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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family

On this feast of the Holy Family, we are presented with examples of those who lived a faith-filled life. First, we have Abraham, who not only believed that God would give him a son in his advanced age, but also trusted that God would resurrect Isaac after sacrificing him as God asked. Second, we have the example of the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, who truly allowed their faith to influence their lives, both individually and as a family. By the example of the Holy Family, we are shown how to live a family life full of faith.

Some might argue that the Holy Family sets up an impossible example to live by. After all, Jesus is the Son of God, it's easy for him to have faith. Likewise, Mary is the sinless Virgin who was visited by an angel. Of the three, only Joseph is closer to what we would consider “normal”, but even he had an angel appear to him in his dreams. How can we live up to that example? It does seem an impossible task, but we're not called to follow them perfectly, only to the best of our abilities. The important aspect that we need to take away is that the Holy Family lived their faith. Instead of merely talking about believing in God, they practiced their faith in their daily lives. Their faith was a priority to them, not merely an addition to their lives.

Travel from Nazareth to Jerusalem was not merely a brief jaunt. They likely would have traveled 100 miles each way, depending on the trade route they chose to use, at a time when travel was by foot or pack animal. It may have taken them 5-6 days, nearly a week, to get between the two towns. This was not a journey to be taken lightly, and we know through the Gospels that they made this journey several times while Jesus was a child.

While these pilgrimages would have occurred occasionally, we can be sure that the Holy Family prayed together on a daily basis. Jewish custom gave several prayers that were to be prayed throughout the day. At some times in the day, the family would pray some of the Psalms together. There were prayers before and after meals, much like Catholics pray the traditional blessings at meals. Prayer was an important part of the Holy Family's life, and this carried over into Our Lord's ministry. Whenever he would come to a decision or difficulty, he would pray before acting, a good example for all of us.

Living the faith as a family means more than weekly Mass attendance and praying the blessing before meals, as important as those practices are. The Second Vatican Council, in its document Lumen Gentium, called the family a “domestic Church”, and encourages parents “by their word and example, [to] be the first preachers of the faith to their children.” (LG 11) The greatest example parents can give to a child is to live their faith without being preachy about it, but still being willing to talk to the child about matters of faith. Parents need to be willing to teach about the elements of the faith, and to learn for themselves if they don't know the answers.

All too often, we see young Catholics who go through Confirmation and High School youth group, but never practice the faith after leaving home. In many cases, the faith was not practiced at home, outside of weekly Mass attendance performed grudgingly, and was never seen as a priority by the children. When the time came for the children to make their own decisions regarding the faith, it was dropped in favor of something they see as a higher priority.

Sometimes children will fall away from the practice of the faith in those families who have made the faith a priority. While this is always hard on the family, it shouldn't be an occasion of doubt or anger towards the faith, but is a challenge to the family to live the faith all the more. The family is encouraged to pray for the children who have fallen away, and to be open and welcoming so that the children may feel drawn back into the practice of their faith.

The Holy Family is held up as the example of how to live with faith in God as a family. Through their example and intercession, may families grow in the practice of their faith and be united by that faith.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Homily for Christmas

In our celebration of Christmas, we're presented with a great irony. We've gathered this morning to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the humble surroundings of Bethlehem over 2000 years ago, but the irony of this celebration is that this innocent, sinless infant, this helpless child, came to Earth and was born to redeem guilty, sinful humanity from its sins.

Some of the most beautiful artwork in the history of Christianity was created in reflection on the birth of Christ. Icons, statues, paintings, music, and volumes upon volumes of writings have been dedicated to drawing us closer into the mystery that surrounds Christmas, that the second person of the Trinity would humble himself to take on human flesh and human nature. The amount of material that has been written on the Incarnation of the Lord would probably fill this church and there is still more to be written. Some of the greatest thinkers and artists of all time have pondered on Our Lord's birth, and we are all the richer for the results of their labors.

Even with the beautiful imagery that surrounds Christmas, we would miss the whole point of His life if we were stop our reflection with just His birth. He came to Earth for a reason, and we miss that reason if we focus solely on His Nativity. As the readings today show, we cannot look at the cradle of Our Lord without seeing His Cross. It's not by mistake that the second reading brings up the salvation that Our Lord gained for us through His death on the Cross. From before even the first moment of His existence on Earth, Our Lord's life was dedicated to becoming the Sacrifice that atoned for the sins of humanity. Even with the light from the star which guided the three magi, the shadow of the Cross fell on the manger and followed him throughout his entire life.

Everything Our Lord did and said, especially during his three years of Earthly ministry, was oriented towards our salvation. Even when he was just a infant, having to be smuggled out of Judah for Egypt due to the death sentence placed upon all the infants by King Herod, his life was to be lived in atonement for our sins. The Holy Family's escape to Egypt and later return to Galilee is often seen as Our Lord taking the salvation history of the people of Israel into his own life. Instead of merely participating in the important festivals and rites that commemorated events within Jewish history, Our Lord lived them symbolically through the events of his life.

This provides for us the example of how we need to live our lives as Christians. We need to take on our own salvation, make it an important part of our lives. We need to live every moment as Christians, not just the hour a week or less that we dedicate to Mass attendance. If we truly believed what we profess in the Nicene Creed, we would make our lives conform to our Christian belief, and not the other way around. As the Cross overshadowed Jesus' whole life, it should also overshadow ours as well.

If more Christians were willing to live this way, our world would be dramatically transformed. Through the examples of our lives, people would be flocking to become Christian. Unfortunately, right now much of what non-Christians see of Christianity is the sins of those who profess to believe in Christ. It's not uncommon to turn on a TV show and see the Christian as a hypocrite who publicly professes to follow Christ, but is hiding something contrary to his preaching. While this happens all too often in the real world, the fact that the media has picked up on it should be a warning for us that this is a problem we need to face.

As Christians, we need to recommit ourselves to following Christ, and not worrying about what the world believes. Before we can work on the culture, however, we need to get our own house in order. We need to refocus ourselves on the teachings of Jesus, and make regular reception of the Sacraments a priority in our lives. When we are willing to humble ourselves and commit our lives to the Cross, only then will the world be transformed.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Advent

In our Gospel today, we see the fulfillment of a hope. For nearly a thousand years, almost from the time of King David, the Jewish people were hoping for a new king, a Messiah, who would conquer the Gentile occupiers. This Messiah would rule over the people of Israel, and they would live in great prosperity and peace. Although he was not what they expected, Jesus' first coming fulfilled the hope of Israel for a new king to rule over them. His second coming will be the fulfillment of our hope for salvation.

I think most of us know the story presented in the first reading. King David had all but subdued the enemies of the Israelite nation, and now the kingdom of Israel was in peace. The Ark of the Covenant was still in a tent, as it was during the Exodus of Israel from Egypt, while David resided in a palace made of stone and cedar wood. King David wanted to build a home for God among the people of Israel, as they were no longer nomadic and had no need to wander the countryside looking for places to set up camp. If the people of Israel were to live in Holy Land, the temple of God should also be a stable place within the city of Jerusalem.

It was not in God's plan, however, that David be the one to build the temple, but David received the promise from God that his kingdom would last forever. He was promised a descendant who would call God his father, and God would call Him son. The coming of Our Lord not only fulfilled this promise to Israel, but created a new hope for all the nations.

King David wished to build a house for God in Jerusalem so that He would live among his people on Earth. It wasn't until David's son, Solomon, was ruling the kingdom of Israel that David's wish for a house of God came to fruition. The Israelites viewed the Temple as more than just a mere symbol, but as truly where God resided here on earth. The Israelites were the chosen people of God, and He lived among them in the Temple.

When Our Lord came to Earth as a fulfillment of the promise to David, he didn't descend to Earth on a fiery chariot, but chose to live among us silently. For the first nine months of his existence on Earth, Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary, was truly the House of God, the first dwelling place of Jesus. Just as the Temple was the dwelling place of God among the Israelite people, Our Lady became the dwelling place of God among all the nations. The hope of the people of Israel is now the hope of all peoples.

We often don't understand what it means to have hope. Sometimes we use the word 'hope' as a synonym to 'wish' or 'desire'. We might say something like, “I hope it's not cold tomorrow,” or a child might say, “I hope I get a video game for Christmas.” In contrast to this common view, Mary shows us what it truly means to have hope in God through her openness to His will. Her hope was not a vague wish or desire, but was a complete and total trust in God's promise to His people.

Because of Mary's hope in God, the hope of all of Israel rests in her womb, silently waiting for the day in which He is to be revealed to the whole world. Patience is a virtue that many of us lack, myself included, but this season is one of patience. We're patiently waiting for the celebration of Our Lord's birth, but we're also patiently waiting for His return. Just as Our Lord was born at the proper time, He will return at the proper time.

This patience should flow from our hope in His promised return, as hope is essential to being a Christian. We must hope that Our Lord will be with us during times of difficulty or times of joy. We hope that those we love will be with Him in Heaven after their deaths, and we hope that those newly born and baptized members of our families will grow up knowing and loving Him. Most importantly, we hope for that day when he will return again, and lead us all to the Promised Land, nomads no longer. Now, however, we wait with anticipation and hope for the celebration of His birth on Christmas. Come, Emmanuel!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Unthinkable, then Illegal

Right now, it appears that the Pro-Life movement is doing some very serious and necessary soul searching. Pro-life groups are trying to figure out how to handle a majority pro-abortion government here in the United States. Many pro-lifers seem to be getting discouraged, as 36 years of pro-life legislative work may go up in smoke literally with the stroke of a pen. If any time in the history of the pro-life movement is ripe for a new approach, this is it.

The main problem with trying to end abortion in the United States is that too many Americans don't view abortion as unthinkable. They may never have one, they may strongly discourage others from getting one, but it's not held up as something that must never happen in a civilized society. Homicide and rape are unthinkable; even embezzlement from a corporation is considered beyond the pale.

In contrast to homicide and rape, abortion is seen as something that is a "woman's right", a private issue between her and her doctor. Because abortion is seen as a right, it's viewed as distasteful (for the most part) but essential to maintain. Of course, this is somewhat of a generalization, as there are very strong pro-life advocates who oppose abortion for any reason, as well as pro-abortion advocates who see no reason to ever limit abortion. It's safe to say that most Americans fall within a very large gray area between the two positions, but many Americans support some form of abortion rights, even if only for cases of rape or incest.

This leads to the problem with trying to legislate away abortion: it is highly unreasonable to expect that most Americans -- and their elected officials -- will ever support making what is viewed as a human right illegal. It just won't happen. To overcome this inertia towards the culture of death, those of us who are involved in the pro-life movement have to make abortion unthinkable before it can be made illegal.

This is not without precedent. The pro-life movement has long compared the fight to end abortion with the civil rights movement with culminated in the 1960's, with good reason. The civil rights laws that are on the books now were not able to be passed until a major percentage of the United States population found the concept of Jim Crow laws unacceptable. While there is still lingering racism within the United States, it is nowhere near the extreme levels that existed even up to the 1940's and 1950's. The civil rights movement was successful thanks in big part to its use of powerful imagery on national television, radio, and newspapers. Many of us who grew up in the period following the civil rights marches have heard the "I Have a Dream" speech by Dr. Martin Luther King and seen video recordings of marchers being blasted by firehoses and attacked by police dogs. These sounds and images contributed in no small part to the success of the civil rights movement.

For the pro-life movement, we need to get our message out as loud and clear as the civil rights message. One difference, however, is that we don't have most of the mainstream media on our side, so we will have to work harder to get that message across. It may take a lot of determination, some major failures, and many more small successes, a ton of prayers, not to mention a lot of time, work, and money, but we will be successful. We have to be. The future unborn generations are counting on us to succeed.

To accomplish our goal of ending legal abortion, I think we have a lot of work ahead of us. Yes, I'm speaking in the first person plural here. I'm throwing in my commitment to this work here and now. I've been involved in the pro-life movement on a local level over the past 9 years, including participating in the Crossroads Pro-Life walk in 2003, and I'm recommitting myself to seeing the pro-life movement succeed, not only in Montana or in the United States, but throughout the world. This does need to be an international effort, ending abortion in those countries where it is legal and keeping it illegal where it has not been legalized.

The work that we need to do will encompass far more than I can cover in one blog post. To this end, this is the first post of what I hope will be a roadmap that we as pro-lifers can use to advance our cause and end legalized abortion in this country. I don't want this to be a monologue on my part, so please consider this a discussion. Feel welcome to post ideas and thoughts in the comments section, or post your ideas on your blog, if you have one, and send me the links so they can be added to the discussion. I know I won't think of everything, so I welcome any and every bit of input I can get.

For now, I'm leaving the comment boxes unmoderated. This may be a risk, but it's one I'm willing to take if it will lead to open discussion.

Monday, December 15, 2008

50 years of work in the Holy Land

Catholic Relief Services reflects on nearly 50 years of work in the Holy Land.

As part of the seminary pilgrimage to the Holy Land, we had the opportunity to visit a couple sites that have received assistance by CRS. In particular, we went to a rural community near Hebron where CRS built a community center and some very basic housing for the farmers. Due to politicial issues within the Holy Land, the houses provide little more than shelter from the weather and a place to rest, but those who received these houses were very grateful. Also, the community was very proud of their community center, which gave them a space for a medical clinic and other resources.

If what we saw in the Holy Land is representative of everything CRS does, they are doing great work and very worth supporting with our donations.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Homily for the Third Sunday in Advent

We've hit the midpoint in Advent. Only two more weeks until Christmas, and it seems like the whole country is focused solely on preparing for Christmas parties, gift-giving, and merriment. Every other show on TV seems to be a Christmas special, and all the old favorite Christmas songs are being played on the radio over and over again. It's almost enough to make us look forward to Christmas Day so that it'll be over.

While it's easy to get overwhelmed by the constant barrage of Christmas cheer in the media and around town, we should be having a different reaction, one of rejoicing and anticipation. During this season of Advent, we've been preparing for the celebration of Our Lord's birth, but we're also preparing ourselves to welcome Jesus when he returns again. God wants us to approach this season with great rejoicing, as we are encouraged in today's Entrance Antiphon, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near.” Now, we don't frequently hear the Entrance Antiphon, since we often choose to use a hymn instead for the opening procession, but it is a part of the prayers of the Mass, often chanted with a Psalm or other Scripture verses.

Today's Entrance Antiphon brings us the popular title for this Sunday in Advent, Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for rejoice, the first word in the antiphon, and is an encouragement for all of us to rejoice in the Lord, because He is coming. We usually wear bright colors when celebrating special events, thus the rose colored vestments in exchange for the ordinary purple of Advent, as today is a day of rejoicing along with our preparation for Christmas.

The reading this morning from the prophet Isaiah shows us why we should approach this season with rejoicing. He says that he “rejoice[s] heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice.” Isaiah was proclaiming the return of the people of Israel to the Promised Land after being removed by conquering armies, and like Isaiah, we have been wrapped in a robe of salvation. At our baptism, we were wrapped with that robe, symbolized by with white clothes of purity, and we entered into the Body of Christ and were given the promise that if we remain faithful to God, we would receive the gift of salvation.

Much as the people of Israel may have succumbed to despair during their long period of captivity, it's easy for us to despair when wrapped in the anguish, sorrow, and struggles that frequently come with life on Earth. To us, Isaiah says that God will “make justice and peace spring up before the nations.” Ironically, as we're experiencing bitter cold weather with lots of wind and blowing snow, Isaiah presents to us the image of the new Spring growth. Just as it seems impossible to imagine the first warm days of Spring during these cold days, it also seems impossible to imagine what life will be like when God reigns over the whole world as king. We know, however, just as the warm Spring will come and melt away the cold and snow, God's reign will come, enveloping us with his love and mercy.

Today, let us join the Blessed Mother Mary in her song of praise which we sung in the Responsorial Psalm. Let us “proclaim the greatness of the Lord” and “[rejoice] in God [our] savior.”

Monday, December 8, 2008

Homily for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

In 1792, the first bishop of the United States, John Carroll, dedicated the newly formed nation to the patronage of the Virgin Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception, a patronage which continues until this day. It's fitting, therefore, that our nation's capital contains the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a large and very beautifully decorated church dedicated to Our Lady. If you ever have the opportunity to visit Washington DC, I highly recommend taking several hours and visiting this beautiful shrine. Along the sides of both the main upper church and the basement are over 70 chapels dedicated to honoring Our Lady in her various titles.

With all the images of Our Lady that are present in this shrine, it's striking that the most noticeable image which a visitor sees upon entering the upper church is a large mosaic of Our Lord in the dome over the main altar. While it may seem out of place in this shrine dedicated to Our Lady, it is the exact point of both the shrine and the feast we celebrate today: through the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we see the saving grace of Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross.

When the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary, then a young woman living in Nazareth, he had been sent to present to her the news that she was to become the mother of the savior of the world. While God the Father had chosen Mary to be the mother of His Son, He respected her free will enough to give her the opportunity to accept or reject His divine will. Her acceptance of God's will meant that His plan of salvation could go forward. To prepare Mary for her role as mother of the second person of the Trinity, God was able to apply the effects of Jesus' death on the Cross to her from the first moment of her existence. Before she could bear the fully-divine, fully-human Son of God, she had to be made pure with no stain of sin.

Those of us who have been baptized have received this same gift of Christ's salvation, but we are still affected by the stain of sin on our souls. We are still tempted by sin, and we still fall into sinful behaviors. The Blessed Virgin Mary is held up as the example of what we hope to be one day. As St. Paul tells us in the second reading, we have been chosen in Christ “to be holy and without blemish before Him.” All of us who remain in unity with Our Lord will one day have the stain of sin washed away for good, and will be as pure and spotless as Our Lady. We look forward to that day when we will be able to stand before Our Lord and His mother washed clean from sin. Until then, we ask Mary to intercede on our behalf to her son in order to prepare us for that day when we will see him face to face.

Mary, the Immaculate Conception, pray for us!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Homily for the Second Sunday in Advent

There always seem to be some groups who attempt to predict the date the end of the world will come. The Jehovah's Witnesses are up to about their fourteenth or fifteenth try. Some thought that it was going to be New Year's Day, 2001, at the start of the new Millennium. Others looked at the Y2K bug as a portent of the end of civilization as we know it. Now, groups are saying that an ancient Aztec calendar ends in the year 2012, a prediction of the world ending during that year.

As Christians, we would be well advised to not listen to these “prophetic” groups. St. Peter in our second reading tells us that we don't know when Our Lord will return. Instead, he compares the Second Coming of Jesus to a “thief in the night.” As anyone who has had their house or car broken into knows, it's impossible to predict when a thief will decide that your property needs to become his. If we knew, we would take steps to stop him before he could even make the attempt. Because we don't know, we make preparations to prevent anyone from even thinking about trying. We make sure that our doors are locked and windows are secured. We make sure that our house and cars have alarms which will scare the thief away if he does attempt to break in. In short, we do everything we can to secure our possessions and prepare for the thief's arrival. As Christians, we must likewise prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ, even if we don't know when he'll return.

To help us understand the necessity of preparing for the coming of the Lord, we are given the example of John the Baptist. John knew that Our Lord was coming, even before his birth, as we see when Our Lady went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. He also knew that he was called by God to be the precursor to Jesus' ministry. Much as an introductory speaker gets the audience ready for a major speaker, John was sent to prepare those who were under the Old Covenant for the coming of the Messiah and the New Covenant. St. Mark tells us in his Gospel that John fulfills the promise of the prophet Isaiah, which we heard in the first reading, that one will be sent to “prepare the way of the Lord”. John realized that this was his role, and he fulfilled it, even pointing his disciples to the Lord. We still use his words today in the Mass: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

Like John the Baptist, we are also called to be precursors to Christ. Instead of proclaiming his imminent arrival, as John the Baptist did, we are called to proclaim to the world the Second Coming of Our Lord, in which he will “judge the living and the dead”, as we say in the Creed. Our role is different than John the Baptist's, as we can also proclaim what Jesus has done, both 2,000 years ago when he lived on Earth, and in our lives today. Not only can we testify on what He has done for us as individuals, we can also share the Gospel which he proclaimed, the Good News of salvation, freely offered to all.

As John the Baptist was sent to prepare the Jewish people under the Old Covenant for the coming of Jesus and the New Covenant, our proclamation of Jesus' Gospel must prepare the whole world for Our Lord's return. We are called to convert the whole world to Christ, but we must do it with true love and respect of all humanity. Force and intimidation is out, we can't bribe people to become Christian, but must evangelize by our way of life. We must strive to live as Christ lived. We have to be willing to give totally of ourselves, our time, our skills, our possessions, even our very lives, for others. Instead of merely giving lip service to our faith, we must live what we believe. We must allow our actions to speak louder than words.

As we continue in this time of Advent preparations, getting ready for the celebration of Our Lord's birth on Christmas Day, may we prepare not only for the earthly celebrations that surround Christmas, but also for the Heavenly celebrations in the world to come.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Songbird + Magnatune add-on = Great Music. Currently listening to Bach's "Mass in B Minor". Beautiful!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King

Today we're celebrating the solemnity of Christ the King, which marks the last Sunday in the liturgical year. As Americans, many of us don't have a clear idea of what it means for Jesus to be our king. When we think of kings, we might imagine King Arthur, a valiant, albeit flawed, warrior-king. We might think of the portrayal of King George III during the Revolutionary War as an insane and tyrannical ruler. But this is not how Jesus is presented to us. Our readings today show Jesus as a different sort of king: that of a shepherd-king.

Viewing Our Lord as both shepherd and king seem to be almost irreconcilable images. Shepherds were the poorest of the poor and the lowest class of people in Jesus' time, as they are in many parts of the world today. In contrast, kings have always been viewed as rich and powerful, higher than any other person in their kingdom. Yet, the Gospel reading today shows Our Lord reigning as king. He is not, however, reigning as some petty tyrant, lording his power and prestige over his people. He has not come to his power through brute strength, conquering those who stand against him. Instead, the imagery in the Gospel uses language of shepherding, separating the sheep and the goats.

This imagery comes to us from the book of the Prophet Ezekiel, which we heard in the first reading. Ezekiel shows us that Our Lord cares for us as a loving shepherd cares for his flock. For those who are in any need, Our Lord will reach out and nurture them, filling their needs. He will go after those who are lost, gently leading them back into the flock. He cares for all of us, and wants us to follow Him into the Heavenly Kingdom.

For those who are proud, however, Our Lord promises that He will humble them. Frequently, shepherds would allow sheep and goats to graze together during the day, but when the time came to round up the flocks for the evening, the two animals would be put into separate pens. Thus, the sheep and the goats would be separated, the sheep to one pen, the goats to another.

Our Lord uses this image to show us the final judgment that will occur when Our Lord returns. We will be lined up before Him to judge how well we followed His example by the actions of our lives. Those who dedicated their lives to following Our Lord will be lined up on his right, and given their promised inheritance of the Kingdom of God. Those who did not follow His example will be lined up on His left, and will not receive the promised inheritance.

How do we follow Our Lord's example? Is it merely enough to attend Mass once a week? Even as it's important to maintain regular Mass attendance, Our Lord tells us we have to do more. We have to reach out to those around us who are in need of our support, our prayers, our generosity. When we reach out to those in need, Our Lord tells us that we reach out to Christ himself. We need to be open to those in need, give food to the hungry, clothe those who have insufficient clothing, especially in this time of year in which protective clothing is so vital.

We need to be careful not to view this Gospel as a checklist of things to accomplish. Feed the hungry, check. Clothe the naked, check. Visit the sick, check. We have to be open to our family, our friends, our coworkers, even those we dislike, and help them meet their needs. If someone needs a sympathetic ear, we need to be willing to provide it. If someone who is unable to drive needs a ride to the store or to an appointment, we should joyfully offer to take them. We have to be willing to do more than give our faith lip service. Instead of merely saying that we're Christians, we need to live as Christ wants us to live, allowing our actions to speak for us.

Our Lord reigns in Heaven as our king. Let us honor and praise him by living as He commands, so that we may stand on his right side at the Final Judgment and receive the inheritance of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Congratulations Custer County High School Cowboys! State Class A football champions!

Friday, November 21, 2008

We have a funeral today, so it's cold and snowy. I'd better break out the winter gloves and hat.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

November in Montana: partly cloudy and 71 degrees.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ahh...a day off. Get some housework done, run a couple of errands, but mostly relax.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Homily for the Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

It's hard to believe that we're almost to the end of another liturgical year. In two weeks, we'll begin the season of Advent. Four weeks later, we'll celebrate with joy the birth of our Lord and Savior. Shortly after that, we'll have the start of a new calendar year. This time of year is almost overwhelming.

As we reach the end of the liturgical year, we're asked to focus not on the here-and-now, not on next month, or even next year. Instead, we are called to look at the end of time, at that point in our future when Our Lord returns from Heaven for the final judgment. In our readings, we are challenged to consider how we approach our time here on earth, and how we are looking forward to Jesus' Second Coming. We need to be careful not to fall into several traps which are quite common in today's world.

The first trap which people commonly fall into is one that Jesus saw back 2000 years ago, so it's unfortunately not anything new. We hear it on the radio, televangelists promote it day in and day out: all you have to do to be saved is “accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.” This trap, which the Gospel passage illustrates through a parable, states that salvation is a one-time good deal. Say a quick prayer, sincerely believe that Jesus has entered into our hearts, and we're saved, right?

Not exactly. In the parable, Jesus shows us that our lives must bear fruit in this world into order to enter into the next life. Look at which of the servants were given the responsibilities in the kingdom and which were thrown into the darkness. Those servants who bore fruit from the master's investment were given great responsibility within the kingdom, while that servant who merely buried the money, bearing no fruit, was cast out of the king's presence. To enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, we must be concerned about more than ourselves and our salvation, but must also have a deep concern for our neighbors' needs and salvation. We must work in this life to bear fruit in the next. We can't just sit back, assume that we're saved, and not worry about those around us.

Along the same lines, there is a presumption that all we need to be saved is to be a “good person”. You frequently hear this at funerals. As long as we're not hurting anyone, not talking against anyone too often, and generally being a decent person, we've got a one way ticket to Heaven. Once again, this isn't the case. Merely being a good person is not enough to enter into Heaven. The only thing that will keep us out of Heaven is the refusal to ask God's forgiveness for our sins. One can be a good person and still commit sins, as all of us are sinful people who need to have our sins forgiven. God, our Heavenly Father, wants us to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but respects our free will to choose for or against Him. We need to make sure that we're in proper relationship to God, unmarred by sin, in order to enter into our heavenly reward when the time comes. Unfortunately, even good people can refuse to ask for God's forgiveness.

The final trap that we can fall into is an excessive planning regarding our relationship to God. Throughout Christianity, many people have put off their reconciliation with God until they're on their deathbeds. Even in the four and a half months since my ordination, I've had several people refuse the Sacraments of Anointing and Reconciliation until literally their last moments on Earth. This is spiritually a very dangerous practice that needs to be eliminated. We have no promises regarding the end of our lives. We could be in perfect health one minute and facing Our Lord at the Judgment the next. Modern medical technology can do a pretty good job of estimating life spans, but it's nowhere near perfect. Even routine tasks, like driving down the highway, could become fatal quickly and unexpectedly. As St. Paul tells us in the second reading, we do not know when Our Lord will come for us, but that he will come “like a thief at night”, completely unexpected. We need to make sure that we're always prepared for the return of Our Lord, as well as for our own death, by maintaining a right relationship with God, approaching Him for forgiveness when we cut ourselves off from Him through our sins.

As we approach the end of this liturgical year, may we keep the return of Our Lord in our sights, and may we prepare ourselves by working to develop good fruit and maintaining our relationship with Him.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Football final: Miles City 43 Frenchtown 16. On to the Championship game!
End of 3rd: MC 36 Frenchtown 8
Class A semifinal football: MC 29 Frenchtown 8 Halftime. Go MC!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The more I learn about the extraordinary form, the more amazed I am. The movements of the priest are almost like following dance steps.

Fight FOCA

President-elect Obama has vowed to sign the Freedom of Choice Act when it crosses his desk after January 20th. Fight FOCA is a website that has information on this bill and a petition which will be sent to all members of Congress when the bill is reintroduced. I encourage you to check out Fight FOCA and sign their petition.

Thomas Peters for Blogging Scholarship

Thomas Peters, blogger at American Papist, is in the running for a $10,000 scholarship for bloggers. He's currently in third place, so he could use some help. Vote for Thomas.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Parish the Thought: Pope Benedict XVI quotes

From Pope Benedict (via Parish the Thought):“Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment. Such attraction fades quickly - it cannot compete in the market of leisure pursuits, incorporating as it increasingly does various forms of religious titillation.”

Yes! Yes! Yes! A hundred times yes! The Mass is not a concert, but is the worship of God. The music should lead us to praise God, not the musician.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Just got back from the youth conference in Billings. The youth had a great time. The whole conference was very well done.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

I'm in Billings at a diocesan youth event.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Nothing quite like listening to high school students read through a list of Bible verses.

Moving Forward

As you can probably tell by the tone of my post last night, I'm disappointed in the results of the election. I'm especially disappointed in the coverage regarding pro-life legislation and the candidates' positions. Flipping between several major news networks, I never once heard a mention of how abortion played a part in the results. They were quick to mention the economy, the race and age of the candidates, even the religious views of the voters, but no mention on how the candidates' position on abortion played into the results. As pro-lifers, we need to work to make respect of life a more front and center issue in the 2012 election.

Echoing many other conservative Catholic bloggers, we need to be respectful of Mr. Obama and those who have been elected to office. We can disagree with their positions and argue against what they stand for, but we must not fall into the trap of attacking the person that many fell into during President Bush's terms in office. To engage in ad hominem attacks is completely uncharitable and will not help advance the pro-life cause. We need to pray for those who hold elected office, engage them charitably without name-calling or insults, and debate without yelling or slander. In short, we need to "love our neighbor as ourselves." Sound familiar?

I wish to congratulate President-elect Obama and all those who achieved political office during this election season. May God bless you and this country, and may you serve this country with the respect of all life.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Well, it's over. Congrats, president-elect Obama. We need to pray that the US government may yet respect all life.

That's all folks

Pretty much every major news channel is saying that the President of the United States will be Barack Obama, and he'll have a Democratic Congress. I admit to being disappointed by the results, as unsurprising as they are. We now have a president who is unabashedly pro-abortion (excuse me, "pro-choice") and House and Senate majorities who agree with his position. Now, instead of making any further movement towards ending abortion in this country, slight though it may have been under McCain, we likely will end up going back to 1973-era free and open access to abortion on demand.

How do we who have fought for the respect of life respond? With prayer, lots of it. We can't change the end result of today's election, but we can get on our knees and humbly ask God to soften all our hearts. We can't give up -- the lives of the children at risk depend on us not to -- but we need to make sure that we're in tune with God's will.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've felt that we need to get the pro-life message out into the public more strongly than we already have. With the results of today's election, it becomes even more important. Groups like Face the Truth have been doing a good job getting the pictures of aborted children out to the streets, but we need to do more. Rachel's Vineyard has a fairly large and noticeable billboard right off of Main Street here in town, but we need to do more. We need to get the pro-life message so pervasive that it doesn't matter if abortion is legal, no woman ever wants to have one. I don't know how to do it, I don't know how much it'll cost, I definitely don't know how long it'll take, but we need to get the pro-life message so ingrained in our culture that abortion mills go out of business for lack of clients. Frankly, the only way this will happen is through God's grace, so we need to pray for guidance and pray for His mercy upon our country.

Please pray for President-elect Obama, all the elected government officials, and for the respect of all life from conception to natural death.
I want the cool touch-screen display that Fox News has for their electoral college maps.
Back in Miles City. Stopped by my voting district on the way into town. Now it's your turn if you haven't voted! Vote Pro-Life candidates!
This evening, the elections finally get interesting. It's always fun to watch the returns come in throughout the country.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Meeting's over. Good information, but way too long. I hate sitting on my rear end so long.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

I'm in Great Falls for a meeting at the diocesan offices tomorrow.
Terry had their harvest dinner this afternoon. Good food, and lots of it.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Homily for the Feast of All Souls

Throughout the Gospels, Our Lord continually promises us the great reward of joy and peace in Heaven for all those who follow him. All the pain and sorrow of our lives on Earth will be over. We also know that we have to undergo a period of cleansing before we can enter into that Heavenly reward, as Jesus also tells us that nothing unclean will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Before we can enter into Heaven, we have to die to our sins.

In our Gospel today, Jesus tells us that all who see Him and believe in Him will be raised on the last day. This raising is more than merely being resuscitated, as Lazarus was, but is a complete renewal and cleaning, being made ready to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. As the prophet Isaiah tells us, we will no longer need to worry about death, pain, or any other effect of sin. Instead, we will be so filled with joy that we will praise our God with great excitement and energy. The joy in Heaven will be so great that humanity has never experienced a joy like it on Earth.

Before we can enter into this Heavenly reward, we need to be cleansed from all attachment to sin. As part of our sinful nature, we not only suffer the effects of Original Sin, which we all have to deal with, but we have also developed attachments to various sins. We all have what I call our “favorite” sins; those sins which we commit over and over again. Every time we commit a sin, the sin binds us more tightly, making it easier for us to commit that sin again.

While on Earth, we can ease the effects of our sinful nature by frequent reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but we must die to all attachment to sin before we can enter into Heaven. We have died to Original Sin and rose again through our baptism, but we still must physically die to escape the clutches of the sins we commit in our lives. It is only through this physical death can the snares of sin be broken.

After our death, our souls are still impure from the attachment to sin. It's much like spilling red wine on a white shirt. You might be able to clean up all the wine, but the stain remains behind. To remove the stain of sin from our souls, we must undertake a period of cleansing in Purgatory. We don't know exactly what form this cleansing will take, but we do know that those souls who enter into Purgatory will emerge at the end of their period of cleansing into Heaven purified and spotless. It's important to point out that only those souls who have died in a state of grace, that is in proper relationship with God, will enter into Purgatory and later Heaven. Those souls who refused to ask God's forgiveness for their Mortal Sins will not enter into Purgatory or Heaven.

When someone close to us dies, we might be quick to say something like, “They're in Heaven now,” or “they're in a better place.” The fact is we don't know for sure whether they're in Heaven or Purgatory, so we offer prayers on their behalf, especially the Mass. It's traditional to have a funeral Mass following a death, as it gives the family and the community the opportunity to gather in prayer for the loved one who has died, as well as offer the greatest prayer we have, the Sacrifice of the Mass, for the repose of their soul. Another popular tradition is to have Masses offered on behalf of someone who has died, especially on the anniversary of their death. Through both these practices, we ask God to give the graces from the Mass to benefit the soul of those we pray for. In fact, the intention for the Mass of All Souls is for all the faithful departed, that they may all receive the graces from this Mass.

While those who have died are separated from us by the veil of death, they are also separated from the effects of sin on their lives. May the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Homily for the Feast of All Saints

Through out the liturgical year, we celebrate the feasts of many saints by name. Some of the feasts are major celebrations, such as the feasts of Our Lord. Others are not as important, but are greatly celebrated in various regions of the world, like Our Lady of Guadalupe. Still others aren't very important from a liturgical standpoint, but have been taken over by the secular culture, such as St. Patrick or St. Valentine.

Even with all the saints that we celebrate throughout the year, there are still many saints who don't have their own feast days, most of whom are unknown by the Church. We're told in the first reading, which shows us a vision of Heaven, that there is a great multitude of people standing before the Heavenly throne of God praising and worshiping him. All these saints, whether known or unknown, are able to intercede on our behalf.

While the saints are able to intercede for us, they also provide us the example we need to accomplish our goal of eternal life in Heaven. An important aspect of accomplishing any major goal is to find someone who has achieved that goal and emulate him or her. A kid who wants to play professional sports might look at how a professional player worked towards the pros. Likewise, our goal as Christians is to achieve eternal life in Heaven, so we look to the saints for the encouragement to follow them into Heaven. Through their examples of life and their love of God, the saints show us the path to eternal life.

Today, as we celebrate this feast of All Saints, may the great multitude of saints intercede for us so that we may join them in front of the Heavenly throne worshiping God our Father and Jesus Christ, his son. All holy men and women, pray for us!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Why is the Food Network so addictive?
I'm getting ready for class, but afternoon recess first! It's almost like having your dessert before your main course.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Congrats to the World Champion Phillies! Now, when does Spring Training begin? (Yes, I really like baseball.)
Another class with the 6th-8th grades done. I love teaching them, but I find it so tiring!
Getting ready for 12:15 Mass. What a joy to be able to celebrate Holy Mass!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Made it home safely. Had a nice little road trip.
On the way back to the parish after picking up the wine and joining the monks for Noon Prayer.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Getting ready to make a "wine run". My parents live 25 miles from the monastery that sells communion wine. It's a good excuse to get home for a visit.
I've set up my account to post to my blog. Now I have more incentive to keep my status updated. Yes, I'm a geek. ;)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Homily for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

In our Gospel today, Jesus is once again being tested by the Pharisees. They're looking for something that they can use against Him to condemn Him, so they ask Him to state the greatest commandment. They want him to say something that is blasphemous and against the Jewish beliefs. Instead of falling into their trap, Jesus uses the opportunity to teach the Pharisees, and us as well, about how we should relate with others and how our relationship with God should be structured.

He tells us that the first commandment is that we must “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and that this is the greatest commandment. What does that look like to say we love God? We show our love of God by first of all making sure that our faith is not a one-hour-a-week thing. It's all too easy as Christians in the world today to fall into the trap of not letting our belief in God influence most of our lives. We will spend one hour a week at Mass, possibly some time driving to and from the church, but as soon as Mass is over, Christianity has no influence on our behavior. We act no different than anyone else in the world. We don't allow our faith to influence our daily lives. We've done our hour a week with God, so we're good, right? Not quite.

We must take time throughout our days for regular periods of prayer. Prayer should be a priority within our days. Now, this doesn't mean entering into a monastery or becoming a priest, but it does mean spending some time throughout each day in prayer. If we truly love God, we'll want to spend some time with Him.

A popular way of doing this is to say the Angelus Prayer three times throughout the day. At 7:00 AM, 12:00 Noon, and 6:00 PM, the bells here at the church ring for a minute or so to remind those in town to spend a little time in prayer. Another common way is to spend time driving, say between here and Miles City, praying a Rosary instead of listening to the radio. However we do it, we truly show our love of God by spending time with Him in prayer on a daily basis.

After talking about loving God, Jesus then brings up love of neighbor. He didn't need to talk about the second commandment, as the Pharisee only asked about the first commandment. By mentioning the love of neighbor, Jesus shows that the two commandments are closely linked. Our love of neighbor comes out of our love of God. If we don't have our relationship with God in right order, we won't be able to truly have a relationship with those around us.

Christianity is not a “me and Jesus” thing, an idea that is very common in our culture today. We hear televangelists talking about a “personal relationship” with Jesus, promoting an individualistic faith where it's between me and God, and other people don't matter. In contrast, Jesus tells us that our love of God leads us to love our neighbor. Our relationship with God is not individualistic, but should lead us to be open to the larger community around us. If we truly want to follow Our Lord, we're going to reach out to our neighbor.

How do we show this love of neighbor? Jesus tells us to “love your neighbor as yourself,” so we must be willing to reach out to those around us who are in need. I've personally experienced this following the death of my grandfather, where friends and neighbors prepared meals for us while we were making preparations for the funeral. We also can show our love of neighbor by listening to someone who is going through a difficult time. Love of neighbor is also shown through providing some necessity of life when someone is lacking these necessities, such as food or shelter.

We also show our love of neighbor by not talking negatively about them. Gossip is all too prevalent, and is very easy to fall into. It's also very destructive of our relationships with those around us, as it frequently paints others in an overly negative light. All of us are influenced, in one way or another, by what we hear about others, and this affects how we interact with them. We all have our failings, and we must be willing to overlook the failings of those around us, just as we would want them to overlook ours.

As Christians, we are called to love God completely. May our love of God lead us to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Is the Political Season Over Yet?

Like many Americans, I'm getting very tired of the presidential election cycle. The two candidates spend very little time talking about what they're going to do if they get elected. Instead, they expend great quantities of hot air showing us how he's the savior of the country (if not the world), and his opponent is evil incarnate and will destroy the known world the moment they're elected. I'm looking forward to November 5th, at which point the political advertisements will no longer be running. Sure, there will be at least a week of finger pointing and recounts before one or the other is named President of the United States, but that can be avoided by refusing to turn on the 24-hour news channels.

While one might be able to avoid the commercials, debates, and other attacks by simply not turning on the TV (not a bad idea in the first place), it's hard to avoid when representatives of one of the candidates call on a Friday night while I'm enjoying watching Babylon 5 on DVD (yes, I'm a sci-fi weenie). On Friday night, I received a call from the local representatives of the Obama campaign. Unfortunately for her, I decided long ago that I could never in good conscience vote for a candidate who is so openly in the back pocket of Planned Parenthood and NARAL. You see, I was born in 1976. Roe v. Wade was January 22, 1973. Do the math. Abortion matters to me because I realized many years ago I would not be here if my mom said 4 words: "I want an abortion." Now, my mom is very much against abortion, but the fact that I could have been aborted legally, and that over 1 million boys and girls my age were aborted in 1976, matters to me very deeply. Also, the fact that we are over 48 million "legal" deaths due to Roe v. Wade and counting concerns me even more. Needless to say, I cannot vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights advocates.

Anyways, now that you know where I'm coming from, this poor unfortunate volunteer from the Obama camp calls to encourage me to vote for him. As part of our conversation, she asks me, "What keeps you from voting for Barack Obama?" My response, after a short pause when I was deciding whether to be nice to this lady or not, was as follows:

"Ma'am, I'm a Roman Catholic priest. As such, respect for human life is of vital importance to me. Mr. Obama has made statements that cause me concern regarding his respect for all human life, especially regarding abortion."

She kind of stammered out an "I understand." Then, after a short pause of about a second or so, she invited me to visit their office in town for more information and wished me a good night. I really don't think she expected to ever hear that response, and was completely unprepared for it. I almost feel sorry for her.

Like I said, I can't wait for November 5th.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

It seems like the Pharisees are constantly trying to trick Jesus into saying something that would get Himself into trouble, and today's Gospel is no exception. It seems an innocuous question regarding taxes, but is a cleverly devised trap that they think will cause Him to either go against the Jewish faith or the Roman authorities. Instead of falling into their trap, Our Lord once again shows us how far God is above anything we can comprehend.

At the time of Jesus, the Jewish people were under the control of the Roman Empire. The Roman coins had the image of Caesar stamped on them, and were forbidden to Jews by the strictures in the Mosaic Law against graven images. The Roman money wasn't even allowed into the temple, thus the moneychangers within the temple precinct. If Jesus would have outright allowed the tax, the Pharisees would have claimed that He was acting against this command, discrediting Him with the people.

Likewise, the Roman authorities were not popular within Palestine, as they were viewed as conquerors and occupiers. Many movements had come and gone trying to roust out the Roman military and government officials from their land, and was still a popular sentiment. If Our Lord had outright encouraged the Roman tax, the Pharisees would probably have denounced Him as a Roman sympathizer, causing those around Him to turn on Him.

The Pharisees also knew how to play both sides of the fence. If Our Lord would have spoken against the Roman tax, the Pharisees would have immediately reported Him to the Romans calling him a revolutionary who wanted to overthrow the Roman governance, starting with the Roman taxes. Rome was not known for being well-disposed to revolutionaries within their realms, so their response would have been very swift and brutal against Our Lord.

Jesus refuses to fall into their trap, and uses this as a teaching opportunity to make the distinction between the things of the world and that which is dedicated to God. By “[giving] to Caesar what is Caesar's”, Our Lord is talking about the things of the world, our possessions, our money, even the essentials that we need for basic survival. He's not saying that these things are bad, or wrong to have and keep, but that they are the things of the world and could be taken away by the worldly authorities at any time. Even our very lives on earth could be taken away by civil authorities or military force.

While our life on earth is subject to the authority and power of the Caesars of the world, everything we have and are is God's. The earthly governments could take away everything we own, even our lives, but they cannot destroy our essence, who we are. God has promised us that we will have eternal life with Him, if we choose to join Him at the end of our earthly lives. The governments and powers of the world cannot take that away from us unless we allow it. Our very existence is a gift from God, and no earthly power can do more than end our life on earth.

Because our lives and even our very existence are gifts from God, we are called by Our Lord to dedicate ourselves serving God. We serve him by living out our vocations to the fullest, while also spreading the Gospel message that Jesus died for our sins and wants us in relationship with the Father. This doesn't mean that we have to stand on the street corner preaching, but that we have to live the Christian virtues in our daily lives, treating all those we meet on a daily basis with true charity and respect.

Sometimes living out the Christian life means a willingness to give up our lives in service of the Gospel. We are very fortunate in this country that we are not called to martyrdom for merely being Christians. In other countries, however, being a Christian is at best a jailable offense, and could even lead to death. These martyrs show us the example of how to truly dedicate oneself to God, even being willing to give up one's life for Christ.

Through the example of a simple coin, Our Lord shows us that all that we are is God's, and that we must be willing to serve Him. May we have the strength to dedicate ourselves to Him.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Homily for the Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

We've just received a great invitation. We've all been invited to an incredible banquet where there will be lots of food, drink, and joy. Where is this banquet? It's going to be on the mountain of the Lord, which is biblical language for Heaven. Yes, this invitation is for all of us to join Our Lord in Heaven for eternity. How do we respond?

Do we respond like the invited guests in the Gospel parable? They had been notified in advance that this wedding feast was in preparation, and should have been ready for it. Instead, when the servants came to summon them, they either ignored them or killed the servants. Is this how we respond to God's invitation to the Heavenly banquet? Do we spend our lives behaving as if God isn't important, putting the things of the earth before Him? When we put our faith in a box, only bringing it out once a week (or less) for Sunday Mass, it says that God's role in our lives is negligible, if not altogether nonexistent. It says that the things of the earth are far more important and what the world offers is more enticing than the eternal banquet that God offers to us.

Do we respond like the guest who was not prepared for the wedding banquet? This guest, when informed about the banquet, did not prepare himself by changing into more formal clothing. Instead, he showed up in whatever ordinary clothing he happened to be wearing that day. Are we like that when we come to Mass? To we take time before Mass to prepare ourselves spiritually to receive Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament? How about making sure to go to Confession on a regular basis to confess our sins and receive absolution? We might make weekly Mass a priority, but still not be prepared to receive Our Lord. We are all a sinful people, and regularly need to approach God with humility, asking Him for forgiveness of our sins. When we receive the Blessed Sacrament with Mortal sins on our soul, we are like the guest who showed up at the wedding feast without the wedding garment. Mortal sins cut us off from God, keeping us from being in a state of grace. We must be in a state of grace when receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist, and only contritely confessing our sins to God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation can restore that grace.

So, how should we respond to God's invitation to the Heavenly Banquet? We must respond with an open and joyful heart. God is willing to give us the greatest gift of all: eternal life in Heaven. No more pain, no more sorrow, and no more sins. Life in Heaven will be a life of eternal joy and praise of God. We will be so joyful that our entire being will want to praise and honor God. This is the image of the Lord's mountain that the prophet Isaiah gives to us.

It's important to realize that all of us have received this invitation, but not all will accept it. God wants all of us to enter into His kingdom, but he also gives us the free will to choose. We can accept or reject the invitation of eternal life through our actions. When we respond like the invited guests and the guest who was unprepared, we choose to refuse God's invitation. Likewise, when we approach Him with humility, admit our sins and failings, and ask his forgiveness, we accept His invitation for eternal life. We may have to do this many times throughout our lives, but God's invitation is always open. We just need to accept it.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Great Catholic Reformers

While I'm in a Blogging mood, I want to throw out a pitch for an excellent book written by one of my professors at Mundelein Seminary. Dr. C. Colt Anderson, who has since moved on from the seminary to a better job elsewhere, is the author of The Great Catholic Reformers: From Gregory the Great to Dorothy Day, a discussion of major reformers within the Catholic Church.

In his introduction, Dr. Anderson notes that the Church is constantly in need of reform, and all of us are called to be a part of that reform. To this end, he offers ten major reformers within the history of the Church who were able to accomplish much in the way of reform while still remaining in unity with the Church.

In my opinion, for a reform movement to be valid, it must remain within the unity of the Church, and must not enter into dissent. A danger in any reform movement is to consider its opinions and positions as above the Church. We can see this operating in many of the reform movements like Call to Action or FutureChurch, but is also prevalent in more "radical traditionalist" movements that are sedevacantist.

I'm only about 20 pages into Great Catholic Reformers, but I've already found it to be an inspiring and interesting read. Dr. Anderson is a great professor, willing to challenge much of what we held as seminarians, and is also a great author who is willing to do the same for his readers.

Memorial of St. Bruno

Today is the feast of St. Bruno, founder of the Carthusians. The Carthusians are said to be one of the most ascetical monastic orders, with much of the monks' lives spent under the Grand Silence. Chanting the Divine Office is a very important part of their daily life, as well as daily celebration of the Holy Mass. They live a simple life, filled with prayer and work (ora et labora, as St. Benedict put it).

A good way to celebrate St. Bruno's life and work might be to watch Into Great Silence, a documentary about life in the Grande Chartreuse, St. Bruno's original monastery. It was very highly regarded when it first came out, and even won several awards. I've not yet had the opportunity to watch it, but I plan on doing so this afternoon in honor of St. Bruno and his Carthusian monks.

Worldwide Rosary for Unborn Babies

A group known as the Saint Michael the Archangel Organization is promoting a Worldwide Rosary for Unborn Babies. They are asking Catholics throughout the world to pray a rosary to end abortion at 9:00 AM local time on Saturday, October 18. The hope is that there will be a wave of Rosaries that will sweep across the world over a 24-hour period. This sounds like a worthy endeavor worth promoting, and I highly encourage everyone to participate.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Homily for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

(I'm posting the first draft of my homily for Respect Life Sunday. While it became a bit too long for me to preach, as I try to stay within 5-7 minutes on my homilies, I felt that the whole thing needed to be posted here.)

Vineyards were very prevalent in the Holy Land, so it's not unexpected that both the prophet Isaiah and Jesus would use a vineyard in the readings that we just heard. Much as farmers and ranchers protect their land today with fences, the vineyards were protected from wild animals and those who would try to steal from the vineyard with fences and hedges. For God to remove his protection on the Israelite people would be like the farmer removing the fences and hedges that protect the vineyard.

Why would God remove his protection from Israel? He gave the Israelite people the Promised Land and led them in battle against far larger numbers. He even called them the Chosen People, so why allow them to be conquered? He did this so that the Israelite people would return to Him and give up worship of false gods from other nations, much like an overgrown vineyard being cleared and replanted.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus goes after the religious leaders who have rejected Him and the prophets that came before Him. He states that the vineyard, God's chosen people, will be removed from the Jewish religious authorities and given to the care of His Church. Now, instead of the Jewish temple with the Levitical priesthood and the Sadducees and Pharisees leading the people, we have the Church to care for God's people.

As part of her mission, the Church is called to proclaim the truths of Christ to the whole world. While much of what the Church teaches is welcomed by people both within the Church and outside of her, there are more than a few areas of Church teaching that are disagreed upon, sometimes very tenaciously. This becomes no more apparent than during election campaign season, which we are obviously well into in the United States. At times like this, the Church's teachings often stand in direct opposition to the platforms advanced by politicians on all sides of the political spectrum.

This weekend, one month before the Presidential election, we mark Respect Life Sunday. Due to the bombardment of political slogans, promises, and misinformation that occurs in most political campaigns, issues that directly affect human life are often thrown around in order to score political points and smear the opposition. With all the noise the comes with political campaigning, it is all the more crucial that we as Catholics become informed voters, electing politicians who will ensure the respect for all human life, regardless of what stage of life it is in.

This issue became all the more apparent in the last several months, when not one, but two Catholic politicians went on national TV and misrepresented Catholic teaching on when life begins. When acting as politicians, the bishops keep out of the way, but when politicians try to present themselves as learned theologians, as these two politicians did, the bishops have to respond, and respond they did. Well over 20 bishops wrote in response, including our own Bishop Warfel in the latest issue of the Harvest. These politicians presented an erroneous position on the respect for life.

So, this brings up the obvious question: what is the Church's position on respecting life? In short, human life must be respected from conception to natural death. We believe, thanks to the incredible advances of science, that human life begins at very moment of conception. We also believe that all humans have been made in the image and likeness of God, and each human being must be respected as beloved children of God, from the smallest embryo to the poorest of the poor.

Throughout history, human dignity and respect has always been under attack. From racism and slavery to poverty and war, sins of humanity carry a terrible toll on recognizing the beauty and dignity of all humans. Some issues, however, are a direct attack on human life and must be seriously considered when voting for candidates for public office at any level, not only the Presidency and the federal Congress, but also candidates for state and local levels. Three issues in particular have become particularly urgent within the current election cycle: abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research. All three of these issues view particular classes of humans as either problems to be removed or matter to be experimented with. By viewing any human as an object to be manipulated, we denigrate the dignity of all humanity.

To justify a particular candidate who might be troublesome in one of the three issues, a Catholic might say, “He's in line with the Church on illegal immigration and poverty, even if he does support embryonic stem cell research.” While it is good that this politician supports respecting the dignity of illegal immigrants and those who are suffering from poverty, they have to have life in order for poverty or immigration to be problems that they're facing. Without the right to life, all other rights become irrelevant.

As Catholics, we are called to uphold the respect of all life in our lives, and during this election cycle, we are called to vote for candidates who have a true respect for life. This may mean having to vote for a candidate that we may not particularly like or may be running for a party that we have not traditionally voted for. For those who are politically conservative, this may involve voting for a candidate who is on the liberal side of the political spectrum, or vice versa. We must not vote for a candidate who will not stand for the respect of life, regardless of how good their other issues may appear.

In our culture, human life is under direct attack. This November, we must elect politicians who will use the power of government to respect human life, starting with those who are most defenseless, the unborn and the elderly.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Homily for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I don't think it's a stretch to say that all of us have a selfish streak deep within us. In some way or another, we all want to be recognized for something we have or do. Whether it's for our talents, for the work that we do, or even for things that we own, we want to be noticed and affirmed.

In contrast to our selfish desires, we are called to “do nothing out of selfishness and vainglory,” as St. Paul tells us in today's second reading. As Christians, we are called to self-giving instead of self-centered. We are called to reach out to those around us instead of trying to draw others to us.

Ironically, by being self-giving, we can often become unappreciated. Many of us probably know someone who is self-centered, and has moved up the ranks of an organization, whether a corporation, a political structure, or a volunteer organization, based off of promoting himself to the exclusion and even detriment of those around him. Meanwhile, we may also know another member of the organization that has worked just as hard as the selfish member, but works to support and help the other members of the organization. This self-giving member may not receive the promotions and accolades of those who are willing to “toot their own horn”, but still continues to serve, day after day.

We are called to be like the self-giving member of an organization, even if it means giving to others to the detriment of ourselves. St. Paul tells us to “humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.” We must be willing to overlook our interests, our desires, even our needs to fulfill the needs and interests of others.

Why should we be willing to do this? After all, someone who is more selfish than us will more than happily take advantage of us. St. Paul answers this question by showing us the example of Jesus himself. As St. Paul states, Our Lord humbled himself by becoming human and was willing to give of himself so totally that he died on the Cross. Because of his self-sacrifice, He was highly exalted by the Father, and now we proclaim the name of Jesus with great honor and reverence.

We probably won't be as greatly revered as Jesus is, but those who are willing to give of themselves are often highly regarded by those they serve. As a new priest here, I've been hearing about those who were members of the parish before I arrived. Usually, and almost without exception, the people whose names are mentioned time and time again are those who went out of their way to serve others, regardless of their own issues or problems. They were there at every social event, usually helping put it together, at every volunteer opportunity, and every time someone was in need of help. I'm sure all of us could name someone who fits that description, and who is dearly missed. This is who we are called to be, and we are encouraged by the examples of those who have gone before us, especially Our Lord and the saints.

Those who are self-giving aren't often noticed here on Earth. There are those who graciously serve us every day, and we often don't pay attention to how someone has gone out of their way to help us. All too often, we're wrapped up in ourselves and our needs to recognize the needs of those around us. We must be more aware of how others serve us, and be more willing to express gratitude for their service.

As I am very much guilty of this, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who help out here in the Church, and all those who have helped Fr. Rob and myself in some way. I truly am grateful for everything you do, and appreciate the willingness of each of you to give your time and talent to helping us. It is greatly appreciated, even if I don't always take the time to say so.

St. Paul reminds us that we are all called to place others over ourselves. By doing so, we may not be recognized on Earth, but our reward will be great in Heaven.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Homily for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Most of us seem to have an inherent sense of justice, even if it seems to get a bit skewed at times. How many have ever heard a child say, “That's not fair”? In fact, most children will say this on a regular basis, usually about the time they find out their bedtime is before their friends', or when they're not allowed to do something that their friends are allowed to do. Our sense of justice might even kick in when reading the parable in today's Gospel. We might feel that the workers who spent all day toiling in the hot sun were being unjustly treated by requiring them to accept the same wage as those who only worked an hour. To take this view, however, would miss that the point of the parable is to demonstrate the generosity of God towards all of us.

If this scenario occurred today, we would be rightly up in arms regarding the treatment of these workers. Justice would demand that those workers who were in the vineyard all day get far better pay than those who only worked for the last hour of the day. Special interest groups would probably be picketing the landowner. Lawyers would be lining up to sue on behalf of one worker or another. Advocates for vineyard workers would be petitioning Congress to pass a vineyard minimum hourly wage. From a human vantage, all these groups would be working to ensure equal treatment of each worker, making sure they get paid what they're due.

I don't want to belittle the fact that there are workers today who are not receiving a fair wage, even in our own country. Likewise, I don't want to belittle the efforts of those who struggle to ensure that all workers receive a just and livable wage. Their efforts are laudable and do good to improve the life of these underpaid and overworked workers, but to take this approach to Our Lord's parable misses the point.

In this parable, Jesus is demonstrating the incredible generosity that God has for us. God, our Heavenly Father, wants all of us to accept His gift of grace. Some of us have been followers of Our Lord from almost the moment of our births. Others came to Him after some time, say after high school. Still others came much later in life. Finally, there are some who came to believe in Our Lord on their death bed, receiving Baptism or Confession literally moments before their lives on earth ended.

On a human level, this might seem unfair, but the first reading reminds us that God's ways are not our ways. God wants all of us to be saved, not only those who have been “good” Christians. While we might be tempted to call out “Not fair!” when a notorious sinner gets to confess his sins and receive absolution on his death bed, while we struggle along trying to follow Our Lord's commands, we should instead rejoice that another sinner received God's gift of salvation.

We have all been given the same promise, and will receive the same reward of God's grace regardless of when we respond to Our Lord. Those of us who have been Christians longer will not receive a “special” grace merely for our longevity. Likewise, those who are new Christians will not receive a “probationary” grace, much like a new driver receives a probationary license. The graces we receive as Christians are the same, graces that will help us to receive the final gift of eternal life.

As Christians, we have received the benefit of God's generosity. May we rejoice every time we see someone else experience this generosity.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Homily for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

One of the most powerful symbols we have in Christianity is the Crucifix. You'll usually see one either on or behind the altar of Catholic churches throughout the world. Many Rosaries have one, and many of us have Crucifixes that we wear on a day-to-day basis. The Cross of Christ, which a Crucifix depicts, symbolizes the means by which we receive our salvation.

If I were to summarize the message of the Gospel of Christ, I would point to today's reading from the Gospel of John: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so he who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” This is the mission of Jesus, why he came into the world and why he was willing to hang on the Cross and die. This is why we venerate the Cross today, as it was how he sacrificed his life for our sake.

As Our Lord himself mentions in today's Gospel reading, his Crucifixion was prefigured in the Old Testament, with the Bronze Serpent made by Moses. When the Israelites looked at the Bronze Serpent after being bit by a snake, they would be healed from the snake's poison. Many of the early Church Fathers viewed the snakes as representing the sin which affects us, spreading its poison within us until we die. When we look upon Our Lord hung upon the Cross and believe in Him, that poison would be removed and we would live. Much as the Israelites would look at the Bronze Serpent and live, we look at the Cross of Christ and receive our eternal life.

An example of this is given in the good thief who was crucified along with Jesus. This thief, commonly known as Dismas, looked upon Our Lord hanging on the Cross and believed in Him. In return for the good thief's belief, Our Lord promised him that he would enter into Paradise. This thief was the first to receive the benefit of the saving power of the Cross.

Saying that we receive life through the Cross is very ironic. Crucifixion was the most painful and humiliating way in which a criminal could be put to death in the Roman Empire. It was so humiliating that it was reserved solely for non-Roman citizens. By Our Lord's death on the Cross, he transformed this instrument of death into the symbol of eternal life. By humiliating himself, allowing himself to be raised onto the Cross, he glorified himself and those who believe in him. Now, instead of the Cross being the sign of punishment and defeat, it is the sign of Our Lord's victory over death and our reward of eternal life.

While it would be humiliating for any one of us to undergo Crucifixion, it was more humiliating for Our Lord. As St. Paul reminds us in the second reading, Jesus was not merely human, but was both fully human and fully divine. As such, Jesus first humiliated himself by becoming one of us. Then, at the appointed time, he was obedient to the Father and allowed himself to be tortured and Crucified. Through his humiliation, Jesus received glorification beyond anything that he would receive here on earth.

If Our Lord, who is God, was willing to humble himself for our sake, what right do we have to be prideful over the things we have and do? This is all the more reason why the sin of pride is so deadly. Through pride, we make ourselves higher and more important than God, at least in our own eyes. If we feel that we're higher than God, we become unwilling to listen to His commands and His Church. We think we know more than He does and refuse to follow those teachings that we disagree with. Then, when our time for God's Judgment arrives, we will turn away from the saving power of the Cross, much like the bad thief who hung on the other side of Our Lord.

We must approach Our Lord with humility and accept the salvation which comes to us through the Cross of Christ. We must admit our sins and failings, and ask God's forgiveness through the Sacraments. If we do this, like the good thief, we will receive the salvation Our Lord promises us, and join Him one day in Paradise.

Homily for the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Our readings today are very challenging for different groups of people. They're challenging for those who struggle with being selfish. They're challenging for those who do not wish to enter into a confrontation with those around them. In fact, they're challenging for all of us, as they challenge us to love our neighbor above ourselves.

In the second reading today, St. Paul gives us a very handy summary of most of the Ten Commandments. This summary, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” really sums up most of the moral law which we hold today, but it is not only a summary. This commandment is also an explanation for us on why we need to follow the commandments and moral law. We don't follow the commandments because we want to. We don't follow the moral law because it feels good. We are to follow the commandments and the moral law because God commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves.

How do we do that? How can we love our neighbors as ourselves? We must not allow ourselves to become self-centered, focused solely on ourselves and what we can get out of life, making others our servants. Instead, we have to open ourselves to our neighbors, reach out to them and assist them in their needs without any concern for our own selfish desires. Our selfish desires would have us turn inward, searching for what I want, when I want it, and how I want it. When we follow the commandment to love our neighbor, we focus outward, desiring what those around need before we get what we want. We also need to treat our neighbors with respect and true Christian love, even those around us who are unwilling to reciprocate.

Respecting our neighbors and loving them as ourselves does not mean that we are to be pushovers without a backbone, allowing those around us to do whatever they want whenever it suits them. As the first reading shows, sometimes we need to challenge our neighbors' actions in order to truly love them. It is not love to allow someone to remain in error, but love of neighbor includes a desire to share the truth with those we interact with on a daily basis.

This can be very difficult in a culture, such our own, which places individualism above anything else. In our culture, the individual is primary, those around him or her is secondary. Often, when someone is trying to correct another person who has fallen into sin, they are told that they have no business butting in when it doesn't hurt anyone else. The sad fact is that all sin affects the entire community by weakening the bonds between us and by changing how we view each other.

When one is obstinate in their sin, and refuses to change after being corrected, they can become confrontational. Fortunately, Our Lord gives us an outline to handle any confrontation that can come our way when sharing the truth. An important aspect of this outline is the position of the Church as final arbiter. After confronting the person directly, then bringing two or three others to support you, the Church is brought in with the final say.

If this person still refuses to change their position after hearing the Church's teaching, there is no choice but to declare the person excommunicated from the Church. Through the process of excommunication, the Church declares that a person has, through their own actions, separated themselves from the rest of the Church. By declaring someone excommunicated, the Church is trying to make them aware of their position outside of the community and bring them back into the fold.

Sadly, there are more than a few people who persist in a excommunicated state. This is especially worrisome, as the Church has been given the power to bind and loose in Heaven as it is on earth. This means that one who has been excommunicated is at risk of incurring eternal consequences. They may have not only separated themselves from the Church through their actions, they may have also turned away from God, focusing instead on themselves and placing their opinions over the revelation of God, protected and taught by the Church.

For those of us who are in communion with the Church, we need to first of all pray for those who have left the Church. Second, we need to encourage them to return and ask forgiveness, as we all need whenever we enter into sin. Finally, we need to open ourselves to our neighbors, and truly live the Gospel message in our lives.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Homily for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Poor Saint Peter. He just can't seem to catch a break, can he? In last week's Gospel, he seemed to have everything well in line, even to the point of realizing that Jesus is the Son of God, and received very high praise and was rewarded for that realization. This week, however, he's not doing so well. In the Gospel reading today, which occurs right after last week's Gospel, Peter gets called Satan and rebuked by Our Lord.

What Peter didn't realize is that Our Lord's death is not something that he could will away. Peter thought that he and the other disciples could protect Jesus from anyone who would harm Him, but he didn't realize that Our Lord's mission was to sacrifice Himself for our sins. Peter also didn't realize that by sacrificing Himself, Jesus is showing us what we need to be willing to do to follow him.

For those of us who are Christians and take our faith seriously, it's not enough to merely say, “I'm a Christian.” It's not enough to believe in God and Jesus. It's really not even enough to come to Mass on a regular basis, as important as that is. To be a disciple of the Lord means having a willingness to give ourselves over to Him completely, even if giving ourselves to Him includes having to give up our lives on Earth to serve His will. The self-sacrifice that is required to truly follow Jesus may not be this extreme, but we should let nothing get between us and Him.

This doesn't make sense to those who are steeped in the world. For those who follow what the world teaches, sacrificing everything we have – our possessions, our plans for our lives, and even our earthly lives themselves – is completely incomprehensible. As Christians, we are called to give up much that the world sees as good, and focus our attention on God's will.
This sacrifice of the things of the world may not mean that we have to give away everything we own. We may even have many possessions, such as nicely furnished house and decent car, and make a good income, but we cannot allow those possessions and things of the world get between us and God. If we are willing to turn our lives over to God's providence and not allow the world distract us, we will receive our rewards in the life to come.

At the same time, we cannot be distant from the problems of the world. We must discern not only what God wills for our lives individually, but also what God's will is for all humanity. It's often hard enough to hear what God is saying to each of us in the silence of our hearts, but it can far more difficult breaking through the noise of the world in order to hear His plan for all creation. We must continually make the effort to discern His will for creation, and work to bring that will to fruition. We must not allow the world to dictate to us, but must allow God's will to work through us to dictate to the world.

Unfortunately, I probably sound a bit like a broken record in some of these homilies, repeating the necessity for uniting our wills to God's will and approaching Him with humility. Sadly, we live in a world where those who are willing to follow God's will are ridiculed and insulted, much as Jeremiah describes in the first reading.

It is not an easy task to run counter to the prevailing culture. While this country may have Christian roots, many of the messages of the culture that surround us are based in a non-Christian view of humanity. Sometimes the culture we live in can even be anti-Christian. It is in this culture that we seek to understand God's will, and to follow Jesus.

How do we hear God's will? First and foremost, we must approach Our Lord with humility, asking for the graces to follow the Father's will. Through regular prayer, especially popular devotions like the Rosary, we will grow closer to God and learn to hear Him speaking to us.

Secondly, we must devote ourselves to finding opportunities to study about God and become more familiar with Him. We must seek to understand the Scriptures more closely, for it is God's revealed word. Likewise, we must find good spiritual and theological reading which will help us to understand what God is saying to us today.

As we seek to hear and follow the Father's will, may we be willing to sacrifice everything in order to follow Him.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Homily for the Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary time

You might have had someone say to you, “You Catholics, why do you follow the Pope? Just read the Bible, it'll tell you everything you need to know.” You may have even heard it on the radio or TV, or read it in a pamphlet or book. You may have also had a fellow Catholic say, “Why would I want to follow the Pope? He's old and out of touch with the real world. We need to make the Church relevant. He can't do that.” As the Gospel reading today shows, however, we cannot afford to be so dismissive of the Pope, but need to follow him and his teachings.

Why is the Pope so important? We're all very aware of the popularity of the Pope, especially as shown in his recent visit to New York City and Washington DC, and in the World Youth Day celebration in Sydney, Australia, but why are Catholics, young and old, flocking from around the world just to get a glimpse of the 81 year old German theologian? These are the questions frequently being asked by the news media throughout the world. When looking at the Papacy from a secular mindset, especially when looking at the present office holder, the consistent popularity makes no sense. He's not flashy, he's not risqué, he's not even very good with feel-good, sound bite speaking. It's hard to understand from a secular mindset why the Papacy continues to be an important aspect in Catholic life.

From the viewpoint of Catholics, however, the importance of the Pope stands out in today's Gospel. Jesus wasn't merely content with developing a community of believers who would go out and spread his Gospel message. Instead, Our Lord wanted to establish a Church, a structure that would be the Body of Christ. At the head of this Church, Our Lord placed one of his apostles, Simon bar Jonah, a simple fisherman, to lead in his place. While Jesus is the head of the Church, Simon, now known as Cephas – known in English as Peter, but more accurately translated as Rock – became Our Lord's earthly representative. This representative was promised that he, as the Rock, would be the foundation for Our Lord's Church upon earth. In return, Peter would receive the power to bind and loose, and would inherit the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.

To this day, Peter is frequently depicted holding a pair of keys, so what is the big deal about the keys, and binding and loosing? As we see in the first reading, this is a symbolism that goes deep into the history of the Jewish people. Within the Kingdom of Israel, there was a position frequently known as the steward, translated in today's reading as the “master of the palace”. Part of his job was to ensure that the palace would be safe from attacks by controlling who could enter or leave, as he had the keys that could lock or unlock the palace gates. He also had the authority, granted to him by the King of Israel, the control the daily affairs within the palace, freeing the king to focus on the larger affairs of the nation. This was obviously a very important role, which also brought great responsibility and authority.

With Peter and his successors, the Popes, the keys symbolize the authority given to the Papacy by Our Lord. The Pope is not merely a figurehead, but has the authority and responsibility to speak to the world on behalf of Our Lord. Now, this doesn't mean that everything that the Pope says comes directly from God. For example if the Pope decided to speak about his preference in music – Classical, if you're curious – he would be merely describing his opinion. When speaking about matters of faith and morals, however, the Pope is exercising his authority to speak as the representative of Christ. This is what it means for the Pope to be speaking infallibly, which means without error, and obligates us to submit to the teaching of the Pope. By this speaking authority, the Pope is able to bind and loose the faithful, leading and teaching us as Our Lord wishes.

As Catholics, we are to hold the Papacy in high regard. Not all Popes were totally above reproach morally, but all Popes follow in the position of St. Peter, to lead and guide the Church. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, may Pope Benedict XVI and his successors continue to guide the Church until Our Lord returns again.