First, I would like to address the most recent statements made by our President, Donald Trump, who acknowledges that opening churches in our country is essential. Many will criticize the President for this act of justice done in the name of religion. Some will say it was a political move to get votes from the religious (church-going) citizens here in this country. I think many citizens of this great country find it hard to trust and believe President Trump because of his past, his affairs, his vast wealth (“How DID he get all of his money?”), or maybe you just don’t like his hair.
Honestly, you probably would not trust me or what I say about our Savior Jesus Christ if my past was splattered all over the internet. Would you judge me so severely today because of my past? Almost every time I go to confession to Fr. Albert, he reminds me of this fundamental truth: “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” Now, I’m not suggesting that Donald Trump is a saint nor would l boast that of myself and, yet, we are all working on our relationship with Jesus Christ, with the hope of becoming a saint.
Be that as it may, I have no idea what Trump’s religious affiliations are; however, our President is doing what is expected of him, per the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...” While the First Amendment enforces the “separation of Church and State,” it doesn’t exclude religion from public life. So, let’s give this President a break and stop judging him on his past life, “lest ye be judged” on yours. This President is helping us Christians to open our churches. I hope this encourages our bishops to have the same courage and to stand up against these inflated governors and other politicians who would love to see the collapse of the Catholic Church in their political regions. To quote Fr. Albert again, “Don’t worry; the Catholic Church is a Divinely-run Church, despite those who are in charge.” That is a perfect quote for us to segue into talking about the Scripture readings for today.
In the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke describes a series of events in Jesus’ life. He concludes his listing of the events of Christ’s life with the description about Jesus being “taken up from you into Heaven (and who) will return in the same way...” One reflection I had on this scene is that the “Men of Galilee,” along with the angels, are facing the direction of our Lord’s ascension into Heaven, which is the posture we take at every Mass at St. Therese Church. We wait, watch, and pray in the same direction, with deliberate and intentional anticipation for Christ’s return. At Mass, the priests look up to Heaven with the correct anticipatory posture, along with all who eagerly await and prepare for the glorious return of Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Redeemer!
Granted, Jesus is with us always, as He promises us in today’s Gospel. But how is He “with us always” and, yet, we still wait anxiously for His return? Just as when our Lord was with the Church for forty days after His Resurrection, so He remains with us in the Sacramental grace of the Church through His Holy Priesthood and, most perfectly, in the Holy Eucharist. Recall how our Lord was made known to the men on the journey to Emmaus: “And it happened that, while He was with them at table, He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, but He vanished from their sight” (Luke 24:30-31). So, too, is our faith restored and strengthened when we receive, in faith, the True Presence of our Lord’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, as He is truly present but hidden—“vanished”—from our sight in the humble appearance of Bread and Wine! The First Reading says that a cloud took Him from their sight. This doesn’t mean Jesus has left us. No! He is with us ALWAYS! Jesus is always with us in Spirit and Life, in Sacred Scripture, in the Sacraments, in His Holy Church, and in the Magisterium of His Church. However, He will come again at His Second Coming. So let us live our lives in hopeful expectation of the return of our King, our Lord, our Savior, and our God!
The Second Reading provides us with a beautiful blessing which can easily be missed “in our hearing”: May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to His call, what are the riches of glory in His inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of His great might, which He worked in Christ, raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:17-21). As you can tell, this blessing goes on and on and, in fact, is just ONE sentence containing 102 words! (I’m not sure if Miss Tittmann, our Fifth Grade teacher, would allow any of her students to get away with such a run-on-sentence like this one!) This blessing from St. Paul to the Ephesians is really a blessing for all of us! He is encouraging us to never lose hope, because Jesus has defeated the Prince of this world, the devil. He concludes, “And He put all things beneath His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the Church, which is His Body...” (Ephesians 1:22-23).
The Gospel today reminds us how easy it is to doubt God, even when we are worshipping Him, as the Eleven apostles are recorded doing in St. Matthew’s account of the Ascension. I’d like to share with you a time of doubt in my own vocation in becoming a priest. I was on a 30-day Ignatian retreat, sitting in front of the Blessed Sacrament, reading and meditating on a passage from the Bible. As I imagined myself sitting next to Jesus, I told Him in prayer that I couldn’t do what He was asking me to do by becoming a priest. He looked at me and said very clearly, “Your hesitations are not mine.” I wasn’t sure if I made myself clear to Jesus when I said, “I cannot do what you are asking me to do,” and so I repeated it. Our Lord said a second time to me—Him looking at me, me looking at Him looking at me—“Your hesitations are not mine.” The prayer ended, and I never felt the need to again doubt my vocation to become a priest. I have often wondered, “If I did not have that conversation with the Lord, would I have persevered in becoming a priest?” I find myself returning to this prayer quite a bit. Please do not doubt our Lord! He loves us and He is with us always!
I want to conclude this homily with a short catechesis of what the Ascension of the Lord means to the Church. Why does our Lord “vanish” or get “taken from our sight”? I mean, things are going pretty well during the forty days after His Resurrection, right? He is here and there, talking and walking, popping in and out, and even has breakfast with the apostles on the beach. Sounds like Jesus should stick around, right? Well, let’s first understand the significance of the forty days.
1. Throughout Scripture, FORTY is a meaningful number. It indicates purification, preparation, and transition. The forty days between the Resurrection and the Ascension has that same meaning. The Church is in its beginnings as Jesus is taken from their sight.
2. Jesus in His Resurrected Body, still with the wounds of the Crucifixion, is now seated at the right-hand of God, elevating humanity above the choirs of angels and establishing a new hierarchy in Heaven, where humanity shares intimately and physically in the one Godhead. The God-Man Jesus Christ is seated with the Father and bestows the Holy Spirit upon His Kingdom on earth: The Catholic Church!
3. Jesus, the True High Priest, “takes His Body, which had been crucified and is now risen, and brings that human nature, that human body, that glorified body, into the Heavenly Sanctuary, where He offers Himself as a sacrifice to the Father—not in time but in ETERNITY; not on earth but in HEAVEN! On earth Jesus fulfills and completes the Passover, the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb. BUT IN HIS ASCENSION, Jesus fulfills the Day of Atonement, the time when—once a year—the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies to offer a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people of Israel—just for the sins committed by them that year ONLY.
4. In His Ascension, our Lord enters into the Heavenly Sanctuary ONCE AND FOR ALL TIME. The Ascension elevates these historic events into the “Temple-Not-Made-by-Human-Hands” and brings them into eternity. This is why St. Paul says that Christ “permanently exercises His priesthood, for He always lives to make intercession for those who draw near to God through Him...He has no need, as did the high priests, to offer sacrifice day after day, first for His own sins and then for those of the people; He did that once for all when He offered Himself. For the law appoints men subject to weakness to be high priests, but the word of the oath, which was taken after the law, appoints a Son, who has been made perfect forever” (Hebrews 7:24-28).
It is precisely through this offering in Eternity, by His Ascension, that Christ is present in every priest, on every altar, and in every tabernacle, fulfilling His promise, “I am with you always.”
Mediocre (Jagged Mountain)
May 11, 2020
MEDIOCRE (JAGGED MOUNTAIN)
The danger the Church faces in times of persecution is that her members begin to run away and, sometimes, stay away. This is certainly true for many who left the Church during the clergy abuse scandals. It is impossible to reflect on the history of the Church without the element of betrayal and scandal; but we cannot leave the Church forever!
I have shared with you before the etymology of the word “mediocre”. Commonly used, it means "merely adequate," but the literal meaning is “halfway up a jagged mountain,” which combines the Latin words “medius,” meaning “middle,” and “ocris,” meaning “jagged mountain”. With this definition in mind, we can see that many people, whose faith could be considered mediocre, give up on the Church “halfway up the jagged mountain”—for instance, during times of scandal and persecution. While everyone is affected by the scandals in the Church, we did not become Catholic due to any of the individuals whose disgraceful acts have caused these scandals. Rather, we are Catholic because of Jesus Christ!
This is also true when individuals in the Church are idealized and held up as gods. We were taught in the seminary that if we are popular and liked by everyone, we are probably doing something wrong. In today’s first reading, we see that St. Paul is hated to the point of almost being killed and then, in the same story, we hear he is praised as a god—like Hermes! Granted, it is hard to be Catholic during public scandals, especially when we have put too much emphasis on the people who are running the Church—good or bad. We are Catholic because of Jesus Christ and not because of anyone else!
The lesson in today’s first reading reminds us that we will most likely be hated by many who do not like Christ and who do not like Truth; on the other hand, we may also become overly popular because of Christ. In either case, it is a lesson and an opportunity to develop the virtue of humility.
Christ’s disciples may be tempted to edit or soften the Church’s message of Truth and to become evangelizers who only preach comforting things and are considered “non-threatening” to those who are living disordered lives. This is unacceptable! Here, too, the Church’s members may forget that they are called to witness to TRUTH, even unto death. These times are opportunities to witness to the docility and the humility of Jesus Christ, who freely laid down His life for His Church.
No doubt, the saints teach us that moments of glory enable the Church to amplify Her message and become Light in a world of darkness. Moments of persecution, likewise, have a cleansing and cauterizing effect, so that the deeply faithful are identified as having a greater intensity of commitment to the Gospel.
The Catholic Church then grows—not in quantity but in quality. Of course, we can apply the same idea to the moments of light and darkness in our own spiritual lives. St. Therese teaches us the “Little Way,” wherein we do the little things in life with great love, so as to grow in grace and holiness and to work toward becoming great saints in the eternal glory of the Most Holy Trinity. This requires a radical humility!
Let us be humble in our service to Jesus Christ; after all, it is HIS Church. The truth is that we learn more about the Lord and ourselves during difficult times—like during periods of scandal, persecution, and events such as the current coronavirus pandemic—than we do in prosperous times.
We should thank the Lord for the “dark nights of the soul” that have been given to us; even—for instance—unemployment and the economic uncertainties caused by the pandemic, because they enable us to see the Light better than we did before.
Do You See What I See?
May 9, 2020
“DO YOU SEE WHAT I SEE?”
I’ve entitled this morning’s homily, “Do You See What I See?”. There is a famous line which comes from a poem entitled, “The Defense of Fort McHenry,” written on September 14, 1814, by Francis Scott Key, a 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet. The line is, “O, say can you see...?”; the poem from which it came was later set to music, becoming—in 1931—America’s national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner”. Francis Scott Key wrote the poem after he witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships of the Royal Navy in Baltimore Harbor during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. He was inspired by the lone U.S. flag, with 15 stars and 15 stripes, still flying triumphantly over Fort McHenry at daybreak, as reflected in the now-famous words of our anthem: “And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.”
“O, say can you see by the dawn’s early light...?” What a great line as we continue to reflect on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in this Easter season. But how well can we see? Well, in this year 2020, let’s work on improving our inner sight by recognizing the moments of grace in our lives and by training our mind’s eye to have the sort of vision that gives us accurate sight, which comes through praying and through meditating upon the Sacred Scriptures. All this week I have been speaking about the book, “All the Light We Cannot See.” Sight is important, but vision is imperative to seeing Jesus. But what is the difference between being able to see and having vision? A lot! I have quoted Helen Keller before in my homilies but, repetition being the “mother of all learning,” I will give you another quote from her. Helen, a blind woman, like little Marie Laure from the novel, “All the Light We Cannot See,” once penned, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight without vision.” Wow! Only someone who is blind, deaf, and mute could make such a convincing claim like this.
But what exactly does this mean? Someone who is a visionary could be a person who has the foresight to plan a big project and to see it through to completion and, hopefully, to success. Another way we can understand what we mean by “vision” is through the visionaries of the Catholic Church. It is through a life of prayer that we can develop and train our mind’s eye. People who are well-practiced in prayer and who have entered deeply into what we call “mystical union with God” have written a lot about contemplation and mystical union. Mystical union is not just for monks and nuns. Simply put, mystical union is a deep awareness of the Divine Presence. St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Jesus, along with other spiritual writers, provide us with trustworthy methods to reach this kind of relationship with God.
They teach us that our souls will feel God’s closeness and will find great joy in spiritual things, such as long periods of prayer, fasting, spiritual reading, and works of charity. However, it is critical that we maintain our prayer life so that we can achieve the “Prayer of Quiet,” also known as “Full Union,” “Ecstasy with God,” “Spiritual Marriage,” or the “Transforming Union with God”. The imagination is a powerful tool that will catapult us out of ourselves and into the presence of God.
We are all having a hard time right now because of the closure of our Catholic churches due to the of the coronavirus. Looking at this positively, we can see that this time of isolation is a perfect time, a perfect “Dark Night of the Soul,” if you will, for us to do the work that Christ teaches us to do: to practice our prayer life, to make it more constant and thus more fruitful, and to train our mind’s eye so we can see the Father. Isn’t that what Jesus is telling Philip in today’s Gospel? “...Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father... I am in the Father and the Father is in Me” (John 14:9-10). Even the apostles had to work through their inability to fully comprehend who Jesus is and what He is offering. This conversation with Philip takes place at the Last Supper. Do the apostles really understand the Lord’s invisible presence in this first Eucharist?
“Do you see what I see?” Like the words of the Star Spangled Banner, the words from the Christmas song, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” (written by Noël Regney) speak volumes to us who are learning how to see God and to have the wisdom to KNOW His will and to DO His will. What is similar with these two songs is that they are both songs of victory. Our flag was seen by Key flying triumphantly above the Fort in that famous U.S. victory in 1812. The well-known Christmas lyric, “Do you see what I see?,” about the Nativity of Christ, is the triumph of humanity: “God became man”.
We're called to become great saints by being given Prevenient Grace by God. We can change our lives, like St. Paul and many others did, or we can walk away from our Lord, like Judas did. We can be witnesses to the Actual Grace working in our lives, like the disciples who go out among great persecution and proclaim Truth boldly, even when it meant being rejected by prominent leaders in society. Even our Lord says in today’s Gospel, “Whoever believes in Me will do the works that I do and will do greater ones than these” (John 14:12). Our Lord does not promise us that we will do great miracles but that the number of people He will reach through us will be huge.
When we ourselves are rejected by prominent leaders in society and when evil people stir up persecution against us, we need to shake off the dust of their lies and falsehoods and wait for the Lord to redirect us in prayer. This is why constant prayer is so important: We can always rely on Jesus who, with the power of the Holy Spirit, is redirecting us to be victorious in whatever comes our way, whether it be betrayal, rejection, imprisonment, or even death. Jesus has done it all, and so can we—for no servant is greater than his Master. Life sometimes feels like war, so let us train our hearts, minds, and bodies, like soldiers preparing for battle. “Do you see what I see?” Pray about it. Jesus has won this fight, so let us always follow Him, the Good Shepherd who will lead us to verdant pastures.
Coincidentally, the Star Spangled Banner was written on September 14th, the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. “Per hoc signo vinces!” (“By this sign you will conquer!”)
Be Patient, Be Faithful, Be Holy!
May 8, 2020
BE FAITHFUL, BE PATIENT, BE HOLY!
It's Friday, so let's try to go back and look at some of the things that we've been talking about all this week at Mass. We have emphasized the importance of a good shepherd, who needs to feed his flock. Priests need to feed their flocks in the way that Jesus expects us to; that is, with the Holy Eucharist. We've discussed the importance of the positions and postures we take at Mass, especially when the priest and the people face the same direction, “ad orientem,” while we anticipate together and worship together, as it is expected of us in the liturgy. While the priest may be leading the worship at Mass, it is always JESUS, the Good Shepherd, whom we all must follow during the liturgy of the Mass. In our efforts to live out the Good News of Christ, we know that—whatever happens in life—“Jesus is always with us.” This effort to follow the Good Shepherd will help us to take up our crosses and follow our Lord, for “no slave is greater than his Master” (John 13:16). Priests are expected to be faithful shepherds so that their flocks can safely follow them; otherwise, any one of us could end up as another Judas. Fr. Bernard Perkins often repeats the famous quote by St. Bernard, “There go I, but for the grace of God!”
This week at Mass, we talked about the importance of praying and about how to pray using an ancient method of prayer called, “Lectio Divina”. I shared with you the acronym, “L.M.O.C.,” which stands for, “Let Me Open Christ,” to help you remember the four steps of Lectio Divina: Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, and Contemplatio (homily of May 6, 2020). When it comes to prayer, I just want to encourage you, so that you do not get discouraged when you pray! “Practice makes perfect”, as the old adage goes. Become consistent with your times of prayer, and even with the place where you decide to pray. Grace upon grace! Yesterday, we spoke about three different kinds of grace: Prevenient which mean “to come before”; actual, which is the active grace in our lives; and sanctifying grace, which is the grace that transforms us into saints. Prevenient grace is the grace we are ALL given by the Father at our creation, as rational souls created by an all-powerful God. Free will allows us to receive this grace and to either act upon it or reject it. St. Paul is just one example of someone who received this grace and faithfully served God. Clearly, Judas is an example of someone who rejected this grace by betraying the Lord.
Actual grace is when we willingly become an instrument of grace like St. Paul and the apostles, who boldly preached the Truth of the Gospel, despite the persecutions that they and all the early Christians endured. On Tuesday we heard about Barnabus arriving in Antioch, where he “saw the grace of God…” (Acts 11:23). How did he see grace? By the way the Christians were living out their lives! Can others see the grace of God in you by the way you live your life?
Sanctifying grace is the divine action of God working in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is received through our constant participation in the Sacraments. We are being transformed or transfigured into becoming great saints, like St. Paul and many others. We don’t just talk about Jesus; we BECOME Jesus in the world. In other words, we become what we consume. This is an excellent meditation on all the distractions we “consume” on a daily basis, by way of the internet, the television, politics, work, or our relationships. Do they enhance our personal relationship with Jesus or do they hinder our personal relationship with Jesus? Think about it! Pray about it! Take some time today using the four steps of Lectio Divina to meditate upon this question. Sanctifying grace is necessary for us to become saints: “Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood will have eternal life” (John 6:54).
Today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (13:26-33) ends with the line that we prayed together during the Responsorial Psalm: “You are my Son; this day I have begotten you.” These are necessary words to ponder as we reflect on our own relationship with God the Father. We are His children and heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven. How seriously do we take this? Some people, like Nancy Pelosi and many other famous people, throw around the title of “Christian” or “Catholic,” but live lives that are contrary to Christ. They promote and advocate policies like abortion, but they proudly wave the Catholic flag. These are people like Judas, who sat at the altar of the Eucharist but nevertheless betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Or, as Jesus said yesterday, “The one who ate my food has raised his heel against me” (John 13:16). This reality of betrayal has always been present within Christ’s Church. Even Pope Francis recognizes this when he stated recently, “The mystery of Judas hangs over our time.”
Keep in mind that we are sitting at the Last Supper with the Apostles in today's Gospel. Yesterday our Lord washed the feet of all His Apostles, including His betrayer, Judas. Many have felt the betrayal of priests and bishops throughout world history—especially now in this time of the coronavirus, when all the Catholic Churches are locked up. We hear the protests of salon owners who are willing to go to jail to open their businesses; we hear about the mayors who want to keep the beaches open; but the silence of the bishops is deafening. We have only one Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ! Our Lord knew His betrayer. He washed his feet and allowed him to consume the Eucharist—His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
Do not let your hearts be troubled! Jesus is always with us. Be faithful, be patient, be holy!
Grace Upon Grace
May 7, 2020
GRACE UPON GRACE
All this week we have been talking about all the light we cannot see. I think it's an interesting concept to ponder, not only when we think of radio waves but also, and more importantly, when we ponder unseen grace happening in our lives. Last week, we read about the conversion of St. Paul, how he was moved by grace when he heard a voice that said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Yes, we know the story so well... St. Paul didn't see anyone, as Jesus was invisible to him. There is even that part of the story that showed that St. Paul’s eyes were covered with scales as a result of this unusual encounter with Jesus. God allowed St. Paul to be temporarily blinded as part of his conversion process; but what caused St. Paul to have such a radical change of heart? Ponder all the light Paul could not see in that instance of grace!
Grace is the supernatural gift that God bestows, entirely of His own kindness and goodness (benevolence), upon men and women for their eternal salvation. There are three different kinds of grace that I would like to talk about in today’s homily:
1. Prevenient Grace
2. Actual Grace
3. Sanctifying Grace
These are ways of describing the range of Christ's transforming presence in us. We need to recognize grace in our lives and understand that God's grace is not something that settles on just a few individuals, but it can come upon anyone at any time.
Prevenient grace is seen in the Scripture passage that reads, “No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit.” Every time we begin to pray to Jesus, it is the Holy Spirit who draws us on the way of prayer by His prevenient grace” (1 Corinthians 12:3).
The Second Council of Orange of 529 stated that, “Faith, though a free act, resulted—even in its beginnings—from the grace of God, enlightening the human mind and enabling belief.” In Canon 23, it says that, “God prepares our wills that they may desire the good.” Canon 25 states, "In every good work, it is not we who begin...but He (God) first inspires us with faith and love of Him, through no preceding merit on our part.”
Prevenient grace (from the Latin, "to come before") was discussed in the fifth chapter of the sixth session of the Council of Trent (1545-1563), using the phrase, “...rendered a predisposing grace of God through Jesus Christ”. Those who turn from God by sinning are disposed by God's grace to turn back to Him and become justified by freely assenting to that grace.
Actual grace is freely given by God, actualized, then given to others by the one who receives it. My Mom likes to pray, “Make me an instrument of your Abundance”. There are many examples of people in the Bible who share the grace of God with others; for instance, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, the prophets, and St. Paul. Actual grace can be understood as someone being used by God to receive and then distribute His grace. Think of it in well-known phrases like, “when the light goes on”. Now what are you going to do with that light?
Sanctifying grace is, “...the supernatural state of being infused by God, which permanently inheres in the soul. Sanctifying grace belongs to the soul, mind, will, and affections. It is called sanctifying grace because it makes holy those who possess the gift by giving them a participant in the divine life. It is this life which Christ taught that He has in common with the Father, and which is shared by those who are in the state of grace” (https://www.catholicculture.org).
To better understand sanctifying grace, listen to the words of Jesus: “...that they may all be one, even as You, Father, are in Me and I, in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:21). It is the Sacraments that provide this grace, most especially the Holy Eucharist. Furthermore, Jesus says-- seven times in one paragraph--that we must eat (consume) the Flesh and Blood of Jesus in order to have eternal life (John 6:54).
The readings today effortlessly display the three graces we have just discussed: Prevenient grace is seen in the conversion of St. Paul; actual grace is seen in his actions and missionary work, as well as the drive he has and by his very life, which he will eventually give when he is martyred; and sanctifying grace is shown by his carrying within himself the very presence of Jesus Christ in the Sacred Eucharist—not just in his evangelizing and retelling the story of God’s presence in the Old Testament. Christ’s True Presence is transforming his soul so that he is becoming one of the greatest saints the world has ever seen!
Grace is central in today’s Gospel: “If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it! Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the One I send receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives the One who sent Me” (John 13:20).
Let Me Open Christ
May 6, 2020
LECTIO DIVINA: “LET ME OPEN CHRIST!” (L-M-O-C)
Yesterday I spoke about the novel, All the Light We Cannot See. I compared unseen radio waves—which provide a lot of “light” but can also cause a lot of “darkness”—to the Nazis in the novel who used these unseen radio waves to spread their evil propaganda. What I want you to think about regarding the unseen radio waves is how they compare to the unseen love that God is constantly bestowing on us, His children. Yesterday I asked you how you are preparing for the upcoming celebration of Pentecost on May 31st. The Holy Spirit provides us with gifts of understanding, knowledge, wisdom, courage, piety, and the ability to give good counsel. Again, all these gifts of the Holy Spirit are unseen, except in the way we live our lives as Christians.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus our Savior is speaking about a Divine Light that can only be experienced and seen by faith and Sacramental Grace. Do we see light in the blessings that we receive from the priest? Do we see the light of Jesus in His resurrection and in the Holy Eucharist? Do we see light when we close our eyes in prayerful meditation? In fact, when we think about it, besides radio waves, there is a lot of light we cannot see: the internet, the world wide web, grace, blessings, consolation, faith, love, inspiration. All these are light we cannot see. Think about it.
Yesterday, we reflected on the newly-inspired Christians who went out like “spark among stubble,” igniting the places they went with the Good News of the Risen Christ! Despite the fact that they were being persecuted, hunted down, and imprisoned—and that, eventually, many of them would be killed—they were zealously proclaiming, evangelizing, and dying for their Faith in Jesus Christ! They were Christians who were willing to lay down their lives, as Christ did for us! The light of Christ is clearly seen in the zealous lives of His Saints.
We also spoke about prayer. We often get frustrated in our prayer life because we don’t know how to pray! Lectio Divina is a very effective way to pray. I shared with you an acronym to help you remember the four steps to Lectio Divina: LET ME OPEN CHRIST (LMOC).
LECTIO: Read a passage from the Bible;
MEDITATIO: Use your imagination (your mind’s eye) to set the stage and to create a visual of the scene in the Bible passage you just read;
ORATIO: Have a conversation with Jesus, Mary, or any of His Saints. Tell them anything and everything!
CONTEMPLATIO: Stop talking! Let our Lord console you, guide you, instruct you, and encourage you.
Let Jesus speak to you. As we keep hearing in the Gospels: “My sheep will hear my voice and follow me” (John 10:27). Let us recall the thundering directive of Our Father, who art in Heaven, who said at the Baptism of Jesus and at the Transfiguration: “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him!” Let Me Open Christ and listen to His unchanging words: “I am with you always!” (Matthew 28:20).
But prayer is difficult; all great efforts are, after all. We need to have the right goal of prayer, which is to become a saint; we need to be consistent when and where we pray; we need to be humble and honest in prayer (knowledge of self is knowledge of God); and we have to be convinced that we cannot become true disciples without a life of prayer. Fr. Hilary Ottensmeyer, a Benedictine priest, said, “Unless you are convinced that prayer is the best use of your time, you will never find time to pray!” I, too, had to learn how to pray, but there was a lot “reprogramming” that needed to take place before I really started to see all the light and hear God whispering His undying love for me, for all of us.
I entered the Discalced Carmelite Order on July 15, 1997. Soon after my arrival, I found myself having a conversation with one of our Venerable Priests, Fr. Paschal. He wanted to know about me, so I was telling him about my life, my education, my work, blah, blah, blah. Well, when I finally finished talking, he stood up and declared, “Brother Philip, you are like bad photography! Overexposed and underdeveloped!” And I was! The Discalced Carmelite Formation removed most of the distractions that caused me to be so overexposed and underdeveloped.
As I reflect, I realize that it is difficult to see the light and to hear Jesus in prayer when we allow so many distractions into our lives: TV, POLITICS, AMAZON, GOSSIP, INAPPROPRIATE MUSIC, PORNOGRAPHY, VIDEO GAMES, RESENTMENTS, BITTERNESS, ARROGANCE... The first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles tells us that the disciples “fasted and prayed before they were able to hear the instructions given them by the Holy Spirit.” We need to imitate their example in order to obtain the same results! In other words, we have t-o-o many distractions in our lives for us to hear Jesus. God sometimes whispers to us as He did to Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-13). So, too, God is whispering to us in prayer, in our worries, in our decisions, in our discernment of our vocation in life. So when God whispers, can we hear Him or are we overexposed and underdeveloped?
My brothers and sisters, we cannot enter the sheepfold through any other GATE than through our relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself warned us about that in last Sunday’s Gospel: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter the sheepfold through the Gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the Gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The Gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out”(John 10 1-3).Let us listen to Him, whom we know loves us.
“Unless you are convinced that the best use of your time is to
pray, you will never find time to pray” (Fr. Hilary Ottensmeyer, OSB).
Let Me Open Christ!
Get Your Antenna Fixed!
May 5, 2020 (Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter)
"GET YOUR ANTENNA FIXED!"
A few years back I read a novel called, “All the Light We Cannot See,” by Anthony Doerr. It is a story set in Germany and France before and during the German occupation. The main character is a blind French girl named Marie-Laure, whose only sight is within her imagination as she listens to stories, books, and music which are magically transmitted via radio waves through skies, over oceans, and into the small attic where she is hiding from German Soldiers. Among the many interesting characters in this book was a German boy named Werner who had a gift for science and the intricacies of radios, in particular. He could fix anything! At eight years old he repaired a radio which allowed him to learn science and music and listen to stories that were being broadcast across Europe. Later, his skill would be used to help the Nazi party.
There is a lot of light we can see without using our eyes. In fact, sometimes we “see” better when our eyes are closed. Our imagination is a powerful gift that can be used for good or for evil. Thanks to the infamous and wicked man, Joseph Goebbels, radio broadcasts proved to be a powerful weapon for the Nazi ideals: to enforce national pride and patriotism and to glorify Hitler. He once wrote, “It would not have been possible for us to take power or to use it in the ways we have without the radio.” In fact, to ensure that all households could have a radio, Goebbels arranged for the production of inexpensive radios that were known as “People’s Receivers”. The novel I just spoke about reminds us that any technology can become a dangerous weapon in the wrong hands. Yet, the eight-year-old orphan boy named Werner learned about Science without even walking into a classroom—eventually leading to his rescue of the main character of the novel, Marie-Laure.
In today’s first reading, the Good News of Jesus’ Resurrection was preached to the people by Peter and the other Apostles. Their preaching ignited the people, who immediately began sharing the Good News. They were like receivers and transmitters—like radios communicating that Jesus is NOT DEAD but alive and with us always! The Acts of the Apostles is describing the persecution of these early Christians. But as the Apostles traveled to other places and preached there, more people received the news the Apostles were spreading. It was like they had started a fire that was growing out of control! They were like “sparks among the stubble” (Wisdom 3:7).
As we prepare for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost on May 31st, let us examine our ability to prayerfully receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit so as to zealously transmit the Good News of the Resurrection and faithfully and unapologetically communicate to others about our Lord’s True Presence among us in the Holy Eucharist. This is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ! Just as He vanished in the Breaking of the Bread in the story of Emmaus, so now Jesus disguises Himself in the humble appearances of Bread and Wine.
Let us deepen our faith and love of Jesus in the Eucharist by asking the Holy Spirit to give us understanding and wisdom. The Holy Spirit will guide us, enlighten us, and give all of us the light we cannot always see: Divine Light! Once we receive it, we must go out and transmit the Good News of the Resurrection. But sometimes we need to fix the radio and re-adjust the antenna in order for that information to be clearly communicated, received, and transmitted; otherwise, we will sound like static, as if we are not on the right channel.
So, how do we prepare for Pentecost? Well, first we need to remove some of the information and propaganda from our hearing. This means:
Turning off the TV;
Limiting our wandering around the world wide web;
Limiting our listening to music and discussing music.
Then we need to add spiritual practices to our daily schedules in order to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. These include:
Reading the Bible and spiritual books to deepen our faith in Jesus Christ;
Teaching ourselves how to be quiet and allowing for times of silence;
Slowly meditating on the mysteries of the Holy Rosary;
Praying more consistently in a place created for that purpose.
As far as the last practice mentioned above, Fr. Matthias has encouraged each of you to set up a home altar where you can offer prayers and spend time thinking about God and how much He loves you (See his homily about this from March 29, 2020, under Fr. Matthias' homilies on this website). God gave us His only begotten Son! Why does God love us so much? That is a good question to ponder and pray about today!
A lot of people don’t pray well because they don’t know how to pray. An ancient form of prayer called “Lectio Divina” is a good practice during this time of quarantine (I recently spoke about Lectio Divina in a Zoom meeting with the Avila Group). We can easily learn this four-step process of prayer, but it doesn’t do us any good unless we are consistent with praying every day. Lectio Divina is broken down into four steps that can be remembered by this acronym:
Let— Me— Open— Christ!
1. Lectio: Reading Scripture!
2. Meditatio: Meditating (using your imagination)!
3. Oratio: Talking to our Lord (you can tell Him anything)!
4. Contemplatio: Contemplating (stop talking and start listening to Jesus)!
Jesus the Good Shepherd is telling us that we WILL hear His voice. Contemplation is listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd. What does Jesus say? “I am with you always!”
Feed My Sheep!
May 4, 2020 (Monday in the Fourth Week of Easter)
"FEED MY SHEEP!"
Yesterday was Good Shepherd Sunday, and it was also the day of the year when we pray for vocations to the priesthood. I arrived here in Alhambra on August 11, 2011, and was given faculties by Archbishop Jose Gomez to be the 17th Pastor of St. Therese Parish. What exactly does “Pastor” mean? Literally, the word means “shepherd of the sheep.” Although this literal concept of this word may be obsolete, it is nevertheless a word used for some priests who have been sent out, commissioned, and officially delegated by a Bishop to take care of a particular “flock” or parish. But what exactly are Pastors expected to do after they are given this title? We are spiritual guides, sometimes called “Shepherds of Souls”. The word Pastor comes directly from the Latin word, “pastus,” the past participle of “pascere,” which means "to lead to pasture, set to grazing, cause to eat.”
So, in my examination of my title of Pastor, we can see that my primary job is to "to feed” the flock entrusted to me. Recall Our Lord’s directive to St. Peter after His Resurrection: “When they had broken their fast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said unto Him, ‘Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.’ He said unto him, ‘Feed my lambs.’” In fact, our Lord said this to St. Peter not just one time but THREE times: “FEED MY SHEEP” (John 21:15-17). In other words, it must be pretty important for me as your Pastor to make sure you are fed! Which is pretty hard to do when the Catholic Church is locked up. Why are Churches “non-essential” but Planned Parenthood and Home Depot are among the many “essential” institutions that are allowed to stay open? Let me know when you find out the answer to this question.
What other roles of service does a good pastor provide for his flock? There are many! A good shepherd has to know each one of his sheep. He has to know which ones need prodding, which need discipline, which need patience. He needs to know which are the leaders and which are the followers. He needs to be alert to predators and have the courage to protect his flock. A good shepherd needs to tend to infectious lies and be willing to preach boldly the Truth, even if this means losing popularity! He has to keep a lookout for the wandering sheep and the “lukewarm Catholics” by providing good catechesis. A good shepherd needs to search for the "lost sheep" with sacrifice and prayer and by providing more opportunities for people to go to the Sacrament of Confession (John 20:23). A good Pastor attends to the “sick sheep” who need the Sacraments, specifically, the Anointing of the Sick (James 5:14). A good shepherd must be able to feed his sheep with the Eucharist (John 6:54-58). A good shepherd uses whatever means possible to keep his flock together, safe and, above all, FED!
This list of responsibilities in a Pastor’s work is the work of the Good Shepherd, JESUS CHRIST. Of course, I am not alone in this work, as there are six Discalced Carmelite Friars at St. Therese Parish who assist me in fulfilling this primary expectation “to feed” this flock. Yet, as I have lamented before in previous homilies, many bishops and priests neglect their sacramental responsibilities in order to behave more like businessmen, bankers, and CEO’s. To any bishop or priest who may be listening to or reading this homily online, I would like to remind you that the last canon in The Code of Canon Law gives instruction on the removal of a bishop or a pastor who neglects his flock and thus jeopardizes the salvation of the souls entrusted to him (Can. 1740 - 1752).
The Lord Jesus is the only true GOOD SHEPHERD, as we heard on Sunday and in today’s Gospel. Jesus knows His sheep and lays down His life freely for His flock (John 10:11-18). The Lord expects His bishops and priests to do the same; all the while, each must feed his flock. We need to get back to this quickly! When a shepherd becomes something he was not ordained to become and lets his guard down, predators will surely sneak into chanceries, parish offices, religious education programs, and Catholic schools. These predators are dangerous and cause confusion and, ultimately, chaos to the flock. This kind of confusion can easily be seen in so-called “Catholic” education, poorly-supervised religious education, misleading theologians and, let’s not forget, all the confusing information the Flock are given regarding the celebration of the Liturgy of the Holy Mass. After all, this is the explicit way our Lord FEEDS His Sheep!
Sometimes the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, raises up great saints to keep the Church united and strong in the face of attacking predators. Church history teaches us that religious orders and societies like the Jesuits, the Oratorians, and the Discalced Carmelites have been the means used by the Lord to reform His Church and restore right worship of God, specifically in the celebration of the Holy Mass. The Discalced Carmelites are considered part of the “counter-reformation” movement of the 16th century. From that time in history, the Catholic Church went through a major house cleaning. Some examples from this time of reformation included the calling of the Council of Trent, the foundation of seminaries for the proper training of priests, and the reform of religious life—including the reformation of the Carmelite Order by the Spanish mystics, St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Jesus. These were also spiritual movements focusing on the contemplative life and on having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Furthermore, there was a major reform of Sacred Liturgies, specifically pertaining to how priests were to offer the Holy Mass with reverence and universal uniformity.
Since March 26, 2020, we have been offering the Holy Mass on weekdays in our adoration chapel. The only altar in this Chapel was built facing the tabernacle (during this lockdown, you can see that we have temporarily replaced the monstrance with a crucifix). The posture of the priest facing the altar is not some romantic return to the past but is rather the expected posture for the priest at Mass and is called “Ad Orientem,” which is a Latin phrase simply meaning “to the East”. Why it was ever changed, I do not know. If you find an answer to this question, please let me know.
Facing the East was even the posture of the Jewish priests in their liturgies in the temple during the time of Christ. Likewise, facing East was the posture of priests in the early Church, as described by Origen and Tertullian in the 2nd century. St. Augustine, writing in the 4th century, also speaks of facing East when praying (De Sermone Domini in Monte). It is still the posture of the priest in the Eastern Rite liturgies and, you may be surprised to hear, is still the expected posture of the Roman Catholic Priest in the Novus Ordo Masses.
The documents of Vatican II did not instruct the priest to change his orientation at Mass and, even though priests are allowed to face the people throughout Mass, the official rules or “rubrics” for Mass, which were last updated in 2011, still assume that the priest faces the people at certain times during Mass and not at other times. For example, just before receiving Holy Communion, the priest says “Behold the Lamb of God,” and the rubrics say that he does this “while facing the people” (Order of Mass #132). Then he is directed to consume the Body of Christ “while facing the altar” (#133). This only makes sense if “facing the people” and “facing the altar” are different directions. Duh.
Ad Orientem takes on a greater significance in a liturgical setting. Let’s first examine some references from Sacred Scripture: “Then he led me to the gate facing east, and there was the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east!” (Ezekiel 43:1-2). Passages from the Bible, like this one from Ezekiel, connect the east with the coming of Christ. Certainly the image of the rising sun recalls the Resurrection of Jesus Christ occurring at dawn (Mt. 28:1; Mk 16:2, Lk 24:1, Jn 20:1). Also, Jesus says, “For just as lightning comes from the east and shines even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Mt 24:27). Furthermore, if you go back to the beginning, to the book of Genesis, you will read that: “The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, to the east, and He put there the man He had formed” (Genesis 2:8).
Our posture is a big deal! Soldiers stand up straight with shoulders pulled back when they salute their superiors. Athletes and spectators at sporting events stand with a hand across their chests when singing the National Anthem. Men take a knee when proposing to their future wives. Boxers keep up their guard, lest they get punched in the face. Olympic gymnasts get marked down when their posture isn’t perfect. Likewise, there are a lot of postures we take seriously when celebrating Mass: Genuflecting before the tabernacle, bowing when we say the words of the Incarnation during the recitation of the Creed, making the Sign of the Cross, kneeling in adoration (by all able-bodied Catholics) before the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, using our thumbs to make the Sign of the Cross on our foreheads, lips, and hearts at the beginning of the Gospel Proclamation, striking our chests three times when praying the Confiteor. So why is this posture of facing the east not important…anymore? Why was ad orientem changed, given the Scriptural references of “to the east,” the historical tradition of ad orientem, the fact that the newly-revised Roman Missal still expects it, and that we Catholics take pretty seriously our postures at Mass? Often, when questions like these get asked, some folks become emotionally charged and argue that this particular posture is a refusal of the Novus Ordo Mass. Blah, blah, blah…not true.
What’s the big deal about ad orientem? Well, we could ask that question about any of the postures we take on at Mass. Is genuflecting a big deal? Is kneeling at the consecration a big deal? Is it a big deal when the priest is instructed to hold out his arms in the Orans position? Is it a big deal when the priest extends his hands over the chalice and the paten, calling down the power of the Holy Spirit upon them? Is it a big deal when a priest prostrates his body in the form of a Cross in the liturgy during his ordination to the priesthood? Is it a big deal when the bride and groom are instructed to turn toward each other, join their right hands together, and profess their intentions and their consent to be bound as ONE by the Sacramental Grace which binds them together as one until DEATH do they part?! Yes, all these are a really big deal! When one posture at Holy Mass is deemed “no big deal,” then they are all subject to being dismissed as no big deal. I think they call this “the Domino Effect,” in which the falling of one domino will eventually cause the rest to fall. But it’s no big deal, right?
The reason the priest, along with the congregation, faces Liturgical East is because within the sacrifice of the Mass we anticipate the Second Coming of Christ. There are too many priests who have turned their backs to Christ, so let the good ones confidently face our Lord when He comes again! At every Mass we journey together toward our Heavenly home. The priest also needs to be fed by the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. For we cannot give what we do not have. We pray together with the same posture for the same purpose: To be fed. The priest and people worshipping together in the same direction reinforces our common goal as we follow the Good Shepherd who leads us safely to verdant pastures. “….He walks ahead of [the sheep] and the sheep follow Him...” because WE THE SHEEP recognize His voice (John 10:4). “Follow me,” says the Lord!
Listening to the Good Shepherd in Times of Crisis
May 3, 2020 (Fourth Sunday of Easter)
LISTENING TO THE GOOD SHEPHERD IN TIMES OF CRISIS
St. John Cardinal Newman once wrote: “The Church is more Church in times of Crisis.” I have used this quote frequently in recent homilies to encourage us to think differently about the Coronavirus—or the Wujan virus, as some have come to call it—that has fallen upon the whole world. The word “crisis” comes from the Latinized form of the Greek word, “krisis”. It literally means “turning point, judgment, result of a trial, or selection”. It can also literally mean “to separate, decide, judge, distinguish”.
We typically understand the word crisis to indicate a bad situation. However, the original Greek indicates something more nuanced: a turning point or a time for decision—even an opportunity. As cited from Fr. Paul Scalia’s book, “Sermons in Times of Crisis: Twelve Homilies to Stir Your Soul” (p. 40, TAN Books, Kindle Edition): “St. John Chrysostom encountered one such moment in the year 399 when the Consul Eutropius ran to the Church of St. Sophia to seek sanctuary from his enemies. Not long before, Eutropius had been nearly all-powerful at the imperial court. He had even advocated revoking the right to sanctuary or asylum in churches. Running afoul of the empress, however, he suddenly needed the very sanctuary he had sought to ban. Thus it was that he found himself clinging to the altar for dear life. So, with Eutropius crouched behind the veil of the altar and with a church full of people who had come to see the spectacle, Chrysostom seized the moment to proclaim Christ’s mercy—even to the Church’s enemies.”
In this homily he preached to them, St. John Chrysostom quoted from Proverbs 27: “Did I not add to these words by saying that the wounds of friends were more to be relied upon than the voluntary kisses of enemies (Prov. 27:6). If you had submitted to my wounds, their kisses would not have wrought you this destruction: for my wounds work health, but their kisses have produced an incurable disease. Where now are your cup-bearers, where are they who cleared the way for you in the market place and sounded your praises endlessly in the ears of all? They have fled, they have disowned your friendship, they are providing for their own safety by means of your distress.”
I think we can draw some similarities to this crisis situation in which Eutropius found himself in the 4th century. He risked losing everything he put so much trust in: the comforts of being a royal official, the riches he hoarded, the power entrusted to his office, the people who served him, all the pampering he came to expect because of his
privileged life. He ran to the Church he persecuted and clung to the Altar of Christ for help and protection. Does St. John Chrysostom reject him? No, he welcomes him with reconciliation and mercy. Let’s pray for all the “royal officials” of our own time who persecute Christ and His Church.---->
Let us also pray for all those people who have left the Catholic Church because of misunderstanding and who may be thinking of returning to the Father after this lockdown is lifted. If you are listening, I promise you that the Carmelite Friars of St. Therese Parish will be waiting for you with mercy and love. Eutropius knew where to go when crisis came upon him, and so do you. You just have to come home. As Fr. Albert likes to remind me when I go to confession to him: “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future!"
But what keeps us away from our true future, which is eternity with God the Father in Heaven? The challenge facing every disciple of Jesus Christ is listening to the Master’s voice when there are so many competing voices that oftentimes succeed in distracting us from following Jesus Christ—totally, completely, and forever. Think of all the voices we are accustomed to hear every day. We hear the sounds of crisis affecting our health and our economy due to the coronavirus; we hear the sounds of war and terrorism, the sounds of scandal that come from places in the Church we never expected, and the sounds of those who seek to capitalize on these scandals. We get caught up in the political rhetoric of “this person” or “that person”. We hear lies that sound like truth. In fact, there are voices always around us chattering, murmuring, gossiping—loud, pervasive voices that are amplified by the media, immoral music, the internet, news commentators, television. All of these are just examples of the competing voices that prevent us from hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd.
But how does one actually hear the voice of Jesus speaking to us? Our Lord speaks to us in His Word (the Holy Bible/Sacred Scripture) and He speaks to us at the Liturgy of the Mass. In fact, there is a kind of dialogue that takes place throughout the Holy Mass: sometimes you speak but more often you are asked to listen. Then you act, according to those sacred words of Christ, “Do this in memory of Me!” You are then sent from this Divine Conversation (“Ite Missa Est!”) to share with others what you have received from Christ. The Shepherd speaks to us in quiet prayer, in the recitation of the holy Rosary, in silence! St. John of the Cross teaches us: “God’s first language is silence.” We know this to be true in our own interactions with one another. Isn’t it true that most of our conversations with others is simply listening?
In a quick Google search, I read a study on the importance of listening as a communication skill. It pointed out that many of us spend seventy to eighty percent of our waking hours in some form of communication. Of that time, we spend about nine percent writing, sixteen percent reading, thirty percent speaking, and forty-five percent listening. Studies also confirm that most of us are poor and inefficient listeners. So, if you want to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, stop talking! Stop distracting yourselves from the only voice worth listening to. Let’s turn off all the distractions amplified around us!
This Fourth Sunday of Easter is often called “Good Shepherd Sunday,” as we always listen to Jesus' famous allegory of the shepherd and the sheep from one of the Gospels (this year, we heard about the Good Shepherd from the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John). The liturgies are beginning to transition from the Easter Season toward Pentecost, which will be celebrated on May 31st this year. I would like to point out that this Fourth Sunday is the midpoint in the Easter season. Of course, up to this point we have been reading and reflecting on the many resurrection appearances of Christ given to us in the Gospels. In the upcoming weeks, we will be reading from the Gospel of John. Our meditations will be focusing on the identity of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Eventually, we will listen to Our Lord’s last words to His disciples at the Last Supper, which are described as “the farewell discourse.” In these last words, Jesus promises them that He will send the Spirit once He departs after His Resurrection and ascension. The Gospels are preparing us for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. How are YOU, personally and collectively as a family, preparing for the Holy Spirit’s coming on Pentecost on May 31st?
To Be or Not to Be?
Saturday of the First Week of Easter (April 18, 2020)
"TO BE OR NOT TO BE?"
“‘To be or not to be?’; that is the question.”
I don’t mean to sound cliché by beginning with those massively-overused words, penned by none other than William Shakespeare in one of his most famous plays, “Hamlet”. Yet, it is a question that has arisen in my heart and in my mind as I reflect on the restrictions mandated to priests during this time when the world is paralyzed by the coronavirus. As I prepared today's homily, I couldn’t help reflecting on what it truly means “to be a priest or not to be a priest?”. That is the question for this reflection on today’s Gospel.
We hear our Lord sternly rebuke the disbelieving apostles, still hiding and weeping like scared children. I have to admit, this is a scene which is hard for me to meditate upon. To be a faithful priest is scary business these days. To ponder what the Lord expects of all of His priests is to ponder what the Lord sacrifices as the true High Priest, HIMSELF upon the Cross. As Pope Benedict XVI states: “It is a mistake to think that the great privilege of living in the company of Jesus is enough to make a person holy; we have to give ourselves entirely to Jesus, we have to enter into full communion with Him, so that we think and act as He did, in total obedience to the Father” (Inside the Vatican, March 2020). Like Christ, priests are expected to speak boldly against the countless lies that are vomited out upon our society. Like Christ, to be a priest we have to expose the hypocrisy within the Church and among self-proclaimed “Catholic” politicians. Priests are expected to protect and defend the Sanctuary, like the sword-wielding Levites from the Old Testament. Priests must restore sacredness to the Holy Mass and offer the Mass with reverence and humility. Priests must have the courage to reform Catholic education. Like Christ, priests must silence and boldly refute error and heresy that unfortunately come from many poorly-formed and ill-motivated priests who play the role of Judas in our own era. To be or not to be?…
These are only some of the expectations of a validly-ordained Catholic Priest. Judas reminds us how true Pope Benedict’s words are for priests, that it is not enough for us to live in the company of Christ; we have to become like Christ, an alter Christus. If we do not become an alter Christus, we will inevitably become an alter Judas. For the Gospels warns us that, “Satan entered into the heart of Judas…” (Luke 22:3). While it is daunting to reflect on the expectations of my priesthood, it is equally frightening to ponder what will happen to my soul if I don’t do what our Lord is expecting of me as HIS priest on earth! You see, we can deny God’s Will in time and space, and maybe even get away with it for a while, but we cannot deny God’s Will in eternity.
Priests will certainly be held more responsible for such a denial of God’s Will because we are the ordained instruments of His Sacramental Grace on earth. In Question 19, article 6, of the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas treats on the subject of God’s Will. In summary, he says, “Even though we may depart from God’s Will in the now, we can NEVER depart from His will in Eternity, because we will have to face the final judgment of our soul.” To the priest who is listening to these words, “to whom much has been given, much will be expected” (Luke 12:48). To be or not to be?…
Let’s get back to the Gospel! This is a most unusual room that the Apostles are hiding in. It is difficult for me to hear our Lord Jesus rebuke His “hide-away-priests,” since we are all “hide-away-priests,” due to the Coronavirus lockdown! But what exactly is this “room”? Is it a house that they're hiding in where they have the ability to move from one room to another? Is it some dark and musty chamber where the Apostles cower like sardines, packed side by side? Is it a dark cellar or some confined attic where they are waiting and weeping? Well, Scripture is quite vague about it, so we need to use our imaginations based on how we see priests living today. Most priests today, here in the USA and even in our Carmelite Mission in Uganda, Africa, live in nice, comfortable homes. There is someone hired for cooking and cleaning, the parishes provide plenty of food, and all the utilities are paid for on time.
Are the Apostles in today’s Gospel free to come and go, as long as they are disguised in street clothes, like so many priests today? Were the Apostles fearful that they might be seen by others, scorned and rejected by the people, afraid of being arrested and flogged with mockery and threats: “See, your king is dead, and we will kill you also!” Are the Apostles eating well in their quarantined situation? Who is providing for them while they are closed off from the world in their “Upper Room”—or house? Or maybe it is a mansion? Who is caring for the work they once had? Their jobs are long abandoned, their families and friends were left behind when they began to follow Christ, and all their responsibilities are now just “water under the bridge”.
While this room that the Apostles are hiding in may be mysterious to us, it is a room with significance, as it is mentioned in most of the Gospel readings during this Easter week. I just thought it would be interesting to flesh it out and see what it might appear like in your imaginations. Let’s have some fun and draw a parallel between the Apostles hiding in the “Upper Room” and all the priests in quarantine today! Imagine all of the bishops and priests hiding today because of the coronavirus. What questions arise for you as you meditate upon the Scripture passages from this last week? Well, what kind of rooms are they hiding in? Do they live in big houses, maybe even mansions? Some do. Who's caring for their every need while they are in quarantine and forced unemployment? Are they worried about their incomes? Are they worried about groceries? Are they worried about the electricity which supplies their “Upper Room”? Are these priests standing in line at 6:00 a.m., waiting to get into Costco so they can buy the next pallet of toilet paper? Are they rushing out to the grocery to score the last box of eggs?
The answer to all these questions is, “No!” I’m not picking on priests; after all, I am one! I’m just giving an insight into our lives that you might not know about and maybe have never considered. It causes me some embarrassment to admit that I, too, am privileged with all of these amenities. I am not trying to imply that the Apostles were living in luxury in this “Upper Room,” nor am I implying that all priests today live in luxury. Rather, I am reflecting on WHY priests today are cared for in the way described above.
So, what gives! Why the exposé of the lifestyle of the priesthood? The reason WHY priests are cared for in this way is so that they can avail themselves TOTALLY to the spiritual needs of the People of God, specifically to the faithful and reverent celebration of the Sacraments. We are cared for so that we can care for you with undivided attention! I remember one of the instructors at Mt. Angel Seminary, who was a diocesan priest, sternly warning his soon-to-be-ordained students about the “cared for” life that Catholic Bishops and priests are given in most dioceses. He warned us to be careful and to understand that “to whom much has been given, much will be expected.”
Yet, too often, we find our priesthood dominated by office work, meetings, and finances. Sometimes I feel like a CEO rather than a Shepherd of Souls. This “CEO priesthood” is a perversion to the ministry of Jesus Christ, and it forces the priest to abandon his role as the instrument of Sacramental Grace. I have heard with my own ears priests who say they do not have time to sit in the confessional. I have seen with my own eyes priests who sloppily rush through Holy Mass. We priests need to refocus our priority on the Sacraments, not on running a corporation. Besides, we are not good at running corporations or pretending to be bankers. We are priests! To be or not to be?…
Priests should be unobstructed in our ministry of caring for the souls that Christ has entrusted to us through the Sacramental Grace which we received at our ordinations. We are to exhaust our lives for the care of souls and in providing the Sacraments to them, just as any father is exhausted when he returns home from a hard day’s work. It is too easy for priests to hide in their “Upper Rooms,” neglecting to sit in the confessional waiting for the “prodigal son or daughter” to return to the Father. We hide when we do not go to the hospital to attend to the needs of a sick parishioner. We hide from Christ when we do not prepare well our homilies. We hide from Christ when we fail to celebrate the Holy Mass with reverence and dignity. We hide in fear from our duty to shepherd our flocks in truth when we neglect our schools. We hide in fear when we abandon the flock of Christ by allowing the “culture of ugly” to dominate the Sanctuary. To be or not to be?…
The unfortunate reality is that, like the Apostles during the time of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection—when our Lord expected them to follow Him—priests sometimes run from our responsibilities and duties. The same unfortunate reality exists today for many Bishops and priests. But NOT ALL BISHOPS AND PRIESTS! While some run from their confessional, others are faithfully waiting, listening, and absolving. For there is no hiding or running from Christ! This is the reality of today’s Gospel: Jesus will rebuke us, and we shepherds will be held accountable at the Final Reckoning! We will not be recognized at the Last Judgment for the Parish Center we built, the large collection we managed, or even the fancy degrees we earned in the name of Christ. No, priests will be held accountable for the souls that we have saved and the souls that we have lost. To be or not to be?…
The sense of urgency seems to be lost among many of the Shepherds in the Church today. But I suppose this was the case and the problem among the priesthood even during the time of Jesus Christ in the first century. Jesus certainly had problems, to say the least, with the priests of the temple who plotted to entrap Him, the scholars who studied the laws, and the Pharisees who tried to arrest and kill Him. Why should we priests think it would be any different today? Is there a division among the priests today as there was in the time of Christ? Yes and, surprisingly, God allows it. This allowing of dissension and lack of understanding in the priesthood is even seen in the life of Judas, the Apostle of Christ, the companion of Christ, the betrayer of Christ. Even Pope Francis recognizes this confusion, division, and betrayal among the priests today in his statement: “The mystery of Judas hangs over our time”. Cardinal Sarah, who uses these words of the pope in his book, “THE DAY IS NOW FAR SPENT,” continues the statement of the Holy Father by saying, “The mystery of betrayal oozes from the walls of the church.”
I know these are heavy words and a strong approach to today's Gospel, but let's keep in mind that our Lord is rebuking the Apostles of the Church for hiding, for disbelieving, and for not trusting in Him. It's just an ironic reality that priests are hiding today in their “Upper Rooms,” their furnished apartments, comfortable homes, paid-for rectories, etc., while many are faced with unemployment and with struggling to provide for their families; meanwhile, the good Catholics who hunger for the Presence of Jesus Christ in the Sacraments are denied what rightfully belongs to them. The physical and spiritual depravity of this coronavirus lockdown is unbelievable! Churches are locked up, the Sacramental life of the Church is cut off from the faithful, people are starving for the Eucharist and desirous of returning to their Father’s House! All the while, the bishops and priests who are hiding are completely cared for, in the comforts of their “Upper Rooms”.
To be or not be? That really is the question. To my brother priests, let us stop acting like CEOs and presidents of corporations! We need to be men of God, men of prayer, men who will courageously confront the enemy with the Sword of Truth and in the Power of the Holy Spirit, men who will exhaust their lives providing the Sacramental Grace to God’s children. We pastors must also be mindful that the last canon of the Code of Canon Law treats the removal of pastors when they do not effectively care for the salvation of souls. We priests are cared for in all of our needs and more, so that we can care for the salvation of souls. So, how is that working out for you in your “Upper Room”?
“On the day of Pentecost…” is how the readings commence this week from the Acts of the Apostles. We see that the strong and vigorous apostles, Peter and John, these newly-reborn bishops, have emerged from their quarantined cocoon and now stand in the Power of the Holy Spirit! They work effortlessly to baptize thousands, to heal the sick, and to boldly preach the truth, as Peter proclaims, “It is better for us to obey God than man!”
How do we interpret these words in light of today’s crisis? Fr. John Cihak once said to me at Mount Angel Seminary during a conversation at lunch, “Wait for the day when Christ will unleash His Priesthood upon the enemy!” When the coronavirus lockdown is lifted, will we run to the Confessionals to wait for the prodigal sons and daughters to return home? On the Day of Pentecost, will we take more seriously our role as Shepherds of Souls rather than as CEO’s? On the Day of Pentecost, what will we do differently?
Like the Apostles in today’s Gospel, this time of quarantine is a time of preparation, reflection, and awareness that Christ is with us! Christus Nobiscum, state! “Be not faithless but be believing!” (John 20:27).
“To be or not to be?” That is the question of the priesthood.
Friday of the First Week of Easter (April 17, 2020)
“Mixed emotions.” We can all think of times in our lives when we experienced mixed emotions. The fearful and joyful proposal of marriage, the angry and sad loss of a loved one, the exhaustion, jubilation, and pride of one of our Olympic athletes who stands in front of the whole world representing our country. Well, those are just a few examples to get you started. Can you think of some mixed emotions from this week’s Gospel readings?
Sunday, April 12 (John 20:1): Excitement and Worry. Mary, Peter, and John all ran to and then from the tomb. Did He really rise? Or was His body removed by an enemy? “For they did not yet understand the Scripture that He had to rise from the dead.”
Monday, April 13 (Matthew 28:8): Fear and Joy. Mary immediately ran to tell the apostles what she had seen. Then the Lord met them on the way and said, “Do not be afraid”.
Tuesday, April 14 (John 20:11): Sadness followed by Relief. Mary Magdalene wept for our Lord, whom she did not recognize when she saw Him; but was quickly comforted by Him and felt relief from her sorrow when our Lord called her by name: “Mary!”
Wednesday, April 15 (Luke 24:13): Confusion and Feeling Downcast. Jesus encounters two men on the way to Emmaus, a small, insignificant town, seven miles outside of Jerusalem. They were confused that our Lord allowed Himself to suffer and die. They had thought Jesus was going to liberate Israel from their oppressors. Again, like Mary, these two confused and downcast wanderers did not recognize Jesus in their midst, until our Lord made Himself known—not by saying their names but in the Breaking of the Bread, an obvious references to Jesus’ invisible Presence in the Holy Eucharist.
Thursday, April 16 (Luke 24:35): Shock and Terror. The ironic humor from this scene of the Lord suddenly appearing before the disciples is that Jesus appears to them out of “nowhere,” and says, “Peace be with you.” It does not appear to me that the disciples are feeling peace but that they are terrified. Jesus humbly shows them His wounds as proof to satisfy their doubt which is “questioning within their hearts," but also the doubt they have of there actually being LIFE AFTER DEATH!
As your pastor, I want you all to take some time to try to meditate on what life after death might look like. Are you “giving it your ALL” to become a saint? We must always have in our thoughts and be pondering in our hearts: LIFE, DEATH, HEAVEN, and HELL. When we doubt our Lord’s Divine Presence, albeit invisible, and His obvious love for us, we will inevitably begin trusting and loving things that lead us away from Christ and from our ultimate destination/goal of Heaven. We remember that Our Lady of Fatima, on August 19, 1917, showed the three child seers a vision of Hell, after which she said, “You have seen Hell, where the souls of poor sinners go. It is to save them that God wants to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners. Many souls go to Hell because they have no one to pray and make sacrifices for them.” She also taught them the Fatima prayer that we all pray during the Rosary: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins; save us from the fires of Hell; lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy.” (For more quotes like this, click here X.)
Friday, April 17 (John 21:1): Liberation, Exhaustion, Disappointment, Joy, Embarrassment, Amazement, Childlike Excitement. There were seven apostles in the boat in Friday’s Gospel; was this a coincidental image of the Church? Bishop Robert Barron does not think so. He says that the boat symbolizes the Church; the seven Apostles symbolize the Sacramental grace entrusted to all the Apostles; the water symbolizes the rough, uncertain, and even mysterious work that is before all who claim to be Christian, but most especially before those of us who are Catholic and are able to offer our sacrifices through the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Then, of course, working according to God’s will; now, that’s a catch, isn’t it! We are, after all, the Bride of Christ; should we not do the will of the Bridegroom? Jesus will tell us what to do and how to do it if we listen (obedire) and then to do whatever He tells us to do (as Our Lady tells us at the wedding feast at Cana when she tells the servants, “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5).
The mixed emotions in this account in the Gospel show us a liberated Church. The apostles are not in hiding anymore! But are they proclaiming the Good News that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead? No! They are fishing, without a catch. They are experiencing the mixed emotions of being liberated from hiding, tired from working all night, disappointed at their failure to make a catch, joyful that Jesus had returned, embarrassed at not recognizing Him, excited in a childlike manner by suddenly jumping out of the boat to swim to Jesus and, let us not forget, amazed at their sudden and almost effortless catch of 153 large fish! This Gospel is packed with emotion!
Incidentally, St. Augustine and St. Jerome teach us, in case you are curious why the Scriptures give us such a precise number of fish caught, that the number 153 represented the number of fish species that were known of at that time, St. Augustine also claims that this subtle detail from John’s Gospel symbolized the Universality of the Church. Peter caught in his net the whole world! Christ is giving us ALL the charge to, “Go out to all the world and make disciples!” Clearly, this is what Christ wants from His disciples; after all, He did die once and for ALL on the Cross for the salvation of souls. So...what are we waiting for?
Saturday, April 18 (Mark 16:9): Courage, Fear, and Grief. On Saturday of the first week of Easter, we heard about the courageous lay woman named Mary Magdalene, who had seven demons driven from her by the power of Christ. We heard about her going to the “companions” of the Lord who are hiding, afraid, mourning, and weeping. When she told them about Jesus, they did not believe her! What an outrageous scene! We would never do that! Right? Could you even imagine the “companions” of Christ—the “brothers,” as our Lord referred to them, the Apostles who walked with Jesus and witnessed His miracles, the first Bishops of Christ—hiding, mourning, and weeping like children? Well, I’m glad this would never happen today! That would be scandalous! Can you imagine Mary of Magdalene’s outrage? Her frustration with these dissenters must have been exploding in her tone of voice; her disbelief at witnessing such cowardice among the apostles of Christ must have been distressing. It’s a good thing our Lord showed up when He did. Who knows what Mary of Magdalene would have said or done if He hadn’t!
Christ then appears NOT as a gentle gardener, or as a passerby on the road, or as some hungry guy standing on the seashore. No, Jesus is angry and He rebukes His apostles for not doing what He commanded them to do. He rebukes them for their disbelief and because they are hiding and afraid. He rebukes them because of their LACK OF FAITH.
The Gospel for that day concluded with these words: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature!” The bishops and the priests of the Church need to come out of hiding and get back to work. We priests cannot afford to act like cowards. We need to get in touch with the real needs of the Church and to stop acting like CEOs. We cannot be afraid of these political elites who continue to enact laws contrary to Christ’s teaching. We ARE the Apostles of Christ, and we need to get back to work!
Thursday of the First Week of Easter (April 16, 2020)
I have entitled this homily EASTER JOY, because some people have criticized me for being too serious, lacking in the joy of Easter, and not smiling at Mass. As you can see by the above picture, I am working on it.
Each morning I walk out to an empty parking lot, a lot that was once filled with parents dropping off their children for school; parked cars belonging to parishioners who would be inside the church waiting for the 8:00 a.m. Mass to begin; the faithful Eucharistic Adorers who would be rushing to their Holy Hour appointments; and the other Friars, who would be mingling with the good folks of St. Therese—all those people who were just starting another day in Paradise together.
Now, in this Paradise Lost, I feel like one of our parents who has been laid off work or whose employment was furloughed due to the pandemic, because I cannot provide for my family as a priest. As a priest, I am referred to as “Father,” because I am sent by our Lord to play the role of a “father” to our parishioners. Clearly, dads have different roles to play in bearing the heavy responsibilities of being a “father. You know all too well your role, and I know mine. We also know well the consequences of what happens when we don’t or we cannot properly function as fathers to our families. The unfortunate reality of the coronavirus has been the regrettable result of many dads and moms becoming unemployed, rendering it nearly impossible for parents to provide the basic needs for their families. We have quickly adopted such phrases as “essential jobs” and “non-essential jobs”.
I think the growing concern of “non-essential” parents in our society is evident with the ever-growing desire that some politicians have to promote socialistic policies that more and more take on the roles of parents, such as: schools providing breakfast for our children and teaching them sex education; single moms having every need provided for by the State, thus making a husband, let alone a father, unneeded. Excuse my political rant, but I use to shake my head in disbelief when I heard about upper middle-class citizens in Venezuela standing in line to purchase toilet paper.
Now the government is providing financial relief, amounting in the trillions. The crippling effects of this virus is a “wake-up call” in so many ways: an over-reaching government enacting Martial Law, the unbelievable pressure some are experiencing each day to just provide and survive; and, of course, the spiritual awakening this virus will hopefully have on many around the world.
My hope is that many Prodigal Sons and Daughters will return to the Heavenly Father, who will provide for their every need and will fulfill their every desire according to His will—here and Hereafter. My hope is that I will be able to receive some of these Prodigal Children back into their Father’s House! (Luke 15:11-32). I will embrace them with the Father’s Love, put the Robe of Salvation back on their tired bodies which have been beaten down by months or years of sinful behaviors. I will lead them back to the Father’s Kingdom through the Eucharist by placing the Signet Ring of the Father back on their trembling fingers. Then I will return the “Shoes of Discipleship,” which symbolize the work that is yet to be done, the evangelizing crosses we bear, the path to salvation we all must walk as we follow Jesus, the first-born of many into His Father’s Kingdom. “TAKE UP YOUR CROSS AND FOLLOW ME,” says the Lord.
One aspect of our Lord’s Resurrection is that each time the Lord appears to someone, He sends him or her out on a “Mission,” (“Ite Missa Est”); for example, he sends them out to tell the Apostles (his priests) to get moving! The urgency to spread the Good News seems a bit wanting in His apostles today. Jesus makes each of us missionaries of the Easter Truth that “He is Risen!” The “Bugs Bunny Approach to Easter” that we find among many Catholics today is nauseating. “The Lord is Risen... Let’s go look for Easter Eggs!” Well, good luck with that, because eggs are hard to find at the grocery stores these days. Why? Are people worried that chickens are going to stop laying eggs because of the coronavirus? It is almost as strange as the rush to buy toilet paper. So, let’s put Peter Cottontail back into his hole so we can stop hoarding and hiding eggs. Rather, let’s talk about and be witnesses to the truth about Easter!
The truth about Easter is: Jesus, in His resurrection, is sending us out to tell others about Him. Through His appearances in this week’s liturgy, Christ is gathering His broken community that was scattered after His crucifixion and bringing them into a New Community. Hopefully, our liturgical experience of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday will make us convincing missionaries to others—effective missionaries of this Easter Truth.
Another Easter Truth is that we don’t always recognize Jesus in His resurrection. Mary clings to the feet of the Lord, but she couldn’t stay that way. Like all of us, we know the unseen presence of Jesus by faith in the Holy Eucharist. That is one of the interesting effects the coronavirus lockdown is having on all of us. Having no one in attendance at Mass is forcing me to be aware of the Heavenly Presence at Mass, albeit invisible to our physical senses. You are also with us today, invisible yet truly present—me to you, and you to me. Another truth about Easter is that Jesus appears to ordinary people—not just to saints and spiritual heroes. Just as He was with the men on the road to Emmaus, our Lord humbles Himself in order to be Truly Present in the Breaking of the Bread. These are lay people to whom the Lord is revealing Himself. The truth about Easter is that we have the assurance that there is life after death. Wounds and crosses will come to each of us. They are part of life’s bumps and scars—like the Red Badge of Courage. We “fought the good fight...”
Like Jesus, we come to Easter through our wounds! Some of our viewers may have taken offense last week when I referred to the wounds of Christ as “trophies”. My source for these words is a book of meditations written by St. Thomas Aquinas. In it, St. Thomas cites St. Bede and Saint Augustine as both referring to the wounds of Christ as trophies. First, St. Augustine says, “Perhaps in that Kingdom we shall see on the bodies of the Martyrs the traces of the wounds which they bore for Christ’s name.” St. Bede says, “It was fitting for Christ’s soul at His resurrection to resume the body with its scars. Christ kept his scars not from an inability to heal them, but to wear them as an everlasting trophy of His victory.”
The truth about Easter is that Christ is with us, even when we are hiding in our own “Upper Rooms.” He nourishes us with His own Body and Blood as food for the journey Home. He is with us in His resurrection most perfectly in the Eucharist. Have courage in these strange times! “Be Not Afraid!” Our Lord is with us always!
“To have courage for whatever comes in life; everything lies in that.”
-St. Teresa of Avila
“The Church becomes more Church in times of crisis.”
-St. Henry Cardinal Newman
I’m sorry I don’t smile in my homilies; maybe it's because I'm just a Father who misses his family.
Go! You Are Sent! (Ite Missa Est!)
Tuesday of the First Week of Easter (April 14, 2020)
“ITE MISSA EST!” (“GO! YOU ARE SENT!”)
In my homily at yesterday’s Mass, I asked the question: “What will church attendance be like when we are finally directed to unlock the doors? Will we be bursting at the seams or, as I put it, ‘filled to the gills?’” Is your son or daughter who left the Church making plans to come back to confession when the doors are once again open? Has this “coronavirus shutdown” given them any reason to fear the fragility of life and death, the inevitability of Heaven or Hell? Are they scouring over their years of sin, bad behaviors, addictions, inappropriate relationships, greed, or maybe just good old-fashioned laziness, and anticipating a return to the Father in this spiritual famine? Will the prodigal children return Home when the coronavirus lockout is lifted? Or will it be business as usual?
I’ve been trying to imagine it for over a week now. Maybe it will look like a carnival that gets turned on all at once. The lights start flickering, the chattering in restaurants begins humming in the background, and the malls get packed with strollers. Disneyland will soon be open again, the beaches will reopen, and we will be able to stand in line again at the theaters instead of standing in line for toilet paper. Maybe Apple will come out with a new “iPhone 19” to commemorate the end of the coronavirus.
Of course, we will celebrate when this is all over! When what is all over? The coronavirus? Life, death, Heaven and Hell? Yesterday I received a complaint about my homily. One of our viewers thought I was too negative because I mentioned the sobering reality that there were NO BAPTISMS at the Easter Vigil Mass this year here at St. Therese—or anywhere, for that matter. (I wonder what this person will think of today’s homily?) Like the closed down coffee shops, like Vegas, like South Coast Plaza, like Disneyland, like the parent of five who just lost his or her job. It’s all temporary, right?
While there is a lot of emphasis placed on the economic effects this is having on the country and throughout the world (with some even likening it to the Great Depression from the 1920’s!), there is also a spiritual depression that has been happening right under our noses for decades! Can you imagine closing the hospitals during a pandemic? No, but...we close churches. That reminds me of a quote I learned while in the seminary: “The Church is not a museum for the saints; it is a hospital for the sick.”
When I was in Africa last January, Fr. Jan Lundberg mentioned in a homily, regarding the Catholic decline in the United States, that there are three kinds of people: The ones who say, “It will never happen!” Others who say, “What is happening?” And, finally, the ones who say, “What just happened?!” We can examine the Scriptures from our recent Holy Week in light of these questions.
"It will never happen!": The arrogant priests and scribes who plotted to arrest and kill Jesus. They were still plotting even after He was crucified! (Matthew 28:11-15).
"What is happening?":The Twelve Apostles who, on the night they were first ordained to the priesthood, watched our Lord institute the Holy Eucharist, betrayed Him, ran from the Garden, denied Him, and locked themselves up in hiding.
"What just happened?":The faithful women who came looking for the Lord at the tomb in today’s Gospel. "Where is He?"
I think there are a lot of ways we can apply these three responses to our own personal lives, the decline of the Catholic Church in America, and even to these Easter liturgies that we are celebrating this week. Maybe we can even take some time and apply them to our current situation with the coronavirus. “It will never happen!” “What is happening?” “What just happened?!”
Well, I would like to add a 4th response to Fr. Jan’s list: “Let’s make something happen!” Yes, many men and women have been laid off because of the coronavirus, others have been furloughed, and unemployment is at a record high but, as Christians, Disciples of Jesus Christ and, most especially as Catholics, because we have the Eucharist, we are never without work to do! At the end of every Mass, Jesus is sending His disciples out into the world to be His Eucharistic Presence in the world. In today's Gospel, Mary Magdalene encounters Jesus, who she thinks is a gardener. After our Lord says her name, she knows immediately who He is. Mary knows Him because He knows her. This can be said of all who know and love Jesus. The only reason we know, recognize, and love Jesus is because He knows and loves us!
Then Mary (a lay woman with a past, a prodigal daughter, a transformed sinner) was sent just as He sent the apostles in yesterday’s reading. And what exactly were the apostles doing? Hiding, locked up, quarantined, because they were afraid! Mary did as the Lord commanded her to do. She went and proclaimed that she had seen the Risen Lord and reported all that He had told her. We, too, are sent (Ite Missa est) at the end of every Mass and, sometimes, God even sends us to His Apostles, some of who would rather hide than serve.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen said these words about the laity: “Who’s going to save our Church? It’s not our bishops, it’s not our priests, and it is not the religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, and the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that the priests act like priests, your bishops act like bishops, and the religious act like religious.”
Here are a few examples of the laity working as sent faithful disciples of Christ:
1.Alexander Tschugguel, who removed the “Mother Earth” (“Pachamama”) idols out of a Catholic Church in Rome and threw them into the Tiber River.
2.A 15-year-old boy, Jakub Baryla, who stood alone blocking a “gay Rights parade” in Poland, holding up a Crucifix while praying the Rosary. When the police directed him to move, he said, “I cannot move. I cannot because the participants in this parade are destroying the Catholic Faith and profaning the Polish flag by placing a rainbow on it.”
3.Kanye West, whose latest album, entitled “Jesus Is King,” focuses on salvation through Jesus Christ. My question is, “Why aren’t there more of today’s famous people promoting Christian values in their music and in their athletic success, giving God the glory for their talents, their fame, their money, and their success?"
4.Victor Orban, who insisted that Hungary maintain its identity as a Christian Nation—only to receive international criticism.
Mary Magdalene is proof that the laity have an integral mission to fulfill in the Church. The Lay Movement in the Catholic Church today is vital to the future of the Church in years to come, and in what direction it will go. It is time for YOU, the laity, to wake up the Apostles of the Church. They need to unlock the church doors and let Christ be present to His people in the Blessed Sacrament!
Mary Magdalene, Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, and many lay people in the Church today are challenging lay Catholics to step up and fight for the Church. “Ite Missa Est!” “Go! You are sent!” What will the Church look like when we unlock its doors?
Christus Nobiscum State! Christ is with us! Stand Firm!
God's Heavenly Plan For Us
Monday of the First Week of Easter (April 13, 2020)
GOD’S HEAVENLY PLAN FOR US
During the Easter Vigil at our parish in Tucson, Arizona, Fr. Stephen Watson, OCD, shared a personal story about helping a parishioner of Santa Cruz who was in a desperate situation. This man had recently lost his home, and so Fr. Stephen was helping him to move his things into a storage area at the parish—moving in box after box after box. Fr. Stephen commented to him that he thought he had way too much stuff! He asked him simply why he needed so many sweaters, not to mention the many other boxes. The man sharply replied, “Stop! Don’t take away my hope!”
I think we can all relate in some way how much of our trust and hope we put into our possessions. The loss of hope is frightening, but we need to be wise about where we place our hope, our trust, and our dreams! Our lack of hope in God leads us to despair, doubt, and fear; it causes us to trust more in stuff, people, politics, doctors, banks, etc., than in God who is our Father and knows what we really need. We read in the book of the prophet Jeremiah that God told him: “For I know the plans I have for you—plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11). Jeremiah exhausted his life for God—even unto death, when he was put to death by his own people. So clearly, God’s promise wasn’t to Jeremiah for his life on earth, but rather, it was a Heavenly promise.
There are three theological virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love. Whenever we pray the Rosary, we pray for an increase of Faith, Hope, and Charity on the three small beads leading up to the five sets of ten beads, upon which we meditate on the mysteries. St. Paul discusses these three virtues in his First Letter to the Corinthians (13:13), wherein he says, “The greatest of these is Charity/love,” because love remains with us in eternity. Be careful what you “love” in this world, for “...where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also” (Matthew 6:21).
I would like to suggest that you try thinking about Faith and Hope working together like arteries, which both feed the heart AND exhaust the heart with its constant pumping! The heart is, of course, our love. It fills up and it is meant to be exhausted. What we receive from God, we are meant to give back to Him. Faith and Hope in Jesus Christ is everything! Jesus is the Love of the Father and must be our Love, too! He must be the treasure in our hearts. Everything God promised us about Christ came true! Jesus was meticulously fulfilling every prophesy about Him. Every promise God had ever made and every law that was enforced in the Old Testament came true in the Life, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord. God has kept His promises for thousands of years! We struggle keeping our promises even for a few hours or a few days or weeks.
Jesus has promised to be with us until the end of time. Are we to think that Jesus Christ does not keep His promise to be with us always? Yes, Jesus Christ is present in His Word (Sacred Scripture); He is in the midst of us in the faithful (the believers); He is also among us in the poor, the sick, the incarcerated, the lonely; but He is most perfectly present with us in HIS BODY, BLOOD, SOUL, AND DIVINITY in every Eucharist—the Blessed Sacrament! The Holy Eucharist is the Source and Summit of our Faith in Christ. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “...by the Eucharistic celebration, we already unite ourselves with the Heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all” (CCC No. 1326).
In the First Reading today, St. Peter stood up boldly with the Eleven on the day of Pentecost. Three thousand people were baptized at that event! As an aside, how many people were baptized in the Catholic Church this year at the Easter Vigil? Was it also three thousand? Well, because of the “coronavirus shutdown,” the answer is ZERO! Zero baptisms took place at both St. Therese Church and at all the churches throughout the Archdiocese of Los Angeles—the largest diocese in the country. This must have been the case for most—and probably for all—of the dioceses in this country and throughout the entire world! Zero!
Continuing with the First Reading, where did these three thousand people go after they were baptized by Peter and the other Apostles at this First Pentecost? Scott Hahn suggests that many of them returned to all the places from which they came, including Rome. The group who returned to Rome, numbered with those who had been filled with the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and baptized by St. Peter himself, started a Christian community in the very city where the Vicar of Christ resides and the Seat of St. Peter remains today. That community was not established by an Apostle or by any of the disciples, but it was established by LAY PEOPLE who were baptized on that day of Pentecost that we hear about in the First Reading.
I know the following is a commonly-used quote in our day and age, but I’d like to repeat what Archbishop Fulton Sheen said about the laity: “Who’s going to save our Church? It’s not our bishops, it’s not our priests, and it is not the religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, and the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that the priests act like priests, your bishops act like bishops, and the religious act like religious.”
Just as Archbishop Sheen asked the question, “Who is going to save the Church?,” I’d like to ask another question: What do you think the Catholic Church will look like after the coronavirus? After the church doors open? Will the churches be filled to the gills with people? What will the churches look like five years from now? In ten years? In twenty years?
I don’t mean to rob you of your hope, but it is sobering to think that there were no baptisms throughout the world because of the pandemic. On the other hand, today’s Psalm is FULL of hope; it repeats and echoes the words in Jeremiah: “You will show me the path of life, fullness of joy in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.”
Finally, the Gospel tells how Jesus gave instructions to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to go to the Apostles and tell them to go to Galilee to meet Him. She, a lay woman, went quickly on her way and gave the Apostles, the Bishops of the Church, the instructions from Jesus to “Go to Galilee”.
My brothers and sisters, echoing the words from the Gospel, “Be not afraid, for Christ is always with us.” “Christus nobiscum; state!” “Christ with us; stand firm!”
Christ is With Us; Stand Firm!
Easter Vigil (April 11, 2020)
“CHRIST IS WITH US; STAND FIRM!"
During the reign of the Roman Emperor Justinian (A.D. 527), the city of Antioch was repeatedly shaken by violent earthquakes. People found no other means of safety than that of inscribing on their doors the words which were revealed to a faithful servant of God: “Christus nobiscum; state!”—“Christ is with us; stand firm.” All the houses whose doors bore this inscription are said to have been preserved from the ruin which threatened them, while the others were shattered and crushed. It is similar with those souls who love and serve God. In the midst of a Godless world, there is but one means of preservation from eternal ruin, one means of perseverance in the great tribulation of life: faithful adherence to belief in the Most Blessed Sacrament. The words, “Jesus Christ is with me; I will stand firm,” should be engraved in the heart of every Christian.
In my homily last Tuesday, I told a story about a time when I was in San Francisco sitting in the city center and found myself overwhelmed by all the people around me. I was aware of how quickly the number of people increased—100 became 1000, 1000 became 10,000. I looked up at all the high-rise buildings around me—the mall, the restaurants, the office buildings, the apartments—and observed all the business men and women bustling to their next appointments, the tourists who were visiting just for the weekend, the homeless man 20 feet away, and those who were just sitting around drinking coffee like me. Take a moment and imagine for yourself the malls we used to attend and walk around, with thousands of strangers beside us, the restaurants that were buzzing with people talking, sports arenas that were once filled with tens of thousands of people, the theaters booming with sound and excitement, all the while being surrounded by strangers! All these things I have just mentioned have come to a screeching halt in our society. We are no longer able to meander around the mall shopping. We are no longer able to go to the Staples Center to be entertained! The theaters are all closed, and the men and women whom we idolized and worshiped from our reclining seats are no longer present to us, except in reruns on TV. Someone recently asked me if this was the end of the world. I humorously said that when the casinos and the churches are both closed, you know the end must be close!
Well, let’s start there. If you knew without a doubt that the end was near, what would you do differently? Would you go shopping? Would you turn on the TV to watch your favorite sport for hours on end? Would you rush out to the theater to watch a movie starring your favorite actor? Maybe you would consider binge watching some mindless Netflix series? Maybe you would go out and have an abortion? I believe Planned Parenthood is open, despite the Coronavirus, so you can book one online. Would you dress up in all your favorite brands and have cocktails at your favorite restaurant? Would you go out and get drunk with your friends? If you knew without a doubt that the end was near, what would YOU do differently?
Let’s return to that moment at the City Center in San Francisco. In that moment, when I was engulfed by thousands of people, I began to pray and I asked our Lord: “Are all these people going to Heaven?!” Now, be careful when you ask the Lord questions like these because...He may just answer you! I clearly heard the Lord say to me, “It is NONE of your business, and...it is ALL of your business!” I decided to repeat this story in tonight’s homily because I think it's important for us to feel the importance and the gravity (“GRAVITAS”) of this response in light of the Holy Mass and, specifically, the Eucharist. When Catholics celebrate the three most secret days of the year—Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil Mass—we are slowly and deliberately reenacting, in the most Solemn Way, what we celebrate in every single Mass: the Last Supper, Gethsemane, Calvary, the sacrifice of Our Lord in His Crucifixion and, of course, His Glorious Resurrection: Jesus Christ, Truly present in His BODY, BLOOD, SOUL, AND DIVINITY! Doesn’t our Lord say, “I will be with you always”?
Once and for all, our Lord made the sacrifice that no mere man could make. God alone had to make it for us. He alone had to make right this wrong from Adam and Eve. “...Oh Happy Fault!” “For God so loved the world that He gave us His only begotten Son for the salvation of the world” (John 3:16). Jesus Christ is the spotless Lamb, God-made-Man, the Word which became Flesh in the Immaculate womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the long-awaited Messiah, the King-Priest proclaimed by the Prophets, Jesus the Bridegroom. “Behold, your King leads us out into battle with the ancient foe, the father of lies, the devil, the prince of this passing world.”
The holy Mass that we celebrate tonight is the climax of these events that we have just celebrated together, albeit at a televised or recorded Mass, due to the unfortunate and, I believe, diabolical condition called the coronavirus. When we proclaim ourselves to be Christian and, more so, to profess being Catholic, we are professing to the world that we are like Christ—we do what Christ did, we say what Christ said, we become Christ to the world. Although some may think they are gods, and you may even struggle with worshiping these false gods, the reality is we are NOT gods! Nevertheless, as Christians and, most especially as Catholics, we have the great honor and ability to sacrifice for others most perfectly when we sacrifice with and through Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. We become co-redeemers with Christ for the salvation of the world!
So, when I asked Jesus if all these people were going to Heaven, He said to me that it was NONE of my business. I took that to mean that each soul must stand before Him and only God can JUDGE the salvation of souls. Jesus also said to me that it was ALL of my business. I took this to mean, very specifically, that I was to pray, sacrifice, and lift up at every Mass these strangers, the business men and women rushing to their next deal, the hungry man without a home whom we walk past on our way to the restaurant, the actress whose trinket-trophy becomes more important than the life in her womb, the waitress who poured my coffee. These are all my business!
I don't know if these are the end times but, for someone at this very moment right now, time IS ending and eternity will soon begin. Is it the waitress who is no longer employed, the elderly woman sitting alone in her home, the cable man, the billionaire executives at Amazon, the abortion doctor, the pedophile priest, the janitor at work, your mom or your dad? These are all of our business because we are Christians! And as Catholics, we have been entrusted with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We are CO-REDEEMERS WITH AND FOR CHRIST! We cannot judge the state of a person’s soul at death, but we can pray for, make sacrifices with the altar of our bodies, and then offer it all to GOD in the perfect way: THE MASS—THROUGH JESUS CHRIST, OUR LORD!
Each celebration of the Mass has this function of praise, of blessing, and of glorification. However, the Eucharistic Prayer is the heart of this liturgy. The Prayer begins with the preface, lifting our hearts up to the Father. Then comes the Sanctus, proclaiming God’s holiness and glory that fills the universe. At the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest recites this concluding doxology, praising the Trinity. In this prayer, the priest elevates the Sacred Victim up high, above all temporal realities, and says:
“Through Him, with Him and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
all glory and honor is yours, Almighty Father, forever and ever.”
The Church believes in the mediation of Christ alone and His supreme Priesthood. Only “through Him, with Him, and in Him” can we reach the Father. “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). We know that our deeds are pleasing to God through Christ. Our lives, united to His life, to His death, and to His resurrection, are glory and honor to the Trinity.The Church exists to glorify God. This is precisely why the priestly Christian people have congregated together: to elevate toward God, in the Eucharist, the maximum praise possible and to gain, on behalf of all humanity, countless material and spiritual goods. This is why the Eucharist is where the Church completely manifests and expresses herself.
With the Mass, we are able to fight the enemy and destroy his weapon of sin! My friend Drew, who celebrates his 50th birthday today, has given me a lot of good advice over the years, but the best advice that I can recall receiving from him was: “Philo, you have to pick your battles.” I have picked my battle! I will fight for souls through prayer, sacrifice, and the offering of the Holy Mass! Today Fr. Matthias, Fr. David, and I knelt in battle form as we prayed the Exorcism prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, a prayer which Archbishop Vigano recommends all priests pray on this day, expelling the enemy over and over from his evil invasions upon humanity. Let us pray it together now:
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Hosts, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who wander about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
“Christus nobiscum; state!” / “Christ is with us; stand firm!”
Our devotion to Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament must be true and tender, and it must be evident; it must show itself by our assisting at Holy Mass—if possible, not only on Sundays, but also on weekdays, as far as the duties of our state allow. Above all, our love for Jesus in the Holy Eucharist must manifest itself by a frequent reception of Holy Communion, by visits to the “Prisoner in the Tabernacle,” and by a penetrating faith in this Mystery of Love. When the churches are open again, let us run to Christ who is truly with us here in the Blessed Sacrament.
Father, Forgive Them...
Good Friday (April 10, 2020)
"FATHER, FORGIVE THEM..."
INTRODUCTION: For centuries Catholics have pondered the rich meaning of Jesus’ Seven Last Words from the Cross. These ”Words” are the seven brief sayings Jesus uttered while He hung on the Cross, forsaken in His pain and loneliness. Every year on Good Friday, the Carmelite Friars from St. Therese Parish provide a brief reflection on these Seven Last Words. We will consider their Source and their context, and personally ponder how they might console and strengthen us as we bear our own crosses. We will be drawing our reflections from various texts from the four Gospels. For six hours Jesus hung upon His Holy Cross, and these are the words He spoke during those hours:
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
“Truly, I say unto you, today thou shalt be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46 and Mark 15:34).
“I thirst” (John 19:28).
“It is finished” (John 19:30).
“Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
These statements are to be pondered and studied all the days of our lives. Few though they are, these words have a tremendous significance because they are the final words of Jesus before His death. What do these words teach us? That not only was Jesus fulfilling all that the prophets foretold of this mysterious event on Calvary, but also that some of these words will eventually become our words in our own passion, with the crosses that we carry and the hills of Calvary that we climb.
The First Word:
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
By Fr. Philip Sullivan, O.C.D.
In Christ’s first words from the Cross, in the earliest moments of His crucifixion, Jesus asks His Father to forgive the very people who are responsible for His betrayal, His scourging, His mockery, the Crown of thornes that was thrust upon His Sacred Head, the lies they told, the Apostles who ran, the soldiers who nailed Him to His Cross. After all, it is His Cross. As He Himself said, "No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father” (John 10:18).
St. Augustine wrote, ”The tree upon which was fixed the Body of Him dying was even the chair of the Master teaching.” Teaching what? How to suffer? How to love when we are rejected, betrayed, or forgotten? How to die a shameful death? How to forgive? “FATHER, FORGIVE THEM FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO!” This reminder from St. Augustine, that Jesus is teaching us from the Cross, is key to understanding how the Father expects us to suffer, sacrifice, love, and forgive.
My Dad was also a teacher. He taught at Milliken High School in Long Beach, California. During family TV nights, Dad was always stopping the video to explain the etymology of some random word. When we got into trouble, he would lecture us at the dining room table on right morals and the consequences of bad actions. These lectures seemed to us to last forever! He was always studying, reading Aquinas, and rattling off witty expressions in Latin none of us could understand or appreciate. We had to pray the Rosary every day. He taught us humor. Dad always wanted to be on stage teaching and trying to make learning fun. That was one of his favorite expressions: “Make it fun!”
Then, Dad got old and kept getting sick. My dad carried many crosses in his lifetime: extreme poverty in his childhood, Rheumatoid Arthritis, raising a large family on a teacher's salary, his own financial ruin, betrayal by a friend, betrayal by a priest. My father even had to live and work away from his family for a time—and that was hard. He carried a variety of other crosses, too: skin cancer, prostate cancer, macular degeneration, a bad back, and a constant pain in the neck named Philip! Whatever cross my father carried, we did our part, like Simeon who was selected to help the Lord carry His Glorious Cross. Dad suffered, but he never doubted, he never despaired. I guess Dad always knew the Lord was with him. And as a family, we knew we could help carry these crosses together; and sometimes we made it fun!
Like Simeon, we all participated in my father’s crosses. But then he was diagnosed with Leukemia. We knew this cross was different. This was not only another cross; but this was Calvary, a Calvary that would last seven years. At the end, and there is always an end, our distant relatives and friends came to pay their last respects. My own siblings, myself, and my Mother each had our moment of standing alone beneath my Father’s last cross. We all bent low to kiss him goodbye. We all wanted his blessing like he used to give us when he would send us to bed, tracing the cross on our foreheads. With a hunger that I never felt before, I wanted more time with him. We jealously fought for more opportunities to serve him, to care for him, to love him. No matter how hard we prayed, this door was closing and we all feared life without Dad.
I remember the day, the hour, and the minute he died. I was fortunate to be at his side so I could ask him for his forgiveness. For I, too, was a prodigal son once. "Father, forgive me, for I did not know what I was doing." I suppose my father also was begging God for forgiveness. What else can we do when we are desperately gasping for life as we depart from this world? This is why our Lord’s pleading for forgiveness is so important for us; so that we may forgive as we are forgiven.
My dad spent his entire life teaching us how to live a Catholic life, and he spent his last seven years teaching us how to die a Catholic death! Because his cross and his Calvary were for Christ, just as Christ’s Cross and Christ’s Calvary were for him—and for each of us.
The Five W's of the Cross
Good Friday (April 10, 2020)
THE FIVE ‘W’S’ OF THE CROSS
I would like to begin this homily by drawing out some words that we heard in today’s first reading from the Book of Isaiah:
So marred was His look, beyond human semblance...
His appearance will startle many nations...
Because of Him, Kings will stand speechless...
Who would believe what we have heard?
A man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity...
One of those from whom people hide their faces...
Crushed, pierced, stricken...
Smitten by God and afflicted...
Like a lamb led away to be slaughtered...
Oppressed and condemned...
He was taken away... (those words we will hear again from Mary Magdalene after His Resurrection).
A grave was assigned for Him among the wicked...
Because of his afflictions, He shall see the light and fullness of days.
Through His suffering, my servant will justify many.
Therefore, I (God) will give Him a portion among the great...
Because He surrendered Himself to God, He will take away the sins of many and win pardon for their offenses.
Some say suffering unites the world, and we can certainly see that in today’s atmosphere with the coronavirus. But we’ve seen it many times before in other ways: nations offering other nations assistance after tidal waves and earthquakes; people uniting together to help those afflicted by famine and poverty... Suffering has the ability to unite humanity, but it can’t stop there! Mercy is what unites us; mercy is what binds us; mercy is what God gives us in the Suffering Servant. Isaiah describes the "Mercy Who is Christ Jesus the Lord".
All these things I just read from Isaiah’s prophecies speak of the Suffering Servant, Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the World. But if we go back and look at some of these words, we can apply them to our own suffering. If you haven’t yet suffered, you can apply them to those whom you have seen suffering.
Yes, these words were meant for Christ, but don’t we become co-redeemers with Christ when we unite our own suffering with His? No matter what you are suffering—it doesn’t have to be huge, it doesn’t have to be a painful crucifixion—you can unite it with Jesus’ suffering. Think of the Little Way of St. Therese, who tells us over and over, “Do little things with great love” and, “The good God does not need years to accomplish His work of love in a soul; one ray from His Heart can, in an instant, make His flower bloom for eternity.”
St. Therese also says, “On each fresh occasion of combat, when the enemy desires to challenge me, I conduct myself valiantly. Knowing that to fight a duel is an unworthy act, I turn my back upon the adversary without ever looking him in the face; then I run to my Jesus and tell Him I am ready to shed every drop of blood in testimony of my belief that there is a Heaven. I tell Him I am glad to be unable to contemplate, while on earth, with the eyes of the soul, the beautiful Heaven that awaits me so He will deign to open it for eternity to poor unbelievers.” Those words are from the Little Flower, who never mounted a cross and who never even left her little monastery in France. Keep in mind, her own sisters said about her after she died, “What will we write about Sr. Therese? She has done nothing.” Now she is considered the greatest saint of modern times.
When I was in high school and my mom would help me to write my reports, she would say, “There are three things you need to do, Philo. ‘Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.’” It was not until years later that I learned that this advice was not developed by my dear mother but rather by the master of rhetoric himself, Aristotle. I think this “Aristotelian triptych” is a good method to use to help us to think about our lives, especially as Christians, and to help us to share the Good News: “Tell them what you are going to tell them about Christ, then tell them about Christ by the way you live, and then, when you're in Heaven, you can tell them what you told them.”
Last night in my homily for Holy Thursday, I spoke about the Great King and the Great High Priest riding on the clouds. I read from the book of Revelation, “Behold, He is coming!” Following these words, the author of the book of Revelation says “...and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him through. All the people of the world will lament.” Keep in mind that St. John is writing about a glimpse of Heaven, the heavenly realm that awaits us all. Yet, they tried to destroy Him, and they are still trying to destroy Him now—in us.
My mom also used to tell me when I was writing my school reports to first go through THE FIVE W’S: WHO? WHAT? WHERE? WHEN? and WHY?
WHO? Who are we? We are the temple of Christ, the true temple and, according to St. Therese, we are the preferred tabernacle of the Lord. Today we read in the Divine Office a quote from St. John Chrysostom, who said that putting blood on one’s doorpost in the Old Testament was a prefigurement for putting the Blood of Christ on our lips, the blood of the true temple on our lips. What an image of the reception of the Holy Eucharist!
WHY? Because we love Jesus, and we will become what we love. As it is written in the letter to the Corinthians, Paul says “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man what things God has prepared for those who love Him” (Cor. 2:9
WHERE? Everywhere! Everywhere that the Church is persecuted—even when it is being persecuted by the very men who should be defending it—like the sword-wielding Levites who protected the temple in the Old Testament. Even in today’s Gospel, we heard about Peter wielding a sword to protect Christ.
WHEN? Right now!
WHAT? Well, that’s the question that is the most difficult to answer. What will it cost you to prove your love to Jesus Christ? In a homily last week, I spoke about the saints portrayed in Michelangelo’s mural, “The Last Judgment,” in which they are all proudly displaying their various forms of torture and death:
St. Bartholomew, holding up his flayed skin;
St. Catherine of Alexandria, sitting beside the Wheel of Torture;
St. Joan of Arc, burning at the stake;
St. Charles Lwanga and St. Kizito, along with all the other young martyrs of Uganda, whose torture and death are too gruesome to mention in this homily;
St. Jose Sanchez, the little 12-year old boy, shown with bleeding feet because his soles were sliced open before he was paraded around his village. He was then shot and thrown into a pit, while his family watched on.
St. Miguel Pro, who proudly stretched out his arms like Christ on the Cross and shouted, “Viva Christo Rey,” moments before being shot by the Mexican soldiers. It was all staged by the government to scare us from dying for Christ;
St. Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, OCD), who died at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp during WWII. Her haunting words echo throughout history, “Come, let us go die for our people!”;
St. Lawrence of Rome, clutching a grill, who, for lack of better words, was barbecued on both sides;
St. Therese of Lisieux, who suffered patiently while dying from Tuberculosis.
You see, my friends, our crosses don’t have to be traumatic or huge. The crosses we carry just have to be carried to God—with total and complete sacrificial love for Christ and for the salvation of souls. “Be not afraid...” of the cross! Jesus says “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”That is the WHAT! What will it cost YOU to show your love for Christ, “...that where (He) is, there you may be also.”
My brothers and sisters, on this special day when we venerate, worship, adore, and kiss the Cross of Jesus Christ, be not afraid, for He is with us always.
Christus Nobiscum; State!
Let Us Go With Confidence To The Throne of Grace
Holy Thursday (April 9, 2020)
"LET US GO WITH CONFIDENCE TO THE THRONE OF GRACE..."
Today, April 9th, is the anniversary of St. Therese’s entrance into the Carmelite Monastery in Lisieux, France. This has given me an opportunity to think about my Carmelite Brothers with whom I live:
Fr. Albert and Fr. Bernard were classmates in the seminary, both having entered the Discalced Carmelite Order on September 7, 1958.
Fr. Donald Kinney entered Carmel on July 1, 1980.
Fr. David Guzman entered on July 16, 2000.
Br. Jason Parrott entered Carmel on September 14, 2006.
Fr. Matthias Lambrecht entered on September 1, 2010.
I can recall my own entrance to the Carmelite life when I entered on July 15, 1998. Let me share with you what I remember from that day: I walked into the chapel while the Friars were praying the anticipated Office of Readings for the Solemnity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. One of the Friars had already begun the second reading from the Mystical Instructions by Michael of Saint Augustine: “For this reason I say with Hebrews:‘Let us go with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may obtain mercy, and receive the timely help of grace.’”These words pierced me through. There are just some moments in life that get remembered. This is exactly what it felt like when I entered Carmel, my new home: I was going with confidence to the throne of grace so that I could obtain mercy and receive the timely help of grace! These words seared into my heart and into my mind! I felt branded by them, and I knew I could never change my course.
But changing my course is exactly what brought me to the throne of grace that very day. C.S. Lewis once wrote: “We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turnsback soonest is the most progressive.” I like that quote because it sums up what I had done to enter Carmel. I had turned around and walked back to the right road. Change, conversion, waking up, getting back on track, whatever phrase works for you, we sometime need to do an “about-turn” and get back on the right road. And Carmel was the right road.
Oh sure, I doubted my vocation plenty of times. I even thought the sacrifices of the priesthood were too much for me to actually go through with. However, our Lord guided me though these doubts. I clearly heard Jesus say to me one day in prayer when I thought I couldn’t become a priest: “Your hesitations are not Mine!” And just in case I didn’t hear Him the first time, He repeated those words a second time. I don’t think I would have pursued the priesthood had I not resigned myself to a prayerful conversation with our Lord by which He was able to communicate to me: “Your hesitations are not mine!” In fact, I believe I stand here now, thirteen years a priest, because of that conversation.
Eventually this road which had and still does have plenty of challenges, sharp turns, hills to climb, egos with which to contend (especially my own), and cliffs to scale—led me to the priesthood thirteen years ago. After ten years of Carmelite formation, I lay face down on this marble floor, as many other Carmelite priests have done. The Litany of the Saints was sung to the glory of God, and I felt as though all of Heaven was watching at that very moment. I imagined my Dad, sitting comfortably in his eternal reward as he watched on the day of my ordination. What a strange day it was. To think about what happened to me then still baffles me and, by the grace of God, I stand here upon this same marble today on which I lay on the morning of August 4, 2007. And now, I am a priest forever!
I wonder how often the Apostles recalled this most unusual night of the Last Supper and all the haunting events that followed. Judas betrays Jesus on the same night he was ordained. The Apostles ran away on the same night they were ordained. Peter denied our Lord three times soon after the Last Supper, the night he was made a priest forever. Why does God give us so much grace if we are so easily prone to betray Him, to run away from Him, to deny Him? Why did Judas betray Him after being with Him for so long? Why did these newly-ordained Apostles fall so quickly and so easily? Why do many priests fall so quickly and so easily today?
The answer to this question seems to be best explained by Pope Benedict XVI, from the general audience that he gave on October 19, 2006. He said, “[They] yielded to the temptation of the evil one. It is a mistake to think,” the holy father continues, “that the great privilege of living in the company of Jesus is enough to make a person holy. Jesus does not force our will when He invites us to follow Him along the path of the beatitudes. The only way to avoid the pitfalls that surround us is to give ourselves entirely to Jesus, to enter into full communion with Him, so that we think and act as He did, in total obedience to the Father.”
Pope Benedict concluded this explanation by saying, “God can turn everything to a good purpose. Even the betrayal of Judas became, through Divine Providence, the occasion for Jesus’ supreme act of love for the salvation of the world.” Even the priests who today betray Him, run away from Him, and deny Him will, in some mysterious way through Divine Providence, be the occasion for Jesus to triumph!
Today's first reading draws our attention to the Passover meal, which is fulfilled in the Mass. St. John Vianney once wrote, “Where there is no priest, there is no sacrament; and where there is no Sacrament, there is no salvation.” Frightening words for us today, as we are locked up in our homes, quarantined, with our churches closed.
The Israelites celebrated the Passover liturgically, remembering the Mercy of God and how He delivered them from slavery. Of course, we should see the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as a fulfillment of the Passover Meal. While the Passover Meal was the significant memorial that the Israelites celebrated each year to remember all the events that took place to bring about their deliverance, it did not communicate sanctifying grace upon the Israelites the way the Mass does. Clearly, the Eucharist then is none other than the Bread of Angels, the Heavenly Sustenance, the fulfilled manna that is feeding us on our journey to the Promised Land of Heaven. In the Passover meal, the father of the family presides over the memorial; in the same way, the Father, the priest, presides over the Mass, the banquet of God's Love. In the words of our Lord, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
“I am a priest forever!” What exactly does that mean? Do you know what the Book of Revelation reveals to us? Many things! It tells us that there is a Kingdom of Priests. It reveals that Mary, the Mother of God, is the Ark of the New Covenant! It makes known to us that there are countless angels, with incense and candles, altars and thrones, heavenly vestments, an Army of Saints and, yes, a Kingdom of Priests! And, of course, it depicts the Lord in all His glory, the true High Priest, the King of Heaven, riding on the clouds: “Behold! He is coming amid the clouds and everyone will see Him, even those who pierced Him…”“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “the One who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty!” (Revelation 1:5-8). I am a priest forever! God willing, I will be counted among the Kingdom of Priests, mentioned in tonight’s reading from Revelation.
Let us take a moment now and pray to our Blessed Mother, the Mother of Jesus, the High Priest and the Mother of all priests. This includes those priests who have betrayed, those priests who have doubted and denied, those priests who have run away from our Lord, and, of course, those priests who faithfully serve day in and day out. Those faithful priests who serve in dark times as well as in times of light and joy. Those priests who have laid down their lives for Christ and His Bride, the Church; those priests who are now counted among the Kingdom of Priests in Heaven.
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
Surely It Is Not I, Lord?
Spy Wednesday of Holy Week (April 8, 2020)
"SURELY, IT IS NOT I, LORD?"
Last Tuesday we heard in the reading from the Book of Numbers that the Israelites were complaining to God and to Moses saying, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die here in this desert where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!” Sometimes we can too easily blame God for our problems. When, in fact, we create our own problems by moving away from God and His Commandments. Remember the fickle love that the Israelites showed God by worshiping a golden cow? You see, they brought with them from Egypt some very bad habits that they picked up while living in the Egyptian Culture.
Not unlike the Israelites, there are plenty of Catholics who support things that are obviously contrary to the Church, influenced by the culture we live in. Plenty of Catholics are divided on marriage and divorce; for example, there are divisions among Catholics about their beliefs about same-sex relationships and the transgender craze. These issues have created confusion and division among many Catholics in our own culture. Of course, there's always the “elephant in the room” called abortion, that too many so-called Catholics support, despite the Catholic Church’s clear teaching about it being a serious sin. Many Catholics even vote for pro-abortion politicians. These institutions, ideologies, and politics can easily become gods that we worship and respect more than we do Jesus Christ and His Church.
We can hear in our own time and in our own culture the grumbling and complaining Catholics who demand a more “progressive” church that is welcoming to sinful behavior rather than a compassionate Church that wants to correct bad behavior so that its members have a right relationship with God, Our Father. Not unlike the Israelites, we grumble and complain about the rules of God’s House; we grumble and complain about the Food He offers in His House; we grumble and complain because we are more interested in the comforts of our time, this time of exodus in the desert, rather than keeping our hope and our attention on the Promised Land of Heaven. Keep in mind, the manna in the desert was a prefigurement of the Holy Eucharist. You may be surprised to learn that the word Manna in Hebrew literally means, “What is it?”
You might also be surprised to learn that 70% of Roman Catholics in this country do not believe in the True Presence of Jesus Christ--His Body, His Blood, His Soul, and His Divinity--in the Holy Eucharist! You might even be shocked to learn that there are cardinals, bishops, and priests who do not believe in the true presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist! Was this the case for poor Judas at the Last Supper? Did he not believe in the presence of God? Is this the case for many priests in the Church today? Or are we to assume that 70% of Catholics in this country consist of only the laity? In any case, we are grumbling and complaining because of our lack of faith in God the Father. That fact is as evident today as it was thousands of years ago when the Israelites were led out of Egypt and slavery into the Promised Land.
It is okay to ask questions like, “What happened?,” “How did I get here?,” “How did my life end up in this way?,” “Why am I so unhappy in my marriage?,” “Why have my children left the Faith?” When you ask such questions, pray that God will give you the wisdom to understand His will in these sufferings, the courage to change, and the charity to love with forgiveness. Otherwise, we can quickly end up being in the “Blame Game”: “It is other people’s fault that my life is a train wreck!,” “My parents didn’t love me enough!,” “My wife abandoned me!,” “It’s your fault, not mine!” Sound familiar? It kind of sounds like the Israelites blaming Moses and blaming God for all their problems and misery.
It’s easy to blame others for our situations. However, it’s much more productive to search your own past and find out what caused your faults and your problems. Blaming others takes time and energy; that’s time and energy that can be spent in improving your life and your relationship with God. When you blame and criticize others, you are avoiding some truth about yourself.
Four of the steps in the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous all have to do with admitting fault and correcting behavior. They are:
7. Humbly ask God to remove your shortcomings.
8. Make a list of all the persons you have harmed, and become willing to make amends with all of them.
9. Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continue to take personal inventory and, when you were wrong, promptly admit it.
There’s a quote from St. John Paul II that I learned when I went to World Youth Day in Toronto, Canada. I heard it with my own ears as I stood with a million youth listening to St. Pope John II. He said, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures, we are the sum of the Father's love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son Jesus”. When I heard these words, a thundering applause of all the pilgrims echoed throughout the crowd.
In today’s first reading, we hear from Isaiah:
“The Lord GOD is my help; therefore, I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame. He is near who upholds my right; if anyone wishes to oppose me, let us appear together. Who disputes my right? Let him confront me. See, the Lord GOD is my help; who will prove me wrong?” (Is 50:4-9).
What is that right that Isaiah talks about? It is the right that you will become a saint in Heaven, since He has destined you to be an heir in His Kingdom in Heaven. God allows us to suffer so that we can express our love in the same way He expresses His love for us: By suffering, sacrifice, and enduring pain.
Today’s Psalm says:
“For your sake I bear insult, and shame covers my face. I have become an outcast to my brothers, a stranger to my mother’s sons, because zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me. Insult has broken my heart, and I am weak. I looked for sympathy, but there was none; for consolers, not one could I find. Rather, they put gall in my food, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”
Of course, these words make sense when we meditate upon the crucifixion of Our Lord. However, these words were penned by King David. He knew what insult felt like; he knew what it was to be an outcast, he knew what a broken heart felt like, he knew that no one would console him. And so did Our Lord.
Listen to Judas speaking to the Chief Priests in today’s Gospel: “What are you willing to give me if I hand Him over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver and, from that time on, he looked for an opportunity to hand Jesus over. Judas was calculating this event. Have YOU ever bargained with God? “If you do this for me, God, I will do this for you?” “I’ll go to church every Sunday if you answer my prayers.” Will we hear a different kind of bargaining like Judas is making because he's a thief, because he’s greedy, because he has fallen out of love with Jesus?
At the Last Supper, Our Lord said to the disciples, “‘Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’ Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to Him one after another, ‘Surely, it is not I, Lord?’ He said in reply, ‘He who dips his hand into the dish with me is the one who will betray me’” (Mt 26:14-25).
These lines of the Gospel today are haunting and should scare us all because, in the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass, we have ALL dipped our hands into the dish of which Our Lord speaks. We betray our Lord with sin, but we do not have to remain in our sin. Our Lord gives us the gift of forgiveness in every confession. This was the gift He gave to His priests in the upper room as He breathed on them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive are forgiven; whose sins you shall retain are retained.” Did you know that this was the only Sacrament our Lord instituted in His Resurrection—and He gave it to His priests to continue the forgiveness of the Father.
Satan entered the heart of Judas and Judas lost Jesus forever! We shouldn't think that this happened quickly, as if overnight. Given enough time, Judas' betrayal of Our Lord can happen to any of us. If you have been away from the Sacrament of Reconciliation—the Sacrament of confessing your sins to a Roman Catholic priest and receiving the absolution that only a validly-ordained Catholic priest can minister—come home! Come and receive God's mercy, His love, and His forgiving embrace!
“YOU are not the sum of YOUR weaknesses and failures, YOU are the sum of the Father's love for YOU, and YOU have the capacity to become the image of His Son Jesus” (St. Pope John Paul II).
And the Dead Arose...
April 7, 2020 (Tuesday of Holy Week)
"AND THE DEAD AROSE..."
On Palm Sunday we read the Passion of Our Lord from the Gospel according to St. Matthew. After briefly kneeling at the passage recording the death of Jesus, we then read: “...And behold, the veil in the sanctuary was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after His resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many” (Matt. 27:53).
It is good to meditate on our own death, just as we meditate on our Lord’s death. For many of us, death seems remote, distant, unthinkable. Well, maybe the coronavirus has changed that for those of us who think we are invincible! But are we so invincible that we can beat this virus? They say it only causes death to old people! Well, tell that to the Prime Minister of Great Britain, who is only in his 50’s but is in intensive care in the hospital with coronavirus. We will lift up in prayer Prime Minister Boris Johnson and all who are suffering with coronavirus.
The quote I just read from St. Matthew’s Gospel spoke about those saints who rose from their tombs and gave witness to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Keep in mind these people were dead and had not even known Christ, but they are now considered saints and give witness to the Lord’s Resurrection! Well, as you can hear in this homily, I have been a little preoccupied with WHO these saints might be. The prophets of old maybe? The God-fearing men and women who lived righteous lives? Did John the Baptist rise among them? Joseph, the protector of Jesus, did he rise? What about our first parents, Adam and Eve? Is this what we should expect to happen when we die? I hope so! But will everyone who dies give witness to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ? Well, I guess it depends on how well we live and on how well we die.
One time I was in San Francisco at the City Center, sitting there drinking a cup of coffee while noticing all the people hustling and bustling. Thousands of people soon became ten thousand, which quickly turned into hundreds of thousands surrounding me, all at one time. I was a little overwhelmed, and I prayed, “Lord, are all these people your disciples? Are they all going to Heaven?” Now, be careful when you ask the Lord questions like these, because He just might answer you. Well, on this occasion, the Lord DID answer me, and I nearly spilled all my coffee when I heard His voice. He said to me clearly, “That’s none of your business...” and “It’s ALL of your business.” You see, saving souls for Christ is the work of the whole Church, but most specifically, the work of the priest. The priest has been entrusted with the sacramental graces necessary to prepare souls for Christ, that they may give witness to His Resurrection both here in this world and in the life after.
St. John Vianney said, “If there is no priest, there are no Sacraments; if there are no Sacraments, there is no salvation.” Those are hard words to ponder coming from the patron saint of priests. St. John Vianney also said, “The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.” Did you know that the last canon in Canon Law has to do with the removal of a pastor if he is not fulfilling his duty to save the souls of his flock, to shepherd his flock? Remember the quote I gave you yesterday from Pope Francis: “The mystery of Judas hangs over our time.” I first read his quote in Cardinal Sarah’s book, “The Day is Now Far Spent”. Cardinal Sarah continues the quote by saying, “The mystery of betrayal oozes from the walls of the church.” (Click here to purchase Cardinal Sarah's book from Amazon.)
The Gospel today again features Judas Iscariot: Judas the thief, Judas the liar, Judas the betrayer, Judas the Apostle of Jesus Christ, Judas the suicide, Judas the priest. Yes, we must always be reminded of how easy it is to be seduced by Satan and how easy it is to fall out of love with Christ. St. John Henry Newman once wrote, “No man knows his soul so well that he is invincible to the tactics of the enemy.” While the mystery of Judas hangs over our time, let us not forget the mystery of God’s love for us as He gave us His only begotten Son. Are we so dull that we do not recognize our Lord’s love for us as He suffered and died for us? What are you willing to do for HIM in return for this love?
I will leave you with this last thought to ponder as we prepare for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil on Saturday. There is a quote about Nero, the Emperor of Rome in the First Century, that says that Nero played the fiddle while he watched Rome burn to the ground. Now I don’t know if fiddles even existed then, and I don’t really care because for us, in our language and in our culture, “to fiddle” not only refers to playing the musical instrument, but it also refers to wasting time. As my mom might say, “Stop fiddling around and get back to work!”
Are we “fiddling while Rome is burning” or are we fighting the “good fight,” “running the good race” to obtain the crown of righteousness that will never fade, unlike the trinket-trophy that Michelle Williams received in last January’s Golden Globe Awards (See “A Cultural Check-In at the Golden Globes,” by Robert Brennan | Ad Rem). Are we fighting and running to win the crown that God gives to those whom He loves?
Our time here on earth is short; we make lots of sacrifices while we are here, but to what end? Yet, it will all end, but will it end well for us? From today’s First Reading from Isaiah, “Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly spending my strength, yet my reward is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God.” Go and do the “little things” with great love, and God WILL reward you!
The Cost of Discipleship
April 6, 2020 (Monday of Holy Week)
THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP
Last Wednesday we heard these words from the Prophet Daniel: “Nebuchadnezzar was angry at Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego because they wouldn’t worship his golden statue.” Since last Wednesday, I have been thinking about all the false gods depicted in our own society as golden statues. Think about it:
· Athletic trophies
· Awards for great achievements at work
· Emmys given to TV actors
· Grammys given to musicians
· Oscars given to Big Screen actors
Now, of course, these awards themselves are not idols for most people, but they do beg the question: At what cost did all of these amazing athletes, actors, and musicians win these silly trinkets of success? In many families, marriages are broken and children are abandoned in order to achieve great success. The never-ending thirst for wealth, fame, and recognition has fueled our materialistic appetites; we witness their effects on us as if we're watching some banal sitcom about the decline of the modern family in our society. At what cost do we gain such respect, as the shelf fills up with golden idols collecting dust, soon to be forgotten like the false gods of Nebuchadnezzar? Last January, during the Golden Globe Awards, actress Michelle Williams stood before the entire world and said her choice to abort her unborn baby was the “cost” she was willing to pay for her silly little Golden Globe idol. It was a ghoulish speech--one I hope never to hear again. (See “A Cultural Check-In at the Golden Globes,” by Robert Brennan | Ad Rem). (Take a moment now to pray for Michelle.)
What is the cost to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? The prophets of the Old Testament and the Saints of the New Testament will proudly tell you it is their very lives. Can you see the Crucifix as a kind of trophy or award? Maybe it is easier not to. But if it were easy, then it wouldn’t be great. If you look closely at Michelangelo’s painting of “The Last Judgment,” you can see the saints showing us at what cost, or rather, at what sacrifice they made for their love for Christ. One of my favorite saints depicted in this famous mural is St. Bartholomew the Apostle, who shows us the flayed skin, which was removed from his body by his pathetic torturers, by order of King Astyages, the last king of the Median Empire.
Saints are often depicted in ancient iconography with their crosses or other forms of torture, which they proudly display as their trophy. After all, Our Dear Lord Jesus, in His own Resurrection, depicts the wounds of His crucifixion. Do you not remember in John’s Gospel when Jesus told the “Doubting Thomas,” “Put your hand in my side... (John 20:27). Take some time to ponder this.
The Prophet Isaiah today talks about the servant (who was, of course, Jesus Christ) as the bruised reed that will not break or the wick which will not be quenched. He even uses the word “victory” in the First Reading, the same word we carelessly use for our own silly pursuits in life, like Michelle Williams, who sacrificed her baby for the victory of recognition. What an insecure world we live in! Take a moment now and pray for Michelle.
The Gospel depicts Mary lavishing Jesus Christ with oil that was rare and expensive and provided comfort for the Lord--costly perfumed oil--which she humbly dried with her own hair. Judas stands on stage to remind us of how easy it is to fall away from loving Jesus. We don’t know how or why Judas fell out of love with Our Lord, but it can happen to any of us at any time. Even Pope Francis says, “the mystery of Judas hangs over our time."
My friends, let us not count the cost of our love for Jesus, but give it all to Him, whom we know loves us. Is not His Cross evidence of His love for us? In these strange times, let us practice the Little Way of St. Therese: Doing small acts of love, like Mary’s in today’s Gospel.
Everyone Can Become A Saint!
August 26, 2019 (
EVERYONE CAN BECOME A SAINT!
Welcome Back, Saints! And if this is your first year at Saint Therese Carmelite School, Welcome to our Learning Community! One of my favorite quotes from a Carmelite Priest named Fr. Titus Brandsma is, “CREATE THE ENVIRONMENT WHEREIN EVERYONE AROUND YOU CAN BECOME A SAINT!”
That’s our goal at this school: To form Souls for Christ and build Him an Army of Saints! Saints change the world! Some of you will go on to become great and important people, including Moms and Dads, priests, nuns, teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, movie stars, athletes, comedians, waiters, chefs, investors, writers, church secretaries, and MORE! But each person here, no matter what your dreams may be, was created by GOD to Become a Saint!
Did you know that the adult human brain weighs only about three pounds? Three pounds. That's not very much. Yet all the knowledge in a set of encyclopedias can fit into this little space. Think about all the mathematical equations we learn, the poems and prayers we memorize, and all the words we are taught to say in Latin! What about all the different languages some people can speak! Did you know that the pope knows eight different languages? Eight languages! How do we fit so much into our little three-pound brains? Very carefully!
As we begin this exciting new school year, just imagine how much information you will have stored up inside your brain by the end of the year 2020! We are going to teach you how beauty will save the world! You will learn how to read music and memorize prayers and hymns in Latin; you will learn about the Knights of the Round Table, Pythagorean theorem, and science; you will hear talks like, “What is Art?”, “Who is Frodo?”, and “Why are We Here?”. This is a short list of some of the things we will try to download into your three-pound brains! Isn't it a wonder that our little brains can hold so much knowledge?
This is a Catholic school. Besides reading, writing, and arithmetic, you will fill your brain with the knowledge of Jesus. You will learn about His life, including what He said, His actions, why He died for us, and what the Resurrection is. When we make Jesus the Source, the Summit, and Purpose of Education, then our brains become holy--the dwelling place of Truth, Beauty, the Good, and the One. But our School is not only interested in what is in your brain, it is also interested in what and who is in your heart.
Jesus once said, “...for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). Did you know that the average adult heart weighs about eleven ounces. If we could look inside your heart, I bet we would find within it Jesus, your mother, your father, your brothers and sisters, your grandparents, your teachers, and maybe even your pastor. Yes, these little hearts can carry lots and lots of love for a lot of people.
But sometimes, like our brains, we can put things into our hearts that don’t belong there. I bet there are a lot of schools that don't bother with the heart at all. They focus only on the brain. I can assure you at Saint Therese Carmelite School, we are very interested in forming both the brain and the heart. It all begins with our love for God! The Bible teaches us “to love God with all our heart, mind soul, and strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4). It goes on to say, “And these words, which I command you today, shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” So you see why the heart is very important to us, as well as the brain. Jesus wants to dwell in our thoughts and in our hearts!
But how does Jesus dwell in our thoughts and hearts? Well, think about all the Scripture we have memorized from prayers, from attending Mass, praying the Rosary, singing songs at Mass, and reading about the lives of the saints. Furthermore, every time we receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, He becomes a part of us as we become a part of Him! Like the saying goes, “You are what you eat!” St. Therese once said that, “we are the preferred tabernacle of Jesus.” Because God is alive in His Word and because Jesus is really present in the Eucharist, we become the dwelling place of God’s love on earth.
The brain and the heart work simultaneously to make God’s presence a reality. But how do we love God with all of our strength? Let’s think about it. St. Ignatius of Loyola once said, “Love ought to manifest itself more by deed than by words.” That’s it! Our deeds have the ability to express GOD’S LOVE to the world. Think about great saints like the Little Flower, St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, or St. Damien of Molokai, just to name a few. By their works, their deeds, and their strength, they brought God’s love to life. This is exactly what our Lord meant when He prayed, “Thy will be done...” The will is an amazing part of us. When our will tells our feet to jump, they jump. When our will tells our hands to clap, they clap. When our will tells our mouths to speak, they speak. When our will tells us to express God’s Love, we express God’s Love. By constantly working to make right choices, our wills become holy, bonded to God's law.
What is the goal of Saint Therese Carmelite School this year and every year? It is to unite our minds, our hearts, and our wills with the mind, the heart, and the will of God, so that we can move one year closer to our ULTIMATE GOAL: TO BECOME A SAINT! Granted, some may argue that this is an unrealistic goal. To them I say, “HOGWASH!” We are destined to be saints! Anything less is not God’s will. I admit we may have a long way to go, but so be it. Let’s go! What are we waiting for? Jesus would not ask it of us if it were not possible.
So let us ask God the Father to send His powerful Holy Spirit upon us. The Holy Spirit will come and enlighten our minds with lots of knowledge. The Holy Spirit will fill our hearts with the capacity to love. The Holy Spirit will strengthen our wills with the courage and the determination to make God’s Love known and felt by our deeds. Echoing the Prophet Isaiah, “We are all the work of your hands" (Isaiah 64:7).
I will conclude this homily with the quote in which I began this homily: “Create the environment wherein everyone around you can become a saint.” That means the classroom and playground; the text books we read and the things we Google; the art we create and the music we sing. Yes, let us have minds and hearts filled with God for He is always with us, in us, and for us.
The Miracle of the Holy Eucharist
June 23, 2019 (Corpus Christi)
THE MIRACLE OF THE HOLY EUCHARIST
Let's review today’s first reading from Genesis and see the similarities between Melchizedek and Jesus. Melchizedek, the King of Salem (Peace), was known as the “King of Righteousness” or the "King of Peace." Jesus, the King of Jerusalem, brought the "Shekinah Glory" (the personal presence of God) to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, as prophesied by Ezekiel, and was hailed as "King of the Jews". Melchizedek means "My King is Righteousness"; Salem means "Peace".
Melchizedek, a mysterious Priest/King—the first priest ever mentioned in all of sacred Scripture—offered bread and wine to celebrate Abram's victorious battle over Kedorlaomer. Jesus, possessed of a Mysterious Priesthood--the first sinless and eternal High Priest (though He was not a temple priest like Zechariah and was not born into the levitical priesthood like His cousin John)—offered Bread and Wine (His own Body and Blood!) at the Last Supper in His victorious battle over sin and death.
From where did the practice of using bread and wine for a sacrifice come? Although we sometimes think of all sacrifices in the Old Testament as being animal sacrifices, there were actually many kinds of sacrifices in the time of Melchizedek. Some of them were bloody but some were unbloody, like the thanksgiving sacrifice known as the "Todah". Coincidentally, Todah simply means “thanksgiving,” in the Hebrew language; but is translated as “eucharist” in the Greek language.The essential elements of a “thanksgiving offering” were to sacrificially offer bread and wine. It’s a kind of meal that you would celebrate with God to express your communion with Him (specifically your covenant relationship) and to give thanks to Him for whatever blessings He has given you; in this case, the blessing of victory over the enemies of Abram. So, the King of Jerusalem comes out to offer an unbloody "thanksgiving sacrifice" of bread and wine, which, as stated above, is called the "Todah."
There is even an old Rabbinic teaching which says: "In the coming Messianic age all sacrifices will cease, but the thanksgiving offering (Todah) will never cease.” What is it about this sacrifice that makes it stand alone in such a way that it would outlast all other sacrifices after the redemption of the Messiah? Maybe you are even asking yourself, "Why have I never heard of this before if it is so important in relationship to the Holy Eucharist?"
First, let's reiterate what a Todah sacrifice is and why it would be offered by someone whose life had been delivered from great peril. There are many reasons why a family would offer a Todah sacrifice, such as a family member being cured of a disease like leprosy or being delivered from an evil spirit, or a family being reunited after a serious rupture between its members, or economic recovery after financial ruin. The redeemed person would show his gratitude to God by gathering his closest friends and family for a Todah sacrificial meal. The lamb would be sacrificed in the Temple and the bread for the meal would be consecrated the moment the lamb was sacrificed. The bread and meat, along with wine, would constitute the elements of the sacred Todah meal, which would be accompanied by prayers and songs of thanksgiving, such as Psalm 116. That sounds like the Last Supper, right?! Sacrificial lamb, bread, wine… Oh, my! While the elements may recall the Passover meal (which is what the Last Supper was), the Passover could only be offered once a year at the appropriate time. The Todah could be offered anytime.
One would think that the liturgical readings on the Feast of Corpus Christi would be about the Last Supper. Surprisingly, the Church does not highlight the events at the Last Supper but instead goes back to the public ministry of Jesus when He fed the five thousand. Why? Because just as the bread and wine offered by the mysterious Melchizedek in today’s first reading foreshadows the Eucharist, so, too, the feeding of the five thousand points our attention to the Last Supper and to the Eucharist. Let's look at some of these Eucharistic elements. First, in the Gospel of St. Luke, we read of Jesus fasting for forty days and nights while being tempted by the devil. St. Luke emphasizes that this fast takes place in "a deserted place" or in the "wilderness." The Greek word used in this passage for "desert" or "wilderness" is "ere-mos".
If you were a First-Century Jew and were reading this account about Jesus in the ere-mos (the desert or the wilderness), it would echo or call to mind for you the Jews wandering in the desert or the wilderness at the time of the exodus from Egypt. So the setting of the feeding of the five thousand in the wilderness is itself already your first clue that this miracle is pointing back to the exodus from Egypt; and it doesn’t take a biblical scholar to know that in the exodus from Egypt, one of the great miracles was the miraculous feeding of the Twelve Tribes of Israel through the gift of the manna from Heaven--the miraculous bread from Heaven. The miracle of the manna was, of course, a foreshadowing of the Eucharist!
Jesus then says to the Twelve, “Make them all sit down in companies of fifty each”. How long would it take the twelve disciples to get five thousand people to sit down in companies of fifty each? (I can’t even get thirty kids in my Art class to sit down long enough for a simple instruction!) So why does Jesus make the Apostles do this thing that would have taken such time and effort? Well, it’s because He is arranging the people at the feeding of the five thousand according to the same kind of groupings that you’d find in the first exodus from Egypt. Listen to the words of Exodus 18:25-26: “Moses chose able men out of all Israel [that means from all Twelve Tribes]...and made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And those men rendered decisions for the people at all times” (Exodus 18:25-26).
So what Jesus is asking His Apostles to do parallels what Moses did in Exodus 18. It is a significant detail because Moses is choosing certain men to rule over the different tribes and judge them. Similarly, Jesus has chosen Twelve Apostles who will eventually preside as priests and govern as bishops in His Church.
With that in mind, we now see how the miracle of the five thousand points back to the Old Testament. But it doesn’t just point backward, it also points forward to the Last Supper. If you notice in Luke’s account of the feeding of the five thousand, he emphasizes four actions of Jesus concerning the bread. First, Jesus makes everyone sit down. Then, “...taking the five loaves and two fish, He blessed them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples” and then they give them to the people. So in the Greek, those four verbs (Jesus takes the bread, He blesses the bread, He breaks the bread, and He gives the bread) are the same four Greek words that reoccur at the Last Supper when Jesus is seated with the Twelve Apostles. He takes, blesses, breaks, and gives the bread to them and says, “This is my Body, given for you,” and then says, “This is the Cup of the New Covenant in my Blood, which will be poured out for you”. So the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves (the feeding of the five thousand) is also a Eucharistic miracle. Be careful! There are liars out there—WOLVES!—who want you to believe that this is NOT a miracle but just a nice story about 5000 people sharing their bread with each other. HOGWASH!
It is vital that we, as Catholics, develop a relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus can take on many forms and thus disguise Himself as He did a number of times after His resurrection; for example, with Mary Magdalene by His tomb, with the two men on the road to Emmaus, with His disciples when, from their boat, they saw Him on the shore with the fish and the bread. So if our Lord decides to disguise His real presence in the form of Bread and Wine, then so be it and let it be so!
As a priest, it is most important for me to encourage people to commit themselves to regularly spending a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament; it is also important to teach you how to make that holy hour. We can easily forget that this time with the Lord is more about His desire to be with us than our desire to be with Him. He is the One who longs for our company more than we long for Him: “Could you not watch with me one hour?” (Mark 14:37). So how we can make a holy hour better spent? I would like to suggest dividing your Holy Hour into three blocks of twenty minutes.
The first twenty minutes before the Lord Really Present in the Eucharist is a sacred time of intimacy between us and Him. It is a time to just be present to our God. It is also what Carmelites call reflective prayer: We are looking at HIM who is looking at us looking at Him… In the words of St. John Vianney, it is a time when “I look at Him and He looks at me.” It is a time when we lean on Jesus’ breast, like John did at the Last Supper, and allow His heart to speak to ours. It reminds me of the famous motto of Blessed John Henry Newman: "Cor ad Cor Loquitur" ("Heart speaks to Heart"). Reflective prayer in adoration will help us to grow in our “interior knowledge of the Lord” as we contemplate His words, His life, and His real presence before us.
The second twenty minutes can be a time when we intercede for all the people we know and are part of our lives. At this stage of our prayer, we bring to the Lord all who have asked us to pray for them, including our families and friends, both living and dead. Often during this time in the holy hour, some person will arise in our minds who we feel the Lord is calling us to pray for, reach out to, contact, or visit. It is also a time to bring to Jesus our next appointment, our need to reconcile a festering argument, or maybe just a conversation we need to have with someone to clear the air. In this time of prayer, it is important to remember that Jesus is present everywhere and is not bound by time or space. He is with you and He is with me and He is also with whomever you are praying for.
The last twenty minutes can be a time when we pray for the entire human family and the whole universe. Almost every time I leave the Sacristy to celebrate Mass, I say to the servers, “We serve the Mass…", to which they respond, “TO SAVE THE WORLD!” Do we really believe that the Eucharist gives us the power to save the world? YES! So we pray for persecuted Christians around the world, for the victims of famine, for an end to conflicts and wars, for wisdom for government leaders and, yes, even for Nancy Pelosi! She is so gross, but that’s why we pray for her. Gross people need prayers, too.
So we have covered a lot of material today. The most important thing that I want you to remember from this homily is that we need to spend time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament! We need to adore Him, we need to worship Him, and we need to desire Him with the same intensity and urgency that He desires us. The only way to respond to the urgency of God’s love for us is to urgently love Him in return, even if it be imperfect!
The Eucharist will save the Universe!
Why Is It So Hard to Say, "I'm Sorry"?
WHY IS IT SO HARD TO SAY, "I'M SORRY"?
What is one of the hardest words in our vocabulary to say to another person? From my own experience, one that I find hard to utter is “SORRY”. I'm sure you've heard the 19th century children’s rhyme: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? That's a big fat lie, isn’t it? Words CAN hurt us—but words can heal us, too. You may be surprised by the etymology of the word “sorry” and the synonyms associated with it: “distressed, grieved, full of sorrow, painful, sore, full of sores, sad, sick, ill, wretched, worthless, poor”. Notice the similarity of the word sorry to the word sorrow. It is not uncommon to feel a variety of these words when dealing with forgiveness—either on the receiving side or the administering side. One word associated with the word "sorry," which I was surprised to discover, is the word “sore”.
The word "sore" helped me to reflect on all the times we pick at a sore until it bleeds or gets infected. Then we wonder why the sore will not heal. In the same way, we can pick at our hurt feelings and resentments, our grudges and past injuries or insults, until they bleed us to death emotionally. As we hold on to these hurt feelings, we find ourselves getting infected and even sick at heart. We can even infect others by talking too much about our sores to the point of gossiping about our hurt feelings and who caused them. The remedy is simple and yet may be the hardest thing we can do: Forgive!
The Book of Sirach challenges us with these words: “The words that come out of us make known the hidden thoughts within us”. Our speech and our actions reveal the secrets of our hearts. Have you ever seen the credit card commercial with the slogan, “What's in your wallet?” I think the question it’s asking us is, “Which bank will you trust with your purchases?” Just as our wallets are filled with maxed-out credit cards, we walk around with an internal bank in which we are constantly making deposits and withdrawals: the heart. We sometimes store up in our hearts clutter like old resentments, festering hatred, disgusting images, scary movies, violent video games, pornographic music, misguided politics, judgments of others, gossiping, and so much more. To counteract these types of clutter we need to make deposits in our hearts that will produce good fruit. But how can we remove the refuse and the distractions that “max out” our lives and exhaust us to the point of depression? According to our Lord, these dangerous deposits can only be removed by fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Then we can have hearts that are open and ready to receive forgiveness and deposit into our hearts the Word of God, just as the Blessed Virgin Mary pondered in her heart everything she experienced about Jesus. What do we ponder in our fickle hearts?
Try depositing in your heart beautiful images of the life of Christ, so that when you pray, your thoughts will recall those images. Deposit good music that will push out all the noise and senseless chatter. Try staying away from social media for awhile and instead engage in wholesome conversations. Can you resist the temptation to carry your phone wherever you go? Stop your tweets and your compulsive texting! What you are saying is most likely not all that important anyway. Stop watching so much news! Why get so worked up about what these fools are saying? Can you really change their minds? Rather, pray for them! Pray the Rosary. Make holy hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Sit in silence. Start a journal of prayers and novenas. These are just a few suggestions from your Pastor who loves you and who wants you to really grow in holiness.
Jesus insists that a person speaks “out of the abundance of the heart”. He, too, compares our speech, whether good or bad, to what grows on a tree: “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit”. So, to all of you gossiping fools, STOP GOSSIPING! Your rotten fruit is making everyone around you sick! Our Lord urges us to make wholesome speech a habit. Let us all think before we speak and do away with that terrible habit! Even Our Lord warns us about gossiping fools: “And I say unto you, that every idle word that men (and women) shall speak, they shall give account thereof on the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36). Or to quote my cousin, Mary: “ZIP IT!”
The Scriptures also compare the testing of our words to clay fired in a kiln. If properly prepared, a useful vessel emerges or a beautiful work of art is made; but if the clay is not fully dried, it will break apart in the extreme heat. When I was a student learning to be a perpetually-broke and out-of-work artist, I studied the art of making pottery. The instructor was most concerned about the preparation of the clay before it is was molded, formed, and baked. If pockets of air are left in the clay before it is put into the kiln, the air pockets will explode and break the form. So, how do you keep that from happening? A diligent student will patiently knead out the pockets of air; this kind of work is strenuous but necessary. The clay must be tested and examined carefully before being formed and placed into the kiln. Likewise, impatience is a reckless characteristic in the spiritual life. One of my favorite quotes is from St. Teresa of Avila: “Patience obtains all things." Just like the clay that is kneaded to produce a work of art, so we must go through the necessary discipline of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These are expected of all of us. Like kneading clay, our preparation is critical for the final product to emerge. While the frustrating air pockets can be likened to our everyday imperfections, the kiln can be likened to the everyday frustrations in life. For example: marriage, siblings, your boss, traffic, the playground, a death of a loved one, school, a sick child, cancer, overcoming an addiction . . . your pastor’s really long homilies! Life is the kiln and the struggle is real!
Although I do not always trust the history of the so-called “History Channel," it does provide a useful image of reliving the past over and over and over. And like the History Channel, we may not be accurately remembering the past that we are brooding over and reliving in our thoughts over and over and over. Forgiveness is strength! Saying to someone, “I am sorry,” is a sign of maturity and strength. It is liberation from being enslaved to another person. Unless, of course, you prefer to be a slave to someone you do not like. That's right, you don’t have to like the person you forgive and you certainly don't have to become “besties” when it is all said and done. However, I am saying that the moment we start hating a person and brooding over their hurtful words and actions is the moment we become that person's slave. You are the one allowing that person to take over your thoughts, words, and actions. In effect, that person takes you away from following Christ, because we fail to forgive and love our enemies as our Lord demands of all His disciples. Just forgive or say "sorry" and move on with your life! Stop wasting your time and energy watching over and over and over the "history channel" of your own grudges and hurt feelings. If you are like most of us and are still having trouble with the concept of forgiveness, then ponder the wisdom of this humorous quote by Oscar Wilde, “Always forgive your enemies—nothing annoys them so much.”
Someone once said to me, “Father, I don’t really like your homilies because they are not very practical.” I said, “Thank you.” I mean, really! How do you respond to a statement like that? Anyway, let me tell you about a helpful and very “practical” approach to forgiving someone who has hurt you, as well as a way for you to ask for forgiveness. Repeat this prayer of deliverance:
“Father, in the HOLY NAME of Jesus, deliver me from the evil spirit of unforgiveness. Father, in the HOLY NAME of Jesus, deliver me from the evil spirit of resentment. Father, in the HOLY NAME of Jesus, deliver me from the evil spirit of hatred. Father, in the HOLY NAME of Jesus, deliver me from the evil spirit of pride. Father, in the HOLY NAME of Jesus, deliver me from the evil spirit of blame. Father, in the HOLY NAME of Jesus, deliver me from the evil spirit of gossip. Father, in the HOLY NAME of Jesus, deliver me from the evil spirit of (insert an evil spirit that plagues you). Father, in the HOLY NAME of Jesus, give me the grace to forgive (name someone you need to forgive) as you have forgiven me.”
Liar, Liar! Pants on Fire!
"LIAR, LIAR! PANTS ON FIRE!"
Several years ago I was speaking with a former student from our school. He had just finished his freshman year at a nearby Catholic High School and was excited to tell me all the wonderful experiences he was having attending a “Catholic” school—one with all the amenities money can buy: sports, science labs, theater, band class, computers, clubs, and new teachers. I was happy for this student, and I hoped silently that he was at least getting some good Catholic formation among all these other subjects. As I was saying goodbye and walking back to the office, he excitedly called after me to tell me that his religion teacher had told him what “really happened” at the parting of the Red Sea. I stopped and turned around, mentally bracing myself for the dreadful explanation which was about to spew out of his mouth.
He proceeded to explain, in textbook fashion, as if he were reciting verbatim what he read or heard: “You see, Father,” he began to teach me, “the Red Sea was parted because there was an underwater earthquake many miles out in the sea which caused the water to recess, exposing dry ground for the Israelites to walk across to the other side. Then, in his innocent excitement, he exclaimed: “And because of the earthquake, a nearby volcano erupted, too!” I was bewildered by the inconsequential detail regarding the volcano. But I think volcanoes are awesome, so I let it go. I listened carefully to this enlightened student who was especially happy to have finally told the “truth” about the parting of the Red Sea. To which I replied, “NO! That is a lie!” I said it loud enough to get his mother’s attention, who was proudly listening to her son articulate so well a lie (probably one of many) that he learned at this prestigious and expensive “Catholic” school. I asked who told him this lie. Perplexed and skeptical of my intervention, he defensively told me that it was his religion teacher who told him "what really happened" with the parting of the Red Sea. "Liar, liar! Pants on fire!"
Wouldn’t it be great if pants really did catch on fire when someone was telling you a lie? Think about all these indoctrinated teachers, paid-for-politicians, out-to-lunch clergymen, creepy cardinals and career-climbing bishops, shady businessmen and women, lawyers in the courtroom, lowlife lobbyists, abortion doctors and nurses…POOF! "Hey, Liar! Your pants are on fire!" Imagine how easy it would be to choose a Catholic school for your child or to know which textbooks were providing facts or fiction. Or what doctors and nurses really know about dismantling babies in the mother's womb. Wouldn’t it be fun to watch on television the lying politician instantly ignite from her derrière as she lies behind her pretty little smile? POOF! "Hey, liar! Your pants are on fire..again!" What about those college professors who hold multiple degrees from prestigious universities and who author books? We are supposed to believe them because they "have all the answers," right? POOF! "Hey, liar! Your pants are on fire!"
Well, for those of you who find my fiery rant on liars offensive, let’s replace these flames with the growing nose of the famous Pinocchio. After all, the jingle actually goes: “Liar, liar! Your pants are on fire, and your nose is growing like a telephone wire!” I would be somewhat satisfied to see these lying teachers, doctors, lawyers, cardinals, and politicians grow their noses with every lie they vomit out of their mouths. The only problem with this disfiguring effect of growing a lie-induced elongated-nose is that it may become the next trend or evolution in humanity's “progress” toward the ugly and the stupid. We will honor their deceit with public bathrooms specially labeled for “Pinocchios”. We would develop government programs to accept and promote the legalization of “Pinocchios”. Our news stations would be saturated with defending the marginalized “Pinocchios”. We would even offer college scholarships to help the growing number of “Pinocchios” living amongst us. Universities would offer advance degrees on “Pinocchiology”. Public high schools would offer “Pinocchio Day” to remember the rejected liars of old who were never really accepted into society because of their disfiguring lie-induced elongated noses. "Liar, liar! Your pants are on fire, and your nose is growing like a telephone wire!" Do you see why I prefer the dramatic fire associated with liars?
All kidding aside, when most of us think of fire, we automatically think of the physical effects of fire. Fire can burn us—and it hurts when we get burned. We might also think about the spiritual consequences of lying: the unquenchable fires of Hell. In fact, Our Lord seems to talk more about Hell in the New Testament than He talks about Heaven, and He even describes it more vividly. There is no denying that Jesus knew, believed, and warned His listeners against the absolute reality of Hell. See for yourself in these Scripture passages: Luke 16:23, Mark 9:43, Mark 9:48, Matthew 13:42, and Matthew 25:30. Jesus even compares Hell to a burning trash heap outside of the walls of Jerusalem called “Gehenna” (Matthew 10:28). Although Dante depicts Satan encased in a constricting block of ice in the lowest realms of Hell, Jesus refers to Hell as burning with fire like the maggot-filled and perpetually-burning trash heap called Gehenna. What does all this have to do with liars among us? Well, the devil is called the “Father of Lies,” and I think we can all agree that there wouldn’t be a Hell without the devil. We can thus conclude that those who lie, the “Pinocchios” of our time, will find a most uncomfortable and eternal reality in the place prepared for those fallen angels and men who reject JESUS, who is Truth, and ignorantly embrace Satan, the Father of Lies. John Milton poetically calls this place "Pandemonium," which literally means the “Place of all Demons” or, for brevity's sake, let’s just call it Hell.
I prefer the warning that is given with the expression, “Liar, Liar! Your pants are on fire!,” because it associates lying with its eternal consequences! Just as the “Father of Lies”, the devil, the ruler of this world, is cast out and thrown into the all-consuming fires of Gehenna, so too with his offspring. We have to reject lies; otherwise, we become part of the lies. Recall the words of our Eternal Father, God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth, when addressing Satan in Genesis 3:15: “There will be enmity between her offspring and yours. She will crush your head while you will strike at her heel.” My brothers and sisters, we need to safeguard Truth and reject liars—whether they are teachers, politicians, clergymen, cardinals, Big Business executives, lobbyists, lawyers, medical professionals, or news anchors—who are committed to perverting truth and destroying life—especially yours! The reality is, we cannot see the pants of liars burning or their noses growing. But as Jesus Himself says: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27). Don’t be led astray by false shepherds who lie and pervert. We are at enmity with the Father of Lies. Let us turn to Her who crushes the head of the serpent.
Let’s revisit the Catholic freshman who attended a local “Catholic” high school and who was being instructed by his religion teacher regarding what “really happened” when the Red Sea parted for the crossing of the Israelites. The problem with these lies, these rationalizing explanations to miracles that are recorded in the Bible, is that they allow anyone to logically explain away ALL the miracles in the Bible. Here are a few examples that I have heard: 1) The manna was not miraculous bread from heaven but ant poop; 2) Jesus didn’t walk on water; He walked on a sand bar; and 3) the miracle of Jesus' feeding the 5000 men was just an example of the people sharing what food they brought with them. HOGWASH! These lies might sound logical at first but they do not accurately interpret Sacred Scripture; these lies limit God’s power as described in Sacred Scripture; and these lies ultimately rob us of believing in the greatest miracle in Sacred Scripture: THE TRUE PRESENCE OF JESUS CHRIST IN THE EUCHARIST! With “Catholic” high schools successfully dismantling our children’s faith in the miracles handed down to us in the Sacred Scriptures, it is no wonder why so many of our youth are disassociating themselves from the Catholic Church. I use to be shocked by stories like these; now I am just numb to it all. With so many Catholic high schools and universities in this country, why do the polls continue to show that there is less attendance at Holy Mass?
At Saint Therese Carmelite School we are committed to sowing the seeds of God who is Truth, God who is Beauty, God who is One, and God who is Good. These seeds will take root in the earliest cultivating of our children’s hearts, souls, and minds. They are exposed to the best teachers, a Classical Curriculum that has proven to work for hundreds of years, and the Carmelite Family! Our children are taught from pre-K up to 8th Grade that the most important goal in their education is to "Become a Saint!" Let's put the CATHOLIC back into Catholic schools!
Please help us to continue the good work God is doing.
Become a Benefactor, become a friend, become a Saint!
Why is This Night Different?
Holy Thursday 2019
"WHY IS THIS NIGHT DIFFERENT?"
What is Truth? This was the title of my homily on Palm Sunday and will remain the theme of my homilies throughout the Triduum. On Good Friday we will hear again, as we do every year on Good Friday, the conversation Pilate has with Jesus: “Then you are a king?" Jesus replied, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the Truth. Everyone who belongs to the Truth listens to my voice." Pilate said to Him, “What is Truth?” (John 18:37-38).
Tonight as we enter into the Solemn feast of our Lord’s Passover meal with His apostles, we are deeply connected and maybe even a little fearful of the scenes that follow this most unusual Passover meal. “Why is this night different from all other nights?,” is the first question asked at a traditional Passover meal. The other four concern 2) why Matzo is eaten, 3) why maror (bitter herbs) is eaten, 4) why the meat that is eaten is always roasted, and 5) why the food is dipped twice. I'm sure these other questions are significant in the liturgical process of the Ancient Jewish Passover celebrated by the Jews.
But my question is, “Why is THIS night different from all other Passovers?" After all, It is the most unusual Passover because it does not seem to finish, as is required by its liturgical norms set forth by Moses. Granted, we can see what those who sat with our Lord at this first Last Supper could not: the agony in the garden, the betrayal of Judas, the scourging, the crucifixion, the final scene of the Resurrection. We also know all those involved, their words, their temptations and fears, their heroic conversions, their tragic martyrdoms. We know those who followed after them and those who did not.
But imagine yourself at that Passover meal and not the Last Supper as we know it. The Apostles were longing for this great event all year, just as we may anticipate the excitement of Christmas. Even our Lord said to His disciples: “…With desire I have desired to eat this pasch [Passover] with you, before I suffer” (Luke 22:15, Douay-Rheims version). What does Our Lord mean by "desire" and why does He use that word twice in this statement?
I think we can all agree that to desire something means to wish or long for it, to expect something to happen. It is a word that expresses a yearning to obtain and to possess. The Latin word "desiderare" explains the word "desire" more literally and accurately. The original sense of desidare, in its Latin origin, literally means to "await what the stars will bring," from the phrase "de sidere" ("from the stars)," literally "from the heavens”.
I find this word extraordinary! We are challenged with this double use of the word “desire” to think that somehow our desire to be here tonight, our longing, our expectation, is connected to the same desire our Lord expresses in these words to His Apostles! Desidare--from the very stars in the sky--from Heaven itself! Again, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Because God desires to be with us so intensely that He, the creator of the stars, has guided us, just as He guided the wise men to follow the star, in order to fulfill the promise He made to Abraham: "And I will multiply thy seed like the stars of heaven... (Genesis 26:4).
Here we sit with Him who comes "from the stars" (de sidere) to be with us year after year, like He was, and perpetually IS, with the apostles on this most dramatic stage called “the Last Supper”. "Why is this night different from all the others?” Because He who created the heavens and the earth, He who has set everything in motion, and He who has crossed such impossible distances of time and space, is here with us de sidere (from the stars)!
This love that moves the sun and the stars is with us body and spirit--and with everything and everyone. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God” (Hopkins). If we can live out this reality, the rest will take care of itself. Our Lord shows us that this statement, "the rest will take care of itself,” is true. His betrayer did not stop God, His accusers did not stop God, Pilate and Herod did not stop God. Not even death could stop God from desiring to be with us tonight! Was this what Pilate could not hear when Jesus spoke to him: “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice”. We sit with the Lord sharing this most amazing night, which is different from all the other nights, because He desires to be here with us.
Let us turn to Mary, the Guiding Star who listens to the Voice of Christ and who leads us safely home to our Loving Father after our prodigal journey ends and we are finally where our Lord desires us to be--at the Eternal Banquet in Heaven!
Sever the Thread
October 22, 2017
SEVER THE THREAD
“A bird cannot fly if it has a chain around its leg or even a thread.
To soar high in the spiritual life, we must cut and sever our
disordered attachments and affections.” -St. John of the Cross
Our Lord once said that His sheep will hear His voice and follow Him. If we hear the voice of the Shepherd, do we follow Him? The first reading from the Prophet Isaiah gives us the fatherly imagery of God taking the hand of His servant and leading him ("God grasped the right hand of Cyrus and led him" -Isa. 45:1). This is a very familiar action that dads provide for their children daily. Oftentimes on the playground, one of our students needs to hold the hand of a teacher and be walked to the office. Many times after Mass, I have held the hand of a scared child looking for his or her parent. Sometimes dads hold their child’s hand extra tight while crossing a busy intersection or entering a crowded store. It’s a familiar image to all of us and it is a really nice image to have of God, holding our hand, leading us, and getting us where we need to go safely, just like He did for Cyrus.
The second reading from St. Paul to the Church in Thessalonica reminds us to call to mind our work. Is the work we are so busy doing a work of faith or is it a work of vainglory? Paul is essentially reminding us that while God does indeed love us, He has chosen us to work in that Love who is Jesus Christ and by the Power of His Holy Spirit, like when we are participating at Mass. The word "Liturgy," after all, means "work of the people". Don’t worry if you don’t know what to do; just let God the Father take your hand and lead you.
Today's Gospel is perplexing. Here are men who have spent their entire lives waiting for this moment of the Messiah and yet are so blinded by their vain work and self-glorification, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy, that our Lord calls them “MALICIOUS”! Why do they fail to recognize the Christ! They don’t seem hear His voice and they certainly don’t show any desire to follow Jesus as His disciples. Rather, they deliberately want to trick Him in order to have Him arrested by the Romans.
A subtle irony in the Gospel is that these“malicious hypocrites” had no problem immediately producing a Roman coin all on their own! Johnny on the Spot! Does that sound like a good day’s work to you? You see, they are exactly like those wicked tenants in the Gospel a few weeks back. Remember, they were the ones who didn’t want to give back what never belonged to them. It is a humble reminder to us priests that the Church in the 21st Century does not belong to us any more than the temple belonged to the Jews in the 1st Century. Pope John XXIII had it right when he prayed, “It’s your Church; I’m going to bed.”
Have you ever wondered why in the Sacred Scriptures some hear the voice of Christ and others seem not to hear His Voice at all? Pagans heard His voice, tax collectors, prostitutes, fishermen, widows, Roman centurions, the thief crucified next to our Lord heard his Voice--and stole Heaven! But why can’t these educated men, these scribes, lawyers, Herodians, high priests, Pharisees, “Holy Men,” hear His voice?Well I don’t know about you, but the more desperate I become for God, the easier it is to hear His Voice, to take His hand, to follow where He leads, and hopefully to die with our Lord at my side just like the good thief who stole heaven.
There is a story of a mountain climber who was desperate to conquer a very dangerous mountain all by himself. He initiated his climb after years of preparation. But he wanted the glory for himself; therefore, he went up the mountain alone. (They make tragic movies out of stories like these!) This was going to be his “big fish” story and probably a “shaggy dog” story, too! His success was to be told to all his family and friends and anyone else who would sit in amazement listening to him tell and retell his heroic story over and over and over.
He started climbing, taking with him only what was needed. As it was becoming late in the day, he had not yet reached his goal. He did not prepare for the weather to change, but it did and he decided to keep on going. It will just add greatness to his amazing story, he thought. Soon it got dark. Night fell upon the mountain. He climbed to a very high, dangerous altitude. Visibility was zero. Everything was black. There was no moon. The stars were covered by clouds. As he was climbing a ridge, he slipped and fell. Falling rapidly, he could only see blotches of darkness and tree limbs that scraped his body and broke as he fell through them. He was alone and falling! In those anguishing moments, good and bad memories passed through his mind. He thought certainly he would die.
But then he felt a jolt that almost tore him in half. Yes! Like any good mountain climber, he had secured himself with a long rope tied to his waist and securely fastened to a strong rock now high above him. In those moments of stillness, suspended in the air, he had no other choice but to shout: “HELP ME! HELP ME!” There was none to answer him. As a last resort, he prayed: "Please, God, help me! Get me down!".
All of a sudden, he heard a still small voice from heaven: “What do you want me to do for you?” “SAVE ME!,” he impatiently exclaimed. “Do you REALLY believe that I can save you?”“OF COURSE! YOU ARE GOD, aren’t you?!” “Yes, I am God and I will save you. All you have to do is cut the rope that is holding you up and you will live.”There was a long moment of silence and stillness, hesitation held his heart closed. The man just held tighter to the rope. He would not let go. The next day a rescue team found a frozen mountain climber hanging firmly to a rope. His hands were frozen together clutching the rope that suspended his body only TWO FEET OFF THE GROUND!
We all have our mountains to climb and we all face chaos and fear. You and I have our own stories to tell and our own moments when God turns that which is unbearably painful into something meaningful--when God turns our fears into total abandonment and trust. When that happens, our Good Father will take our hands and lead us to safety.
Dear Friends, know this: Whatever mountain you are climbing today--whatever challenges you face, whatever it is you are looking for--cannot be fulfilled in vainglory, big fish stories, or building your kingdom on earth. Whatever you are looking for can only be discovered by a spiritual journey with and for God. A journey that is arduous, humble, and rewarding. All we need to do is cut the rope! Or, as John of the Cross puts it, “A bird cannot fly if it has a chain around its leg or even a thread. To soar high in the spiritual life, we must cut and sever our disordered attachments and affections.”
So, "sever the thread" and fall into the arms of your loving Father!
The Ladder of Humility
September 1, 2019
THE LADDER OF HUMILITY
Have you ever played the game, "King of the Mountain"? It's the game of pushing each other off a hill of some sort so you can be on top—and then fighting to stay on top of the “mountain”. If you have bigger siblings, you may know how it feels to be pushed down the mountain!
Climbing the ladder! Success! No matter what it takes! What comes to mind when you hear these words: "Climbing the Ladder"? Well most of us understand this expression as "the path to success, to wealth, to popularity". Climbing the ladder will ultimately make you, “King of the Mountain”. If you are climbing the ladder, you may be trying to become more successful at work, more important in society, or more popular at school: Busboy to manager, seminarian to bishop, janitor to CEO, intern to president, backstage crew to superstar. These stories of success make great novels and movies and show our potential to do great things; but at what cost will you arrive at the top of these mountains? How many people will you push down before you become “King of the Mountain”? And what are you willing to do to remain at the top?
The Ladder of Humility: The Rule of St. Benedict of Nursia (born 480 - died 543) speaks about a different kind of ladder: “The "Ladder of Humility," which is based on a line from today’s Gospel according to St. Luke: “He who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:11). St. Benedict says, “If we wish to reach the highest peak of humility and arrive at the heavenly heights, we must, by our good deeds, set up a ladder like Jacob’s Ladder, upon which he saw angels climbing up and down.” Without a doubt, we climb this spiritual ladder by humbling ourselves, and we go down this ladder of humility by praising ourselves.
We all know of the popular twelve-step program from Alcoholics Anonymous ("AA"), invented in the 20th Century to help both alcoholics and people with addictions to drugs become and stay sober; well, you may be surprised to learn that there are also twelve steps on St. Benedict's famous Ladder. That makes St. Benedict's Ladder of Humility the first-ever Twelve-Step Program—invented by him around 1,500 years ago! However, St. Benedict’s 12-step program is not about addiction to alcohol or drugs; rather it is for those who are addicted to themselves! It is a program oriented around humility.
Following are St. Benedict's twelve steps on his Ladder of Humility:
STEP 1: Obey all of God’s commandments. In other words, act like God is God and you’re not. That's a pretty good place to start climbing! YOU ARE NOT GOD!
STEP 2: Don’t bother to please yourself. As Luke's Gospel implies, don’t take the best seat at church. Don’t take the biggest slice of pie. Whatever it might be, always seek the lowest position for yourself. In other words, whatever your inclination is to please yourself, go against that and do the opposite. Or, as St. Paul teaches us, “Let no one seek his own good but that of his neighbor” (1 Corinthians 10:24).
STEP 3: Be obedient... Listen to your superior, your spouse, your boss, your pastor; follow the laws of the land, drive the speed limit, do what your parents ask you to do. If you are a priest or a bishop, then STOP BEING DISOBEDIENT TO THE TEACHINGS OF THE CHURCH! Celebrate the Holy Mass with reverence, humility, and OBEDIENCE to the instructions spelled out before you! It’s NOT your Mass!
STEP 4: Be patient and practice quiet perseverance when others inflict trials on you. No complaining! When was the last time you confessed the sin of complaining in the Sacrament of Confession? If you are somebody who complains all the time, you probably need to work on humility. The basic reason why people complain is they think they don’t deserve whatever problem they are dealing with. “Why me?”... “Why is this going wrong?”...“I don’t deserve this!” If you’ve ever committed a single mortal sin, what you do deserve is eternal separation from God forever! But that’s NOT in keeping with the nature of God. Mercy is God’s justice upon sinful humanity. But prideful complaining corrodes the virtue of humility like a cancer. Humility says, "Be patient and quietly persevere in everything that you have to endure."
STEP 5: Thoroughly confess your sins and faults. There is nothing more humiliating than the Sacrament of Confession. Confessing sins is hard to do! I know this is true on both sides of the curtain! But we have to do it and do it often!
STEP 6: Accept Crude and Harsh Tasks. No grumbling! If you’re a parent, and you have to change another diaper, just do it. Grumbling is also a sign of pride. Kids, if you didn’t make the mess, clean it up anyway. If you’re a teacher having to grade papers late into the night, DON’T GRUMBLE, if you are a priest having to go to the hospital on a sick call, DON’T GRUMBLE. Just Do IT! If your computer crashes in the middle of a term paper… well, that's the worst…try not to grumble for too long.
STEP 7: Don’t only confess that you are inferior to others and that other people are better than you are, but really believe it in your heart. Start to see everyone else’s virtues as greater than yours! Instead of judging your neighbor and gossiping about others, EXALT them above yourself. Talk about their good deeds and not about their bad ones. “If you judge people, you have no time to love them” (Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta).
STEP 8: Observe a strict Rule of Life. Benedict provided a RULE OF LIFE for his monks to follow. The same thing could be done in your life or within your family, like certain rules for the household. Follow a rule of life as a way of conquering your will for the greater common good of your family. This is a good exercise to help your family to work together like a religious community. You can write a list of “House Policies,” like The Rule of Life that St. Benedict wrote for his Monks.
STEP 9: Practice silence. Only speak when necessary. St. John of the Cross says, “Silence is God’s first language”. Examine all the music you listen to, the TV shows you watch, the clutter of sound in your life (the internet, cell phones, social media, texting…BlaBlaBla!).
STEP 10: Practice restraint from laughter and frivolity. Show restraint in telling jokes, especially bad ones! This step is very similar to “don’t talk too much.” A lot of times jokes and laughter are wonderful, and they can bring us lots of joy in family gatherings. However, joking around can also become a temptation to draw attention to oneself. “Showboats” who are always in the limelight can easily fall into vanity, sarcasm, exaggeration, bantering, profanity, uncharitable teasing, and interrupting others. People who are jokesters are often looking for too much attention. Showing restraint and discipline in those things is a very important step on the Ladder of Humility.
STEP 11: Speak very few words, and speak those simply and seriously. Being a person of few words is also an act of humility and restraint. Jesus Christ says, "But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting of it on the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36) and "Let your 'yes' mean 'yes,' and your 'no' mean 'no'. Anything more than this comes from the evil one" (Matthew 5:37).
STEP 12: Be modest; show humility in your appearance and actions. Practicing humility—both interiorly and exteriorly—is hard to do. We need to dress modestly, speak and act with reverence to those around us, and be polite and kind to others. Ponder these words by John Milton: “True it is that covetousness is rich, modesty starves.” In other words, don’t give others a temptation to sin by the way you dress or act!
Giving Alms / Mercy Giving = Treasure in Heaven: All of us have asked the question: “Why do I have to give Alms?” How do you put out the raging fire of sin that consumes you? Sirach says, “Just as water puts out a fire, so almsgiving atones for sin.” Luke’s Gospel shows Jesus describing a kind of almsgiving wherein the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind are invited to dinner. When you feed those who can’t feed themselves (food to the poor), you are giving alms. What does it do to your sins when you serve the poor in a soup kitchen or when you provide food for those in countries where there is famine and drought, etc.? Well, according to Sirach, it's like pouring a bucket of water on your sins. Campfires are part of the fun of camping but everyone knows you can't leave a fire blazing all night long. So we take a bucket of water, pour it onto the fire, and eventually the whole thing goes out. What a great image for what almsgiving does for our sins! Almsgiving atones for our sins and extinguishes the consuming effects of sin.
Yet when almsgiving is preached about at Mass, we ignore the message and thus miss out on the healing power it has over our sinful habits. You may be thinking right now, “Tithing doesn’t apply to me because I have debt" (OR "because I am so poor" OR "because I need stuff" OR "because I am waiting until I get a better job / graduate from college"...OR "because I have to pay off my car / house / credit card"…BlaBlaBla! The debt we all have is to God, and it is called SIN! And the way to put out that fire of sin, whether your sinful habits are smoldering, flickering, or raging, is to give alms! Unless, of course, Jesus is lying to us. C.S. Lewis asks his readers in Mere Christianity, “Is Jesus a liar, a lunatic, or LORD?” Of course, we all say the latter but then we choose what part of the LORD we want to emulate and follow. No bueno! It is "All or Nothing" when we follow the LORD’S teachings!
Do you know what the Greek word is for alms? Notice in Luke’s Gospel that the first parable told to the guest was about humility. How is almsgiving connected with humility? Is Jesus giving us a lesson on Economics? Finance? Investments? No, this is a teaching about humility. A few weeks ago we heard Jesus’ teachings on almsgiving: "Sell your possessions and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in Heaven that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:33-34).
“For where your Treasure is, there will your heart be also.” ~Luke 12:34
Clearly, our Lord is challenging all of us with the previous passage. We could interpret these words to mean, “Give until it hurts!” Or “Give until you really feel the sacrifice of giving.” "I had the experience but missed the meaning" (T. S. Eliot). That's the connection between humility and sacrifice. During Mass we hear, “Pray, Brethren, that my Sacrifice and yours be acceptable to GOD, the Almighty Father.” Keep in mind that we pray those words at every Mass almost at the very moment the collection basket is received by the altar server and placed in the sanctuary near the Altar of Sacrifice. So what is the collection all about anyway? Is it just so we can feel good about ourselves as we contribute towards the electric bill for this church? Or so we can feel some satisfaction that our donations may help others who are in need? The reality is that as we give alms, we are actually atoning for our sins and building up treasure in Heaven. Just as the gifts of bread and wine are placed on the altar to be transubstantiated into the BODY and BLOOD of Jesus Christ, so your sacrificial offering in the collection basket may be transformed into “Treasure in Heaven.” If you don’t believe that God can transform a few dollars into heavenly treasure, then how can you ever believe that bread and wine transubstantiates into the BODY, BLOOD, SOUL, AND DIVINITY OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST?!
But what does that treasure really look like? Let’s go back to my earlier question about what the word “alms” really means. The Greek word that St. Luke uses for alms is "ele-e¯mo-sune¯". It literally means “to have mercy.” Remember? Eleos is the word for mercy (KYRIE ELEISON). So almsgiving is mercy giving. When we give money, it is a symbol of our sacrifice and a sign of our detachment from material things; it is part of the treasure we are building up for ourselves in Heaven, which is MERCY! Easy-peasy, right? No, not really. If it were easy, the reward wouldn't be great.
Mercy is to give food for the poor. Mercy is to care for the crippled, like the good Samaritan did (that cost him a good chunk of change!). What about caring for the lame, the sick, the blind, and for those who can’t afford to feed themselves? Yup! Mercy and money walk hand-in-hand and literally are the same words used in Luke’s Gospel. These folks won't be able to pay you back in any earthly way, and neither will your Pastor, who moderates your almsgiving in the weekly collection. That's why Jesus says in Luke's Gospel to invite or feed people who can't repay you; in this way you will store up treasure in Heaven. So humility is doing good for others and giving alms is showing mercy to others. Not getting paid back means receiving treasure in Heaven. That's the reward that God gives us in eternity.
St. Benedict teaches us that humility is preferring others over ourselves. When we do this here on earth, we build up Treasure in Heaven. Almsgiving and mercy giving means preferring others over ourselves. When we do this here on earth, we again build up Treasure in Heaven. “…blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:14).
“We shall never succeed in knowing ourselves unless
we seek to know God. Let us think of His greatness
and then come back to our own baseness; by looking
at His purity we shall see how far we are from being humble."
--St. Teresa of Avila in The Interior Castle
NOTE: I am grateful to Dr. Brandt Pitre who provided much of the information used in this homily. Dr. Pitre has been an invaluable resource for many of my homilies! (www.catholicproductions.com).
March 19, 2019 (Fourth Sunday of Lent)
On Ash Wednesday Jesus challenges us to do three things differently this season of Lent: FAST, PRAY, and GIVE ALMS; on the First Sunday of Lent we followed Jesus into the desert for 40 days where He was tempted by the devil with food (fasting), by tempting God (dumb prayers), and with the promise of ruling all the kingdoms of this world and all its wealth if only He would take a knee and worship Satan (giving alms). The Second Sunday of Lent we traveled with the Lord up Mount Tabor where He was transfigured in prayer and showed Himself in the Glory of the Resurrection. On the Third Sunday of Lent we met the Samaritan Woman at the well (Year A), and on the Fourth Sunday of Lent Jesus introduced us to the Blind Man at the pool of Siloam (Year A). * Note: Readings for RCIA are taken from Year A to complement the Scrutinies.
Several years ago I was able to view an exhibit of Impressionist Art at a museum in San Francisco. It was a wonderful experience! As I was admiring a painting too closely, the security guard said to me, “step back, sir.” As I began stepping back, I watched this amazing painting transpire before my eyes. Little dots and thousands of colorful lines began to come together and the painting started to come alive with recognizable shapes. The colors melted together and the artist’s intent was clearly seen. It was a wonderful experience.
"Step back" is exactly what we need to do in our spiritual life to see the big picture and what we have the potential to become. One might ask, “Like Jesus transfigured on Mount Tabor?” Exactly! Step back from the myopic work of the everyday grind to see if that is what is happening in your spiritual life. Otherwise, we may end up looking more like a “Drunken-Drip-Pollock” rather than a “Magnificent Monet”.
Today we are going to talk about spiritual blindness. I think if you re-read the Gospel a few times, scrutinize the words a little, and imagine it with prayerful meditation, then you will understand that this reading has a message for us with a two-fold purpose: the man born blind being healed because of his faith, and the non-healing of the Jewish leaders, who remained blind because of their lack of faith.
How do we approach this idea of spiritual sight? Are we being open to Divine Truth by reading the Scriptures and praying over them daily? Are we sitting in front of the Blessed Sacrament speaking with our Lord who is Divine Truth, like the Samaritan woman in the Gospel reading whose Faith was restored during her brief conversation with Jesus? Are we going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly?
Today’s Gospel reading about the man born blind is not a parable. It really happened. A parable is a story that has a spiritual truth. Why does Jesus teach in parables? He says Himself: “Therefore, I speak to them in parables, because seeing, they do not see, and hearing, they do not hear, nor do they understand.” Then He goes on to quote Isaiah: “hearing you will hear, but shall not understand, and seeing you will see, but not perceive, for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.” So whether Jesus is speaking to us in a parable or whether the Gospels are teaching us what Jesus actually did, do we believe?
But the Scriptures have a way of saying that God sometimes closes our eyes and hardens our hearts. Recall that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened by God in the book of Exodus. That sort of poetic language is a way of saying Pharaoh made bad choices that hardened his heart and made him blind to God’s Divine presence. So it is true with us today. We have the choice, whether to see the truth and have our blindness removed, whether to hear the truth and have our deafness removed. Think about some of the HOT TOPICS of our own time. Take, for example, the problems with marriage in our country and its devastating effects on our country: contraception, divorce, infidelity…what about abortion? We close our eyes and stop our ears all the time to save face, to be popular, to avoid rejection, to secure a job. One might say, “Can’t we all just be nice and get along?” NO! Today most of us can only understand abortion as some atrocious number like 54 million or 80 million or whatever the number is we may or may never know. Whatever! Babies being killed in their mothers' wombs are NOT NUMBERS! They are lives, real lives! These babies within their mothers' wombs have heart beats, tiny fingers and toes, little ears, tiny little noses, and sometimes the ultrasound will even show a baby sucking his or her thumb. Babies in the womb have souls! These are real babies and yet the business of abortion is BOOMING in this country! Just ask Hilary Clinton’s daughter; she is ecstatic about the economic benefits that abortion has had in this country and boasts publicly about it! Obviously, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, even rotten apples.
Regarding abortion, are our hearts hardened like Pharaoh's? Are we spiritually blind like the Pharisees in today’s Gospel? Are we deaf to these murderous politicians like Governor Cuomo or Senator Nancy Pelosi and so many more who are giddy with the advancement of abortion? The abortion industry has been so successful over the last 45 years that now these creepy politicians have no one left to vote for them. Who will vote for them? What will they do to get votes? Ponder these words the next time you stand at a voting box: “A nation that kills its own children has no future” (St. John Paul II).
There is a way that we can open our eyes to the horrific reality of abortion in this country. There is a new movie in the theaters right now called, UNPLANNED. The movie is based on a book written by a woman named Abby Johnson who worked for Planned Parenthood for ten years. She herself had two abortions. In her book she does not shy away from talking about her own blindness to abortion. She herself admits to assisting in the killing of over 20 thousand babies. Abby Johnson has since converted to the TRUTH. Abby Johnson entered the Catholic Church in 2012 and is now the mother of eight children. She has committed her life to serving God and fighting for the most vulnerable citizens of this country: our unborn babies. Please go to the theaters today and watch this movie! It will open your eyes to the spiritual blindness we ALL have regarding the heinous, deplorable, and sinful business of abortion. Let Christ open your eyes to the Truth about Planned Parenthood and then commit yourself to helping us stop the evil that has been infecting our country for the last 45 years.
LIFE begins at conception. So those who use pills called Option B, Plan B, or the Morning After Pill are committing abortions--not preventing pregnancies. Those numbers of babies who have been killed through the means of pills and other pharmaceutical methods are in the hundreds of thousands! What about the test tube babies that are conceived in laboratories and then thrown in the garbage when their purpose is fulfilled? Babies? YES! Open your eyes! Do you think you will be sitting innocently shrugging at the last judgment? Will your, “I didn’t know…” line get you a free pass to eternal bliss? Nope. We are all responsible for abortion in this country. Everyone of us will be judged on our silence, our apathy, our relativistic shrug, the turning away, the lost argument, the time we would rather spend watching Netflix than praying in front of Planned Parenthood. Do you think we might even be judged on the ghoulish politicians we elected and who have been enacting laws to advance abortion? I kind of think so.
Hardened hearts are made by our will to ignore the truth. Spiritual blindness is caused by OUR WILL to close our eyes to Truth. In just a couple of weeks we will hear the words of Pontius Pilate sound throughout this church: “What is Truth?” Well, what is truth? The mother's right to kill her own baby? What about the doctors and nurses who get paid to kill babies rather than save lives? What about Pilate and all the blind politicians who followed after him? Pilate never got blood splattered on him when he sentenced Jesus to be scourged. Pilate did not hammer the nails into the hands and feet of Jesus at His crucifixion, Pilate did not pierce our Lord’s side or crown Him with thorns. Yet, it is Pilate whose name and memory is immortalized for the killing of Jesus.
Ignorance is an incredible cause of spiritual blindness. Isn’t it true that in our hearts and in our minds we sometimes approach God in prayer with preconceived notions, putting our trust in popular trends like abortion, gay marriage, and transgenderism? Remember my experience with impressionism at the San Francisco museum? Well, we need to step back to get a more accurate look at what we are doing and where we are going. Let’s all just step back and take another look. Together, let’s ask a few basic questions about our relationship with God: “Do we read the Bible?" Maybe we should read it more. "Do we know what the teachings of the Church are regarding abortion and other hot topics of our time?" Maybe we should purchase the Catechism of the Catholic Church and learn them. "Do we really know Jesus?" Maybe we should pray more and--even better--pray without our preconceived notions and without our misplaced trust in erroneous trends like abortion.
Please go to the theater and see the Movie Unplanned! Open your eyes and see for yourselves the cruel and disgusting truth about the 80 million babies whose lives were taken in the most horrific holocaust the world has ever seen! Go and see for yourself what Planned Parenthood does not want our young, scared, and vulnerable mothers to know. The irrational irony of it all is that your 13-year-old daughter can have an abortion without your consent, but because Unplanned is rated “R”, she cannot watch this movie without an adult present.
Babies in the Mother’s womb are not numbers, they are not for profit,
they are alive by God’s will and by His design at the moment of conception!
Go see the Movie, UNPLANNED!
PRAY THESE PRAYERS DAILY:
Father, in the holy name of Jesus, deliver me from the evil
spirits that blind me and prevent me from seeing truth!
Father, in the holy name of Jesus, deliver me from
the evil spirits that harden my heart to know you!
Father, in the holy name of Jesus, deliver me from the evil
spirits that distract me from hearing your voice in prayer!
Father, in the holy name of Jesus, deliver
me from the evil spirit of abortion!
“BE GONE SATAN!” (MATTHEW 4:10)
Whom Will You Serve?
August 26, 2019 (21st Sun in Ord Time)
"WHOM WILL YOU SERVE?"
"My Flesh is real food and my Blood, real drink." These are the shocking words we heard in last week’s Gospel from the sixth Chapter of St. John. The Greek words used to describe this eating are literally translated as "chewing, tearing, and gnawing." In other words, Jesus is not mincing His words; He says what He means.
DECIDE TODAY WHOM YOU WILL SERVE. Take it or leave it! This is the message for today's readings to those of you who sit back and murmur in disbelief. Now, technically, it's not entirely your fault that you don't believe. Jesus makes it clear that the Father has called us to believe that what Jesus says IS. Can we lose our faith in this great mystery? Yes, the majority of Catholics either believe that the Eucharist is merely symbolic or... they just don't care. This can even happen to the brightest bulbs in the Church. Losing faith in the Eucharist can happen to even priests, bishops, and cardinals. Maybe that explains the decline and fall of these perverts we have been hearing about in the media. They have stopped believing in the Eucharist! They no longer stand with Christ. They, like those murmuring, grumbling disciples in today's Gospel, have freely walked away from the Savior of the World! My advice to you: Don't follow their lead! These blind guides have already led us far enough. These cardinals need to be put in a cage and sent back to Rome with a big, red sign reading: "RETURN TO SENDER!"
Now, before we get too puffed up with indignation (maybe it's too late!), let's take a look at how we can AVOID the deplorable spiritual starvation that is so apparent in these lecherous Wolves in Shepherd's Clothing. It is important to remember that our everyday decisions and our everyday spiritual disciplines have a positive effect on others. For example, we can go to daily Mass, pray the daily Rosary, make holy hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament, regularly go to confession, receive the Eucharist in a state of purity, read the Bible and reflect on the Word of God, and be men and women of forgiveness. We can do charitable acts of kindness to others. We are all too aware of the negative results when disciplines like these are found lacking in our marriages, our families, and, unfortunately, among the clergy. A priest without prayer is like a pen without ink! Spiritual starvation is most hideous when it affects the Spiritual Shepherds of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, we must all take an account of how we are nourishing our own FAITH. Otherwise, the result is always the same no matter what role or title or position we have in life: Spiritual starvation will lead to spiritual death! And it does not matter what color hat you wear.
Let's talk about the necessary spiritual nourishment provided in the Eucharist. Have you ever spent a week in bed with the flu or in the hospital recovering from surgery? It doesn't take more than a few days of not being permitted to eat any solid food before you will start to grow weak and slow. How rapidly our bodies shrink and our arm and leg muscles begin to atrophy. It is difficult to do simple tasks like walk, sit up in a chair, hold a cup of water, or brush your teeth. Our body can't function without proper nourishment.
This analogy of atrophy is a good reflection for us to have when assessing our own spiritual health and the spiritual nourishment that necessarily comes from the Eucharist. We know that without food, the body quickly weakens; without Spiritual Food, the soul atrophies. It really is as simple as that. Like the importance of eating well, along with all the care we invest in keeping our bodies strong, are we really caring for the soul as best we can? St. Thomas Aquinas once wrote, "the soul is in the body, not as contained by it, but containing it." The soul is containing the body?
What the soul requires for nourishment is the divine life of Jesus in His Resurrection. Our Lord Himself is the nourishment. Recall all that we have heard for the last four weeks leading up to today's Gospel, including these passages: "Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life" and "I am the Living Bread which comes down from Heaven. If anyone eats of this Bread, he shall live forever."
Most people are at least aware of the soul and its hunger for something. We spend years in pursuit of satisfying our inmost desires, pleasures, and whatever is going to make us happy; but we often feed our souls with insufficient "food," such as wealth, pleasure, power, and honor. All of these may be good in themselves, but none of them is designed to satisfy the longing of the soul. This is precisely why some of the wealthiest, most famous, and most accomplished people in our society are dying of spiritual starvation; and their weird, silly lives will end up going down the drain.
Jesus Christ says,
"I AM THE WAY, AND THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE"!
"I AM THE BREAD COME DOWN FROM HEAVEN;
WHOEVER EATS THIS BREAD WILL LIVE FOREVER!"
THIS is what the soul is longing for!
Study your faith and know what it is that Catholics believe about the Eucharist. Let me ask you a question. How much time do you really have left here on earth? Nobody knows. Get informed about your Faith and nourish your Faith through spiritual reading. Sometimes we fill our minds with junk; but the mind and the soul want to be filled with the lofty things of God. Why have so many Catholic bookstores faded away? Because Catholics have stopped buying spiritual reading materials!
Another way we can satisfy the longing of the soul is to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. If you are spiritually hungry, feed the physically hungry; give drink to the thirsty, counsel the doubtful, visit the sick and imprisoned, pray for the living and the dead. You will discover that the more you empty yourself in love, the more the Lord will fill you and the more satisfied your soul will feel!
Finally, and most importantly, receive the Eucharist regularly--even daily. The more often you receive, the more you will understand St. John the Baptist's words: "I must decrease; He must increase." In His discourse on the Eucharist recorded in John 6, Jesus says, "I am the Bread of Life; whoever comes to me will never hunger and whoever believes in me will never thirst." The divine life is found, par excellence, in the transfigured Bread and Wine of the Eucharist. St. Thomas Aquinas said that the other sacraments contain the "virtus Christi," (the power of Christ), but that the Eucharist contains "ipse Christus" (Christ Himself). What the soul is hungry for is Jesus Christ, the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of the Risen Lord. Without feeding regularly on that Food, the soul will atrophy (starve, die).
Why are so many Catholics feeling lost today? It's not the scandals in the Church; it is because so many of them have WALKED AWAY FROM JESUS! Seventy-five percent of them stay away from the Mass and the Eucharist on a regular basis. This is not rocket science...if you want to be healthy spiritually, you've got to eat Spiritual Food!
DECIDE TODAY WHOM YOU WILL SERVE.
On the Road to Jerusalem
August 4, 2019
ON THE ROAD TO JERUSALEM
The Hebrew word for vanity is "hebel," and it translates literally as "vapor, mist, breath, or bubbles." In the Book of Ecclesiastes, Qoheleth speaks about one who has labored using wisdom, knowledge, and skill, and who must now leave his property to one who has not labored over it at all. We can easily think about this situation in relation to people (children, lawyers, banks, governments) who eagerly wait to receive an inheritance (property, money, things). Qoheleth also asks us the question, "What profit comes from toil and anxiety of heart"? He refers to such toil as sorrow and grief being man's occupation in life. I am reminded of Martha from the Gospel reading of two weeks ago, who was scolded by Our Lord for being anxious and worried about many things ("pulled away" - perispaô).
In today's Gospel, Jesus gives a parable about the anxiety of a rich man worried about increasing his wealth: "Even at night his mind is not at rest" (pulled away). This sentence may challenge us to ponder the words of the "Our Father": "Give us this day our daily bread," words which show our reliance on God to provide for us. In Jinja, our Carmelite Mission in Uganda, Africa, the people there and in the surrounding villages live by this kind of reliance on God in a way that we in our country cannot even conceive--unless we have actually seen it for ourselves. Every day they sell their produce, which they have grown and gathered themselves, in order to provide for their families. They do not store up anything in pantries, shelves, refrigerators, closets, garages, storage units, etc.
In the second reading, St. Paul exhorts the Colossians to "think of what is above, not what is on earth" and to "put to death the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desires, greed, idolatry, lying". He also says, "Seek what is above..." which, for us, could refer to more modern earthly distractions like the widespread addiction to the internet, "anti"-social media, and cell phones--each of which can lead to acquiring knowledge of sinful things.
The last several weeks' Gospels have focused on Jesus' moving closer and closer to His final destination: Jerusalem. The first eight chapters of Luke's Gospel show Jesus beginning his Mission in Galilee (remember, He could not pass through the Samaritan town as He and His disciples began their journey from the Northern Kingdom down to the Southern Kingdom of Jerusalem). What is He travelling towards? Death. He is determined and resolute to achieve His death. In Luke's Gospel, we are introduced to the Good Samaritan and we also hear about Jesus arriving at Martha's house where He rebukes His host because she was anxious and worried or "pulled away" from Him because of her chores. Last week Jesus taught us to call God, "Father". This week, as Jesus continues His long journey to Jerusalem, He gives us instructions on greed! As we look at today's readings, we see a common theme of mortality and death threading through them:
First Reading (Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23): We must leave all our property behind to someone who never labored for it: Death!
Psalm: "You turn man back to dust; you make an end to them in their sleep. Teach us to number our days": Death!
Second Reading (Col. 3:1-5, 9-11): "Think of what is above and not of what is on the earth": Death!
Gospel (Luke 12:13-21): "You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?": Death!
This past Saturday I offered a Funeral Mass for a friend and parishioner, Roland De La Rosa. He died, leaving behind a young wife and three young boys. Death does not discriminate! It does not care whether you have children or whether you are a child, what age you are, how much wealth you have or how poor you are, how educated or how ignorant you are, what your color or creed are, or how powerful, important and resourceful you may think you are. No, death does not discriminate, and we should be preparing every day of our lives to reach our final destination. Jesus was "resolutely determined" to go to Jerusalem where He would be put to death on a Cross.
Today's Gospel begins with two brothers asking Jesus to be their mediator in their argument about an inheritance one of them received. In quarrelling about the inheritance, these brothers are mocking the generosity of the person from whom they received the gift. They are pulled apart! In this Gospel reading Jesus says, "...life does not consist of possessions." At the end of your life, when you stand before God on the Day of Judgment, will you show Him all of your possessions, your degrees, all of your techno-savvy devices, your name-brand shoes? Maybe you'll proudly show Him all the junk you have stored up in your garage or... maybe you can't wait to present to God your jam-packed storage units, your vintage car collection, your overflowing jewelry box, your upcoming book, or whatever it is you have that you take satisfaction in.
The Greek word for "greed" is "pleonexia," which is the state of desiring to have more than one's due. Do you have a voracious appetite for acquiring things? Then you may be in a state of pleonexia. St. Paul says in his letter to Timothy, "The desire of money is the root of all evil" (not money itself). A greedy person is a selfish person who often has a warped value towards earthly things. Such a person is often disconnected from other people, if not outright cruel to them. A rich fool is someone who lays up treasure for himself on earth; while a wise person is someone who builds up treasure in Heaven. The first stage of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. Psalm 14 says, "The fool says in his heart, there is no God." The word "fool" may be hard to hear coming from the mouth of Jesus, but it is a word used in the Old Testament to describe someone who has forgotten God or who has rebelled against God.
I challenge you to take some time today and meditate on or ponder your own mortality. Do you ever think of death? What will you present to God as treasure you have built up for Heaven? How will people remember you? What will they say about you after you die? What do you want people to say about you after you die? Are you like Our Loving Savior, who continues His journey towards Jerusalem where He will be put to death, in being resolutely determined to prepare yourself for the unavoidable and holy event of death?
Omission May Lead to Commission
September 29, 2019
OMISSION MAY LEAD TO COMMISSION
What is the sin that is committed in the parable recorded in the 16th Chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel that would send this poor sumptuously-dining, well-dressed rich man to a place of torment? Again, isn’t our Lord being a little t-o-o harsh here? Well, let’s unpack and personally reflect on these readings.
Amos describes a person who is slothful, rich, at ease in Zion. He also implies that these people are lazy, lying on beds of ivory, stretched out on couches. Hmmmmmm? Now that’s an interesting image to reflect upon! Do we know any lazy folks who stretch out on couches? He also describes the rich as being entertained by idle songs and who drink wine from bowls. Here we can imagine nightclubs, overpriced sports bars, or those just sitting idle in front of the TV or computer, binge-watching some mindless series. I’m just throwing out some possible examples to think about. Amos also speaks about the indifference among the Israelites. He says they are not grieved at the ruin of “Joseph” (Joseph is another name for the Northern Kingdom of Israel). So how does indifference apply to us today in our society? Well, maybe we just “go with the flow” when it comes to abortion, or euthanasia, or transgenderism, or folks who live in disordered relationships, such as practicing homosexuals, or the divorced among us who think it’s okay to live with their new partner. Again, I’m just throwing out some ideas that might help us resonate on being indifferent. So what are we going to do about it? The silence is deafening. Besides, some might say, “I’m a good person. I don’t hurt anyone. Can’t we all just get along and each mind our own business?” B-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!
Let's talk about the nameless rich man in today’s Gospel. First of all, our Lord does not describe him as dishonest, as He did about the stealing steward in last Sunday’s Gospel. Nor does He present him as an immoral person sleeping with prostitutes, like the Prodigal Son. Actually, the rich man described in today’s Gospel might even be a “nice guy,” educated, and respected in society. Is he a practicing Jew going to synagogue every week? Is he mindful of the commandments and maybe even prays once in a while? Granted, the Scriptures don’t mention any of this, but we can presume some of these things are true. Right? Here is how Jesus describes the rich man: Luxuriously-dressed in purple garments (as a king would wear) and gluttonously-feasting on sumptuous food every night (maybe at Ruth’s Chris Steak House?). His sin was not his wealth but his indifference to poor Lazarus, covered with sores and starving. His sin is what we would call the SIN OF OMISSION. Decidedly, the rich man’s wealth contributed to his being distracted and indifferent to his less fortunate neighbor, Lazarus.
Pope Benedict XVI wrote about the rich man from this parable in his encyclical, Spe Salvi: “Jesus admonishes us through the image of a soul destroyed by arrogance and opulence, a soul who has created an impassable chasm between himself and the poor man; the chasm of being trapped within material pleasures; the chasm of forgetting the other, the chasm of the incapacity to love, which then becomes a burning and unquenchable thirst. We must note that in this parable Jesus is not referring to the final destiny after the Last Judgment, but is taking up a notion found in early Judaism; namely, that of an intermediate state between death and resurrection, a state in which the final sentence is yet to be pronounced” (No. 44).
Look, we are all tempted to sin and some sins are graver than others are. Yet, seldom do we think of the reality of sin when we are also tempted NOT to do good. What? Is it possible to be doing nothing wrong and still be living in sin? Yes! Recall again the nameless rich man in today’s Gospel or the indifferent Israelites in the Book of Amos. Their sin is the sin of not doing what they should be doing and not doing what is demanded of them by God’s commandment, which is to Love God and Neighbor. But “who is my neighbor?,” you may ask? How can we ask that question when there are so many references in the Bible that demand us to love the stranger, like the Good Samaritan did; or to love even when you have been taken advantage of, like the Prodigal Son’s father was; or to love your enemy like Christ did when He begged His Father for forgiveness for those who crucified Him. Being indifferent to the stranger among us is easy to do and it is also dangerous to our soul!
The Sin Of Omission
by Margaret Elizabeth Sangster
It isn't the thing you do, dear; It's the thing you leave undone, Which gives you a bit of heartache At the setting of the sun. The tender word forgotten, The letter you did not write, The flower you might have sent, dear, Are your haunting ghosts tonight.
The stone you might have lifted Out of brother's way, The bit of heartsome counsel You were hurried too much to say; The loving touch of the hand, dear, The gentle and winsome tone, That you had no time nor thought for, With troubles enough of your own.
The little acts of kindness, So easily out of mind; Those chances to be angels Which every one may find They come in night and silence Each chill, reproachful wraith When hope is faint and flagging And a blight has dropped on faith.
For life is all too short, dear, And sorrow is all too great; To suffer our great compassion That tarries until too late; And it's not the thing you do, dear, It's the thing you leave undone, Which gives you the bit of heartache At the setting of the sun.
I Want to See God!
October 7, 2019
"I WANT TO SEE GOD!"
When I was living in Phoenix, I would frequently climb Camelback Mountain. Some would argue that it is a rather small mountain, but small mountains have their share of challenges, too! Mountains are sometimes mystifying to us when seen from the street, pictured on a post card, or viewed as backdrops in the movies, because they may appear at first sight merely flat, wide, and tall. No big deal, right? But mountains are a big deal! They are complicated labyrinths of canyons, jagged rocks, massive valleys, forests, rivers, lakes, lava, and too many more obstacles to mention; and there are gazillions of creatures living in them: mosquitoes, oxen, moose, and more!
There is a point on Camelback Mountain less than halfway up where I would decide whether or not to continue to ascend the steep incline full of loose rocks and with few reliable footholds. After all, it was a good enough workout just getting to that point, the views were pretty good and, although I was tired, I felt content. Besides, I knew that if I decided to go up further, there would only be more steep sections to climb with new challenges to overcome. However, there was always that inner conversation that I had when I would climb this mountain: “Should I continue or should I go back?”
Do you know what the word “mediocre” means? Its etymology may surprise you! It comes from the Latin word "mediocris," from "medius" (middle) plus "ocris" (jagged mountain). So it literally means the “middle of a jagged mountain”! How many of us have stopped halfway through a project and given up? Or maybe we have given up on our marriage, a sibling who has left the Church, or a bully at school. Maybe what we have given up on is as minor as quitting a team or giving up on a sport that is too demanding. Or maybe we’ve given up on something much more serious, such as aborting a baby due to a fear of pregnancy. Maybe we have given up anytime life gets too rough or jagged in the climb. Maybe we have just given up all together. Mediocre!
I want to see God! I want to see the views that only the top of a mountain can provide! There is a great quote from Isaiah 25 that I like to ponder: “On this Mountain He will destroy the veil that veils all people.” That’s it! I want to see clearly! I want to see Him face to face without anything obstructing the view! The only way to “destroy this veil” is to continue climbing through jagged cliffs and ascend to the top! We can’t turn around halfway, we can’t give up, we can’t give in and “go with the flow”. I want to see God! The perfect view, unobstructed and beautiful, is waiting for us who keep walking in the dark “valley of the shadow of death,” the straight and narrow way, the road less traveled. The top is near where the view is clear. Keep climbing!
Sometimes we can find ourselves in a similar conversation when we are ascending the spiritual mountain. Of course, these words remind every Carmelite of the great Masterpiece of spiritual climbing from St. John of the Cross and his classic, The Ascent of Mt. Carmel, wherein he states: “The soul is wearied and fatigued by its desires… the (desires) disturb it, allowing it not to rest in any place or in any thing… the desires and indulgence in them all cause it greater emptiness and hunger” (Book 1:6).
Clearly, this metaphorical mountain challenges us to overcome the twists and turns of our own fickle desires, our hesitations which cause us to doubt and turn back, giving up and turning back when we reach the halfway mark of the middle of the jagged mountain. No, we cannot afford to be mediocre! The reward is too great and the consequences for giving up are too dangerous! St. John of the Cross encourages us to keep climbing the straight and narrow path and let God be our constant desire and drive to keep climbing--and nothing else. God is offering us a clear view to see Him face-to-face, but we must conquer the mountain first to see the unobstructed view of eternity. I want to see God!
The Prophet Habakkuk sounds like he is despairing that God is not listening or helping him. How many of us can identify with his words from the first reading: “How long, O Lord? I cry for help, but you do not listen. I cry to you ‘Violence!’ But you do not intervene” (Hab 1:2)? Let’s look at Habakkuk's “jagged mountain”: Babylonian exile, Israelites losing their faith in God and turning to weird, creepy pagan “gods” for help, Jerusalem is under siege, the temple destroyed… Oh, my! Maybe we can better understand why Habakkuk said to God, “you do not listen, you do not intervene.” How often when a crisis comes do we concentrate only on the crisis instead of on God? This is the common fault of humanity in every era of time. Maybe our faith is strong when everything is going well, when I am being promoted at work, when the kids are healthy, and when the internet connection is strong. However, when a crisis hits, we can easily pray like Habakkuk, saying “you do not listen, you do not intervene”. Then many will question if God really exists! Sounds like us today, huh? Let’s take a closer look at how God responds to Habakkuk's prayer. God said, “…the just one, because of his faith, shall live” (Hab 2:4). Have faith that God is really with us, and we shall live through these most difficult times in our lives.
I want to see God! Looking back down the mountain, instead of looking up to the top where we will have unobstructed views, is a temptation we all get halfway up the mountain. Recall that every time the Hebrews suffered a setback in the desert after escaping from Egypt, they complained and said that it was better in Egypt and they should never have left. Now I know we would never do that, right? Well, have you ever thought or said something like, “I wish we hadn’t moved here”; “I was happier when I was single”; “I wish I were young again”; “I wish I could go back in time and fix all my mistakes”; or “if I knew then what I know now...” We have all thought about “going back to Egypt!” Going backwards is not advancing up the mountain to where we know we must all end up: At the TOP!
I want to see God! Hard times provide the opportunity for us to grow, to get stronger, wiser, holier. Hard times are necessary! We learn from our mistakes at work, in sports, struggling through algebra, correcting bad behavior before it becomes an addiction! Too often we forget that GOD IS WITH US in those hard times, just as He is with us in the good times! Yes, God is with us, especially in the hardest times of our lives. Think about it: Sick children, aging parents, recovering patients, etc., are the folks that rightfully get our undivided attention. Why would we think anything would be different with God? Like a good Father, He is closest with those who most need His undivided attention. Crises are an opportunity for us to grow in faith, which is what the readings today are all about. Having faith that God is with us on the jagged mountain we are climbing, when our marriages need fixing, when in our house is a sick child, or a dying parent, or a brother with an addiction, or a prodigal son or prodigal daughter.
I want to see God! Like God who is encouraging Habakkuk in today’s first reading, so St. Paul is encouraging Timothy in the second reading. Timothy is told to fan into a flame the gift of priesthood he received at ordination by St. Paul’s hands: "I remind you to stir into a flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord…” (2 Tim 1:6-8). Deliver us, Lord, from this evil spirit of cowardice and give us the courage to get off our butts and to do your Will! Remember our Lord’s words when He said, “I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49). What are the priests and bishops waiting for?! Faith in the power of our Lord’s priesthood is wanting--both in the ordained and in the laity. “Therefore, beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:38). Yes, even priests can look back down the mountain. We can be tempted to abandon the trek and return to the bottom of the mountain. This happens more than we may realize.
I want to see God! In today’s Gospel, Jesus encourages us to pray with faith and duty. I think the Gospel illustrates for us that we need to be mindful of HIM WHOM WE SERVE. Yes, we are faithfully serving God out of our duty to serve God. We can serve in many vocations, but we need to understand that whatever our situation is in life, we are serving GOD. Too often, we make demands of God to serve us--and right away! “Help my marriage right now!”; “Fix my mistakes right now!”; “Help me pass the biology final that I didn’t study for right now”; “Take away my poverty right now!” How many of us expect God to answer our every request right now? What happens when He doesn’t answer our prayers right away? Do we storm away like embittered children? Do we walk away from the Church because the demands of being a Christian Disciple are too hard? Do we go out looking for more reliable gods to fix our problems? Why is it so hard for us to understand the concept of serving the God who created us and loves us, to the point of giving us His only begotten Son, and who is offering us everything in Eternity? Instead of us serving God out of faith and duty, we demand that He serve us! No bueno! Look again at the Gospel. Jesus is saying that we need to serve the Master and when our work is finished, we will be satisfied.
As we reflect on our own faith in God, ponder these words that were found written on a cellar wall in Cologne after World War II:
“I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining.
I believe in love, even when I feel it not.
I believe in God, even when He is silent.”
As this faith-filled quote shows us, God is with us in the jagged mountain! Even when we can’t hear Him, see Him, or understand Him in our misery, He is with us always! Do YOU want to see God? Then keep climbing!