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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the spiritual life, there are very common patterns that run throughout our lives. Sometimes it takes years of study and discernment to find those patterns, but today's Gospel gives us one very common pattern, a pattern for becoming a devoted follower of Jesus. This pattern of living is not only for us to follow Him, but also for inviting others to follow Our Lord as well.

The first step in this pattern is hearing the Gospel proclaimed to us. All of us, at one time or another, have had the teachings of the Lord explained to us, showing us why it is necessary to follow Him for salvation. Many of us may have heard it many times, through homilies, spiritual reading, religion classes and so on. At some point, there was someone willing to proclaim the Gospel of Christ to us.

The second step is to hear Our Lord's call to follow Him. We know that Jesus is always pulling on our hearts to become more deeply devoted to Him and follow Him, but we often don't hear that call because of events in our lives or ignore that call because it might cause us to move out of where we're comfortable. Even with our reluctance to answer that call, Our Lord is calling to us much as He called to Simon, Andrew, James, and John on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
The four fishermen show us an example of the third step: responding to Our Lord's call by following Him. These fishermen left behind everything they had, especially their livelihoods, to follow Jesus. To give up everything and follow Our Lord is the ultimate sacrifice, one that we may not be called to make, but we still need to follow Him with the willingness to sacrifice anything to serve Him.

As followers of Our Lord, we are not only challenged to follow His will, but also to evangelize those around us, to bring the whole world to follow Christ. It's a difficult challenge to be sure, and may not always be welcome by those we interact with on a daily basis, but these three steps also give us the guidelines to evangelization.

First, we must be willing to proclaim the Gospel, both in words and in deeds. If we truly wish to follow Our Lord, we must act as He would have us act, and be willing to give up those thoughts and behaviors which are contrary to living the Gospel. Likewise, we must be willing to talk to others about the Gospel, which will be difficult at best and will mean saying somethings which will not be popular, especially in the area of morality. Our culture here in the United States, as well as throughout much of the developed world, has rapidly slid away from the promotion of Christian values. We are challenged to stand up to that culture in defense of life and morality, both on a national level through political action, but also on a personal level through our conversations with those we meet every day. It is extremely difficult to speak up to promote the Gospel, but Our Lord asks each of us to do just that.

Along with proclaiming the Gospel, we can call others to follow Jesus, much as He called the fishermen on the shore. Many of us know someone or several people who may have left the practice of the Catholic faith for various reasons. Sometimes they may have just stopped going to church, not going on Sunday any more, or they may have started attending another church. For whatever reason they may have for not attending, we need to reach out to them and invite them to come back. It may not always be met with approval, but we still need to make the effort to invite them.

Finally, following Our Lord may bring with it some difficulties. St. Paul, whose conversion we also celebrate today, frequently had to suffer through persecution because of his willingness to follow Christ and spread His Gospel. Even through the persecutions, St. Paul dedicated his life to Christ's Gospel, and we must be willing to do the same. Persecution may come for those who follow Christ, but we need to remember that the Kingdom of God is at hand, as he tells us in today's Gospel passage. We follow Our Lord so that we may have a share in that Kingdom. The persecutions of this life will pass away, to be replaced with the joy of the life to come.

By following Our Lord, we may come to feel like Jonah in the first reading who was reluctant to go through Nineveh announcing the Lord's message. Jonah did what God commanded of him, and the people of Nineveh repented. We must also be willing to proclaim what Our Lord has commanded of us so that our world may repent and turn to Him.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

C.S. Lewis on Mars

OK, this is really cool for a Sci-Fi geek like me: C.S. Lewis has a rock named after him on Mars, and another rock is named after Malacandra, the name Lewis gave to Mars in his Space Trilogy. Both are in this image from NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day. Both rocks are just below the label marking "East". The science geeks at NASA have good taste!

Homily for the Day of Penance for an End to Abortion

Today, we're remembering one of the most painful anniversaries in the history of our nation. We have many anniversaries that commemorate great events within our history, but this is not one of them. Thirty-six years ago, on January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court legalized abortion at all stages from conception to birth. To remember this anniversary, we are asked to make today a day of penance, which is why I'm wearing the purple of Advent and Lent instead of the green of Ordinary Time.

Our previous Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, challenged our nation during his visit to St. Louis, Missouri in 1999 by saying, “And so America: if you want peace, work for justice. If you want justice, defend life. If you want life, embrace truth – truth revealed by God.” When we look the United States' track record in fulfilling his challenge, we've failed in two ways. First, we've failed to embrace the truth that all life is sacred, from conception to natural death. Second, we've failed to defend those who are the most defenseless and cannot speak for themselves: the unborn. It's little wonder why there is so much division and violence in our nation when we refuse to view life as sacred.

Here in Montana, these attacks on life have reached a new level through the judicial approval of so-called “physician assisted suicide”. The approval of physician assisted suicide, more accurately known as euthanasia, is just a logical conclusion to the principle that human life is not sacred, and therefore is not worthy of protection, especially when it is inconvenient. If life is not respected and protected at the very beginning in the womb, why respect and protect it at the end?

To combat these attacks on human life, and those to come in the future, we must remind ourselves of the sacredness of all human life. Our lives are gifts from God, and we show our appreciation for this gift by protecting and defending life from those who would destroy it. To repeat Pope John Paul II, “And so America: if you want peace, work for justice. If you want justice, defend life. If you want life, embrace truth – truth revealed by God.” May our nation embrace the truth revealed by God and defend all life from conception to natural death.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Homily for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Day in and day out, we hear lots of voices. We turn on the TV and hear the voices of the newscasters and actors and actresses. The radio is full of the voices of the announcers and singers. The voices of our coworkers and bosses fill our work environments. Even in our free time, we hear the voices of our families and friends. In the midst of all this noise, Jesus is calling to us softly, like a whisper in the night, to follow him.

Because of the voices that surround us, we might miss hearing the voice of the Lord. We might be so wrapped up in the problems and concerns of the world that we lose our focus on the spiritual realm. It's easy in times of challenges and struggles to put away prayer and focus on taking care of the problems that confront us. Unfortunately, it's also easy to fall into sin, which makes it harder to hear Our Lord's call, much as ear plugs make it hard to hear what is being said by others around us.

At other times in our lives, we might hear the Lord speaking to us, but mistake where that voice is coming from. Like Samuel, who mistook God's call in the middle of the night for Eli calling to him, we might think that the call we hear is coming from the world. Instead of following the voice that we hear from Jesus, we turn towards the things of the world and follow after them.

Conversely, we might hear voices which claim to be speaking on behalf of God, but are really speaking for themselves. Throughout history, much pain and suffering have come at the hands of those who have tricked others to follow their voices instead of the Lord's voice. Civil and religious leaders have sparked wars claiming that they were called by God to enter into battle against those who opposed them. Cult leaders, such as Jim Jones or David Koresh, brainwashed large groups of people convincing them that the leader's voice was the only true way to hear God's voice.

Ideally, we will reject all these false voices which serve to draw us away from Our Lord, but discerning His voice amongst the chaos can be difficult at best. Jesus does not speak to us in a literal voice, much as one human speaks to another, but speaks to us through the people and things that surround us every day. Likewise, He speaks to us through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, drawing us closer to Him through subtle hints and feelings. With all the conflicting voices, how do we block out those which are not from Our Lord and focus on those which come from Him?

To hear Our Lord's voice, we first need to realize that He is always speaking to us. He is constantly trying to encourage us to turn to Him, so we need to find ways to silence ourselves and allow Him to speak to us. We need to take time every day to shut out as many distractions and outside voices as we can and just focus on Our Lord. While it would be ideal to spend time before the Blessed Sacrament here in the church every day, that's not always possible or practical. Some times, it might be as simple as going into the bedroom or another secluded part of the house for even just a few minutes each day. I've known people who would sit in their cars and pray, as it was the only quiet place that they had available to them.

When we take this time for silence and prayer, we need to respond to the Lord as Eli instructed Samuel to respond: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” We need to make this prayer with sincerity and listen for His words. As we begin to listen, there probably won't be a whisper, as Samuel heard, and it may take some time to figure out God's voice in our lives. Eventually, His voice will become very clear as we spend more time in prayer, as we will begin to recognize His voice. It's all a matter of discernment of His will for our lives and how He is speaking to us at this moment in our lives.

Like He did with Samuel, God is calling to us to follow Him. We just need to open our hearts and listen.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Blessing upon coffee

OK, it's a little old, but I definitely need this prayer some mornings.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Favorite Blessing -- Use only in Moderation

Fr. Cranky comments on the blessings provided in the Book of Blessings. As part of the conversation, my favorite blessing from the Rituale Romanum was brought to mind:

Bless, + O Lord, this creature, ale which by thy power has been produced from kernels of grain. May it be a healthful beverage to mankind, and grant that through the invoking of thy holy name all who drink thereof may find it a help in body and protection in soul. Through Christ our Lord. Amen. (English translation by Rev. Weller)

Of course, this should only be used in moderation.

(Edited to remove links to Fr. Cranky's blog, which is currently locked.)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Homily for the Baptism of the Lord

Water has taken on many meanings in our lives. We all need a certain amount of water to survive, so it frequently symbolizes life. For farmers, the water means that the crops will grow. We use water for washing, so it also signifies cleansing. Within the Church, water is frequently used as the symbol of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In this feast, we are not only called to focus on Our Lord's baptism, but also in the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

For those who were approaching John the Baptist, baptism was a cleansing and purifying act, both physically and spiritually. The Mosaic Law prescribed several acts of ritual washing that were meant to purify oneself before eating or offering a ritual sacrifice. Baptism was also used as a way to express sorrow for sins committed, asking God to forgive those sins and wash them away as water washes away the dirt and grime of daily life.

By Our Lord's baptism and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Him, He changed how baptism is to be viewed. Baptism still has a purifying aspect, washing away our sins, but has taken on a greater symbol of the dying to our old selves and being reborn as children of God. Through our baptisms, the Holy Spirit has come upon us and adopted us as sons and daughters of God. This is shown in the baptismal rite by the priest anointing the newly baptized child with sacred chrism, the same holy oil which is used at Confirmation and Ordination. It's not a coincidence that this same oil is used at Baptism and Confirmation, as the actions of the Holy Spirit in baptism is completed in our lives through Confirmation. The Sacred Chrism symbolizes the Holy Spirit being poured upon us, so it shows the movement of the Holy Spirit any time it is used in the celebration of a Sacrament. No longer are we in a Creator/created relationship with God, but now a familial relationship through the actions of the Holy Spirit.

Baptism and Confirmation are not the only times that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives. It doesn't just come upon us during the reception of the Sacrament and then leave us, but remains within us and continues to draw us closer to God the Father and His Son. As St. John tells us in the second reading, the Spirit testifies to the truth of God's love for us and encourages us to draw deeper into that love. The Holy Spirit does not force us to love God in return, nor are we forced to worship God despite what we want, but gently encourages us and pulls us to Him, much as a child pulls their parents to show them something they made.

We all have these pulls in our lives, and we have to choose whether to follow them. For many of us, we have a particular career that we feel drawn towards. There might be friends that we feel more drawn towards than others. Sometimes we even feel pulled towards a particular meal on a particular day, say a craving for a hamburger or Mexican food. Amidst all these pulls, there is one pull which is particularly strong in our lives, even if we don't realize it. This is the pull of the Holy Spirit drawing us closer to Our Lord, encouraging us to spend our time and energy following Him. Like all our pulls, however, we have the ability to choose whether or not to follow it or ignore it. Unlike the desire for a particular meal, however, this pull does not go away easily, but remains throughout our lives.

The Holy Spirit not only pulls us towards God, but also brings us the gift of faith in Him. We know that we cannot have faith in God on our own, as it is a gift from Him. This gift comes to us through the work of the Holy Spirit drawing us closer to God. The closer we get to God, the more of this gift we receive. God doesn't limit the amount of faith that we can receive, but rather we limit our openness to this faith until we draw closer. It has more to do with our acceptance of this faith than God's willingness to give. St. John promises us that we will be able to conquer the world through the gift of God's faith in our lives.

As we reflect on the Baptism of Our Lord, may we be open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our lives and willingly pray, “Come Holy Spirit!”

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Simplicity of the Gospel

As I reflected on today's readings, I was really struck* by how simple the Gospel really is. In the readings today, Our Lord sums up the Gospel message in one sentence: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mt 4:17) Likewise, St. John sums up how to live as the Gospel demands in one sentence in his First Letter: “we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.” (1 John 3:23) That's it. Everything else that we believe as Christians builds on those two sentences. Our prayers, devotions, liturgies, doctrines, and dogmas come out of those brief statements.

So, why is the Catechism of the Catholic Church so big? Simple, we keep finding ways to screw up this simple message, and need to be corrected. If we all repented of our sins, did as Our Lord commanded, and loved our neighbors as ourselves, the Catechism would be about as long as this blog post. Since we keep trying to find loopholes or exceptions to the rule, we need more guidance. Hence the 900+ pages in the Catechism.

* NB: I never start a homily like this. It's bad homiletics, as it should be implied in your preparation. For a blog post, one needs to set the scene that brought up the post.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Homily for the Feast of the Epiphany

I hate to admit it, but I had to look up the dictionary definition of the word 'epiphany'. We use the word in conjunction with this feast, but do we really think about what it means? The American Heritage Dictionary defines 'epiphany' as “A revelatory manifestation of a divine being.” Kind of a long-winded definition, but it fits this feast well. In this feast, traditionally celebrated on January 6th, but relocated to the Sunday following January 1st, we celebrate the Light of the World, Jesus Christ, being revealed to the Gentiles in fulfillment of the promise by Isaiah to the people of Israel.

In our first reading, Isaiah is speaking to a downtrodden people of Israel who have been subjected to the Babylonian Exile. Having been forced away from their homeland, the people of Israel are wondering how God's promise to them will be fulfilled. Isaiah reveals to them that the promise will not only be fulfilled, but in greater measure than they could ever imagine.

For the Gentiles to share in the promise of God to the people of Israel would have been greatly revolutionary. God's promise to Abraham was that his descendants would share in the Promised Land and receive His salvation. They understood this to mean those who were of Israelite descent, that is those who physically descended from the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Those who were not of the people of Israel could become “God fearing Gentiles”, sharing in some of the rituals, feasts and celebrations, but would never fully participate of the promise of God. It was only through birth to a family with Israelite lineage that one participated fully in God's promise of salvation.

With the coming of Our Lord and the visit by the magi, who would have been considered Gentiles, all of this changed. Now, the promise of God's salvation has been opened to all humanity, not only those of Israelite descent. We all can now participate in the salvation promised by God, made incarnate through the birth of Our Lord. By our participation in this promise, we are challenged to be like the star and the magi in the Gospel reading.

The star which appeared in the night sky at Our Lord's birth led the magi to adore Him in the humble surroundings of the stable as a little child. In our lives, we are challenged to lead those around us to Our Lord, just as the star led the magi to Him. The best way that we can do this is by living our lives in accord with the virtues that Jesus teaches us through His Gospel and His Church, but we also may be called to be more proactive in proclaiming the Gospel. Sometimes it could be a sympathetic ear and friendly advice to someone who feels lost or confused. Other times, it may be a willingness to defend our beliefs against someone who is denigrating the faith and those who follow it. We may even have to learn our faith so that we can answer the questions that we have, or that are brought up by those we interact with on a daily basis. We are called to live and share our faith in order to lead others to Christ just as the star led the magi to Him.

Through the prostration of the magi before the Christ Child and his mother, we are also challenged to adore Our Lord however he appears to us. The magi were willing to fall down in adoration before a mere infant lying in a manger within a stable, so we should be willing to spend time in adoration before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, whether reserved in the Tabernacle or exposed in the Monstrance. We can do this by arriving for Mass early to spend time in silent adoration, or by staying after Mass for a few minutes to adore Him in thanksgiving for being able to receive Him in Holy Communion. We also have the privilege of being able to stop by throughout the day and spend some quiet time with Him in the midst of our hectic schedules, even if just for a couple of minutes. Any way that we can do it, we are encouraged to spend time in silent adoration of Our Lord.

Through our participation in the salvation promised by God, we are given the challenge to live our lives in devotion to Him. May we take up the challenge, as the magi did, and live our lives in praise and adoration of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Blessed New Year

Here in Montana, we have just entered into the New Year, 2009 AD. May you have a blessed and peaceful year, and may this be a year of peace. I ask God's blessing upon all who read this blog, and may you have a joyful and blessed New Year!