Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Book Review: The Memoirs of Louis Bouyer

The stack of books I'm trying to read is much larger than what my calendar allows for. When I do actually finish a book though, I want to use the blog to tell you what I thought about it. I'm happy to lend this or any other book in my library if you live near me and don't look like a hooligan.

Louis Bouyer was a Frenchman who lived from 1913-2004. He was a Lutheran minister who converted to Catholicism and became a priest. He is of interest because of his involvement in the Second Vatican Council and his close relationship with various popes on liturgical and theological commissions. These Memoirs have been published in French for quite some time and only recently have been translated into English.

Most people are interested in these memoirs for his personal insights into the popes, which are always positive, and his unique insights into the commissions he worked on, which are sometimes contrary to the normal positive narrative told by others of the period. He is the one who who told the alternative history of Eucharistic Prayer II, famously quipping that he would never pray Eucharistic Prayer II "because I wrote it." His wry view of the Council, at the height of his frustration, is worth quoting, both as an example of his opinion and of his wit:
In the best case scenario, that of a truly ecumenical council in the traditional meaning of the term, i.e. actually representative of an undivided Christendom, the most that divine assistance can ensure for the Apostles' successors is the absence of any possible error in the doctrinal definitions such assemblies venture to produce. But, short of this extreme case, any dosage of approximation, insufficiency, or simple superficiality are to be expected from even so sacrosanct an assembly.
As insightful as it is, his involvement in the Council is really only one chapter of the book. The rest of it is the story of a man born on eve of World War I, who became a Lutheran minister and couldn't resist the draw of the Catholic Church, and who ended up advising Cardinals and Popes. He's traveled the world speaking and teaching, and yet he never comes across as a worldly man. He's simply an academic, a man who studied and prayed hard, and who had the gifts necessary to be a part of big events. These memoirs are written in an entertaining, intelligent style, and I would highly recommend them.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Holy Innocents

Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents. The awful things Herod did out of fear can't help but make me (and many others) think about abortion. The presence of God's blessing should represent hope for the future, but it's a hope to which I have to conform my life. A blessing of this magnitude requires that I order my whole life around this new blessing. If I won't do that, my only other option is to attempt to eliminate the blessing so that I don't have to change. That's what Herod tried to do.

HERE'S my homily for the day.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Fighting for the Family

Each year around this time we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family, a feast where we pay particular attention to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as a family. And the context for this feast is always within the Octave of Christmas. In our liturgy, an Octave is where we suspend time and just live in the same celebration for eight days and examine it from different angles. So this Octave of Christmas, this eight day celebration of Christmas, has various feasts throughout it that help us to examine and appreciate the various ways that Christmas is made. Today we try to make sense of the fact that the second person of the Trinity, through whom all things were made, was born into a family, and what the implications of this great mystery might be.

Our God always does what's best. Jesus wasn't born into poor circumstances and adored only by shepherds and foreigners simply because there was no other choice, but rather because it was best and most fitting that it should happen this way. And also with the fact that he was born as a helpless baby into a family, rather than arriving on a cloud in Jerusalem fully grown and surrounded by trumpeting angels. It's not that the clouds and angels and trumpets couldn't have happened, but it was most fitting that it should happen the way it did. This is consonant with what we find in scripture from the very beginning. The first thing that God doesn't call good in the story of creation is man's loneliness. Everything that God made he called good: the land, the sea, the birds, the fish, the land animals. It was all good, until he looked on Adam's aloneness, and then he said, "It is not good for man to be alone," and so he made Eve. He made someone to complement Adam, because Adam wasn't whole on his own. He made a family. This complementarity of male and female out of which family springs is integral to God's plan for creation.

And so, if complementarity and family is integral to God's plan for creation, it would make sense that if the devil and his minions wanted to sabotage God's plans, they would go after the these things. Pope Benedict, one of the clearest thinkers of our age, spoke on this back in 2012. I want to quote to you from what he said, then I want to pick the quote apart because Pope Benedict is a deep thinker:
"Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation. Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him...from being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain. When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defence of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man."
That was a lot, so let's understand the basic things he's saying. First his assumption or starting point: he assumes that man and woman are have a Creator, and that that Creator made them to complement each other, that is, man and woman complete each other and that they're designed to go together. Then, he says this is disputed today, our world claims that there's no real difference between man and woman, that they don't complement or complete each other. And because the world rejects the idea that man and woman are designed by God to complete each other, Pope Benedict lays out three consequences: First, he says that the family is no longer seen as something springing naturally from creation, but rather it's simply a social construct that we can change however we want. Second, he says that if man and woman aren't designed by God to be complementary, than the child has no inherent dignity or rights, but now he or she has become an object that other people have a right to obtain or dispose of as they so desire. And third, if complementarity isn't something that we were created with but rather something we choose if it suits us, then God himself is denied, and along with God the inherent dignity of man as his creature is denied.

All of this stems from a denial that God made us and has a plan for us. And the results aren't hard to find. Marriage continues to take on new and bizarre forms. Aside from the homosexual marriage phenomenon that has been sweeping our country, start learning the words throuple or monagamish. Throuple refers to three people being married, and monagamish refers to couples that are faithful to each other but open to others. It's all coming. And of course abortion continues to be a scourge on our society, and now euthanasia is starting to make strides as well. Children are being created in petri dishes in order to be experimented upon. Now, all of this has been present in one form or another since the fall of man, but it's always happened in secret and in shame. Never before has such disrespect and abuse of the human person been declared good and wholesome.

Yes, the devil is very good at what he does. He knows that to wreak the most damage possible on God's creation, he had to go after the family. Step one in fighting back is to acknowledge that I have a creator. Say, "Eternal Father, you are my creator and I adore you." I've heard of this line being used at exorcisms, the priest challenges the person to say the line, "Eternal Father, you are my creator and I adore you," because as long as the person is possessed, they cannot say it. The devil cannot, will not acknowledge God as creator and worship him, and he wants to drag you down to the same level. So step one in combating the devil's plans is to acknowledge God as Lord and Creator.

And then, once you've acknowledged God the Father as your creator, you want to ask yourself what the repercussions of this might be. Number one is this: If God made you, that means you didn't make yourself. This is basic, but our world is intent on forgetting it. I didn't make myself, therefore, I don't get to call all the shots about me. The one who made me does. I have an obligation to learn about this one who made me and made the world, and to come to understand his purpose for it all. Luckily, he didn't leave us empty-handed in this crucial task, he gave us a Church with real teaching authority to make him known to us. So then, once you have God's purpose fixed in your mind and heart, then anytime the worlds come at with you with some new idea concerning these fundamental truths, you can ask yourself, "Is this stemming from the way God created and ordered the world, or is this stemming from a denial of God as creator?" If it stems from a denial of God and doesn't resonate with the teaching of God's Church, then you know to reject it outright.

Our God loves you and he wants to draw you to himself. This feast of the Holy Family, celebrated within the Christmas Octave, is how he wants to manifest one particular aspect of his love. Accept his love by living in the truth he offers rather than the lies that the world proposes. Accept his love, conform your life to it, and let that love lead you to eternal life.

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Child of Hope

[Audio recording of the homily HERE]

Every time a child is born into the world, the world is permanently and irrevocably changed because of the presence of this new child. A new child always represents promise. A new child always represents hope for the future. A new child makes us think that just maybe this world is bigger than my own view of it, that maybe everything is going to be ok after all.

On this most holy night so long ago, the world changed once again because a child was born. To those on the outside, this child looked like any other, and so they moved on. A new child should represent hope, and we should respond with joy, but with eyes dimmed by sin we often respond with tragic indifference to hope in the world. In fact, to those on the outside, without the eyes of faith, this child born so long ago may have represented a burden. Born to homeless immigrant parents in questionable circumstances, those without the eyes of faith could easily see in this child nothing more than just another burden, another mouth to feed, another drain on society.

But, to those with the eyes to see, this child represented hope like no child before or since. This child represented the fulfillment of a promise made by a God to his people so long ago, a promise to deliver them from the domain of sin and death and return them to himself. The rich and the powerful couldn't see such promise in this child. But the lowly did. The young couple to whom he was entrusted, they recognized the promise. Shepherds faithfully watching their flocks, representing the watchful ones of Israel, they recognized the promise when the angel of the Lord announced it to them, and so they came to adore. Wise men from the east, who were given a message they could understand in form of the star, they recognized the promise, and so they traveled far to worship this new child.

The parents, the shepherds, the wise men, each in their own way recognized that his new child represented a new hope for fallen humanity. Before the birth of Jesus, humanity, all of mankind, was under the domain of the ancient foe that seduced our first parents so long ago. But because we have a Father who loved us even in our sin, that situation, that tragic separation of the children from the Father, could not stand. So out of the love that is the essence of the Most Holy Trinity, God became man and the devil's stranglehold on humanity was broken because the evil one couldn't ensnare the Most Holy One.

So while on the surface we see a manger, shepherds, and a silent night, the eyes of faith help us to see that that isn't the whole story. Hidden from human eyes, a battle was raging for the fate of humanity. The devil fought hard to keep humanity under his power. He saw the Father's plan to send a Redeemer and he knew that Redeemer would ultimately defeat him. But the love of God won out over the hatred of the devil, and so a child was born this night.

And now, the message that a Savior has been born to us has gone out to all the world. This message has toppled empires and converted millions. This message, that God became man, has been the pivotal message of humanity for two thousand years. Since that night in Bethlehem so long ago, whether you accept or reject this baby as God has become the primary factor to unite and divide humanity ever since. And yet, it has remained a message from the humble, for the humble. For this child wasn't born among the poor merely because of social circumstances, but because it was the very Will of of the Almighty and Eternal Father that it should happen this way. Kings and rulers can usurp the message of Jesus and exploit it to their own ends, but it remains a message of the little ones.

And so in order to participate in God's plan of salvation and love, we have to take the path of the humble. John's gospel tells us that Jesus came to the world, but the world did not know him. He came to his own people, but his own people did not accept him. But to those who do accept him, he gives power to become children of God. So we cannot approach him with any sort of power or authority, claiming to know who this God-man is or what he wants. We approach him with humility and wonder, like the shepherds, like the wise men, in order to offer him what poor gifts we have. For us, it is not gold, frankincense or myrrh that we bring, but attentive ears, a trusting heart, and an obedient will.

We draw near to the newborn Savior by drawing near to those who are most like him: helpless children, the poor, the marginalized. Jesus, the Savior of humanity, was born into a family in order to teach us the importance of family as well. And so we draw near to the newborn Savior by loving the family which God has entrusted to us. Through these things, through these most important of people in our lives, we come to recognize the awesome hope that was born two thousand years ago, and by loving these people we love the Savior himself and we live in the hope he represents. To one and all, a very blessed Christmas to you.

Proclamation of the Birth of the Christ

Today, the twenty-fifth day of December,
unknown ages from the time
when God created the heavens and the earth and then
formed man and woman in his own image.

Several thousand years after the flood,
when God made the rainbow shine forth
as a sign of the covenant.

Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah;
thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt.

Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges;
one thousand years from the anointing of David as king;
in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel.

In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation
of the city of Rome.

The forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;
the whole world being at peace,
Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,
desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming,
being conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and nine months having passed since his conception,
was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary.

Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ
according to the flesh.

A Blessed Christmas to You

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Longing and Obedience

As our Advent draws closer to the actual event of Christmas, our readings draw closer from remote to proximate preparation. The last couple weeks we've been hearing from John the Baptist, that voice crying out in the wilderness, and he's been telling us to get ready. That was remote preparation for the Savior. Today our preparations become much more proximate and much more intimate because rather than hearing about the wild man crying out in the wilderness, the story shifts today to focus on the mutual joy of two pregnant women. But what ties it all together is this longing for redemption

From the Benedictine Monastery, Clyde, MO
So before we get to the gospel, we need to look at our first reading from the book of the prophet Micah, because Jesus can really only be understood in the light of the Old Testament. Micah, like all Old Testament prophets, was sent by God to call Israel to return to the Lord's way. Much of Micah's book contains this same call to return to the Lord that we hear throughout the prophets of the Old Testament, but this particular section that we heard today is different. Here, Micah is prophesying about the future salvation of Israel.

In particular, he's prophesying about the humble origins of this coming Savior. He's not going to come from Jerusalem or one of the major regions of Israel. He's going to come from a little backwoods town called Bethlehem. And in ancient Israel when Micah was preaching, much of Israel's problems were due to weak and immoral leadership, and so Micah predicts a Savior who will be a firm and good ruler. He shall shepherd Israel like a flock, he will be strong, and he will bring peace. To the Jews, this would be a dream come true.

And then in the Gospel, that dream is beginning to come true. To really enter into Advent and Christmas, we want to enter into the longing of ancient Israel for their Savior. If we can feel some of Israel's longing for a Redeemer, then we can start to see that this isn't just the joy of two women unexpectedly blessed with pregnancies, as if that isn't cause enough for joy, but this is also the redemption of a whole people that is happening here. Elizabeth recognizes that redemption is at hand, that's why she addresses Mary as "the mother of my Lord." And she calls Mary blessed a couple times. Why? "Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled." Blessed are you who believed. Blessed are you who trusted.

Mary is called blessed because she believed and trusted, and because she trusted, great things happened through her. Because she trusted, the redemption that Israel longed for was accomplished through the child she gave birth to. Israel had been laboring for its redemption for years but could never accomplish it. That was the point of the ritual animal sacrifice of the temple, it was an attempt to atone for the sins of the people. But our second reading teaches us that that's not quite what God wanted. "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; in holocaust and sin offerings you took no delight. Then I said, 'As is written of me in the scroll, behold, I come to do your will." This is a line from one of the psalms of the Old Testament (Psalm 40), but here the author has put it, so to speak, into the mouth of Jesus the Redeemer to explain his mission. Sacrifices and holocausts don't please God, but obedience to his Will does. Jesus comes to be obedient to the Father.

God the Father delights in obedience to his Will, but we want to make sure we understand that the right ways. God is not a dictator who is just made happy when people appease him and do what he says. God delights in your flourishing, and he's the one that made you. He knows what makes you flourish and he knows what hurts you, and so he commands that which is good for you and forbids that which is bad for you.

From the Missal of Bernhard von Rohr
Archbishop of Salzburg, ca 1481
And so with Mary in our gospel and with Jesus in our second reading, we have these portraits of humble obedience to the will of God. Mary's obedience gave life to Jesus, whose own obedience in turn gave life to the whole world. This is contrasted with Eve's disobedience so long ago, which handed death to Adam, whose subsequent disobedience gave death to the whole world.

So it's a good exercise to examine your attitudes towards the commandments we receive through God and through his Church, because through them we can reveal our attitudes about the whole Christian life. Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that Christianity is a set of rules and regulations, and so being a Christian means just following a set of rules. If we see Christianity as just a set of rules, we'll come to resent those rules and the rule-giver. But Christianity is about following the Christ, and not Christ the rule-giver, but Christ the Redeemer. To be a Christian is to live in the fulfillment of the longing of ancient Israel. In these last couple days of Advent, let the longing for the Savior fill your hearts. He came into the world to save us from sin and death, from these things we couldn't save ourselves from, and he wants to come into your heart to do the same thing. Don't let his coming be an indifferent event in your life. Long for him to come into your life the way he came into ancient Israel. Long for him in this lead-up to Christmas, and he will not disappoint.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

#LaterHomily: Holy Friendships

Last Monday we heard the story of the man who was brought to Jesus and lowered through the roof by his four friends. I preached a homily that a day about the importance of holy friendships that a couple people have said they really liked, but I forgot to post it here. So, here it is now. Enjoy! [HOMILY HERE]

Monday, December 14, 2015

St. John of the Cross

Today is the memorial of St. John of the Cross. I've studied St. John a little bit, even though I really didn't do well in that class. I preached on him today [HOMILY HERE] and gave a very rough outline of his teaching.

St. John was a 16th century Spanish mystic. Together with St. Teresa of Avila, he spent his life laboring for the reform of the Carmelite order, even enduring imprisonment at the hands of those who resisted his reforms. He is most well remembered today for his spiritual poetry, especially the Dark Night of the Soul. His teaching is often seen as unapproachable or frightening in its difficulty, but those who have studied him know that it need not be seen that way.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

I Say It Again: Rejoice

First things first, let's talk about the vestments. This Sunday is known as Gaudete Sunday, which comes from the first word of the Latin entrance antiphon: Gaudete in Domino Semper, Rejoice in the Lord always. Gaudete means rejoice, and so there's this sense where as we get close to Christmas, the penitential aspect of Advent is tempered by the joy of Christmas, so the purple of Advent is infused by the white of Christmas to give us pink, or rose. Now, I have learned that purple and white actually make lavender, not rose, but lavender doesn't exist on the average guy's color palette, and it was guys that made these decisions a long time ago, so we ended up with rose. I'm not actually sure what color lavender is.

So we are called today to rejoice in our Lord who is coming, not just at Christmas, but at the end of time. The Collect set the tone for that. "Oh God, who see how your people faithfully await the feast of the Lord's Nativity, enable us, we pray, to attain the joys of so great a salvation and to celebrate them always with solemn worship and glad rejoicing." This prayer has several movements. First, we noted how God sees us faithfully waiting for Christmas, the feast of Jesus's coming. Then, we asked God to enable us always to celebrate the joys this feast brings us with glad rejoicing. This prayer recognizes that God is the source of our joy, and that if we have joy, it comes from him.

So then we move into the readings. The first reading, from the prophet Zephaniah, continues this command to rejoice. Zephaniah has been preaching against the corruption he saw in Israel, but at this point in his book he turns his attention to the coming Messiah who will remove the judgment that Israel is suffering under. Israel was suffering because they weren't faithful to their promise, but Zephaniah prophecies that this will not last, and so he commands them to rejoice. He tells them that one day God will be in their midst, and so they need to rejoice.

But John the Baptist seems to take the "God is going to be in your midst" thing a different direction, and the joy is not as immediately apparent. John says that one mightier than himself is coming, and he says that this mighty one is coming with his winnowing fan, to clear the threshing floor and to burn the chaff. A winnowing fan is how a farmer would separate the wheat from the useless chaff. The wheat is gathered in at harvest but the useless chaff is blown away by the wind or burned. John the Baptist is using this as an image of Jesus's coming: Jesus will gather his own to himself, but those who are not his will be burned with unquenchable fire. So, rejoice? Luke, who wrote the gospel, describes this as good news that John was preaching.

And it should be good news to us, if we're ready. Jesus didn't come to allow us to keep living our old lives. He came to call us to a new life. When you were baptized however long ago, it wasn't so that you could keep living your old life. You were baptized so that you would have the grace to follow Jesus into a new life, to be the wheat that he would gather into his barns. This is indeed news worth rejoicing over.

And finally, St. Paul in the second reading reiterates this call to be joyful. He says, "Rejoice in the Lord always," but then he does something interesting. He says our kindness should be known to all, and he tells us to have no anxiety at all. He seems to link joy, kindness, and peace. He does this by encouraging absolute dependence on God. Paul says that if you depend on God, it will make you more joyful, it will make you kinder, and it will bring more peace into your life.

And Paul's right in this, but it's not an instantaneous thing, partially because depending on God is easier said than done. Dependence on God is tricky, because it doesn't absolve you from doing your own share of the work in your life. If you sit at home all day and depend on God to provide you money to buy food, you'd probably end up hungry. So you and I have to work at the things that it is in our power to work at. But we lose sleep over a whole lot of things that are far beyond our power to control: the choices our family and friends make, the direction our country is going to go, what the future holds, and a million other things. These are the things we have to turn over to God.

There's a famous story about Pope John XXIII (if anybody has cause for anxiety it's the pope) who would pray for the Church every night and he would always conclude his prayer with, "Well, it's your Church Lord, I'm going to bed." And because John XXIII found peace in letting God take care of the things that he couldn't, he was known as an exceedingly kind and joyful man. Kindness and joy came naturally to him because he let go of the problems he couldn't control.

We all have a risk for increased stress as we get closer to Christmas. I urge you strongly to resist that. If the house isn't perfectly decorated or that last present isn't bought, it's ok. None of it is worth your own peace, which is truly a gift from God. So rejoice today because the Lord is near, and let the peace of that Lord permeate the last half of Advent.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Our Lady of Guadalupe

One of many pictures of the day
Happy Feast of our Lady of Guadalupe! I had the privilege of visiting this Shrine back in 2012 during a Spanish Immersion experience in the heart of Mexico. During this immersion, I had the good sense to keep a daily journal of what I was experiencing. Here is the journal entry written from the day we visited Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe.
What an incredible day. Today we visited the basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and it was definitely the highlight of the trip so far. We left Puebla at around 9:30 in the morning. We rented a bus that seated twenty passengers and we filled it with seminarians and Fr. Luis' family. We drove to Mexico City and the traffic in the city was as bad as they promised. We were scheduled to celebrate (for Fr. Luis) and serve (for the seminarians) the 1:00 pm mass on the main altar. Mass is constantly being celebrated on the main altar right in front of the tilma (the tilma is St. Juan Diego's cloak on which the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe miraculously appeared), so 1:00 was our time. Unless you know someone, you usually celebrate in one of the private chapels that has a distant view of the tilma. Fr. Luis knows people so we got to be on the main altar. The MCs of the basilica manage everything wonderfully so that we prayerfully and expertly celebrated mass with thousands of pilgrims and visitors.

Before and after mass we got to wander around the basilicas and the grounds. The tilma is in a new basilica built in the 60s to replace the old basilica that was sinking into the soft ground (much of Mexico City is built on a former lake). The new basilica is expertly designed to give thousands of people a view of the tilma. Mass can constantly be celebrated on the main altar with the tilma on the wall behind it. But immediately in front of he tilma, between the tilma and the altar, is a 25 foot wide hole to the basement level where those who are not attending the mass can see the tilma much closer. There are actually moving sidewalks so you view the tilma from those, because the area would be constantly swamped with people if they were allowed to stay without moving. After our Mass, we were actually allowed back out onto the altar to view the tilma from the edge of the hole for as long as we wanted. That was incredibly moving.

I visited the old basilica, where they have arrested the sinking but the floor is disconcertingly tilted inside. The floor was mostly smooth so you couldn't see the lean, but when you walked through it the floor just didn't work quite right. I visited the chapel on the hilltop where the apparitions actually took place, and I visited the chapel around St. Juan Diego's house. I expected the square in front of the basilicas to be filled with vendors, but the current cardinal of Mexico City kicked them all out. This made the whole experience very peaceful and prayerful. Even though there were thousands of people there, it didn't feel crowded at all. This is the most visited pilgrimage site in Catholicism. I returned to Puebla at the end of the day exhausted but incredibly happy.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Delightful Law

Today's first reading and responsorial psalm focused on the positive aspects of God's law, so I wanted to emphasize in my homily at the school mass this morning that God's law is in place for our good, to make our lives happier, not to keep us from having any fun. Please ignore the part at the end where I tell them to have a nice Christmas break. They actually have another week of school and I'm not good with calendars.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Advent Preface

The Preface we've been using for Advent has been really beneficial to me in my prayer, so today I examined it closely at this morning's homily. Here's the homily, and the preface is written out below just for a reference:

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.

For he assumed at his first coming
the lowliness of human flesh,
and so fulfilled the design you formed long ago,
and opened for us the way to eternal salvation,
that, when he comes again in glory and majesty
and all is at last made manifest,
we who watch for that day
may inherit the great promise
in which now we dare to hope.

And so, with Angels and Archangels,
with Thrones and Dominions,
and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven,
we sing the hymn of your glory,
as without end we acclaim:

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Repentance and Mercy

Yesterday I was a passing through Fort Collins so I stopped off to see my grandmother. She likes to host a family Christmas party, and this year it's not for another two weeks yet, but she was already making preparations and she was excited to show me how she was decorating her little house for her party. She understands the importance of preparing well to receive people.

Back in September, Pope Francis visited the United States. Preparation for this visit was underway for a year beforehand. The right sites had to be selected and set up, traffic had to be rerouted. Artists and craftsmen were enlisted to create the sanctuary furniture at the various papal masses that the pope would use just once. Chairs were made with the finest care for the pope to sit in for just an hour or two. No one's ever made a chair for my visit, and that is right and just, but for the Pope we make chairs. For the right events, we all understand the importance of preparing well to receive people.

Some of you might host parties through this holiday season, and before you do, you'll probably clean your house more thoroughly than you ordinarily do. If you're hosting guests, you want to make sure they have a nice time. Now imagine this, imagine that one of your guests calls you up ahead of time and says that they're friends with the queen of England and that the queen wants to come to your Christmas party as well. Absurd, I know, but just imagine. If the queen of England was coming to your house, I guarantee you'd clean it like you've never cleaned before. If you know a friend with nicer dishes than you, you'll call them up to borrow them. When somebody of great importance is coming, you naturally go out of your way to make all the preparations you can.

In this gospel today we hear John the Baptist saying that someone cooler and more important than the queen of England is coming (Let's just pretend that John the Baptist knew about the queen of England). Someone more important than the queen of England is coming. He's telling us that Jesus is coming! And he's not just coming to have dinner with us, he's coming to be king of the world, and that starts with being king of our hearts. Jesus wants your heart to be his throne.

This is a tall order, so luckily, John the Baptist also tells us how to make the right preparation: a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus doesn't care if you've vacuumed your carpet or dusted your house, he wants you to make sure you've cleaned your heart.

Remember, John the Baptist showed up and started preaching before Jesus did, so John had a lot of followers while everyone was waiting for the savior John was preaching about. John would give his followers a baptism of repentance. He'd wash them in the Jordan River as a sign that they were washed clean and turning away from their old way of life. This foreshadowed the sacraments of baptism and confession.

What John did is always called a baptism of repentance, and this word repentance is important. To repent is to acknowledge that I have done bad in the past, and that I want to change my ways in the future. To repent is to acknowledge that I am a sinner in need of mercy. Most of us were baptized as infants, and our parents acknowledged for us that we had inherited the original sin of Adam and Even and thus needed God's mercy.

But since our baptism, every one of us have sinned and have needed to experience God's mercy anew. For this, he gave us the sacrament of Confession. Confession is where we participate anew in this repentance that John the Baptist spoke of. But as Catholics, we all have a strained relationship with Confession, so I want to review the basics.

Confession is not a creation of the Church, it's a gift from God to extend his forgiveness of sins to the whole world. Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to his apostles and said "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained" (John 20:23) Jesus gave his apostles the authority to forgive sins. That authority was passed to the bishops, who in turn pass it to the priests. To forgive sins is truly a powerful act because it restores the proper balance and proper relationship of love between the Father and his son or daughter. So the priest acts with real but delegated authority to forgive sins.

Jesus chose to make this power present through his priests because he wants us to seek him together. As Christians and as members of the Body of Christ, we minister to each other, and the forgiveness of sins is a unique ministry that the priest offers to the laity. He didn't tell us to say we're sorry in our hearts because he doesn't want it to be a "me and Jesus" sort of relationship. We seek God together. No matter how big or small your sin is, he wants you to hear those words, "I forgive you," not just in your heart but with your ears.

So what do we say by our actions if we avoid the beautiful sacrament of Confession? What does it mean if we say, "Yeah, that may work for others, but not for me." Here's what I'm afraid it says if we decide we don't need Confession: If I avoid Confession and say that I don't need it, then by my actions I am saying I don't need God's mercy. After we die there are only two options, heaven or hell, and if I don't depend on God's mercy in Confession, that means that either I don't want heaven or I don't think I need his mercy to get there. Whatever tough guy excuses we make for why we don't need Confession are really just manifestations of pride, and they won't get us to heaven. Because If I don't go to Confession, it means I'm trying to get to heaven by my own merit, and not by God's grace, and that will never work.

All three of the priests here love Confession. I love hearing Confessions, and I love going to Confession even though I get nervous like everyone else. I go to the same priest every month for Confession, and I always worry that he'll get tired or annoyed that I confess the same things every time. As we lead up to Christmas, there'll be several extended opportunities for Confession. And if none of the scheduled times work for you, call one of us up, we'll schedule a time just for you because this is important. If it's been a long time, that's ok, what matters is that you're there. No priest would get mad that it's been a long time, he'll just be glad you're there. If you don't remember how to go to Confession, just tell the priest. Again, he won't be mad, he'll just be glad you're there and he'll happily walk you through it.

So please, everyone, say yes to God's mercy offered in Confession. And not just during this Advent season, but all through the year, ideally once a month. God offers his mercy to all of us, and it's up to each one of us to say yes.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Book Review: Motherless

The stack of books I'm trying to read is much larger than what my calendar allows for. When I do actually finish a book though, I want to use the blog to tell you what I thought about it. I'm happy to lend this or any other book in my library if you live near me and don't look like a hooligan.

Fr. Benedict Groeschel has described author Brian Gail's books as being, "What Blessed John Paul II envisioned when he summoned a new evangelization. Motherless is the second in Gail's trilogy of books, with Fatherless coming first and Childless coming last.

In this book, we reconnect with Fr. John Sweeney and his parishioners over a decade after the events of Fatherless. All of the main characters are wiser, and in many cases happier, than when we last met them in Fatherless. This wisdom is fortunate because it prepares them to be thrust into the heart of the cultural battle of our era.

A few of the key characters, through their various lines of work, find out about the latest atrocities in embryonic stem cell research and what those with power intend to do with their newfound knowledge. It is up to Fr. John to counsel his parishioners to courageously stand up to the evil power-holders of the world, and to stand up to them himself as well.

It's interesting to note, and maybe this is just necessary for story-telling, that as Gail tries to craft an average, albeit East Coast, parish, he doesn't write "average" people, even for his parishioners. You'd think that Fr. John Sweeney's parish is filled only with magnates and CEO's who all have a second home on the shore somewhere. (Also, you'd think that Fr. Sweeney never has to sit through a parish council or finance council meeting. Lucky priest). Gail only writes big characters in order to move his story along.

Gail writes engaging, fast paced novels without a lot of down time. He just skips from one high point to the next. For example, if a character dies, you skip over the initial shock of friends and family receiving the news, and the next time that character is mentioned is the funeral, where you find out about the friends' shock through internal monologue. If a character is fired unexpectedly, you skip that character breaking the news to family and next meet the character at the farewell party. This allows Gail to write a long book (Motherless is 509 pages) that never feels slow, and it allows him to cover a lot of ground in a single novel.

Motherless is an excellent book with just enough resolution to leave me satisfied as the second book of a trilogy, but also with just enough open questions to make me eager to read the concluding book. But more importantly, Brian Gail has found a creative means to speak very powerfully about the evil that threatens humanity.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Book Review: Many Are Called

The stack of books I'm trying to read is much larger than what my calendar allows for. When I do actually finish a book though, I want to use the blog to tell you what I thought about it. I'm happy to lend this or any other book in my library if you live near me and don't look like a hooligan.

Biblical scholar Scott Hahn has turned his incredible wealth of knowledge to bear on the Catholic priesthood to see what the Bible has to teach us about it in Many Are Called. Now, it may seem presumptuous or self-centered to recommend a book whose subtitle is "Rediscovering the Glory of the Catholic Priesthood," but I hope you don't perceive it as such. I read this book on a private retreat in hopes of strengthening and re-invigorating my priesthood, and now I would recommend it to all. It is an excellent overview of God has given us in the Catholic priesthood, not in Fr. Brian, he does it very poorly. But through the priesthood God has demonstrated his personal and close care for us.

In this book, Hahn explores the history of priesthood as it was practiced in the Old Testament, then perfected in Jesus Christ, then continued in the Church. With his typical humor and love of puns, Hahn reviews the basic roles of a priest as Father, Mediator, Provider, Teacher, Warrior, Judge, Bridegroom, and Brother.

I'd like to look at the priest as warrior just briefly, because it at first glance appears incongruous with the rest of the list. Hahn starts by telling the story of two priests who died in war while serving others, then goes on to show how much Christian language, like "Redeemer" and "Christ" have backgrounds in battle or conflict (you'll have to read the book to see how). Ancient Israel was constantly engaged in warfare, and the priests would actually offer sacrifice in advance of the battle and thank God in advance for delivering them. The physical battles of the Old Testament were foreshadows of the far more deadly spiritual battles we are engaged in today. St. Paul, being very worldly in his pre-Christian life, regularly uses battle imagery to explain his point. Priests today face huge spiritual battles to defend Christ's followers from an enemy that never rests and is endlessly working against him.

Scott Hahn's short book can help to inspire a renewed appreciation for the priests among us. The job is so much bigger than manager or administrator of a parish. It's father, warrior, judge, and brother all wrapped up into one. They are imperfect men, and they need your support (me, most of all). Many Are Called can help us to appreciate that anew.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Suffering...It Happens

The readings this morning spoke about trust. This morning I suggested that our comfort in this life is not God's primary concern, but rather our eternal destiny is, so if a bit of unhappiness and suffering in this life helps to secure our eternal reward, God would let that happen. HERE is my homily on the matter.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Greek Clarification

Some folks (ok, like one) were questioning the Greek etymology I cited in my homily for Christ the King. It was a bit of etymology I only recently learned from videos produced by the Liturgical Institute of Mundelein Seminary. I didn't do a whole lot of digging on my own to find out if it's actually correct, I just trusted the video. Here's the video I learned the etymology from. It's only about three minutes.

Christ the King of my True Home

 Today we celebrate the feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, more commonly called Christ the King. Pope Pius XI established this feast in 1925 because he perceived that a sort of secularist nationalist tendency was starting to replace religion, where people were starting to bestow the love and trust properly due to God onto the state, that is, their country. Not accidentally, it used to be celebrated in October because Russia celebrated the anniversary of one of their socialist revolutions that same month. Pope Pius wanted people to remember that as Catholics, we know that no state, no government or kingdom on earth, can take care of us forever. Pius wanted us to remember that our true king is Jesus Christ and that our true home is not of this world.

And so if the point of today's feast is to focus on where our true home is at, then today's gospel reading is very appropriate. In this famous scene of Pilate confronting Jesus, Jesus is trying to teach us about where his true kingdom is at, and therefore our true home. Because Jesus doesn't deny that he has a kingdom, he only denies that it is of this world. Jesus wants us to be a part of his kingdom, but we have to admit that we really like the things of this world. So if we want to be a part of his kingdom, then we can't be a part of this world.

His kingdom doesn't exist in this world like other kingdoms or nations, but it is accessible from this world. Jesus's kingdom is the Catholic Church, which exists here, in Purgatory, and in Heaven. This kingdom is not bound by any physical boundaries, but it exists any place Christians are gathered. So our job as Christians is to remember that we were not made for this world or the comforts of this world. Pope Benedict once said, "The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness."

As members of this other-worldly kingdom called the Church, we call ourselves parishioners, which is kind of an interesting word. It comes to us from the Greek word paraoikos, which we find in Paul's letter to the Ephesians where he says that we are strangers and aliens no longer, but we are members of the household of God. Paraoikos means stranger, it basically means one who doesn't belong or one who doesn't fit it. So from this Greek word paraoikos we get the word "parishioner," and we also get the English word "pariah," which means social outcast. As parishioners, as members of the household of God, we are misfits in this world. We don't belong in this world.

As parishioners, as people who don't belong in this world, we should spend our lives longing for our true home in heaven. But what does this mean quite practically for us? We don't long for a lot in our lives, because our lives are pretty comfortable. If we need something, we just go out and buy it. We are truly blessed in that regard. There's not a whole lot of longing or suffering in our lives. Last night I went and saw a movie with some good friends, and then we went out to eat. I had a really tasty burger and some really good beer. And not once during any of that time did I think, "I'm an outcast in this world, my true home is in heaven," because with friends, entertainment, food, and drink, this world seemed like a pretty good place. And all of us have things we enjoy in this life that make us lose sight of the fact that we're pilgrims in this world.

So what does it mean to long for heaven, what does it mean to be a member of Jesus's kingdom not of this world, in the middle of our very comfortable 21st century lives? I don't have a full answer, because I struggle with this problem as much as anyone else. But part of the solution lies in being aware of the enormity of the problem, that Jesus made us for his kingdom and wants us to be a part of his kingdom, but we really like the things of this world.

I want to propose two ways to start living in his kingdom even while we sojourn through this world. The first is to invite Jesus into every part of your life, into every experience and every decision. There is nothing he doesn't want to be a part of, and there is no act or decision that is to menial or meaningless for him. But on the other hand, if you're uncomfortable inviting Jesus into an experience, if what you're choosing doesn't lead you closer to him, then that should be a really big clue that what you're doing isn't closer for you. So for example, last night I was with friends who lead me closer to Christ, we saw a good movie not opposed to Christian values, and I didn't overindulge on the food or drink. I was able to invite Christ into every bit of that experience and so I was able to expand his reign over my own heart a little bit, even if he wasn't at the front of my mind through the whole evening. But if I had spent time with friends who lead me away from Christ, and if we had watched a movie that is opposed to Christ, and then had way too much food and drink, there would have been a natural guilt if I had tried to invite Christ into that experience, and that guilt would have been a sign that I wasn't living in Jesus' kingdom at that moment.

The second way I want to propose that you start living in Christ's kingdom while on this earth is through voluntary penance. We don't talk about penance much outside of Lent when we all thing that we're going to become saints by going on a diet, but some form of penance or voluntary sacrifice should be a regular part of the Christian life. One priest I know never hits the snooze alarm, he gets up on the first alarm every day, he calls it the heroic minute. Another guy I know never takes a second serving at meals. Someone else I know never listens to music in the car, he makes that his prayer time. Penance may be limiting or eliminating the time we spend with the television or with Facebook. Penances will change with the seasons of our lives, but it should always be based on what detracts from our relationship with God. So I do suggest you try some regular form of conscious renunciation in your life.

The things of this world are enjoyable, and they can even be good if they point us to God. We are strangers in this world, so we have to be sure we use the things of this world to point us to our true home. We have to let Christ be King of the universe, and that starts with letting him be King of our hearts.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Christ the King, All Three Years

I complain a lot about the modern lectionary and its various omissions (like two of the three Synoptic teachings on divorce), so in fairness when it does something well it should be commended. The Sunday readings operate on a three year cycle, and I was just noticing the breadth of images of Jesus the King given us for the Feast of Christ the King over the three year cycle.

Last year, In Year A, Jesus links his kingdom with the poor, and with those who care for them. During Pope Francis's visit to the U.S., on the same day he met with Congress, people who deal with budgets in the billions and who's decisions affect the whole world, and he met with the homeless and those who care for them. You decide which group matters more in Jesus's kingdom. Choose carefully, your life may depend on it.
Jesus said to his disciples: "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father.Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
This year, Year B, Jesus teaches us how other-worldly his kingdom is. In confronting Pilate, Jesus teaches him and us that his kingdom is not of this world. Consequentially, those of us who want to be a part of Jesus's kingdom are not of this world.
Pilate said to Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?" Pilate answered, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here." So Pilate said to him, "Then you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."
And finally, next year in Year C we will see how being a part of this kingdom, even being the king of this kingdom, does not exempt one from suffering. But again, to enter into this kingdom, you simply imitate the king and rely on his mercy.
The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.” Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” Above him there was an inscription that read, “This is the King of the Jews.” Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
This kingdom that Jesus established is indeed, "not of this world," yet it is accessible from this world. Jesus's kingdom is the Catholic Church, which exists on earth, in Purgatory, and in Heaven. The Church is the entry point into Jesus's kingdom. The poor have an easier time of it than the rest of us, but none of us are excluded if we but give up the things that tie us to this world and rely fully on Jesus Christ.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Why This Mom's Daughters Are Not Altar Servers

Over at Catholic All Year, Kendra Tierney reiterated, from a mother's perspective, many of my sentiments about male and female altar servers. Two things worth quoting, although I recommend you read the whole article. It's not very long.

First, concerning the interplay between boys and girls (and she should know, she has seven kids):
Not because my girls wouldn't do a good job, or wouldn't enjoy it, but mostly just because once women get involved in something, we tend to kind of take it over, then boys and men don't feel so obligated or interested in doing it. Altar serving is something I want my boys to want to do, and to feel pride about, and to feel necessary for. I hope it will help them respond if they have a vocation to the priesthood.
"But father, couldn't altar serving help a girl discern a religious vocation?" No, it not really helpful in that area. Women can't be priests, and serving at the altar is akin to an apprenticeship, so if discernment of a vocation is the goal then we're helping young girls discern something they simply cannot have.

Also, any parent of a big family knows that boys and girls are just different, even as our society tries to deny this truth. Women will always have their dignified and exclusive territory of child-bearing and -rearing, because biology, but exclusive male-only territory has been reduced to the rather undignified areas of farting and football. Serving at the altar offers a chance re-masculate our emasculated male culture, if boys get to do it alone.

Kendra acknowledges that there is no doctrinal issue in women being altar servers, but she continues:
But I just don't find it necessary. In general, I am rather offended by the concept that in order for a woman to be empowered, she must stop doing women's things and do men's things instead. It's a misunderstanding of our dignity as women and our place in the world God created for men and women to share.

Being a man isn't superior to being a woman. Being a father isn't superior to being a mother. Being a priest isn't superior to being a nun. They are different, but equal in purpose and dignity and importance. I have no interest in devaluing traditional women's roles and suggesting that women can have purpose only in trying to be men.
Fr. Z has made this point many times. How insulting to women when we insinuate that the only way for them to have dignity, respect, or value is to do the things men to! How insulting to suggest that traditional female roles have no dignity!

But of course, I can't say this in our politically correct culture because I'm a man and a priest. That's why I'm glad that Kendra Tierney said it.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Maccabees and Us

This was one of those homilies where, while I was listening to the first reading and proclaiming the Gospel, the Spirit had something different to say than what I intended to say. So, this is a homily about the beginning of the Book of Maccabees that is not what I intended to say today. [HERE]

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Preparing for the End of the World

Jesus today is giving us some weird apocalyptic imagery as he seems to be discussing the end times. In November, the month that we specifically call to mind and pray for the dead and those who have gone before, and as our liturgical year winds down and we prepare for the liturgical new year at Advent, our readings often go this route where they have us thinking about the end times. No one really knows what the end times are going to look at. Anytime the scriptures speak about it, they seem to speak in veiled and figurative language, so we don't want to take it too literally.

As Jesus is talking about the events that will happen "In those days," it seems he's speaking on multiple levels. He's actually talking about three different events, so we don't want to be too preoccupied trying to take everything he says and match it up with predicted literal events at the end of time. So what are these events? He seems to be alluding to and speaking metaphorically about 1) the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, 2) his own death, and 3) the actual end of the world that hasn't happened yet. Let's look at these three events.

The Temple was destroyed in 70 ad, indeed less than a generation after Jesus spoke these words. For the Jews, the Temple was a microcosm of the universe. The veils in the temple were decorated with patterns of the stars and constellations, and the seven candles on the menorah represented the sun, the moon, and the five known planets (according to "The Gospel of Mark" by Mary Healy). For the Jews, the Temple was where heaven met earth and where they went to meet God. The destruction of the Temple in 70 ad was a cataclysmic event, and in many ways marked the end of Judaism as it was practiced in Jesus' time.

But the temple also prefigures Jesus, who is the definitive meeting place between heaven and earth. And at Jesus's crucifixion, the sun was indeed darkened and the great temple veil with the stars on it was torn in to. So Jesus is also referring to his own death when he talks about the days of tribulation.

And finally, Jesus is talking about the literal end of the world, but he's using veiled language. Now, a lot of people have gotten very rich throughout history proclaiming that the end times are upon us and they have discovered the key for understanding the these veiled texts in the Bible. Time and time again they have been proven wrong, so don't listen to them. Because here's the obvious fact that we shouldn't have to state: the end of the world hasn't happened yet, so we don't know what it's going to look like. Also, they try to turn Jesus into a liar when he says that "of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." Jesus himself claims to not know when the end of the world is near, so why would we listen to a street preacher saying the end is near?

But sometimes we get preoccupied with trying to figure out the end times and whats going to happen and when. And to that I just have to ask, "Why?" Why are you so worried about it? If you practice your religion and strive to live the life of virtue and go to confession, you have nothing to fear. If you're not practicing your religion, not striving to live virtuously, and not going to confession, then maybe you do have cause for concern.

St. Augustine said in one of his many commentaries, "Let us not resist his first coming, that we may not tremble at his second." If we accept the ways that he is present to us already, then how he comes at the end of time won't have cause to frighten us. But if we do resist the ways he offers to be present to us today, then we might have reason to be worried about his second coming.

We don't need to be preoccupied with how he's coming in the future, as long as we are doing what he commands today. So that's what we want to do, we want to live the life of virtue that Jesus commands today. We want to accept the ways that he is present to us today, that's the first coming that Augustine is talking about. He comes to us through the Church, especially through the Sacraments of the Church. That means Mass and Confession. To receive communion regularly without also going to confession is a dangerous thing, because what you are doing by your actions is proclaiming before God, the sinless one, that, "I am not a sinner." And when you proclaim before God that, I am not a sinner" then you are staking your eternal destiny on your own deeds rather than on God's mercy. This is a dangerous thing because to stake your eternal destiny on yourself is to build your house on sand. So we need Confession, even if we're not in mortal sin. Even without mortal sin, to receive communion without regularly going to confession makes that communion less fruitful for your soul, it makes it tougher to grow in grace. But together, confession and communion are the two fundamental building blocks of our relationship with God. One without the other leaves us terribly, even dangerously, disadvantaged.

And the tragic events in Paris on Friday highlight why it's so important to build this life on God. Any time something tragic happens in the world, we all take to social media and post our "Pray for Paris" pictures and hashtags, but we have to realize this isn't just one of those things that happens with no explanation like a hurricane or earthquake. This was the result of a group of men who chose to enact one of the core tenets of their religion which calls for the destruction of anything that is different than them. There are people in this world who hate you for worshipping Jesus, and they hate you enough to kill you for it. And they're gaining ground. But you have a God who loves you so much that he died for you, and he will never be overcome. World leaders are inept at stopping them, but your God has given you the means to take care of your soul and the souls of those in your care.

So we do not fear the dangers of this present world or the end of the world in whatever form it will take, because Jesus has given us the Mass and Confession, he's given us the means to take care of our souls. With these two tools, you can face any danger in this world, and you can build a relationship with God that will one day bring you home to heaven.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Feast of the Lateran Basilica

Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Lateran Basilica. Last year this feast fell on a Sunday and so warranted a fully-scripted homily. Today's Monday morning homily was a bit shorter. This is the head church of the Christian world, technically even more important than St. Peter's Basilica, because it is the cathedral of Rome. We celebrate the "Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist in the Lateran," or just "the Lateran" as a sign of unity of all Christendom, so today is a fitting day to pray for the unity of all Christians.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Do You Trust Me?

In our first reading and in our gospel today, there's this very clear call to trust God. We like to pay lip service to trusting God, but when push comes to shove, trusting God is not easy. Oftentimes, it's downright frightening. But as scary as it can be, it's still a better way to get through life than relying on our own means.

Do you trust me?
It reminds me of the scene early on in the Disney movie Aladdin, where Princess Jasmine has snuck away from the palace, and then the palace guards catch her and Aladdin. As the guards close in, Aladdin holds out his hand to Jasmine and says, "Do you trust me?" She tentatively says yes and takes his hand, and then he yanks her out a window, they fall several stories, and magically land on a pile of soft sand. This is what trusting God often feels like. It's not easy, it's not safe, and it's not predictable, but it's a whole lot better than not trusting God.

For Jasmine, trusting even when it was scary led to short term difficulties, but long term happiness. So in the first reading, this widow is in Zarephath, which is a town outside Israel. Elijah the prophet has been sent there by God because there was a drought in Israel. Apparently the drought is reaching out to Zarephath because this woman is almost out of food. She understands her plight well when she says that she's going to prepare one small meal and then go ahead and die. But she explains this to Elijah, this stranger who seems to be from God, and he says, "No, make me some food first." And she does it! As near as she can tell, this is a death sentence for her, because she's just given away the last of her food to a man who sort of said it would be ok.

Elijah certainly didn't present a very convincing argument as to why she should trust him, but some spark of faith in her led her to do it anyway. And what would have happened if she hadn't trusted him? If she had said the logical thing, "No, I'm going to keep the last food I have to my name," she would eaten it and indeed then she would have died. If she had chosen to not trust, she would have died, but because she had this radical trust where she held nothing back from God, she was able to live.

And then when we have this gospel reading, where this woman gives her last two coins to God. She trusts everything to God and holds nothing back for herself. She isn't leaving herself an out in case God doesn't come through. Again, we have radical trust, but it's a little different this time. This one might be a little more relatable to us because woman puts her two small coins into the collection, and then she just leaves. We don't know what happens to her. We don't know if someone comes forward to take care of her. We don't know if she found a twenty dollar bill outside. We don't know if she spent the next several days hungry, or worse.

But this is what the woman had going for her, if we assume the best of intentions for her: whether things turned out well or bad, she trusted herself to God. But let's imagine for just a minute that even though she trusted God, things don't turn out well for her. Let's imagine that no one steps in to help, and that she dies homeless. She trusted everything she had to God rather than take care of herself. Was that trust misplaced? Absolutely not, because trusting God is not a promise that things are going to turn out well in this life, it's a promise that things are going to turn out well eternally. We have a God who said, "Take up your cross and follow me," before he himself died on a cross. Trusting God is not a guarantee that we will not suffer.

When you and I trust God, when we decide to put our life in his hands and hold nothing back for ourselves, we have no idea how that will turn out in the short run. In the long run, it' an absolute guarantee that he will bring you home to Heaven, but it's no guarantee of an easy life in the short run.

Google Image: example
Trusting God is easy when things are going well. Trusting God is a whole different matter when things are going down the drain. If you do a Google image search for "trusting God" you get a whole lot of unhelpful pictures of serene looking people with their hands folded in prayer looking very content, but I just don't think that speaks to the reality of life.

Because just as soon as you think about trusting God at all times, then you have to consider the realities of life: what happens when you lose a job, when your marriage is on the rocks, when your kids are rebelling and taking their life down the toilet, when you're battling illness that you don't understand? That's when trust in God becomes almost impossible, but that's when it becomes the one thing there is to bring you through those dark places.

God allows so much suffering in this world that it can make trusting him actually quite difficult. There is no easy answer to that. There is only the cross. There is only Jesus Christ, the God who suffers with us so that we don't suffer alone. He never promised that we wouldn't suffer when we trust him, he only promised that we wouldn't suffer alone.

But the only way to actually grow in relationship with this God who loves us so much that he died for us, is to actually trust him. And that's scary. It's not scary because he might let you down, it's scary because you don't know what suffering he may ask of you. Not unlike Jasmine trusting Aladdin, if you choose to trust God, you don't know what highs and lows he'll take you on. But the end is secure.

So how is God asking you to step out on a limb today? Are you secure in life and is he asking you to take a risk with him? Are you in a dark spot right now, and is God asking you to hold his hand even tighter in the darkness? Whatever it is, go ahead and trust him today. Trust him more today than yesterday. Trust him even though you don't know how this turns out in the short run. In the long run he will bring you to eternal life.