Saturday, January 7, 2012


All family members gather by the main entrance to the family home. The prayer leader offers this prayer:

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation: by the guidance of a star, you led the Magi to your child, and by the light of faith, you bring us to know Christ as Lord, the Messiah you have sent. Bless us as we use this chalk to mark our door in your honor. May the church where these things are used in faith be a house of prayer full of goodness, humility, self-control, mutual respect, hospitality to strangers, and loving obedience to your Word.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Then one member marks the lintel above the main door of the home with chalk in the following pattern:

20 † C † M † B † 12

While the door is being marked, another family member may say:

May all who come to our parish church this year rejoice to find Christ living among us; and may we seek out and serve in everyone we meet Jesus who is our Lord for ever and ever. Amen.

There are two explanations for the letters, and both have significance for us. The first is that they are the initials of the legendary Magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. The second is that they abbreviate a Latin phrase: Christus mansionem benedicat, “May Christ bless this dwelling place.”

Saturday, December 24, 2011


Every once in a while, I see someone with a button or bumper sticker that says, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Now that I’m on Facebook, I hear a lot about the “war on Christmas,” as if there is some concerted effort on the part of our society to ban the holiday or minimize its importance. I suppose I would experience much more of that sort of talk if I could bring myself to watch FOX news or listen to the silly pundits on talk radio.

Here’s the truth of it.

“Jesus is the reason for the season” that renews itself today, here and in churches all over the world. Before today, whether you first saw something resembling a Christmas display a few days before Thanksgiving, or around Halloween, or nearer to Labor Day (which is when I saw Christmas gear for sale for the first time this year), Macy’s is the reason for the season. Or maybe it’s Kohl’s, or Family Dollar, or wherever it is that you happen to shop. From the first time you noticed a display all the way through close of business on December 24, commerce was the reason for the season. Retail establishments everywhere need for us to drop much money into their registers so they can survive another year.

The “war on Christmas” might have something to do with some poor, unfortunate retail clerk saying “Seasons greetings” or “Have a happy holiday” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Or perhaps it has its roots in the legal ploys of some disgruntled people who do not want to spend public money on Christmas displays in town squares. Certainly, there is enough effort to prevent public school students from singing religious songs at their holiday pageants.

I’ve noticed something interesting about people who work in retail. The smart ones repeat whatever you say. If you lead with “Have a nice holiday,” they say it back or say, “Same to you.” If you say, “Have a nice Christmas,” they say much the same back. They try their best not to be offensive because they want you to come back to their store. This is not an exercise in “political correctness,” whatever that means, as much as an attempt to continue to have jobs to report to every day.

And if you want your children to sing religious songs in Christmas pageants, well, there are a great many Catholic schools in our community. In education, as in so much else in this world, you really do get what you pay for. We live in a secular world, and that world must take care of many different kinds of people with a variety of belief systems or no belief at all. The bigger surprise to me is that non-religious schools still gather audiences to watch their children sing about Rudolph or snow. If you want to hear a chorus of school children singing “Silent Night” or “Joy to the World” on the stage of their auditorium, you may well have to pay tuition.

Please note that I said that the season that Jesus is the reason for renews itself today. The season itself began when Jesus was born of Mary in a stable in the town of Bethlehem about 2,000 years ago. Ever since then, God has been Incarnate in the world, first in the person of Jesus and after his resurrection in the Eucharist reserved in tabernacles everywhere. That Christians are still intolerant of others or willing to do violence in the name of God proves only that we are sinners and have not yet fully absorbed what it means that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to be our Savior.”

In terms of the liturgy of the Church, the Christmas season begins today. Our festive observances continue rather intensely through the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord two Sundays from now, but the season itself does not conclude until February 2, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord Jesus in the Temple.

As the secular world packs away its Christmas displays and the sales end, we can keep the spirit of the liturgical season alive by attending and participating in the Eucharist here in church and by making sure we continue to be open to the generosity of spirit all Christians are called to as we respond to God’s gift of Jesus with our gift of love and compassion for others. The true season of the Incarnation never ends when we embody the Incarnate Lord in our own actions.

There is no war on Christmas that matters to us as long as we make Christ real to others. We do that by loving everyone with the same love that Christ showed to us by becoming one of us. Be Christ for others.

Merry Christmas!

Fr. Phil Cyscon

Saturday, April 23, 2011


I was once involved in a funeral for a person who had died relatively young after a rather hard life. He had never married and had outlived his parents and aunts and uncles, so his only remaining relatives were his siblings and their spouses. If those siblings had any children, I never met them. Although this family had grown up with Catholic education, they were not believers and were certainly not practicing their religion. The deceased family member was the only one who had attended church with any regularity beyond eighth grade, and he was quite a faithful man.

One of the family members confronted me with a great many questions: “Why would God take him so young? Why did he have such a hard life? Was his painful death a judgment by God on him or any of us?” Once I knew the family’s circumstances, which included a dysfunctional family life when they were growing up, I almost predicted the questions. They were no great surprise to me. I spoke to the answers in my homily at the funeral, but I feel safe in guessing that the siblings didn’t really listen to what I said or understand it even if they heard it.

If the truth of our existence can be summed up in one simple statement, it could well be this: “Are you unaware that we who are baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life; for if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in his resurrection.” (Romans 6:3-5)

Baptism changes our existence and makes everything different for us. St. Paul says that we were crucified with Christ so that we would no longer be slaves to sin. One of my seminary teachers said that if we ever traced every individual sin to its root, all sins would be an exercise in idolatry, the act of putting something or someone ahead of God. Sin stems from fear and leads to shame, and it has been so ever since the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The biggest personal fear that most people have is the fear of death, and the heathens engage in all sorts of wicked deceptions to convince themselves of their own mortality. But we are not heathens, and we don’t have to fear death because, as St. Paul says so clearly, we are already dead and risen.

Certainly, this perspective does not change our earthly existence. These mortal bodies of ours, like everything else in the created universe, must die. It simply changes the way we are free to live. We marvel at the strength of martyrs who could go joyfully to their deaths or at least face them with dignity, but they understood the great statement of Jesus that they could be killed, but not harmed. The eternal reality is always protected and always honored by God even when that which is earthly must perish.

What we gain by our belief is this: because we know that we are part of eternal life through Christ’s cross and our baptism into his death, we can live without fear. Fear prevents love. Jesus loved perfectly even though he knew that his earthly life would end with crucifixion. Had he been afraid, he would never have taught or healed. We would never have known him. The martyrs understood that they could be persecuted and even killed if they continued to live out their faith, but they were not afraid. They knew what their belief was all about. All the holy women and men of our history, whether or not recognized by the Church with canonization, made their sacrifices and lived their heroic lives because they were not afraid. They knew they would be loved even if they failed to love as well as they could at one moment or another.

The family of that young man who died could not hear talk of this kind of love because they were afraid of death and afraid of every kind of suffering or hardship. They learned the old line from the Baltimore Catechism, that God made us to know Him, love Him, and serve Him in this life and to be happy with Him forever in the next, but they didn’t believe it. Because they could not see past this moment and this life into the mystery of eternity, they were mired in their fears.

It is not too simple to say that love is the great reality of the universe. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God in them. Love results in the union of God with humanity in the Incarnation. Love allows the sacrifice of Jesus in the crucifixion. Love bursts forth in the resurrection because God refuses to allow the tomb to close Jesus in. Love frees us to give ourselves to others because we know we will be filled with grace and not emptied by the effort. Love joins us to God and God to us.

When we love, we do not have to be afraid, and when we live without fear, we are joined with God today and for all eternity. Today matters because we are here and can embrace our faith and live with love. Today is not all we have, not even close. Because we have died and risen with Christ through baptism, we have all things in God. Reflect on that when you renew your baptismal promises today.

Happy Easter!

Fr. Phil Cyscon

Sunday, May 9, 2010


I want you to know about someone I knew a long time ago, a woman named Nora Lee who was a person I visited with Holy Communion frequently back when I was new at being a priest. Nora had horrible physical problems. She was afflicted with severe Parkinson’s and equally terrible arthritis. She shook all the time. Even when she sat with a board across her lap, her elbows on the board, and her chin in her hand, I saw the tremors. With her poor circulation, she often had swollen legs and feet, which left her chair-bound. She was almost completely homebound except for doctor visits.

When I met her, Nora was a widow in her 80s whose only child, a son, had died a few years before. He suffered a sudden, unexpected heart attack and left his wife and four children. A heart attack or any sort of sudden death is devastating when it happens to a young man, maybe more to his children than anyone else. Nora told me little things about their relationships with their father. It made me think about how special it is to be a parent.

But the story isn’t about Nora’s son. It’s about her. As time went on, Nora spoke more of her daughter. It was curious to me because I knew she had only one child. I let it go for a long time, maybe three visits. She had such obvious affection for this daughter, whoever she was, and I wasn’t about to break her illusions.

In time, I decided to ease my curiosity. I asked Nora about her daughter. She told me very simply that she was talking about her daughter-in-law, whose own mother had recently died. Nora thought she needed one. The fact that her own son had died made this relationship that much more important. Nora’s daughter-in-law didn’t mind. In fact, she welcomed the extra closeness.

Nora often mentioned her family in her prayers. One month, there was extra urgency in her voice. Her daughter had been diagnosed with a cancer that would probably be terminal in a short time, no more than six months. The woman was 44 years old and would leave four children orphaned. Over those months, Nora had some problems of her own and was even in the hospital for a few days here and there. She tried hard to keep her attitude positive.

One Holy Thursday, Nora told me that she had been to her daughter’s funeral that Monday. It was her first time out of the house for anything except a medical issue in over a year. She told me about her grandchildren in greater detail than ever before. At the time, the oldest was 22. She was in medical school at the University of Chicago, but she took off a year to care for her mother. The second girl was 21 and engaged to a very wonderful young man. The third girl was 18 and just about to finish high school and was headed to college. Nora was so proud of her only grandson. He was ten and on the 5th grade basketball team at his school. She was so amazed at the life he brought to her life. Her grandchildren were her daily miracles.

As we prayed that day, Nora said something I always remember, something that makes me sure God exists every time I think of it. She spoke of those children. First, their father died in a way too sudden even for farewells. Then, their mother died in a way too painful to think about. Children don’t deserve to be orphans. Nora said, “I guess I have to be their mother now.”

She was already 83 and couldn’t leave her house. They actually were her caretakers, shopping for her, cooking and cleaning, taking her to her doctor’s appointments. Nora didn’t care. She saw children without a mother and knew it was up to her to fill the gap. She loved them like a mother for the rest of her life, which was less than a year from that time.

I finally met the grandchildren at her wake. We spent a long time talking. They were as beautiful and gracious as she said. I told them what Nora told me. They never knew the words, but they felt the reality. Nora never trumpeted her love. She just did it. They weren’t surprised, and they weren’t even overly impressed. It was just another story about their grandmother turned mother.

The point of the story is very simple. A mother’s love transcends everything thrown in its path. It defeats pain, suffering, age, infirmity, legality, and even death. Especially death. That is God’s promise and His way of loving. Nora’s four grandchildren were blessed to have her. They have the example of their own mother and their replacement mother. They have the example of a simple, courageous woman to show them how to love. I hope all four of them have learned to love as well as Nora loved them. I pray I learn to love so well.

Happy Mother’s Day!

God bless you!

Fr. Phil Cyscon

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A NOTE FROM THE PASTOR (for the January 24 bulletin)

On Sunday, January 17, the rectory was robbed. The theft happened between 9 and 10 in the morning at a time when no one was in the building. The most serious loss was the collection from the 5 pm and 7:45 am Masses. All four collection bags as well as the cash from the candle offerings was taken. I also lost some cash from my own personal quarters. Because the collections were not yet opened or counted, I do not know how much money was taken from the parish, and I am not interested in telling anyone how much money I lost in the theft. The police and the archdiocese have been informed, and we will determine what losses may be covered by our diocesan insurance. Now I am informing you. I suggest that all who donated by check last weekend monitor those checks and stop payment on them if possible.

I am embarrassed and disappointed by this theft for several reasons. One reason is that I was too trusting that our rectory would not be violated by crime. We are not cavalier with collection money, but it was too easily accessible for the thief. It appears that this could have been an “inside job” of sorts — not that it was performed by someone who works or volunteers at the parish, but that someone had unauthorized access to a key to the rectory and knew exactly where cash was likely to be, both on the office level and in my own living space. Another larger reason is that I did not act decisively enough to secure the money that people so generously gave to the parish. The third is that the collection for Haiti produced a larger than normal amount at all the other Masses and probably had done so in the two that were stolen.

Please accept my humble apology for my mistakes that allowed this theft to be so damaging to our parish. I will work with the police to the extent that I must to catch this criminal and bring about justice, but we all know that there is no real likelihood of an arrest. I will also make sure that our collections are safeguarded at any time when no authorized people are in the rectory.

Thank you for your ongoing generosity to the parish. I hope that this incident will not make you reconsider your contributions. I assure you that I will do everything in my power to make sure that such a crime is never repeated.

Fr. Phil Cyscon


Even before the crime that befell us over the weekend, I had been thinking about this topic for my reflection. There are a few times a year when the theme of forgiveness is expressed in the readings, and I usually take those opportunities to reflect on the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.

Forgiveness is the act of pardoning someone for a mistake or wrongdoing. Reconciliation is the ending of conflict or renewing of a friendly relationship between disputing people or groups. We know from sacred Scripture that God always forgives. We also know from both Scripture and church tradition that God always wishes to be reconciled with sinners. God wants us to know that we are always pardoned, and God always wishes for us to be in relationship with him. That is a great comfort and ought to be a delight for all sinners.

It isn’t so easy or clear for people. When Peter asked Jesus how often he needed to forgive a brother who wronged him, Jesus replied in essence that he must forgive every time. The trouble with sins is that they tend to stick more to the victim than the perpetrator. Let one terrorist come onto an airplane with a bomb in his shoe, and every single person who flies must stand barefoot while all the shoes are x-rayed. Let one thief steal a collection bag from a rectory, and forever will we have locked rooms and lock-boxes to protect these precious gifts from our parishioners. Let one person lie to you, and you are likely to carry around distrust for that person for a long time to come.

We forgive to get rid of the burden of carrying around the hurt done to us. We do not want to hate, and unforgiven sin leads to hatred. Eventually, we get over airport security, or security measures in our parish house, or even the checking we must do for our family members because we don’t want to carry anger or something worse with us.

That is very different from giving someone the chance to hurt us again. I want any terrorist punished to the fullest extent of the law. I want the same for the thief. I want the liar to be forced to tell the truth all the time, even if I must follow the person around to make sure it happens. Just because I am willing to put down the anger and hatred caused by the sin doesn’t mean I want to or need to allow the person the opportunity to sin again.

I forgive for my own sake. I reconcile in order to have a relationship again. Reconciliation is serious business because it is the act of love. If Peter had asked Jesus how many times he must reconcile with someone who had sinned against him, I suspect that Jesus would have given a very different answer than the one he gave about forgiving. Jesus would have known that sometimes a relationship is irrevocably broken by the sin or dispute. He would have known that sometimes it is better not to allow a person the chance to hurt us again.

I reconcile when I want more than anything else to build a loving and respectful relationship with a person who has sinned against me. I seek reconciliation with someone I have wronged when I want them to know that my love is greater than the hurt I have caused. It doesn’t always happen, and it isn’t ever automatic. As I work through feeling angry, hurt, and embarrassed by the person who stole from our parish and from me, I am already in the process forgiving the unknown thief. I don’t know whether I’ll ever be able to reconcile if I even had a prior relationship with the person who did this evil deed.

Please consider the persons who have wronged you. Forgive them always, and reconcile with them when it is possible to rebuild a loving, trusting relationship. Please consider all the persons you have sinned against. Seek their forgiveness, and reconcile if they allow it.

God bless you!

Fr. Phil Cyscon

Thursday, December 24, 2009

FROM MY CORNER OF THE WORLD for Christmas 2009

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;

upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shone.”

These are the great words of Isaiah that begin the Scriptures for Midnight Mass, true words in the time of the prophet, and true words today.

Our nation is embroiled in two wars, and there are other wars and conflicts always at work in the world. The economy, while seeming quite sublime for a few, has been atrocious and frightening for many. This land is beset by partisan politics in which the best of ideas, when proposed by one side, must be rejected without hope of compromise or statesmanship by the other. We might have a flicker of hope for some meaningful health care legislation, but we haven’t even touched the problem of justice for immigrants. We look with hatred and fear at those who are different, especially if they come from the Middle East or worship Allah. Homeless people freeze, and hungry people starve in the middle of a place that, despite the recession, remains the nation with the most economic clout anywhere.

The leaders of the church I belong to have not yet figured out the benefits of openness and transparency in our dealings both with members of the congregation and people in the wider world. Therefore, the hardships created by the sexual abuse crisis and the sporadic episodes of financial mismanagement by various parishes and dioceses linger, fester, and even grow. Some of our leaders complain of how the media has exacerbated the problems when it is our ordained leaders (no matter how small or large the numbers may be) who have abused the children and stolen the money. At a time when the Catholic Church uses a TV campaign to reach out to those who have drifted away for all sorts of reasons, and those who have left in anger over our problems, and those who feel disenfranchised because they have in some way violated the rules, we have other Catholics who think more should be forced away from the People of God because they are not serious enough about following the rules (or not serious enough in the eyes of those who are doing the complaining).

These are only a few of the public woes that keep us walking in darkness. This time of year, more than any other, heightens the gloom of personal woes. Those who grieve feel it more keenly when the houses are decorated and the carols are sung. Depression can easily deepen for addicts, the unemployed, and their families. Those who have a soldier or civilian contractor in a war zone feel their normal fears more acutely around this time of year.

And yet there is light. And always there is hope. Isaiah tells us again:

“For a child is born to us, a son is given to us,

upon his shoulders dominion rests.

They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-hero,

Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.

His dominion is vast and forever peaceful,

From David’s throne, which he confirms and sustains

By judgment and justice, both now and forever.”

The great hope of our time and all time is the Incarnation. When Jesus took flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary, humanity itself was transformed by God’s wish and God’s will. That means that all of life is a sacrament, a way of making Jesus present through us, his Mystical Body on earth. The work of the Incarnation is that of justice. We must be about the things that Jesus did in his life. As he tells us in the Gospel of John, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” If we are to continue the work of Jesus Christ, then we must reconcile, forgive, heal, and bring about God’s mercy through our own sacrificial acts. Then Isaiah’s words will be true that “the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster [God] has smashed.”

It’s all about love. It’s all about the truth that “God so loved the world that he gave his only son to be its savior.” It’s about our belief in that amazing truth and our willingness to act it out in our own lives. God has touched the world in a definitive way when he allowed himself to be born in the person of Jesus Christ. We touch the world in thousands and millions of ways when we show the love we have received through that miraculous Nativity.

“The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this!”

Merry Christmas!

God bless you always!

Father Phil Cyscon

(The Scriptural words quoted above come from Isaiah chapter 9, verses 1-6, and the Gospel of John, chapters 3 and 15.)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

FROM MY CORNER OF THE WORLD for December 13, 2009

We hear more from John the Baptist in the Gospel reading today, but the great feasts of this week have me thinking about the Blessed Virgin. We celebrated her Immaculate Conception on Tuesday and the great feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe just yesterday. We will also hear part of Mary’s story on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, part of the tradition of the season.

The Blessed Virgin Mary has a dual role in the season of Advent, and this mirrors the dual theology of the season, that we are preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ and also to be ready for him when he comes in judgment.

As Mother of God, the first part of her role is obvious. Mary accepted God’s invitation that came to her through the angel Gabriel. She took her place as the servant of the Lord who was willing to do God’s will no matter the consequences. Because of that, she allowed God’s power to come upon her and cause the conception of Jesus. With the help of Joseph, she was in Bethlehem at the time of birth of Jesus, and she followed all the proper forms in making sure that he was accepted as part of God’s covenant with the people of Israel.

Mary’s second role is related in the Scriptures that tell us that she was at the foot of the cross when her Son died and that she was with the church as it awaited the first Pentecost.

As Jesus died, he placed her into the care of his Beloved Disciple, who was both a real person and a symbol standing for the Church. Mary was in the care of this man for the rest of her life, and the devotion of the Church has continued and grown throughout the centuries. We are devoted to Mary under many names and titles, two of which we celebrated just this week. Under these titles, Mary is patroness of our nation and the Americas.

Mary did more than sit passively in the care of the Beloved Disciple. She did not enter into retirement. As the Acts of the Apostles reports, she joined the infant Church in the upper room and was present with them during the days of waiting before the Holy Spirit came. Mary was one of the first believers, one of the first to make herself and the world ready for her Son’s coming in glory. As such, she becomes a true example for us. Mary did not sit back on the laurels of her status as Mother of God. Nor should we sit back and think that because we are members of the church, all things will happen for us automatically. We have a responsibility to make ourselves ready for his coming just as Mary did.

We have a few more days to prepare ourselves for the celebration of Christmas, and a lifetime (however short or long our time remaining) to be ready to greet the Lord when he comes in his glory. We can do no better than to join Mary in saying yes to the will of God and standing with the Church.

God bless you!

Fr. Phil Cyscon