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Thursday, December 24, 2009

One Homily, Three Versions

Because I will be celebrating Mass with three different sets of readings, I've made three versions of the homily for Christmas.

Homily for the Vigil of the Nativity of Our Lord
Homily for Midnight Mass of the Nativity of Our Lord
Homily for the Day of the Nativity of Our Lord

Homily for the Day of the Nativity of Our Lord

It's pretty obvious looking around that we know how to celebrate Christmas. The streets, storefronts, and houses are all aglow in beautiful lights and decorations. The radio stations are all playing favorite Christmas carols and songs. Favorite Christmas-themed TV shows are broadcast daily, and new holiday shows are created and shown every year. Yes, we do know how to celebrate Christmas, but do we really stop and think about why we're celebrating? It is merely for an excuse to give gifts and get family and friends together for an elaborate meal, or is there something far deeper and more profound to our celebrations?

For several years, the Knights of Columbus have supported and spread an annual campaign: "Keep Christ in Christmas". The primary purpose of this campaign is to go against the secularization of this most holy of holy days, trying to prevent Christmas from becoming a generic winter holiday with warm fuzzy feelings and not much substance.

While that primary purpose is laudable, and should be highly encouraged, I think there's another way that we can "Keep Christ in Christmas". For most of us who are Christians, do we ever think about how profound the Christmas message really is? How many of us stop and look at a manger scene with amazement that the God who created us and loves us became man?

We may not consciously reflect on God becoming human, but that is precisely what the Gospel passage from St. John's Gospel is proclaiming this morning. In this opening passage to the Gospel we are told, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1) Later, we hear, "And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)

This Gospel passage is held to be the greatest proclamation of the divinity of Christ. Jesus was not only a human who had a large following and established a rule of life for us to follow, but was and is truly God incarnate, meaning that He is God become human. Our Lord was with the Father in the beginning, the creation of the universe, and St. John tells us that through Our Lord all of creation came into being. Yet, with all the power and glory due to Him by all creation, the second person of the Trinity deigned to become human, being born as a humble infant in humble surroundings to a simple and humble family.

The Letter to the Hebrews tells us God "has spoken to us through the Son, whom He made heir of all things and through whom He created the universe." (Hebrews 1:2) As the Son of God, Our Lord is "far superior to the angels". (Hebrews 1:4) He could have come to Earth in any form that He would have willed, but chose to become one of us as an innocent child.

This innocent child, born in a shelter for animals, is fully God and fully human. God became one of us to save us from our sins. He came to Earth to give His life in sacrifice so that we might have life eternal. When we look at Our Lord in the manger, we see the Cross overshadowing Him. This is why we celebrate this holy day. This is why it's so important to "Keep Christ in Christmas". Christmas would be pointless if we didn't recognize the one for whom we celebrate.

On this Christmas Eve, I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, and hope that this Christmas season is one of joy and peace for you and your families. During this season, I encourage you to take time with your families and friends to reflect on the most wonderful gift we've all received on Christmas: the birth of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Homily for Midnight Mass of the Nativity of Our Lord

It's pretty obvious looking around that we know how to celebrate Christmas. The streets, storefronts, and houses are all aglow in beautiful lights and decorations. The radio stations are all playing favorite Christmas carols and songs. Favorite Christmas-themed TV shows are broadcast daily, and new holiday shows are created and shown every year. Yes, we do know how to celebrate Christmas, but do we really stop and think about why we're celebrating? It is merely for an excuse to give gifts and get family and friends together for an elaborate meal, or is there something far deeper and more profound to our celebrations?

For several years, the Knights of Columbus have supported and spread an annual campaign: "Keep Christ in Christmas". The primary purpose of this campaign is to go against the secularization of this most holy of holy days, trying to prevent Christmas from becoming a generic winter holiday with warm fuzzy feelings and not much substance.

While that primary purpose is laudable, and should be highly encouraged, I think there's another way that we can "Keep Christ in Christmas". For most of us who are Christians, do we ever think about how profound the Christmas message really is? How many of us stop and look at a manger scene with amazement that the God who created us and loves us became man?

In our Gospel this night, we see Jesus being born in a shelter for animals, and being laid in a food trough for the animals. The inns were full, and the Holy Family had to find whatever shelter they could in this small town that had been filled to overflowing. Because of this, Our Lord, the second person of the Trinity, was born in humble surroundings.

As God, he could have been born anywhere He wished, but chose a life of humility. Even the proclamation of His birth by the angels showed humility. Instead of proclaiming to great kings and rulers of the Earth, the angels appeared to humble shepherds, grazing their sheep on the hillsides surrounding the town of Bethlehem. The message the angels proclaimed, however, was not one of humility, but one of exultation: "a savior has been born to you who is Christ and Lord." (Luke 2:14) This innocent and humble child, born in simple surroundings to a simple family who lived a humble life, has come to save us. As we heard in the first reading, the hope of Israel foreseen by the prophet Isaiah, in fact the hope of all the world, came into the world as an unknown.

St. Paul reminds us that Jesus "gave Himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness, and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good." (Titus 2:14) This innocent child, born in a shelter for animals, is fully God and fully human. God became one of us to save us from our sins. He came to Earth to give His life in sacrifice so that we might have life eternal. When we look at Our Lord in the manger, we see the Cross overshadowing Him. This is why we celebrate this holy day. This is why it's so important to "Keep Christ in Christmas". Christmas would be pointless if we didn't recognize the one for whom we celebrate.

On this Christmas night, I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, and hope that this Christmas season is one of joy and peace for you and your families. During this season, I encourage you to take time with your families and friends to reflect on the most wonderful gift we've all received on Christmas: the birth of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Homily for the Vigil of the Nativity of Our Lord

It's pretty obvious looking around that we know how to celebrate Christmas. The streets, storefronts, and houses are all aglow in beautiful lights and decorations. The radio stations are all playing favorite Christmas carols and songs. Favorite Christmas-themed TV shows are broadcast daily, and new holiday shows are created and shown every year. Yes, we do know how to celebrate Christmas, but do we really stop and think about why we're celebrating? It is merely for an excuse to give gifts and get family and friends together for an elaborate meal, or is there something far deeper and more profound to our celebrations?

For several years, the Knights of Columbus have supported and spread an annual campaign: "Keep Christ in Christmas". The primary purpose of this campaign is to go against the secularization of this most holy of holy days, trying to prevent Christmas from becoming a generic winter holiday with warm fuzzy feelings and not much substance.

While that primary purpose is laudable, and should be highly encouraged, I think there's another way that we can "Keep Christ in Christmas". For most of us who are Christians, do we ever think about how profound the Christmas message really is? How many of us stop and look at a manger scene with amazement that the God who created us and loves us became man?

St. Paul obviously thought long and hard about the incarnation, the second person of the Trinity becoming human. He reminds his listeners, and us in the second reading, that God showed His power and love to the Israelite people during their time of captivity in Egypt, through the Exodus out of that country, and by establishing them as a nation in the Promised Land. This God, who did such great and powerful things for the Israelite people, then deigned to be come one of them, being born as a descendant of the great king David.

In our Gospel this evening, we hear the seemingly long and drawn out genealogy of Jesus. To our modern ears, many of the names seem strange, foreign names from a foreign land. For the people that St. Matthew was writing to, this genealogy set the stage for the fulfillment of God's promise to His people. In fact, you may have recognized some of the names in the list, such as King David, as would many in the Jewish audience to whom St. Matthew was trying to proclaim the Gospel.

This genealogy is important, not only for Jews of the first and second century but also for us, because it shows the history of salvation from the Patriarchs Abraham, Issac, and Jacob down to the coming of Our Lord. Abraham was promised that he would be the father of a great nation, as numerous as the stars in the sky. This genealogy shows, in a summary, how this promise was fulfilled. More importantly, it shows to us who are not of Jewish descent how salvation came to us through God's plan for the Israelite nation.

The fact that God fulfilled this promise of salvation of all humanity is amazing enough, but the Gospel goes on to show us the way in which this promise was fulfilled. God could have used a great military leader or political figure to save the people of Israel, but instead He sent His Son as a tiny baby born under humble circumstances. He truly is Emmanuel, "God is with us". (Matthew 1:23)

This innocent child, born in a shelter for animals, is fully God and fully human. God became one of us to save us from our sins. He came to Earth to give His life in sacrifice so that we might have life eternal. When we look at Our Lord in the manger, we see the Cross overshadowing Him. This is why we celebrate this holy day. This is why it's so important to "Keep Christ in Christmas". Christmas would be pointless if we didn't recognize the one for whom we celebrate.

On this Christmas Eve, I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, and hope that this Christmas season is one of joy and peace for you and your families. During this season, I encourage you to take time with your families and friends to reflect on the most wonderful gift we've all received on Christmas: the birth of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Who do we consider the most important people in the world? Is it the person who bags our groceries at the store, or is it the politician with the million dollar smile and thousand dollar haircut? Do we consider important those who live simply, or is it the flashy Hollywood actor or actress that we see on the big screen?

If humans were to choose our savior, we would likely choose a great warrior who defeats enemies with powerful weapons while giving great power and wealth to those who follow him. God's will is not like human wisdom, however. Our savior came simply, humbly. He was born in a small town, which the first reading described as “too small to be among the clans of Judah.” (Micah 5:1)

Humans would want a savior who came from the “right” people, the people that are held as important in the world, such as the popular political leaders or entertainers. Our Lord came from obscurity, born to a simple, humble woman. Instead of increasing the stature of those who are proud and seen as important, God lifts up the lowly.

Why does God use the lowly to advance His will in the world? By human wisdom, it seems like more could be done by working through those with earthly power. Sadly, it doesn't work that way. Those who gain earthly power frequently are corrupted by that power, seeking to do their own wills instead of the will of God the Father.

To be lowly and humble means having an openness to the will of God and a desire to fulfill that will. The humble realize that what they want is unimportant in the face of God's will. Mary became the mother of Our Lord because she humbly submitted her will to the will of God.

Our Lord Himself did not come as a great ruler with military might and conquering armies. Instead, He came as a humble carpenter, spending most of His life working a humble job and living a humble life. Yet, He came to do God's will, and literally gave His life to do it.

In fact, Our Lord's very death shows the humility that He lived. He could have given His life in a blaze of glory, but instead died in the most humiliating way possible on the Cross. The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that “we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10) By Our Lord's humble death on the Cross, God's will was completed perfectly. Though He was born lowly and humbly, dying just as humbly, Our Lord's “greatness [reaches] to the ends of the earth.” (Micah 5:3)

As followers of Christ, we need to overcome our prideful desires and humbly seek the Father's will. Instead of worrying about what we want to receive as we prepare for the celebration of Christmas, we should seek how God wants us to serve Him during the upcoming Christmas season. Perhaps he wants us to give a gift to someone who is in need. Maybe we're called to spend some time visiting with those who are lonely. It may even be as simple as being called to spend more time in His presence praying that His will be done. There are as many ways that we can humbly give of ourselves as there are those we are called to serve.

As we enter into this last week of Advent and final preparations for the Christmas season, may we each individually take time to humbly seek and fulfill the Father's will for our lives.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Petition Supporting the New Translation

In the liturgical circles of the Blogosphere, there has been much discussion over the "What if We Just Said Wait?" petition. (No, I'm not linking to it. You'll have to find it yourself if you want to sign. I do not wish to encourage disobedience to legitimate authorities in the Church.) In response, a petition has been created that supports the new translation called We've Waited Long Enough. I encourage you to sign this petition and pass it on to your friends, both real-life and social networking.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent

"What should we do?" How many are asking that question right now? We're getting all our Christmas preparations done. Maybe our gifts have been purchased and wrapped. Maybe we've bought only some of our gifts, but have more to go. Maybe none of our gifts have been purchased, and we have no idea what we're going to buy. Perhaps we're planning Christmas parties, or planning where to go over Christmas. With all this planning and preparing, we might have the feeling in the back of our minds that something is missing, and we want to ask, "What else should we do?"

We've got all these plans and preparations, yet I think we miss one important point about this season of advent: it should be a time of great joy! In fact, St. Paul tells us "Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! [...] The Lord is near." In fact, the popular name of this very Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, comes from the Entrance Antiphon repeating St. Paul's words, which in Latin begins with "Gaudete" – Rejoice.

This should be a time of great joy and anticipation, almost childlike in our joy. We should have the simple joy that children have this time of year when they see the beautifully decorated trees and houses. Children light up during this season; even the snow which us adults complain about excites the kids.

We should be rejoicing always during this season. As the prophet Zephaniah says, "Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!" This is how we should be approaching this season, with joyful anticipation. Our Lord is coming! It shouldn't be a time of stress and anguish. We need to prepare for Our Lord.

So again the question, "What should we do?" How should we prepare for our Lord? That's why John the Baptist was asked the question, after all. He was asked by the crowds who came to hear him preach. He was asked by the tax collectors who came to be baptized. He was even asked by the soldiers who came to watch for trouble. How does he answer? He answers that we should live in virtue. The crowds are told "Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise." We should be charitable during this season. We should be giving to those who have nothing this Christmas season.

The tax collectors were told stop collecting more than what was prescribed. At this time, they were allowed to collect more than what Rome required of them. As long as the Empire received the proper amount, the collectors were allowed to keep the rest. The tax collectors would make themselves rich by tacking onto the required tax. John the Baptist challenged them to take only what was required, doing their jobs with virtue and honesty.

Like the tax collectors, the soldiers were called to practice their jobs with honesty and virtue when they were told "Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages." Giving bribes to soldiers in order to keep from getting arrested was an all-to-common practice at this time. Soldiers were challenged to remain virtuous and give up these immoral practices.

We are also challenged during this season to live our lives with virtue and honesty. During this season of Advent, we need to take time to reflect on how are we doing living the virtues. Are we charitable? Are we just? Do we judge others, or treat them fairly? This needs to be a time of great joy, but it also needs to be a time of reevaluating our lives as we prepare for the coming of Our Lord. This is why receiving the Sacrament of Confession should be a priority during this season.

As we draw closer to the celebration of Our Lord's birth on Christmas, may we be able to receive with joy the answer to the question "What should we do?"

Monday, December 7, 2009

Homily for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

In the passage from his Letter to the Ephesians that we just heard, St. Paul makes a remarkable claim. He states that God “chose us in [Christ], before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.” I know that this is an unbelievable claim when I look at my life, as I am most definitely not holy and very much blemished by sin, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels that way.

Nevertheless, today we celebrate the ultimate example of one being chosen from all time “to be holy and without blemish”. The Blessed Virgin Mary, chosen from the beginning of time to be the Mother of God, was conceived without sin and never had to suffer with the effects of sin. Just as sin entered the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve, sin is conquered through the obedience of Mary, the new Eve, and her Son Jesus, the new Adam.

The sinlessness of Our Lady gives us hope that one day we too will no longer be burdened by the pain and suffering of humanity's sinful nature. In the Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus which formally defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Pius IX wrote that Mary, “in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.” Just as we are saved through the merits of Our Lord's death on the Cross, Mary's sinless nature was a special grace by God giving her the benefits of the salvation won by Jesus to prepare her to conceive and bear the Son of God, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

For ourselves, Mary's sinless nature shows us that we will also be cleansed of sin in Paradise, just as Adam and Eve enjoyed sinlessness before their disobedience brought sin into the world. One day we will no longer suffer from sin and its effects on our lives, but will enjoy the fullness of God's grace. The Archangel Gabriel called Mary “full of grace” and declared that “the Lord is with you”. It is our hope, and the hope of all Christians, that we too will be in the fullness of God's grace and be in the presence of God, just as Mary was during her time on Earth and still is today.

As we celebrate this feast of the Immaculate Conception, may the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Blessed Mother of Our Lord and our Mother, be upon us, and upon this nation which is dedicated to the patronage of the Immaculate Conception.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent

For travelers before the advent of modern highways and automobiles, hills and valleys would have been an unwelcome sight. At best, the hills slowed them down, making the journey more difficult. At worst, a particularly steep hill or deep valley could prove to be impassable, requiring a lengthy detour.

In our spiritual lives, we have hills and valleys that we need to overcome. Now, I'm not talking about the ups and downs that come with our emotions. Instead, these hills and valleys are obstacles placed between us and God by the sins we commit in our daily lives. The challenge before us is how do we “prepare the way of the Lord” in our hearts, filling the valleys and lowering the hills?

The Gospel passage today gives us the ultimate example of preparing the way of the Lord. John the Baptist was born for one purpose only: to announce the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Notice how St. John prepared the people of Israel for Our Lord's ministry. He preached “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” He knew that sin blocked the people who lived at Jesus' time from hearing the call of God, and would prevent them from following Our Lord. He wanted to remove the obstacle of sin from their lives in order to prepare them to follow Jesus.

When it comes to sin, things haven't changed in 2000 years. Sin still prevents us from hearing God's call and following Him. In fact, there seems to be a denial of sin's effect on our lives. Either we ignore the fact that particular actions are sinful, or we deny that sin exists at all. Those hills and valleys in our spiritual lives keep getting bigger and steeper.

During this season of Advent, this season of preparation, we hear the call of John the Baptist, as well as the prophet Baruch, that the valleys be filled and the hills be brought down. We need to remove the obstacles that sin places within our lives by expressing true sorrow for our sins and asking God for forgiveness through the Sacrament of Confession. Much as a new road needs to be prepared by leveling the ground, filling in valleys and cutting through hills, regular Confessions help us overcome sin's grasp on our lives and open us to receive more of God's grace.

This is a process that will take a long time to complete. Our sinful nature is deeply rooted within us, and we will struggle throughout our lives with its effects. If we regularly approach Our Lord and Confess our sins, say once a month, we will find that we become less willing to commit our “favorite” sins. This is not to say that we will ever become sinless on Earth, but regular reception of the Sacrament of Confession will prepare us for the day when we will be made “pure and blameless for the day of Christ”, as St. Paul says.

This Advent season, I encourage you to make use of the Sacrament of Confession in preparation for the coming of Our Lord, and to make regular reception of this Sacrament a habit in your lives.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

So where is the Donations for Vestments money going to go anyways?

First, many, many thanks to all those who have donated to the “Vestment Fund”. In just a month and a half, it's over $440! Thank you for your generosity.

I haven't posted how I'm going to spend this donated money, so I think it's about time to clear that up. Although I've labeled it as “Donations for Vestments”, a more accurate description might be “Donations for Vestments and other associated vessels and equipment for celebrating the Mass”. Mind you, that's not as catchy a title as “Donations for Vestments”, so the original title will stick. These are posted in no particular order:

Vestments – I like the Gothic Low Mass sets from Luzar Vestments in the United Kingdom. I'm considering the gold, dark green, red, Roman purple, rose, and black in their standard damask with gold-machined orphreys. I would also like to have a Marian vestment, and really like the Marian embroidery they have available that matches the rest of the vestments. The Marian vestment costs £375.00 for the set, and the other vestments cost £315.00 per set. This translates into approximately $625 and $525 US, not counting shipping and other necessary costs. Each set includes the chasible, stole, chalice veil, burse, and maniple. Total cost is approximately $3775 US.

Altar Vessels – I have a couple of simple chalice, paten, and ciborium sets that I like, but I don't have a really formal, beautiful chalice. For the chalice, I would definitely look at something like Adrian Hamers, although I haven't decided which one I like the most.

Other equipmentMy goal is to regularly celebrate Mass in the Extraordinary Form, so I need a copy of the Missale Romanum of 1962. Preserving Christian Publications has released a reprint of the 1962 Missale Romanum that seems to be very worthy for the celebration of the Mass. It retails for $460. - Purchased, thank you to all who have donated!

At this point, my goal without counting the chalice is $4235. This will change as I consider which chalice I like, as well as make my final decision on the vestments. Of course, I welcome any comments that will help in making these decisions.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Homily for the First Sunday of Advent

We're once again entering into a new year in the Church's liturgical calendar. Once again, we begin this new liturgical year by entering into Advent, this four-week period of anticipation, of looking forward. If you ask most Catholics to explain who or what we're looking forward towards, they'll immediately say that we're looking forward to the celebration of Jesus' birth on Christmas. They'd be correct by saying that, but it's not the complete answer. We're also looking forward to Christ's coming again at the end of time.

The word Advent comes from the Latin word "adventus", which translates roughly as "to come to". In this season of Advent, we prepare for Our Lord Jesus Christ "to come to" us, both in His birth which is celebrated at Christmas, but also in His second coming at the end of time. In this way, we join the Jewish people in the anticipation that they must have felt when they heard the promise of the prophet Jeremiah, which we also heard in our first reading. Just as the Jews were waiting for a great king who would free them from slavery and the bondage of the Babylonian exile, we symbolically await the coming of our great King who frees us from the slavery and bondage of sin.

St. Paul reminds us in the second reading that this symbolic anticipation is not the only reason we celebrate this Advent season. By praying that "the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all," St. Paul makes it clear that we should be preparing for "the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones." (1 Thess. 3:12-13)

Sadly, I think this preparation for Christ's second coming has been lost in large part by many Christians today. It seems as if many people view Advent as a period to get everything ready for Christmas. We have to decorate the houses and stores, spend lots of money on Christmas gifts, make Christmas goodies, and watch hours upon hours of Christmas specials. We're pretty clear on the preparing for Christmas, but few recognize the eternal significance of Advent.

Traditionally, Advent has been a time to slow down and reflect on our lives and how we live as Christians, instead of speeding up our lives by shopping, baking, and decorating. It's traditional that decorations within the Church become very simple and meditative, instead of bright and joyous, as we see after Christmas. This time before Christmas needs to be a period in which we reflect if we are "conduct[ing] ourselves to please God," (1 Thess. 4:1) as St. Paul says. If we truly lived Advent as it should be, this would be a period of rest and refreshment before the grand celebrations of the Christmas season to come. Sadly, I think many people are more worn out by preparing for Christmas than they are by the Christmas celebrations themselves!

As we go through this Advent season, we need to keep today's Gospel reading in mind. Jesus tells His disciples that "your redemption is at hand." (Lk. 21:28) He also reminds them to "be vigilant at all times." (Lk. 21:36) Of course, this is good advice for us as well. We do not know when we will be called before the throne of Our Lord's judgment, but Jesus reminds us "that day" will "catch you by surprise like a trap." (Lk. 21:34-35) This season of Advent reminds us that we need to be prepared for the day of judgment that we will all have to face, whether at the end of our lives or when Our Lord returns again at the end of time. In either case, we need to be prepared "to stand before the Son of Man," (Lk. 21:36) and we have been given this season of Advent as a reminder.

As we enter into this Advent season, may we spend this time in prayer and preparation for the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, both in our celebration of His birthday at Christmas, and in His second coming at the end of time. Come Lord Jesus!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Questionable Apparitions

As Catholics, we believe that Our Lord Jesus Christ and His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, have regularly appeared to various saints throughout the world. Many of those apparitions have been approved by the Church and continue to feed and strengthen the faith in Our Lord throughout the world.

Sadly, there are also supposed apparitions which have been either discouraged or outright discredited. Recently, one such "apparition" was declared by the bishop of Cleveland, OH, to be without supernatural origin. In response, the "seer" of this "apparition" (and yes, I'm putting them in scare quotes on purpose) published a message which speaks of disobeying the local ordinary.

If you want to know whether an apparition is valid or not, look at how the visionaries respond to criticism from their bishops. In every legitimate apparition where this has occurred, Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary have counseled the visionary to remain faithful and obedient to the legitimate Church authority. In fact, obedience to local ecclesiastical authority is a requirement for approval of an apparition. It becomes 100% crystal clear that this is a fraud when a "visionary" reports that he or she has been told by Our Lord or Mary to disobey the bishop or pastor. Our Lord would never ask for disobedience against the authority of bishops which comes from Him, and Mary would never go against the will of her Son.

As a priest, my advice would be to avoid any apparitions which have been disapproved by their local ordinary, even if there's some question to whether the bishop's decision was the appropriate one. Devotion to approved apparitions is a good and laudable action, and I would highly encourage all Catholics to learn about the legitimate apparitions, such as Our Lady in Lourdes and Fatima, the Our Lady of Guadalupe image, and the Divine Mercy. In these apparitions, among many others, Our Lord and Mary encouraged the visionaries to obedience. May we be willing to be obedient as well.

Update: Patrick Madrid answers on EWTN's Open Line radio program regarding the "good fruits" at Medjugorje.

Update 2: More on Medjugorje: Note the position of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the last three paragraphs.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Homily for the Thirty-Third Sunday in ordinary Time

Every couple of years, it seems like there's a new end times doomsday scenario. Ten years ago, it was the Y2K computer bug, followed by the start of the 3rd Millennium in 2001. About that same time, the "Left Behind" series of books were gaining serious traction as the definitive novelization of the end of the world. Now it's the end of the ancient Mayan calendar in 2012, as depicted by the new blow-everything-up movie that's in theaters now. While the culture seems to be almost fearful of the end of the world, as Christians we should be anticipating and looking forward to the return of Christ at the end of time.

Much of what we understand about the End Times comes from the Scriptures, especially the Gospels and the Book of Revelation. Many groups, especially those who subscribe to the "Left Behind" rapture theory, read these passages in Scripture and talk about the coming of the End Times. As Catholics, we believe that we are already living in the End Times, and have been since Our Lord rose from the dead 2000 years ago.

The End Times are not some apocalyptic period that is yet to come, but a period of preparation by Christians for the return of Our Lord at the end of time. As Christians, we are living in this period of preparation now, as we should always be ready to greet Our Lord. He has promised that He will return again on "that day or hour [which] no one knows." (Mk 13:32)

While we don't know when Jesus will return, we do know what will happen on those Last Days. Jesus tells us that he will "'[come] in the clouds' with great power and glory." (Mk 13:26) The Prophet Daniel predicts that "those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake," meaning that our mortal bodies will be raised from the dead. Likewise, we are told "some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace," (Dn 12:2) foretelling the final judgment that we'll all have to face, with an eternity living forever in Heaven or everlasting horror and disgrace in Hell.

Deep down, I think this final judgment is the source of all the fear and uncertainty that drives the concern about the end of the world. Even for those who do not profess a belief in Christ, humanity seems to have a realization that we are fallen, sinful beings. The fear is that we might be wrong about what we believe and be condemned to the "everlasting horror and disgrace."

As Christians, we have a promise of hope. We are reminded in the Letter to the Hebrews that Jesus "offered one sacrifice for sins." Through Our Lord's sacrifice on the Cross, our humanity is to be perfected so that we can enter into eternity in Heaven. In fact, we can look forward with anticipation to when we will join Our Lord where He sits "at the right hand of God." (Heb 10:12)

St. Paul compares Our Lord's sacrifice with the sacrifices offered by the Jewish priests at the temple in Jerusalem, and with good reason. For any sacrifice to be beneficial for the ones offering the sacrifice, they must participate in the sacrifice itself. Just as the Jews had to participate in their sacrifices, we need to participate in the sacrifice of Our Lord. However, unlike the Jewish offerings that had to be repeated on a regular basis to ask forgiveness for sins, Our Lord's sacrifice was only offered once for forgiveness of all sins.

We participate in Our Lord's sacrifice every time we attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and receive Our Lord in the form of bread and wine in Holy Communion. While Jesus' sacrifice only occurred once, we are in constant need of the graces which flow from the Sacrament to aid us in overcoming our sinful nature throughout our lives. This is why we don't say, "OK, I've received 1st Holy Communion. I don't have to attend Mass or receive Holy Communion again." We are fortified against sin every time we attend Mass and receive Holy Communion, but only if we desire to overcome our sinful nature. If we refuse to face our sins, we will block ourselves off from the full benefits of God's grace.

Because we participate in Our Lord's sacrifice on the Cross, we have no need to fear the end of the world and His return. Instead, may we look forward to that day with great joy and anticipation.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Homily for the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

I wasn't feeling very well this morning, so I gave a much shorter homily than usual. As best as I can remember what I said, here it is:

Whenever this Gospel passage is read, I think people immediately assume that the homily will be on stewardship: time, talent, and treasure. While that is a very logical reading of this passage, I think it misses the bigger picture of what Our Lord is telling us. We need to be willing to give totally of ourselves, even our very lives, with great joy while not seeking praise and recognition.

Our Lord is obviously very critical of the Scribes, and with good reason. Many of them would seek out ways to be recognized for their position, occupying seats of honor and making sure to be in highly visible locations. Instead of serving God humbly, they were seeking praise for themselves.

Our Lord tells us we must not be like this. Instead, we need to be like the humble widow who gave to the temple treasury what little she had. She didn't make a big show out of her giving, just did so humbly and joyfully.

Again, this is not just giving in the sense of stewardship, although it is important that we be willing to give of what we have. We need to be willing to give our time and abilities, but we can't just end with that. We need to give of ourselves so completely that we'd we willing to give our very lives.

This weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in the Good News for Marriage program, giving the priest's presentations. In one presentation, the couples are reminded that love is not an emotion, a mushy feeling that people feel for their beloved for a while, but fades in time. Instead, the couples are told that love is the total self-giving for the good of another.

This is the kind of giving that we need to have: a total self-giving for the good of another. In fact, St. Paul calls us to emulate Our Lord, who came “to take away sin by his sacrifice”. (Heb 9:28) We need to be willing to give everything we have and are, even our very lives if necessary, to serve the good of all, just as Our Lord was willing to give His very life for us. We need to do this giving without desiring fanfare or praise, not to receive recognition, but out of true humility and love for God and neighbor.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Homily for the Solemnity of All Saints

In our lives, we have celebrations that we use to remember important even in our lives. We celebrate birthdays and wedding anniversaries every year. We have reunions of high school and college graduations every couple of years. As a country, we celebrate the founding of this nation on the 4th of July, and remember sorrowful events, such as the attacks on September 11th or the beginning of the US entrance into World War II on Pearl Harbor Day, December 7th.

As a Church, we have annual celebrations as well, but instead of focusing on events that happened, we spend more time remembering and celebrating the saints, those Christians who are held up as the example to emulate in Christian living. Throughout the liturgical calendar, the calendar which tells us what feasts and memorials to celebrate, many saints are listed for us to be reminded of their example and celebrate their entrance into eternal life. Some saints are well known: St. John the Baptist, St. Francis, St. Patrick. Other saints are little more than names in a list: St. Clement, St. Sixtus, St. Chrysogonus, to name a couple from the first Eucharistic Prayer.

For as many saints are known and celebrated by Christians throughout the world, many more Christians have gone through their lives living their faith in quiet joy and now enjoy the Beatific Vision in Heaven. While we may not know these men and women, we still take one day a year to celebrate their lives and their entrance into Heaven. This is why we have the solemnity of All Saints, to celebrate the lives and example of all the saints who have ever lived, either known and famous, or unknown and obscure.

We remember these saints, because they have done what all Christians should desire to do. They have passed through this life as faithful Christians. The fullness of God's love has been revealed to them, and as St. John says in his first Letter, they “see Him as He is.” Yet, for those of us here on Earth, God has not been fully revealed to us due to our sinful nature, therefore we do not know what awaits us after our death. However, we do have the examples of the saints, to guide us into Heaven where it will be revealed to us as well.

At this point, some might say, “It is really worth it? We don't know what happens after death, if anything. Why not just enjoy life now and not worry about what will happen later?” In fact, this is a very common position we see and hear in the world today. We live in a world of self-congratulation and self-fulfillment. Many of those who are listed as blessed by Our Lord live lives contrary to the values held by those steeped in the culture.

We have the promise of Our Lord that this world is not the end, and we will receive great rewards in Heaven if we follow Him. To enter into Heaven and receive these rewards, we use the example given to us in the lives of the saints as a road map in following the path which Jesus has laid out for us. It's not an easy path, but the saints show us that it possible for each of us to achieve what Our Lord promises.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Homily for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

As Catholics, we hear a lot about prayer. When someone is going through a difficult period in their lives, we might say something like, “I'll pray for you”. Every week, we gather to pray the ultimate prayer, Holy Mass. Sometimes we even have a prayer before and after our meals. While we might talk about prayer, there many who may not understand exactly what prayer is and why it's so important.

To give the simplest definition, prayer is opening our hearts to God and asking for good things from Him. When we pray, we express our desire to be in union with Him, and to do His will. Likewise,through prayer we approach Him with humility and ask what we need in our daily lives. In short, prayer is joining ourselves completely with the Triune God and His will.

Sadly, there are many Catholics who might talk about praying, but rarely, if ever, enter into prayer. Often, this may be caused by not knowing how to pray, or what to say or do when praying. Others may not realize how important prayer is to living a Christian life. For many, prayer only comes easily when facing a difficulty in their lives.

For those who don't know how to pray, it's important to realize that prayer does not need to be difficult or complex. In fact, Bartimaeus in today's Gospel passage is held up as an example of how to pray. He didn't enter into a grand discourse, using lots of words and actions, praising Jesus and asking for healing. Instead, he simply called out repeatedly, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.”

This prayer of Bartimaeus is considered one of the simplest and most powerful prayers that we have. The Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” is one that can be said repeatedly throughout the day. Another, even simpler variation is to simply pray the name of Jesus repeatedly under your breath as you go about performing the tasks of your daily life.

This is an important aspect of any prayer. Prayer is not something that we do once in a while when we feel we need to pray, or only once a day. Because prayer is a desire for union with God, all Christians must be entering into prayer on a continual basis, not just priests and religious. We must constantly be finding opportunities for prayer. This is why the Jesus prayer is so powerful. It takes little time and very little concentration to silently repeat the name of Jesus. Even the longer form, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” takes just a few seconds to say on a regular basis. Of course, there are many other prayers that can be used as well, such as repeating “Jesus, I trust in you” from the Divine Mercy image. Longer prayers, like the Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet, are also very beneficial.

Bartimaeus shows us the necessity for persisting in prayer. He didn't shout once, and give up. He kept repeating his request even while the crowd was telling him to be silent. He kept pleading for Jesus to grant his request even when he probably thought Our Lord might go by without stopping. Bartimaeus was persistent in his prayer, and Jesus granted his petition.

We too must persist in our prayer. This can be difficult, as the crowds around us might consider a prayerful life as foolish. Persistence in prayer can wane when we allow ourselves to become discouraged during those times that our prayers might not seem to be heard, much less receive an answer from God. Ironically, the most difficult time for perseverance in prayer is when our lives are going well and we can spend our time praising God for the good things we have, yet it is just as important to persist in praying during those times of our lives. Prayer is something that should be a joy during our good times, and a support during our lows.

May we be able to pray together the words of Bartimaeus, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I don't know too many people who like to suffer. There probably aren't many people who enjoy being crushed “in infirmity”, using the prophet Isaiah's words. In fact, most of us are like the Apostles James and John, who asked Our Lord to seat them in the positions of highest power, authority, and honor within His Kingdom. Given the choice between glory and suffering, we'll all take glory every time.

In the Gospel today, Jesus flips conventional wisdom on its head. This event we just heard occurred during Our Lord's earthly ministry, long before He is to face His sacrificial death on the cross, and is a foreshadowing of how He will offer His life. To receive the glory, Our Lord tells the Apostles, you have to go through suffering. After all, what cup and what baptism is He talking about? The cup is the cup of suffering that He drinks from during His Passion, and the baptism is the baptism that He receives by the shedding of His Blood during His death on the Cross. Jesus is telling the Apostles that if they want to enter into glory in His kingdom, they need to be willing to suffer as He will suffer, and give their lives as He will give His life.

This had to be difficult for the Apostles to hear, just as it is difficult for us to hear. The Apostles no more desired suffering than we do, yet Our Lord is teaching them that there is a spiritual value to suffering that goes far beyond what we can see in our earthly lives. I know it's hard to believe that the suffering and pain that we see every day can be beneficial for ourselves and for others, but as Christians we believe that all suffering can have a redemptive aspect. The suffering that we face every day of our lives can serve to purify us, almost like scrubbing off the impurities, and draw us closer to God.

A phrase that many Catholics are familiar with regarding redemptive suffering is “Offer it up”. Many of you may have had opportunity to remind others with this phrase throughout the years, although I've sometimes heard it be used in the sense of “I'm tired of hearing you whine. Deal with it!” Of course, that's not how we should really be looking at offering our sufferings. Instead, we should be willing to offer our daily sufferings – our pain, our sorrows, our annoyances – to be joined with Our Lord's suffering and death upon the Cross for our salvation and the salvation of the whole world.

Sometimes when dealing with extreme suffering, we might enter into despair and feel that no one can understand the pain that we're struggling with. This is not true, as the Letter to the Hebrews gives us hope that Our Lord is with us in our suffering. He understands what we are going through, as he went through some of the most extreme suffering during his Passion and Death. We are reminded that we can “confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” (Heb 4:16)

This reminder of the redemptive aspect of suffering is one that is very important in our world today, especially here in Montana. For many, suffering is something to endured, at best, or eliminated by what ever means possible, at the worst. To overcome their suffering, people turn to alcohol, drugs – both prescription and illegal – and other addictions.

If the suffering becomes too severe, people seek to end their lives, looking to death as the ultimate end of suffering. Two states in the United States, Washington and Oregon, allow physicians to assist in committing suicide, and a judge here in Montana has ruled that physician-assisted suicide should be allowed here as well. It is currently still illegal and the ruling is under appeal, but could very easily be legalized in this state.

Physician-assisted suicide should be opposed for three reasons. First, it denies the redemptive aspect of suffering, choosing to end the sufferer's life to avoid the suffering instead of allowing it to continue for his or her good and the good of others who benefit from the example and sacrifice. Second, story after story has been coming out of Oregon in which insurance companies and the state medical plan have refused long-term treatments, offering physician-assisted suicide it their places. This can and will happen elsewhere, especially as health care reform includes the mandate to reduce costs. Third, and more importantly, through physician-assisted suicide we attempt to take over God's role as the giver of life, determining on our schedule how long one's life will last instead of following God's will for that person.

While physician-assisted suicide denies a redemptive value to suffering, we do believe that suffering does have a spiritual benefit. May we be willing to truly offer up our sacrifices for our good and the good of all humanity.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Problems with Promotion of Volunteerism?

Next week, there will be a major push through the "big 4" television networks in the United States to promote volunteerism. Gus Lloyd, host of Seize the Day on the Sirius/XM Catholic Channel, brought up some concerns regarding this program on his show this morning.

Now, being a volunteer is a good thing, a very good thing. In fact, as Catholics, we're called to volunteer our time and abilities in the service of the Church. I would dare to say that most parishes don't have enough volunteers, and are almost always in need of more people willing to volunteer. The problem that Gus Lloyd has with this program is that many of the so-called volunteer opportunities are really promotions of agendas. For example, if you search the AARP-sponsored Create the Good site for health care, one of the first links is a video on "How To Spread the Truth About Health Care Reform". No matter how important the current debate on health care is, what does it have to do with volunteering in our communities? Gus also points out that several of the volunteer opportunities in the Beverly Hills, CA, area includes volunteering for Planned Parenthood to promote their view of women's health, which always includes abortion on demand. Again, this is politicking, not volunteering.

Gus came up with a great alternative on his show. Instead of using these sites to find volunteer opportunities, find other options. Ask your parish how you can help. Volunteer some time at a crisis pregnancy center. Contact your local St. Vincent de Paul or Catholic Charities and find out what needs they have for service. There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer in a way that will promote a culture of life, not perpetuate the culture of death so common in this country.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Donation button

I've added a Paypal button to the blog. No, I'm not going to be charging for reading my homilies. They're not that good. I'm just happy when most people stay awake as I'm giving them at Mass.

The button is there in case one or two of my many readers (meaning: one or two of my 12 followers) feel generous enough to throw a couple of dollars my way. This money will only go for one purpose: purchase new, worthy vestments, such as the beautiful vestments made by Luzar Vestments in the UK, and beautiful, worthy altar vessels, such as those available from Adrian Hamers. For far too long, unsuitable and just plain ugly vestments and altar vessels have been the standard fare for many parishes. We've lost a sense of beauty in the Church, and I hope that these vestments and altar vessels can be used throughout my priesthood to bring even a small part of that sense of beauty back to the Church.

I greatly appreciate any and all donations that people are willing to give from the generosity, but know that everyone are more than welcome to continue to visit this blog and participate in the comment boxes if you are unable or unwilling to donate. This blog has been open to everyone, and will remain open to everyone until the day God calls me home or the blogging ends, which ever comes first.

Update: For those coming from Priests in Crisis, welcome! I feel kind of embarrassed that Suzanne posted this to her blog, as there are priests who need the support the Priests in Crisis blog brings far more than I do. Nevertheless, welcome once again!

The "goal" of $12,000 that Suzanne mentions came from a Plurk posting which led to this post. It's a rough number, and I may have to come up with an actual goal to work towards.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Homily for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

We have some very strong, even disturbing, imagery in the readings today. Our Lord commands us to remove body parts that cause us to sin. St. James compares the rich with animals that have been fattened up for the slaughter. These intense images are given to us today to demonstrate the danger of falling into sin or leading others into sin, and how sin separates us from the Body of Christ.

This is a message we need to hear today. When you look at the popular culture, it's clear that we have lost a sense of sin. Someone's sinful actions are excused if no one is perceived to have been hurt by those sins or if there is “consent” to the actions. Some sins are not only tolerated, but encouraged and promoted. The only sins that are publicly scorned are those which can be used to drag a political opponent through the mud. In fact, the only real sin, in the eyes of the popular culture, is daring to challenge someone's actions as sinful.

Contrary to what the popular culture might say, we are still a sinful people in need of redemption and forgiveness. Sadly, because the culture glorifies much which is sinful, we have forgotten what sin is and why it's so dangerous. Even Catholics, long ridiculed for so-called “Catholic guilt” over real or imagined sins, have all but neglected the Sacrament of Confession. There is a real need in the world today to restore an understanding of sin.

We can begin this restoration by defining sin. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity.” (CCC 1849) To put this definition much more simply, sin is putting ourselves and the gifts which we have been given by God over God Himself and those around us. Sin is the opposite of love, and where sin exists, truly self-giving love cannot exist.

With this definition, I hope we can begin to see why Our Lord used such strong imagery in the Gospel passage today. Jesus compared living a sinful life to being thrown into Gehenna, a garbage dump outside of Jerusalem where fires perpetually burned. Due to the strict ritual purity laws in Judaism, Gehenna was considered the place that was the most unclean, and casting someone's body there would have been the strongest condemnation of that person, forever cutting him off from the rest of the Jews.

Spiritually, sin has much the same result. When we sin, we cut ourselves off from God and the Body of Christ. As I said before, sin is the opposite of love. In fact, sin is a turning inward on ourselves to the exclusion of others, even God Himself. We become fixated on our needs, desires, wants, and possessions. Other people become either objects to be used, or obstacles that prevent us from doing what we desire. This focus on ourselves is so strong that we are even willing to give up the eternal life promised to us by Our Lord.

If we truly understood the danger of sin, we would act immediately to separate ourselves from those things that regularly lead us to sin. These occasions of sin are things and situations in our lives which are dangers to our moral lives, leading us to perform sinful actions. Much as we try to avoid those things and situations that could cause us to be hurt or killed, we should make every effort to avoid the occasions of sin that we encounter on a daily basis. This is what Our Lord means when he says to cut off your hand or foot, or pluck out your eye if it causes you to sin. It is better in this life to give up some things that lead us to sin and gain eternal life in the next.

Sin is a reality in the world. It hurts us and hurts those around us. May we have a greater awareness of our sinful nature, seek to avoid sin, and ask forgiveness for those sins we have committed.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Homily for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Edit: Added a recording from the 11:30 AM Mass

When you look at the popular media, such as the TV or newspapers, who do they hold up as the most important in the United States today? Is it President Obama or members of Congress? How about the elected officials in the states' governments? Perhaps it's actors, musicians, and other celebrities? In our country today, those who have worldly wealth, power, fame or any combination of the three are held up as the most important and influential people.

Now, let's look at the Gospel passage for today. Who does Jesus say are the most important people? He tells us, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Our Lord takes worldly wisdom, so common in His time as it is today, and turns it on its head. Instead of tying importance to fame, power, or wealth, He challenges us to be servants of all.

Unfortunately, this desire to link power with importance also exists within the Church. If you asked random people who they thought were the most important people in the Church, they would probably go down the hierarchy: the Pope, the bishops, the priests. They might not mention Mother Teresa and the religious order she founded, the Missionaries of Charity. The sisters who belong to this order spend their lives serving and caring for the poorest of the poor. Mother Teresa herself spent much of her life in service to the poorest in India. The great majority of her days were spent feeding, clothing, and bathing the poor who were dying.

As Christians, Our Lord calls and challenges us to not seek power and prestige, but to be “the servant of all”. We see this in the hierarchy of the Church, which is built on service of the Church. One of the Pope's titles is “Servant of the Servants of God”. Bishops, when celebrating Mass, will refer to themselves as “me, your unworthy servant”. Priests are called to serve the bishop throughout the diocese, and to serve the people to whom he has been assigned. Lay people who participate in the administrative and ministerial structures of the Church are called to engage their positions in an attitude of service, and not for personal gain. The power that we do have within the Church comes not because we are important, but because we serve.

This is misunderstood throughout the Church, especially within developed countries like the United States. There are those who seek to gain higher positions within the Church for the sake of gaining more power and importance, not to better serve Jesus' people. They become ambitious for personal gain and jealous of those who have the power they seek. St. James warns us against this ruthless desire for power, saying, “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.”

We can see this disorder at play in the Church. There are great divisions within the Church today, and many of these divisions come about due to self-centered power grabs. Sometimes we see this in local parishes as a group of people try to make themselves the most important in the parish, often with the consent and support of the pastor. On a larger level, there are groups who want to remake the Church in their own image, with members who have worked their way through the Church organizational structure to positions that they feel hold power and importance. Even the Papacy is not immune to this desire for power, as the history of the Church is riddled with attempts by bishops and cardinals seeking to become the Pope for power, and not for the call to service that comes with the office.

As Christians, we are called by Our Lord to seek out ways that we can become a “servant of all”. We're called to serve Catholics and non-Catholics, Christians and non-Christians. We're called to serve those we like and those we can't stand. As difficult as it can be, we are called to step out of where we're comfortable and reach out to those who make us uncomfortable. We're even called to serve those who might reject us or take advantage of our service. Our Lord tells us, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” May we be willing to serve Our Lord by serving those the world sees as unimportant.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Homily for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

At first glance, Our Lord sets up what seems to be an impossible contradiction. He tells us, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.” On a human level, it's easy be confused by saving our lives by losing them, and losing our lives by saving them. Of course, Jesus isn't talking on a human level, but on the supernatural level, and the life that he's talking about is our eternal life.

So, what does it mean to lose our lives for the sake of Our Lord and the gospel? Jesus tells us that we must be willing to “deny [ourselves], take up [our] cross[es], and follow [Him]”. He even gives us the example that we need to follow. Speaking to the disciples, Our Lord predicts how He will give His life, as He tells them, “the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.” Our Lord challenges us to deny ourselves and accept our sufferings, but only because He did that first for our salvation.

As we're all pretty much aware, denying ourselves and willingly giving up our lives runs contrary to our human nature. Our natural desire is to save and protect ourselves. We can see this in Peter's reaction, as he wants to protect Our Lord from the Passion and Cross, and gets rebuked for it. If we truly wish to follow Our Lord, even to the Cross, we have to fight the desire to turn back and find an easier path so that we can save our earthly lives. Those who do succumb to this desire may be able to live a good life here on Earth, but put their eternal lives at great risk.

What does it mean to give up our earthly lives? To be clear, this doesn't mean that Our Lord is telling us to give away everything we own and live on the streets, begging for food. To give up our earthly lives, we need to resist the temptations of the world and seek the will of God. In our culture, it's easy to fall into the trap of materialism and consumerism, buying and owning things for their own sake. If we are willing to give up our earthly lives, we use the things of the earth for our own survival and to advance God's will in our lives and those around us.

It's important to realize that this desire to give our lives for Christ and His Gospel is a fruit of the faith that we have in God, and that this faith is itself a gift of God. Because this faith is a gift, we have to be open to the gift and allow it to work within us, but our faith in God is not a private act between us and God. St. James tells us in today's second reading that “faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” If our faith in God is going to lead us to salvation, we must allow that faith to lead us into doing good for others. In fact, St. James reminds us that we demonstrate our faith through our works.

This is in contrast to a position held by some Christians. You may have heard a preacher on TV or a family member say something like, “We are saved by our faith in God, and not by any works that we do.” Usually, this is accompanied by an accusation that Catholics teach that we are saved by “good works”.

Of course, the Church does not teach that we can work our way to Heaven, and in fact, there are two errors here. First, we can't just do a bunch of good things for others and expect to get into Heaven regardless of what we believe about God's mercy and justice. Second, we can't believe that God will save us, but not lift a finger to help others. We must allow for God's mercy to save us, while allowing that faith in God to lead us to do good for others.

When we do sacrifice our lives for the Gospel, we have Our Lord's promise and example that the sacrifice will not go unrewarded. May we be willing to take up our crosses, as Our Lord did, and follow Him.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Homily for the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

We know that medical science has made great advancements in improving people's hearing. Some of you may be reaping the reward of those advancements through the use of hearing aids. Even with all the time, money, and labor put into improving people's hearing, there is one thing that this medical technology cannot do at this time: give hearing to someone who is completely deaf.

Just as medical technology is unable to cure physical deafness, there is another deafness that medicine can't heal: the deafness to God's will for our lives. Most of us, in fact all of humanity, suffer from the deafness in our spiritual lives caused by sin, but there is hope for this deafness. Just as Jesus was able to heal the deafness and speech impediment of the deaf man in the Gospel today, Our Lord is able to heal the spiritual deafness that we suffer.

Even with the medical technology available to us 2000 years after Our Lord walked the Earth, His miracle in today's Gospel passage amazes us even today. I don't know if any of us have ever met someone who was once deaf but now can hear perfectly. If you have met someone like that, or maybe even experienced a miracle like that yourself, you could tell us stories about the amazement that came upon those who witnessed it when the miracle occurred. I think if we were present when a person who is deaf suddenly began to hear, we would be like the crowd and tell everyone we know.

Not being able to hear physically is not the only deafness that we have to deal with during our lives on Earth. Far more common, and more dangerous, is the spiritual deafness that comes with being sinful people. While most of can hear those around us in the physical world, the voice of God in our lives remains a mystery, unheard and unknown. This deafness keeps us from hearing God's call to follow His will throughout our daily lives.

How do we overcome this spiritual deafness? The prophet Isaiah has the answer in the first reading: “Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, […] He comes to save you.” Just as Our Lord was able to heal physical deafness through the faith of the one healed, He is also able to heal those of us who suffer from spiritual deafness through our faith in Him. As we live our lives allowing our belief in Jesus to influence our actions and follow His commands, we will begin to hear God's call in our lives more clearly. It might be subtle and will take a lot of time, but we will develop an awareness for how God wants us to live our lives in service to Him.

As this spiritual deafness begins to dissipate, our interactions with those around us will also begin to change. We will begin to become more aware how we judge others and treat them differently based on our judgments of them. St. James challenges us in the second reading to be more aware of how we act towards others: “show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.” We are called, as Christians, to treat everyone equally. It doesn't matter if they are rich and influential, or poor and powerless. It doesn't matter what skin color they have or ethnicity they come from. It doesn't matter who they are or where they're from, we must treat everyone with the love of Christ without partiality.

As our spiritual deafness is overcome by Our Lord, we may hear that we challenged to allow our spiritual speech impediment to also be overcome. What is spiritual speech impediment? It's the silence when we hear or see injustice being done to someone or a group of people. It's when we don't speak up when someone tells a derogatory joke. It's also the desire to avoid embarrassment by not speaking about our faith in Christ, especially when someone is attacking our beliefs.

Just as Our Lord was able to heal the deafness and speech impediment of the deaf man, He can also heal our spiritual deafness and speech impediment. We need to place our faith in Him, that He will give us the strength to speak up when we should, and give us the words to say through the gifts of the Holy Spirit which dwells within us.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

September: The Seven Sorrows of Mary

One of the venerable traditions of the Church that has been somewhat lost over the recent decades is the dedication of each month to a different saint or devotion. During each month, we are encouraged to practice the devotion or focus our devotional life on the saint named during that month. Many people are aware of May being dedicated to Mary, but are unaware that other months are dedicated to aspects of her life.

September is one of those months. The month of September has traditionally been dedicated to meditating on the Seven Sorrows of Mary, as we mark both the Triumph of the Cross on September 14th and Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15th. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, this is a long-standing tradition going back almost 800 years. In iconography, Our Lady of Sorrows is depicted with seven swords piercing her heart, which is in reference to Simeon's prophesy that a sword would pierce her heart. (Luke 2:35)

The Seven Sorrows are events recorded in Scripture that were the most sorrowful for Our Lady. The Seven Sorrows, with Scriptural references:

1.The Prophesy of Simeon over the Infant Jesus (Luke 2:34)
2.The Flight into Egypt by the Holy Family (Matthew 2:13)
3.The Loss of the Child Jesus for three days (Luke 2:43)
4.The Meeting of Jesus and Mary along the Way of the Cross (Luke 23:27)
5.The Crucifixion (John 19:25)
6.The Descent from the Cross (Matthew 27:57)
7.The Burial of Jesus (John 19:40)

Through this devotion, we are reminded that we are not alone in our sorrows that come with life on Earth, but that Our Lady is there with us. May we take the opportunity this month to meditate on Mary's sorrows and join our sorrows with hers.

Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Homily for the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

A theme which I know you've heard time and time again is the necessity of Christians living out their faith and not merely giving it lip service. If we say we're Christians but don't strive to live up to what Jesus commands of us, we end up looking like hypocrites. To live our faith, however, there must be a way by which the teachings of Our Lord enter into our lives and become part of how we act and think. As Christians, we must hear the Word of God and allow it to bring about conversion in our lives.

First, we must hear the Word of God. Moses challenged the Israelite people, “hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe” when he gave them the Mosaic Law which was revealed to him by God. We believe that the Scriptures, the Sacred Tradition of the Church, and the teachings of the Magisterium have been revealed to us as the definitive Truth by Our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, we know that the three sources of revelation contain the teachings of Our Lord and serve to bring us closer to Him. To take our faith seriously, we need to seek out opportunities to immerse ourselves in the revealed Truth of Christ.

Now, I realize that people's lives are busy, especially parents who feel they never have a moment's peace to just relax, but you don't need to dedicate large amounts of time and money to studying the Scriptures or theology. It can be as simple as printing out the daily readings from the Internet and spending five minutes reading through them every morning or evening. You could get a copy of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is a more concise, question and answer formatted book based on the much larger Catechism of the Catholic Church, and read through a couple of questions a day. There are also good resources on-line for learning about the faith through simple, short essays.

Of course, the ultimate way we immerse ourselves in the Word of God is through attentively participating in the Mass on a weekly basis, at the least. Every week, we hear three readings from the Scriptures along with reciting one of the Psalms. Also, many of the prayers that we pray during the Liturgy come directly from the Scriptures. It's not always obvious in the current English translation that this is happening, but the new translation coming out in a couple of years will make these Scriptural links more apparent. By paying attention to the Scripture readings and prayers at Mass, we allow these passages of Scripture to enter into our hearts.

Second, we must allow the Word of God to convert us. Our Lord tells us today in the Gospel, “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.” If you ever want a quick list of sinful thoughts and actions, Our Lord gives us a pretty good one in this Gospel passage. If we're honest, many of us will look at the sins Our Lord mentions and probably recognize a few from our own lives. We all have areas in our lives that need to be converted.

Whatever those areas in need of conversion, our hearing the Word of God should challenge us to pray for the graces necessary to overcome our sins. As we immerse ourselves in the Truth which has been revealed by Our Lord, it will be like a light shining on our souls showing us where in our lives sin remains. This is where the virtue of humility and the Sacrament of Confession come in. We need to have the humility to admit that we are sinful people in need of God's forgiveness. Likewise, we should be led to ask for forgiveness from others for those times in which our sins affected them, as all our sins impact those around us – there are no “private” sins. Most importantly, we need to resolve with God's grace to avoid committing those sins again, even as we're aware that we might slip into sin again and again. We need to trust in God's grace that we will allow His Word to work on our souls, cleansing us from the attachment to sin.

Remember, we are challenged to be attentive to the Word of God and allow it to convert our lives. May the Scriptures we just heard begin this process in our lives today.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Technology Addiction and the Spiritual Life

I don't think it's an overstatement to say we're surrounded by technology in most of the so-called "developed world". In fact, 'surrounded' might be an understatement in countries like the United States. 'Inundated' might be more accurate and with the technology comes noise, both literally and spiritually, that can and does drown out the voice of God in our lives.

This isn't to say that all technology is bad or demonic or anything like that (though it does seem to be possessed by a demon when it begins to malfunction). Technology has brought great advancements to our health and way of life. The problem comes in when we allow that technology to overwhelm and run our lives.

As much as I enjoy technological advances and having the latest gadget, I've become more concerned about how technology controls our lives. From the alarm clock which wakes us up in the morning, to the cell phone which interrupts our personal conversations, to the computers we use for work, education, and entertainment, technology has a hold on major aspects of our lives.

By overrelying on technology, our attention span, the length of time during which we can focus our attention on one particular person or thing, is diminishing dramatically. Likewise, the incivility and division we see in politics today is greatly influenced by television and other communication technologies that support and encourage that kind of behavior.

This became more clear to me on Saturday as I was listening to an interview program on EWTN Radio called "Faith and Culture". The interviewer, Colleen Carroll Campbell was speaking to Eric Brende, who wrote a book Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology, about technology addiction. Mr. Brende and his wife spent 18 months in a community with almost no modern conveniences. No electricity, no indoor plumbing, and a few old-fashioned manual or horse-powered machines to aid in housework or farm work. His point was that our overreliance on modern technology has upset our natural balance, both on an individual level and on a communal level.

At first, I was disagreeing with Mr. Brende, but the more I thought about it, the more I found myself agreeing with him. Why? Let's look at something so ubiquitous as as an alarm clock. Like most animals who are active during the day, we are naturally predisposed to go to sleep when the sun sets and rise when it rises. Since the advent of electric lighting, we are no longer dependent on the Sun to be the major source of light, which allows us to function much later after the Sun has set. This might not be a bad thing on it's face, but it actually works against our natural cycle of rising with the Sun and sleeping once the Sun has set. For many of us, this means that we need an electronic gadget, an alarm clock, to alert us when it's time to rise and face another day.

Again, this isn't to say that technology is bad, and we need to revert to a pre-Industrial Revolution state. Like any tool, technology has its uses. As I was writing this on a Sunday evening, a series of severe thunderstorms were moving through my area. I had advanced warning about these storms due to the satellite, radar, and radio technologies employed by the National Weather Service. Anyone who has ever survived a tornado or hurricane is likely very grateful to the NWS's use of technology to get the warnings out with time to spare.

As a priest, my concern with technology is the effect it has on our spiritual balance, to take it a step further than Mr. Brende. To truly enter into a conversation with God, we need silence, but much of the technology that we employ in our daily lives do a lot to constantly disturb that silence. Cell phones, television, radio, and computers, among other things, provide distraction after distraction that keep us from focusing our attention on what God is saying to us. Instead of taking time for prayer, we surf the Internet, watch TV, listen to the radio , or talk on the phone.

Is the answer getting rid of technology all together? No , but sometimes the monks on "Into Great Silence" seem to have the right idea. The Carthusians live very austere lives, with only a bed, a desk with chair, a wood stove, and a kneeler for prayer in their cells. Most of us are not called to that level of austerity, but we still need to keep technology in its place. Technological advancements are tools that can be very beneficial for our lives, but will seriously affect our well-being if we allow them to control us.

The challenge for us is finding the balance between using technology for our good and allowing technology to control us. If you don't think you're controlled by technology, turn off the TV, computer, and cell phone and see how long you can go without turning one of them on. For most Americans, I would venture to guess that they would not be able to go more than an hour or so with at least the cell phone.

If you're one of the millions of "technology addicted", as I likely am, what do we need to do to overcome that addiction? Our natural, and more importantly spiritual, lives hang in the balance.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Homily for the Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time

It seems like we always have to make decisions about how we live out our belief in God. We have to make choices about how we act, what we say, and how public do we allow our faith to be. Those choices are pretty easy to make when life is going good, but when any difficulty arises, those choices become more of a challenge for us. Even in the most difficult of times and faced with the most challenging of teachings, we are called to make the decision to be faithful to God.

Our readings today show us two situations in which choices were presented and decisions were made. In the first reading, the Israelites finally arrive in the Promised Land after many years of wandering. One of the first decisions they had to make was whether or not to serve the God who led them through the desert while providing for them and protecting them. It would have been easier to fall back on the religious practices of earlier generations who did not know God, or follow the false gods of the Amorites, neither of which put such a strong demand on their followers. Joshua was unapologetic for his decision, saying “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord,” and the people of Israel agreed.

Like the Israelites, we have the choice whether or not to serve God the Father. Do we serve Him, even that becomes difficult, or do we follow the cultural “gods” of Consumerism, Materialism, Selfishness and Greed? Just as the Israelites could have followed the gods of the Amorites, who owned the land they were living in, we are constantly challenged by our culture to turn away from God and become self-centered, seeking personal fulfillment and pleasure without consideration of the needs of others.

If we do decide to serve God, we also have the choice of how deeply do we want to follow Our Lord, a choice which was presented to the disciples in today's Gospel. Over the past five weeks, we have been reading from the Gospel of John, hearing Our Lord reveal Himself as the Bread of Life which leads to eternal life. When Jesus proclaimed that they literally had to receive His Body and Blood in order to gain eternal life, the disciples responded, as we see at the beginning of the Gospel passage today, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Many of the disciples couldn't handle what Jesus was teaching, and no longer followed Him.

How do we respond when we encounter an area of Jesus' teaching that we don't understand or find difficult to follow? Our Lord tells us that His words are “Spirit and life,” so we know that everything He says is the Truth that will lead us to eternal life, but that doesn't mean that following His teachings will be easy to do. We're not always going to agree with the Church, but we are still called to follow the teachings of Christ passed down to us through His Church.

When we do come across one of those areas of disagreement, the temptation comes to either ignore the teaching, doing our own thing, or to actively fight against it. We see this especially when looking at public figures who claim to be Catholic while publicly promoting something contrary to the moral precepts that the Church proclaims. This is a spiritually dangerous position to be in, as it makes what we think more important to us than what Our Lord has revealed to us. If we submit to this temptation, we are like the disciples who left Jesus when what He was teaching became too hard to accept.

The real struggle of Christian life is to be able to say with St. Peter, “To where shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” It's easy to say we agree with the Church's teachings on areas where those around us also agree, but it takes a lot of humility to stand up for those teachings when others might vehemently disagree with the Church's stance. When we submit to the Church's teachings, the focus becomes less about ourselves and more about following Our Lord Jesus Christ.

As we encounter those choices in our lives which challenge us when we follow the Church's teachings, may we be able to say with St. Peter, “We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God,” and make the decision to follow our God, the God of Israel and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, August 17, 2009

7 things I love meme

OK, so AdoroTeDevote tagged me for a meme. I don't know whether to be honored or offended, but either way, she's tagged me, so I should do it.

The rule of the meme is this: Name 7 things that you love. Hmm...I could get into a theological discussion of whether or not you can actually love things, but I'll spare it for now. Anyways, here are the 7 things that I love, in no particular order:

1.Being a priest – I truly love my vocation to the priesthood. To be able to bring Christ to His people in the Sacrifice of the Mass. To be an instrument of God's mercy through the Sacrament of Confession. To be a source of comfort to someone when they're dying, and to be with the family when they are gathered for the funeral of a loved one. I feel so privileged to be able to be a part of God's plan of salvation, serving Him as one of His priests.
2.Jesus – The reason why I'm a priest. I sought ordination not for my own benefit, but to serve Our Lord Jesus Christ as He would have me serve Him. When standing at the altar or administering a Sacrament, I have the great privilege to stand in Persona Christi, to stand in His place. This is a great honor for me, which I am really unworthy to receive. The realization of the honor I have received makes me love Him all the more.
3.The Church – Just as I love Jesus, the head of the Church, I also love His Body. The Church truly is the Body of Christ present on Earth, and exists for one reason: so that we might know how to get to Heaven. How could you not love that?
4.The Pope – Somebody has to keep us in line. Jesus knew that we would need a visible head of the Church, and left us St. Peter and his successors. They weren't always perfect, but they all had the promise by Christ that they would have the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. We can't go wrong trusting in His promise.

Now for the more secular things that I “love”:

5.Electronic Gadgets – I admit that I'm a gadget geek. Whether it's a BlackBerry, a GPS unit in my car, or video game systems, I seem to be always using some electronic gadget. I can live without them, I just choose not to.
6.My car – I know, I know, priests aren't supposed to be attached to personal property, but I really enjoy driving my car. It's just a lot of fun to drive and looks good. I do put over 2000 miles on it in a month, so I guess I probably should enjoy driving it.
7.My family – We don't always get along, and we don't always see eye to eye on things, but I wouldn't trade my family in for anything. My parents have been great supporters throughout the seminary and ordination, and continue to support me in the priesthood.

Who do I want to tag for this meme? I think I'm just going to be lazy on this one and just open it to anyone who wants to do it.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Homily for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Over the past couple of weeks, our readings have focused on the importance of the Eucharist, and this Sunday is no different. We've looked at why the Eucharist is important to us, and why it is important to attend Mass on a regular basis, but the readings today focus on another spiritual benefit to the Eucharist: unity with Our Lord and the Holy Spirit.

In the Gospel passage, which is a continuation of the previous Gospel readings from John's Gospel, Jesus tells us that “whoever eats [His] flesh and drinks [His] blood remains in [Him] and [He] in us.” (Jn 6:56) By receiving Holy Communion, Our Lord enters into us, literally, and becomes part of us. At the same time, we are drawn into union with Him and union with Christians throughout the world, unifying us as members of the Body of Christ.

Through our union with Jesus, we become open to the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and become more willing to receive the gifts that are present whenever the Holy Spirit is at work. The first reading today shows us one of those gifts: wisdom. Whenever the Scriptures mention Wisdom as a person, such as in the first reading, it is always referring to the work of the Holy Spirit.

This first reading tells us that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are ours for the taking, much like food at a banquet that we've been invited to attend. They're not being withheld from us, nor do we have to spend large amounts of money to receive them. Instead, every Christian is offered these gifts, but we need to have the humility to ask God for them.

If we do ask for the gift of wisdom from the Holy Spirit, St. Paul tells us that we will have the ability to “live, not as foolish persons but as wise.” (Eph. 5:15) Instead of “continuing in ignorance” of God's will for our lives, we will “try to understand what is the will of the Lord.” (Eph. 5:17) In other words, we will be more open to seeking those things and actions that are good for us and for those around us, and will set aside those aspects of our lives that are harmful to us and our neighbors.

One aspect of our lives that we will better understand if we seek to be wise instead of foolish is the effect of sin on our lives. We live in a culture that at best minimizes sinfulness, and at worst presents sinful actions and desires as normal or even preferable. If we're not open to the gift of wisdom from the Holy Spirit, it is extremely difficult to discern what aspects of our culture truly are beneficial to us, and what aspects presented to us as good are actually sinful.

I think there's almost a pride in our hearts that we think we can come up with different sins than what St. Paul faced nearly 2000 years ago, but as the passage from St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians shows, we still struggle with the same sins as they did back then. The one example St. Paul gives us is one that many struggle with today, and often isn't even looked upon as sinful: getting drunk on alcoholic beverages, such as wine or beer. There are many people who feel that over consumption of alcohol is morally neutral, and may only be a bad idea as it can lead to hangovers and making bad decisions, like driving home while impaired.

St. Paul obviously disagrees that drinking alcohol to excess is morally neutral, so he gives one reason why it's sinful to get drunk while leaving another reason implied. Implied in his admonition not to drink to excess is the gluttony that goes into consuming enough alcohol that would lead to drunkenness. It is always sinful to engage in gluttony, whether food or drink, as we are called to moderation in all things. Consuming the occasional drink, even one or two a night, can be beneficial for our health and well-being, but consuming alcohol to the point of drunkenness is always gluttony.

Secondly, and more importantly, becoming drunk has the tendency to lower one's willingness to refrain from other sinful actions. Just as some might be more willing to express their opinions after a few drinks, actions which may be unthinkable when sober become possible or desirable when drunk. We are then more open to committing sins which will affect us long after the effects of the alcohol has worn off.

As we receive Holy Communion, may be drawn more closely into the Body of Christ. May we also be more open to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit at work within us, allowing that wisdom to aid us in avoiding sinful actions.