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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.