although I haven't had time to write about the recent Vatican Instruction on the criteria for discernment of vocations to the priesthood, the issue has been a hot-button topic for the past few weeks, even in the secular press.

I encourage everyone to read Dr. Monica Migliorino Miller's insightful piece in today's Detroit Free Press. She presents the issue in a concise and clear fashion, and helps to clear up many misconceptions and erroneous directions of thought.

Pope Benedict's Homily for the Immaculate Conception

As some reported last week, our Holy Father reminds us that "holiness is not boring." For an article and transcript of his beautiful and inspiring words in praise of our Blessed Mother, visit

Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Immaculate Conception

As you know if you attended Mass at St. John Neumann this past weekend, I didn't preach -- Deacon Pat Conlen did. He reminded us that John the Baptist told the people "there is one among you whom you do not recognize." Would we -- do we -- recongize Christ in our world?

Nevertheless, I did preach on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and also today, our Lady of Guadalupe. It seems appropriate to recall just a few thoughts in honor of the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, on the occasion of these great feasts.

Remembering that we honor Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception -- defined as dogma since 1854 -- recalls to mind the great curse under which the entire human race fell after the sin of Adam and Eve. Without this great sin, there would be no need for redemption, no need for our Lord's Incarnation, and no need for the Immaculate Conception. As it is, however, Adam and Eve did sin, they were expelled from Paradise, and in turn, we each have contracted Original Sin as our inheritance. We are sharers in their nature, fallen from grace, awaiting redemption.

The passage from Genesis 3:15, however, gives us great hope that the enmity placed between the serpent and the woman will one day give rise to a Savior who will crush the serpent's head and inaugurate His reign for all eternity. We live in between the fulfilment of this promise and its final consummation at the end of time. The Blessed Virgin Mary stands for us as a great sign and witness of the Hope that God has promised to His people.

From the first moment of her existence -- at the moment in which her soul, created from nothing by God, infused her body -- she was free from all stain of sin. This singular and unique privilege was gained for her in anticipation by her Divine Son. Even though He had not yet been born, had not suffered, had not died, in view of the merits of Calvary, He saved His mother from the sin that has touched every other man, woman, and child. Mary was preserved in a state of Orginal Justice, and likewise free from concupiscence (the inclination to sin). Never, in her entire life, did she commit even a venial sin.

This perfection -- in view of her Son's saving death and resurrection -- is not something Mary gained for herself or boasts proudly of. Mary needs salvation -- just like everyone -- but she received in anticipation of the Incarnation. And this perfection and freedom from sin should cause the entire body to rejoice at her great gift. This privilege, after all, is not for herself alone, but make possible the very fact that it presumes: without the absolute freedom from sin enjoyed by Mary, she would not have been free to say "Yes!" to the Angel Gabriel. Because her heart was entirely free from any consideration other than to know, love, and serve God, and to love her neighbor perfectly, she was able to give her entire person to the definite service of the Father, by becoming the Mother of His Son.

We honor Mary, therefore, as our example and advocate because she is free from sin, but also because she demonstrates God's fidelity. He desires that we, in turn, live in true freedom. Do we doubt His love? Look to the Blessed Virgin. She is free. She is sinless. Do we wonder about God's care for us? Look to His mother -- one, as St. Therese of Lisieux says, who is more Mother than Queen -- and see in her care for Jesus the care of our Father for each of us.

We honor God when we honor His Saints, and in the most excellent way, by honoring His Mother. He has preserved her from sin; may we live in such freedom from sin all the days of our life through the protection and care of His Blessed Mother. May our devotion to her grow deeper and stronger that we may honor one so perfectly chosen and created by our Lord.

O Mary, conceived without sin...pray for us who have recourse to thee.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Faith Seeking Understanding for December 11, 2005

The Third Sunday of Advent has long been known as Gaudete Sunday, owing to the first word of the Latin Introit (or Entrance Antiphon) for the Mass. Although we rarely hear the Introit any longer, it is still included at the beginning of the Mass in the Sacramentary. The Introit is usually a short verse from Scripture with a corresponding melody in Gregorian Chant. Today’s Introit is “Gaudete!” or “Rejoice!” – it comes from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near.” Rose-colored vestments are also allowed on this Sunday to remind us of the approaching joy of the celebration of the Nativity of our Lord.

St. Paul
often encouraged the Church to rejoice; yet, for him, rejoicing was always accompanied by prayer and giving thanks. Reflecting upon this mystery, we can see exactly why we rejoice in anticipation of the celebration of the birth of our Savior. For centuries and centuries, the entire world was in the darkness of sin. Even the Covenant with the Israelites was incapable of bringing salvation; as close as the Chosen People were to Yahweh, they still awaited the Messiah. Finally, in the “fullness of time,” the Messiah was announced to the Virgin; at His birth, angels announced to the shepherds of the wondrous Birth in Bethlehem; and as a young man, John the Baptist prepared His way in the wilderness. “The people in darkness have seen a great light” (Is. 9:2).

Today’s culture often mistakes the fleeting experience of “happiness” for the true, deep, and abiding truth of authentic joy. We rejoice at the knowledge of the Birth of Jesus Christ because His Birth transforms our lives; this is not a happiness gained by possessions, a good meal, or a pleasant vacation. The joy at the Birth of Jesus Christ can abide even in the midst of intense suffering. Joy, as St. Thomas tells us, is the effect of charity in our soul. Hence, even though we might experience setbacks, discouragement, and profound turmoil, as long as God dwells in our souls in charity, we can rejoice in the midst of trials. Seeking happiness, however, is bound to meet with failure.

Juan Diego, whose feast day is December 9th, understood the true meaning of Christian joy. Juan Diego was born in 1474 near Mexico City. As he walked nearly 15 miles to Mass on December 9, 1531, he saw a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Tepeyac Hill. Although Juan Diego was a native Mexican, a simple farmer and laborer, and a “nobody,” according to his own words, Mary appeared to him and asked him to have the bishop build a church on the site of the apparition. His bishop was skeptical of this vision of the Blessed Mother, and asked for “proof.” Juan Diego carried out this next task in humility and with great joy.

Juan Diego went by Tepeyac again on December 12, and again met the Blessed Virgin, who told him to climb the hill and pick the roses that would be flowering there. Although it was wintertime, he found the roses as Mary had said and gathered them for her. She placed the flowers in Juan Diego’s cloak, and instructed him to return to the bishop; when he opened his cloak for the bishop, the miraculous roses fell onto the desk. But then an even greater miracle occurred: in place of the roses remained the image of Mary’s apparition to Juan Diego. This image, known as our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast day we celebrate on December 12, has remained intact since that day – on fabric that should naturally have disintegrated after 30 years! It remains as an object of veneration at the Shrine in Mexico City.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us! St. Juan Diego, pray for us!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Italian Pilgrimage Details Finalized!

The details for the pilgrimage to Italy have been finalized! The important ones:
  • Dates: October 18 - 27, 2006
  • Cost per person (based on double occupancy): $2599
  • 8 nights accomodations in 4-star hotels:
    • 2 nights in Assisi
    • 1 night in San Giovanni Rotondo
    • 5 nights in Rome
  • Daily continental breakfast
  • 5 Dinners
  • Daily Mass and regular opportunity for Confession
  • Opportunities for prayer and reflection at numerous great sites of Catholic heritage
Travel is being organized through Corporate Travel. We're going to have a presentation at St. John Neumann, Canton, Michigan, in January. Please e-mail or call me at the parish for exact itinerary details, or to reserve your place now, please call John Hale at Corporate Travel: 313-565-8888.

Apologies for Slow Publishing

I have been meaning to post my bulletin article since Saturday evening, but just now have had time to publish it. I will try and put last Sunday's homily up soon, but currently it exists only in handwritten notes.

I invite readers to post suggestions for Advent preparations and customs, as helpful assistance for opening our hearts to celebrate the Birth of Christ this coming Christmas. All too often, Advent slips away with minimal thought given to our spiritual readiness for Christmas, owing to shopping, baking, decorating, and travel planning.

Faith Seeking Understanding for December 4, 2005

This week, the Church celebrates several feast days of great importance to our Faith; these feasts are culturally, liturgically, and theologically important, and should draw us more deeply into the mystery of our Advent preparations as well. On December 6th, of great delight to children of all ages, the Church remembers St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra; on December 7th, we celebrate St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan; December 8th is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and a Holy Day of Obligation; and December 9th celebrates St. Juan Diego, famous for his encounters with Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Little is truly known about St. Nicholas, except that he was the bishop of Myra (near modern-day Antalya, Turkey) in the Fourth Century. His relics were moved to Bari, Italy, in the 11th century, and a great devotion to St. Nicholas exists throughout Europe. Most of the stories and legends about St. Nicholas center around his renowned charity. The most popular of these tells the story of a poor family with three poor daughters who were unable to marry, since they could not afford a dowry. Mysteriously, golden balls (or bags of gold) appeared in the shoes (or stockings) drying by the fire. This story is the origin of the modern-day European custom in which children set their shoes outside their bedroom doors on December 5; when they awake on St. Nicholas’ Day, they find a few small treats in their shoes. Many other customs surrounding this feast day have been observed for centuries in Europe, and when European immigrants arrived in North America, these customs came along, too; throughout the nineteenth century, poems, Christmas Cards, and other Christmas decorations transformed the noble Bishop of Myrna into our modern day “Santa Claus.”

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (we have a vigil Mass at 7:00 pm on Dec. 7; on the feast itself, Mass is at 9:00 am and 7:00 pm) is one of the greatest liturgical tributes we can offer to our Blessed Mother. This great feast celebrates the Blessed Virgin Mary’s preservation from original sin from the first moment of her existence. Pope Pius IX defined this dogma in 1854, stating: “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”

Reading the statement closely, we see that our Blessed Lady still relies entirely and completely upon her Son’s saving death and resurrection for her own salvation; nevertheless, the merits of the Crucifixion apply to Mary in advance. Because original sin was entirely excluded from her soul, she also enjoyed the gift of original justice, whereby her passions and emotions were always rightly ordered. She did not suffer the effects of concupiscence and never committed even a venial sin throughout her entire life.

By entrusting ourselves entirely to our Blessed Mother, confident in her complete and absolute freedom from sin, we honor God in an even greater way. Because she is a member of the Body of Christ, the entire Body rejoices and celebrates this special grace. The first council of Baltimore (1846) elected Mary as the Immaculate Conception the primary patroness of the United States; hence, we delight in a particular way on this feast, entrusting our nation entirely to her patronage.

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!