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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.