Homilies

PENTECOST

May 19, 2024

I once again begin my homily today by telling a story, a story about the great opera composer, Giacomo Puccini. I realize many are not familiar with opera, but you may have heard the names of his most famous works: Madame Butterfly, La Boheme and Tosca. I do like opera and have seen those 3 in person and they were magnificent.

In 1922 Puccini began what many would consider his best work: Turandot. As he was composing the opera he became terribly sick. The doctors gave him the diagnosis no one ever wants to hear, cancer, and was told he didn’t have long to live. This prompted Puccini to try to finish Turandot before he died, but he just couldn’t do it. The disease was taking its toll so Puccini announced to his students if he couldn’t finish the opera, they should finish it. He died in 1924, leaving the opera unfinished. His students assembled all his notes and manuscripts, studied them in great detail and proceeded to finish the work.

In 1926 the world premiere of Turandot was performed in La Scala, the famous Milan opera house. Puccini’s prized pupil, Arturo Toscanini conducted the work. The opera proceeded beautifully until Toscanini came to the end of the parts written by Puccini. He stopped the music, put down his baton and turned to the audience and said “Thus far the master wrote until he died”.  There was a long pause. No one moved. Then with tears in his eyes, Toscanini said, “But his disciples finished his work.” Toscanini then picked up his baton again and the opera concluded to thunderous applause and a permanent place in the annals of great works of opera.

Puccini’s students were able to complete his work because they were imbued with the spirit of the great composer. They knew in the depths of their souls what he would do with each note, each voice, each instrument. He had given himself to them and they accepted his gift, breathing in his spirit. While they could never actually have his spirit they studied it and then completed what they thought he would do. What if instead of studying his spirit, they could actually possess Pucinni’s spirit within them and become a channel of the spirit of their master? This is exactly what happened on Pentecost Sunday.

The solemnity of Pentecost, the 3rd highest feast on the Church’s liturgical calendar, is the empowering by the Master, Jesus Christ, with the grace of the Holy Spirit to complete his work on earth, the salvation of that part of creation made in the image and likeness of God. Jesus entrusted his work to his prized apostles and as always he equipped them with what’s needed by giving them and us the Holy Spirit, the 3rd Person of the HolyTrinity. They allowed his Spirit to flow through them and the Church was born and she is continually being born as the work of the Master continues in all times and places.

At Pentecost the apostles were empowered by the Holy Spirit to bring others to Christ and Christ to others. As we just heard, after the 11 received the Holy Spirit, they went out and boldly proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ. People from all over the world listened to this proclamation in their own languages and they were literally inspired by the power of the grace of the Holy Spirit to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ and became Christians.

The apostles became evangelizers on Pentecost Sunday empowered by the gift of the grace of the Holy Spirit. When we were confirmed, we also received this power of the Holy Spirit as did 6 of our youth at St. Lucy earlier this month. Just as baptism can be called a personal Easter, confirmation can be called a personal Pentecost.

So how have we engaged this great gift? How have we allowed the Spirit to work in and through us? How have we brought the good news of Jesus Christ to others and others to Christ? Yes there were times when we all ignored the promptings of the Holy Spirit. However, instead let’s try to recall the times in our lives when we have been open to the Holy Spirit. I’m sure everyone of us can look at times when the Holy Spirit pointed us in a direction that brought the joy of Jesus to someone.

I can tell you there have been many times when I was put into a difficult situation as a priest when I had no idea of what to say or how to address a particular pastoral need. When that happens I try to recognize that and then say a quick prayer asking the Holy Spirit to help me and almost miraculously he’s come through with exactly what I needed to say and to do what I needed to do.

It’s the grace of the Holy Spirit that made Harrison Butker of the world champion Kansas City Chiefs who he is and who gave him the strength and courage to give the wonderful commencement address he gave at Benedictine College. It was an excellent speech about his Catholic faith, what it means in his life and he encouraged the graduates to resist the temptations of secular society and hold firm to their Catholic faith. His speech included many things we priests should preach from the ambo. I won’t go into any details but instead encourage you to find it and listen to it. Unfortunately, his speech drew criticism from the media and was ridiculed by the NFL. I’m so done with the ultra woke NFL! They disgraced this great country by taking the knee supporting BLM and now they malign my Catholic faith? Done, no more ever. The good news is the speech has drawn a tremendous amount of support from several sectors of our society.

Brothers and sisters we cannot call upon the Holy Spirit to work in and through us if we’re not united to Christ and his Church. This is far more than avoiding serious sin. It’s about the need to foster and develop our relationship with Jesus through daily prayer and at least weekly Eucharist. If we are united then our proclamation of the gospel will flow naturally through us and his grace will allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through us.

As intentional disciples we like Harrison Butker need to reach out to those in the world who whether they realize it or not are longing for a savior. This isn’t limited to those who’ve never heard of Jesus. It also refers to those who are so caught up in the clutches of secular society, busy doing all sorts of worldly things that will fade away instead of the one thing that lasts, uniting themselves to Jesus and living according to his teachings.

Sometimes we falsely think if we do reach out and ask someone to pray with us or to come to Mass with us, that person would say no. We’re afraid we won’t say the right thing or be convincing enough to prod them to accept our invitation. Remember God will supply the words and actions we need to lead others to him. We simply need to have enough courage to take on the challenge to make the attempt and then let the Holy Spirit move and do the rest.

How is it we’re all here right now? How is it that billions in the world celebrate the reality of who Jesus Christ is and the Church he established? Did it just miraculously happen? No. In the world there are billions of members of our Christian family because the Holy Spirit worked in and through others. We’re here because others, particularly in my case as in most of your cases, our parents took their Catholicism seriously and we witnessed it as they lived it out in their lives. We’re here because others have led us to Jesus.

God uses his people to spread the gospel. He empowers them with His Holy Spirit, inspiring them and others through them to choose Jesus. This empowerment began on the first Pentecost Sunday, the great feast we celebrate today and continues among all those who have taken their Confirmation seriously and as intentional disciples again like Harrison Butker fulfill the mission of our own personal Pentecost.

So today as we come to the conclusion of the joy filled Easter season we’re given an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to strengthen us for the journey ahead as the Church year continues to unfold. May we like Toscanini and all those other students of Giacomo Puccini who took his spirit into their being likewise ask for the Holy Spirit to empower us to have the courage to complete the work Jesus, our Master, has entrusted to each one of us.

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

May 12, 2024

Many years ago there lived a very poor family in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina by the name of Carpenter. The oldest boy knew and loved the outdoors but not much else. He was a teenager before his father took him on his first trip to the city where he saw paved streets, skyscrapers and electricity for the first time. The boy wanted to stay there and get an education so his father arranged for him to board with some family friends who generously financed his studies when he decided to become a doctor. He graduated with honors, but declined all job offers to practice medicine in the city. He said he was going back to the mountains where there were many sick people but few doctors.

For many years he ministered to the sick. He helped everyone he could. Some paid, most couldn’t which left him almost penniless in his old age. Two small rooms above the town grocery store were his home and office. At the foot of the creaky stairs leading up to his office was a sign with these words: “Dr. Carpenter is upstairs.” One morning someone climbed those stairs to find the devoted doctor dead. The entire community was plunged into grief. They wanted to erect some kind of monument to thank him but decided instead to simply write these words on a large tombstone: “Dr. Carpenter is upstairs.”

Today we celebrate the solemnity of The Ascension of our Lord into heaven. A solemnity is a special liturgical celebration marking the most important mysteries of our Catholic faith. This feast has traditionally been celebrated as a holy day of obligation 40 days after Easter which would have been this past Thursday. As Deacon Steve mentioned last weekend all but 4 dioceses in the United States have transferred this solemnity to the subsequent Sunday. So why is The Ascension so special and important?

When we think of the paschal mystery we think of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, but we need to it the Ascension. Those 40 days between the resurrection and the ascension allowed many to personally experience Jesus being alive in his glorified body. The Ascension celebrates the fulfillment of God’s prophecy, the exaltation of Jesus at the joy of mission accomplished, the completion of the divine plan wherein he returns to his Father. It’s the grand finale of all he did for us for our redemption. The Ascension points us to heaven and gives us hope that if after living good, holy lives we’ll hear Jesus say to us good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master’s house where we’ll spend all of eternity, a glorious life that never ends. 

For us still here on earth the focus of this feast is the heavenly reign of Christ and his being “seated at God the Father’s right hand in glory,” wherein he will continue the plan of salvation through the Holy Spirit, unrestricted by time, space, or culture. It is there, at the “right hand of God,” that Jesus continues to make intercession for all of us with the Father. Thus, the Paschal Mystery — Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection and ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost which we’ll celebrate next week, is one single, unbroken reality known and partially understood by faith.

After Jesus’ ascension, the apostles returned to Jerusalem and stayed in the upper room where they had celebrated the Last Supper. St. Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles who were present there namely, Mary and the remaining 11 apostles. The apostles and Our Lady spent 9 days in prayer, the very first novena from Ascension Thursday to Pentecost Sunday anticipating the reception of the great gift of the Holy Spirit.

It’s interesting St. Luke mentions Our Lady by name being there with the apostles. Mary was their closest link to Jesus for them now and thus as the first disciple she played an integral role in the Church throughout her life on earth. She was an important link from the moment the Holy Spirit over shadowed her wherein she gave her fiat to bear the Son of God in her womb to all the way until Jesus ascended into heaven and beyond. 

Recall when Mary and John the beloved disciple were beneath the cross, Jesus gave his beloved mother to St. John when he said to Mary, “Woman, behold your son” and to John, “Behold your Mother.” (John 19:26-27) Based on this scripture passage, Sacred Tradition coming from the Apostles, the Church Fathers teach us Jesus was entrusting all of His disciples to Mary in the person of St. John. So since that moment the Church has recognized Mary as our spiritual mother and Mother of the Church.

As Mother of the Church and the one who knew Jesus best, we can be sure she had much to say about Jesus to the apostles which might have been chronicled in the new testament. Her guidance and prayer had to have played a pivotal role in preparing them for the reception of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the same Holy Spirit who was her spiritual spouse overshadowing her at the Incarnation. Exercising her role as Mother of the Church her presence alone had to help to comfort the apostles during those difficult days without Jesus before Pentecost. Because of all this a new celebration has been added to the Church’s liturgical calendar that on the Monday after Pentecost we celebrate Our Lady’s role as Mother of the Church.

Pope St. John Paul II tells us God the Father chose Mary from among all women to be the mother, according to human nature, of His Divine Son. As she is Mother of Christ in the natural order, she is also the Mother of His Mystical Body, the Church, of which He is the Head in the order of grace. Since Jesus is our brother, and Mary is His mother, it follows that Mary is our mother as well.

Mary, the greatest of all creatures, was the closest human being to Jesus and loving her, praying to her and inviting her into our lives by praying to her to intercede for us would obviously be both powerful since sons listen to their mothers and very pleasing to Jesus. Thus all down throughout the centuries and in our own time we regard Our Lady as Mother of the Church to guide and protect her and who intercedes for us now in heaven as the primary intercessor to the one mediator between God and man, her Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus loved Mary his mother very much and anyone who loves Jesus should also naturally want to love his Mother. So let’s pray for all Christians, not just Catholics and Orthodox, to love and honor Mary as their spiritual mother.

Why do I bring all this up today? Well what better day to teach and acknowledge Mary as our spiritual mother and the Mother of the Church than on Mother’s Day weekend. Today we honor and thank all mothers who cooperated with God’s creating power to bring life into the world. We’ll pray a special prayer for all mothers living and deceased later in the Mass.

My dear children today we celebrate Jesus, Mary’s son, ascending into heaven. He is “upstairs” there with Mary, but is still with us here on earth through the Holy Spirit operating in His Church. He’s always present to us and every time we reach out to him, spiritually climbing those stairs to his heavenly office he, we can be assured the divine doctor will be in there.

Fifth Sunday of Easter

April 28, 2024

When I was a youngster I like most kids back then had to help do yard work-cutting the grass, trimming the sidewalk area, hedging and bagging up all the trimmings. Houses in our neighborhood were situated on a slight incline so you had to push the lawnmower up and down a little hill or cut it crossways or a combination of the two. Back then I think the lawnmowers were heavier so it was hard work that took a few hours in the hot and humid summer heat. It was definitely not my idea of a fun way to spend a Saturday.

As I got older I also did yard work for neighbors which gladly gave me some spending money. But my attitude really changed when I became a homeowner. Somehow the awareness of owning the grass I was mowing, the tree limbs and honeysuckle vines I was pruning, the leaves I was raking up and the flower beds I was weeding seemed to make it well, almost enjoyable. I said almost!

When I bought my house there were no trees on the lot. I like trees so I planted several different kinds. Most of us know as the tree grows you have to prune the lower limbs so the tree will grow faster and stronger. When tree limbs or honeysuckle vines are cut down the leaves will stay green for a day or so but after that they’ll begin to wilt and turn brown. It’s easy to realize once severed from its life source be it the soil, the vine or the tree it won’t be long before it will begin to shrivel up and die.

This imagery was very familiar to the ancient Jews since they lived in an agrarian society. The land of Israel was very fertile and was covered with all kinds of crops especially vineyards. The OT prophets used this imagery to relate things of nature to teach people the things of God. Isaiah spoke of the house of Israel as “the vineyard of the Lord” and Jeremiah said God had planted Israel “as his choice vine”.

In today’s gospel Jesus uses this same type of imagery to teach about our relationship with him. He says I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. A vine connects the nutrient earth with its growing branches. It’s a natural conduit between the source and the fruit that source is able to produce. Similarly in a supernatural way Jesus is also a vine, a connection between the divine source, God, and man, the pinnacle of creation. This connection is always omnipresent although we’re not always conscious of it.

Jesus as the vine is the life source and we are the branches, totally dependent upon him for everything. Jesus is teaching us union with him is crucial for no matter how much we may think we can do and accomplish on our own merits we won’t bear very much good, spiritual fruit unless we’re connected to Jesus, our spiritual life source.

This may be difficult for us to accept because of the value placed by our society on personal freedom and independence. We want to be in complete control of our life, dependent on no one and definitely not answerable to anyone but ourselves. We consider ourselves to be enlightened people of the 3rd millennium but since we live in a society of feelers not thinkers which is very dangerous, what we feel determines what is right for ME which then naturally translates into what I feel is what is true and good and beautiful and no one will convince me otherwise and I mean no one.

We see a perfect example of this in the Acts of the Apostles. Saul, a devout and zealous Pharisee, was convinced what he believed was true and what he was doing was good although he was persecuting Jesus by persecuting his disciples. He did evil things because his thinking was flawed. He was disconnected from his true spiritual life source for he had not yet been grafted onto the vine of Jesus.

Speaking for us older and hopefully more mature in experience and reason we can remember moments of our adolescence when we began to test our independence from our parents. In our teen years starting with high school, our first job, getting our drivers license plus any other small steps all of which led eventually to the necessary separation between child and parent.

As we mature in our faith however, God asks the exact opposite of us. God wants us not to be independent from him; falsely thinking we no longer need him, but instead to acknowledge how much we do need God in all aspects of our lives. Jesus asks not for the boldness of I can do it alone and in my way; but for a radical dependence and recollection that as children of God we should never think of doing it completely on our own. As mature children of God we should realize our responsibility and our privilege as a beloved child of God of our utter dependence on God for everything since everything we are and have are his gifts to us.

The Swiss theologian, Fr. Hans Urs Von Balthasar puts it this way: “The parable of the vine conveys a marvelous sense of assurance.” It means we’re not “dependent solely on our fragile selves” but united with Jesus, “we can lead a useful and meaningful existence.”

So we need to be connected to Jesus but how? St. John tells us in today’s epistle those who keep his commandments remain in him and he in them and thereby do what pleases him. What pleases God begins with accepting his authority over us. We have to recognize this first and understand we cannot just think what we want to think and do what we want to do. Rather to bear spiritual fruit our individual branch  must be grafted onto the vine of Jesus and his Church by obeying his commandments and the teachings of his Church which are not something that can be negotiated or rationalized away if we want to stay connected to our spiritual life source and collectively for all of humanity to flourish.

Jesus also says to us today every branch that bears no fruit he takes away and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it may bear more fruit. So no matter who we are if we want to grow in the spiritual life we need to engage in a process of spiritual pruning, of cutting away what might obstruct further spiritual growth. If we’re honest all of us realize our need of some spiritual pruning which begs the question what branches need to be pruned? Is there an addiction or sin pattern which needs to be healed and eliminated? Is there a reluctance to live chastely based on our state in life? Are we angry with God about something we’ve experienced in our life? Is there a lack of knowledge or understanding of a church teaching like abortion or homosexual acts that has produced disbelief in our minds wherein we think the Church is wrong? [The Church is never wrong in matters of faith and morals.] Do we lack the generosity and gratitude to God by failing to pray daily like we should and study our faith? Lastly do we mistakenly think we are the vine rather than a branch?

God wants to prune away whatever is dead or fruitless in our lives so that our souls can grow stronger. By virtue of our baptism each one of us is a branch connected to Jesus, the vine, as well as to the Father, the vine grower, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Our individual branch needs the sap of grace every day to live good Christian lives. We draw this sap from Jesus when we celebrate and receive the Eucharist, each time we receive the power contained in the grace of the sacraments, every time we study our faith and Sacred Scripture and when we pray.

So may we ask God for the grace for our individual branch to always be connected to the vine of Jesus our spiritual life source in order to receive and retain the spiritual sap of grace needed not to dry up and die so that we can bear good spiritual fruit which as Jesus says in our gospel today glorifies God our Father.

Fourth Sunday of Easter

April 21, 2024

There’s a story of a soldier dying on a Korean battlefield who asked for a priest. The Medic at first couldn’t find one, but a wounded man lying nearby heard the request and said, “I’m a priest.” The Medic turned to him and saw his condition which was just as bad as that of the other. He warned him “It will kill you if you move.” But the wounded chaplain replied. “The life of a man’s soul is worth more than a few hours of my life.” He then crawled to the dying soldier, heard his confession, gave him absolution and the two died, hand in hand.

On this the 4th Sunday of Easter the Church provides in all 3 lectionary cycles a passage from the 10th chapter of St. John’s Gospel wherein Jesus tells his disciples he is the Good Shepherd and it’s for this reason this Sunday is often called Good Shepherd Sunday. Today, we celebrate the risen Lord as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.

Actually, the word translated as ‘good’ in the original Greek can also be translated as beautiful or honorable, but the best translation I think is ideal. Jesus is the ideal shepherd, the perfect shepherd, the one whom all other shepherds should imitate as their model. The Latin word for shepherd is “pastor” so likewise Jesus is the ideal pastor, the perfect pastor whom all pastors should look up to as their exemplar.

In the Old Testament, the image of the shepherd is often applied to God as well as to the leaders of the people. The book of Exodus several times calls Yahweh a shepherd.  Likewise, the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel compare Yahweh’s care and protection of His people to that of a shepherd. The prophet Isaiah says (Is 40:11) “Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, leading the ewes with care.” Ezekiel represents God as a loving shepherd who searches diligently for his lost sheep and we all know Psalm 23 is David’s famous image of God as The Good Shepherd.

The earliest Christians saw Jesus as the fulfillment of the ancient Jewish model of a Good Shepherd. In declaring himself as the Good Shepherd of his flock Jesus makes several claims in today’s gospel. First He knows his sheep and his sheep hear his voice. The shepherds knew every sheep of their flock by name and each sheep knew its shepherd and his particular voice. So Jesus knows each one of us and everything about us. He knows all our thoughts and needs and regardless of our faults he adopts us as sheep into his sheepfold through the sacrament of baptism wherein we become his adopted children, his sheep.

As the Good Shepherd he nourishes our souls in the Holy Eucharist and the divinely inspired words of Sacred Scripture. He strengthens our faith by giving us the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of Confirmation. He provides stability to our society through the Sacraments of Holy Matrimony and Holy Orders.

As the good shepherd he goes in search of his stray lambs and heals his sick ones. Jesus heals the wounds of our souls through the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and strengthens us and heals us in illness and old age by the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

He protects his sheep by placing them in the loving hands of his Almighty Father. Without Him and his Church to guide and protect us, we’re easy prey for the wicked wolves in the world who tempt us to commit the 7 deadly sins of pride, avarice, envy, gluttony, anger, lust and sloth.

Finally just as the shepherds of ancient days protected their sheep from thieves and wild animals by risking their own lives and even dying to save them, so Jesus suffered and died in expiation for the sins of all people.

Brothers and sisters when a priest is ordained through the sacrament of Holy Orders he is given what’s know as 3 munera, 3 functions or responsibilities. They are priest, prophet and king. As priest he is to offer sacrifice for the people, sacrificing his life for the good of his flock. This is most notable by his administering the sacraments particularly in offering the holy sacrifice of Mass and confecting the Eucharist which feeds his flock with the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Priests have no other job as they devote their lives entirely to their flock, being on call 24/7. As prophet he is to teach and preach the Apostolic faith as handed on to the Church. This is most notable as he preaches the Word of God in homilies and teaches the catechism and Sacred Scripture. As king he, not the sheep, is in charge of his parish and is to govern it with prudence. He’s responsible for everything, the finances, maintenance of the physical plant and making any and all decisions affecting the parish with the help of designated members of the parish.

Jesus is the High Priest and the bishops are the successors of the Apostles. Pastors, parochial vicars and deacons are the bishops’ helpers. Our local parishes are our sheepfolds and our pastors are our shepherds and the parishioners are the sheep. As an alter Christus, another Christ, priests are to image Jesus in their parishes and ministries. One has to admit that’s a daunting challenge and yes we fall short of that a lot. That’s why the faithful should pray for their priests daily, asking the Holy Spirit to give them the grace to be good and holy priests in their responsibilities of being priest, prophet and king. With that said I want to take this opportunity to ask all of you to please pray for me every day!

Now the challenge for you the faithful is to be good sheep a) by listening and following the voice of our shepherd pastors; b) by partaking of the spiritual food through regular and active participation at Holy Mass every Sunday, frequenting the sacraments and educational opportunities; c) by helping our pastors when called upon, encouraging and supporting them in their ministry by prayer and participation, by offering them praise and thanks for all they do and occasionally offering constructive suggestions for the good of the parish; and finally d) by financially supporting as good stewards the parish and her mission.

I thank God for my priestly vocation. Although it’s a bit challenging at times I love being a priest because it’s what I was created to do. I knew I had a vocation to the priesthood as a young altar boy but as you know I didn’t answer the call until later in life. But what I didn’t realize was God wanted me to have all of those life experiences to make me the priest I am today. I’ve never regretted becoming a priest and I can’t think of myself as not ever being a priest. I’m here to tell you the priesthood really and truly is a beautiful life. It’s a rewarding and fulfilling life; a life I highly recommend.

So today on this Good Shepherd Sunday we pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. God hasn’t stop calling men to the priesthood; they just aren’t hearing the call because of all the noise in our world today; or if they hear it the hope is they will be inspired through our prayers prayed for them to show fraternal love by sacrificing many other attractive options of the world to become priests of Jesus Christ and to follow him in religious life. Boys and young men will be encouraged to listen and answer God’s call if the sheep honor and respect their priests whereas criticisms and lack of respect will discourage them. Let’s also pray for parents to be generous with their children and to foster and pray for vocations in their homes. May Jesus, the Good Shepherd, raise up many shepherds after his own heart who like that army chaplain will lay down their lives for their sheep. 

Third Sunday of Easter

April 14, 2024

Have you ever wondered about what life will be like in heaven? I mean it’s only where we’ll spend eternity. About what we’ll look like, what we’ll do and how we’ll do it? During this Easter season our Sunday Mass readings give us some clues. When we read of Jesus’ various appearances like today we get a glimpse of what our glorified bodies will be like and what we can do with them.

The qualities the gospels give us of Christ’s risen and glorified body are previews of the risen bodies of all the saints and the condition of their resurrected bodies will correspond precisely with the state of their souls which I’ll explain a little later.

So what exactly does the Church teach us about our new glorified bodies? Will we get that perfect body we all dream of having here on earth? St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians [3:21] He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified Body.

Well St. Thomas Aquinas, the Church’s premier philosopher and theologian, presents the most comprehensive treatment of this subject proposing there are 7 properties of the glorified body. Now no one knows exactly what our heavenly existence will be like so what St. Thomas says is sheer speculation but it’s based on an inspired interpretation of Sacred Scripture and here is a very brief synthesis of his teaching.

[1] Identity: This means the very same body we had on earth will be glorified and reunited to our soul which was separated from our body at the moment of our death. Yes it will be our same body but this doesn’t mean our body will necessarily be identical in every way as it was during our life on earth. When Jesus appeared to His disciples after His Resurrection they didn’t immediately recognize him. He had to somehow make Himself know to them. In ways known only to our good God we’ll be able though to recognize our family members and friends in heaven.

[2] Integrity: By integrity we mean our glorified body will be whole and complete regardless of how it was during its earthly life, at the moment of its death or after it has decomposed in the grave. So if we had our appendix or any other part of our body extracted we’ll have all our body parts restored in perfect condition, healthy as ever. In our heavenly existence all of us will enjoy perfect vision, hearing, mobility and every other physical attribute.

There’s speculation about whether we’ll eat in heaven. This is of great concern to me! Well Jesus ate a piece of baked fish in today’s gospel and Mass is referred to as the heavenly banquet so I think we’ll be eating in heaven. I mean it wouldn’t be paradise if you couldn’t enjoy a good meal, right? Oh and with a good glass of red wine too.

[3] Quality: By quality we mean our bodies will retain the original gender God gave us at the moment of our conception and they will be transformed to the pattern of the risen Christ. Like his body our resurrected bodies will be like those of a person in his or her prime. If this speculation holds true the proverbial fountain of youth will be a reality not in this life but in the next. As I get older it’s good to know in heaven we’ll all be forever young. Our glorified bodies will never age, wrinkle or sag from that dreaded gravity disease. Doesn’t all this sounds really good so far?! Doesn’t it make you want to go to heaven?!

 [4] Impassibility: In our glorified bodies there will never be pain, sickness, suffering or death meaning no cancer, heart disease, war, violence, conflict, not even a stubbed toe or a minor disagreement! There will be no natural disasters. No longer attracted to the temporal things of earth we’ll be totally focused and fixated on God, who is life and love itself, and as a result we’ll no longer be subject to any temptation to sin, wrong doing or carnal passions. We’ll love and be loved as God originally intended for man. In heaven we’ll never be bored but will experience unending joy. The reality in heaven is uninterrupted, never-ending happiness. It will truly be living in paradise.

[5] Subtlety. By subtlety and this is really cool we mean our glorified body will be able to penetrate solid objects. Because our bodies will not be subject to any laws of a material nature, nothing literally will stand in our way. The prime example of subtlety in scripture is when Jesus walked through the walls of a locked room to be with his disciples. Interestingly, our bodies will even be subtle with respect to one another. Totally sharable we’ll be able to completely communicate through our bodies our joys to our neighbor. Our glorified bodies, while physical and tangible, will be completely free from any physical restraint or impediment.

[6] Agility. Agility is closely related to subtlety and it’s even cooler than it too. It’s the property by which our glorified bodies will have the ability to go effortlessly wherever we wish them to go at the speed of thought. If you can think it your body will go there instantly! Have any of you like me wanted to fly? Well the blessed in heaven with their agile bodies will be able to fly, float and like Superman be able to move faster than a speeding bullet. Is that not just cool as heck?!

No matter where you want to go you’ll be able to go there at the blinking of an eye. In heaven we can be on a beach or at the mountains, in Antarctica or Italy or if we want to see a particular family member or friend we’ll be able to be there or be with that person face to face the moment we desire it instantaneously.

[7] Finally Clarity. Clarity is very important. The beautiful and radiant glory of our souls will be visible in our bodies. In the Book of Daniel, the prophet writes [12:3], “And those who lead the many to justice shall shine like the stars forever.” Jesus gave the Apostles Peter, James, and John a foretaste of this property at his Transfiguration. He did this to give them a hint not only of what He will be like after His resurrection, but also what they will be like after theirs and of course ours as well. We’ll possess the very intellectual light of God by which we’ll see him in his dazzling light which was impossible to experience here on earth.

Regardless of how one’s physical appearance was on earth, the glorified bodies of everyone who gets to heaven will be gloriously beautiful beyond all imagining, far surpassing in appeal even the most attractive people we’ve ever seen or known. We’ll no longer be jealous or envious of another’s looks or qualities. Holiness will be understood as true beauty because when all is said and done true and lasting beauty is identical with holiness.

Now here’s the kicker. The body in its glorified final state will correspond completely to the state of our soul meaning there will be distinctions in heaven based on degrees of holiness. Holiness is not a human construct but a gift of grace so among those in heaven there will be varying degrees of glory according to the degree of holiness one merited through his or her cooperation with God’s gifts of grace while living here on earth.

Brothers and sisters we all know we spend so much time and energy trying to get ahead in this life. We unwittingly place a higher priority on the things of this world which will one day pass away and what will we have to show for it once this form of human existence ends? As rational beings we think so clearly on so many things but often fail to think and plan for the future, that next form of human existence that will last forever.

Now with the help of St. Thomas Aquinas we have a little bit better understanding of what St. Paul meant when he said [1Cor 2:9] “eye has not seen nor has ear heard what God has planned for those who love him”, for the just, the righteous, for saints.

So shall we consider our relationship with God a bit differently now? Shall we continue to be indifferent or lazy when it comes to reading Sacred Scripture and learning and living our rich and beautiful Catholic faith? Is spiritual and religious mediocrity acceptable any longer? Shall we ever look at committing sin in the same way anymore knowing it will diminish our heavenly glory?

Dear children life is not about how rich, how powerful, how talented or how popular one is. As I’ve often said may we become more eternity minded and begin right now to cooperate with God’s grace and strive not for that illusive perfect earthly body but for the holiness that will shine brilliantly in our glorified body that we’ll enjoy with God and all our loved ones forever in heaven

Easter Sunday 2024

As a butterfly soared overhead, one caterpillar said to the other, “You’ll never get me up in one of those things!” Yet for every caterpillar the time comes when the urge to eat and grow subsides and it instinctively begins to form a chrysalis around itself. The chrysalis hardens and you’d think the caterpillar was dead. But one spring morning the life inside the chrysalis will begin to squirm, the top will crack open, and a beautifully formed butterfly will emerge. For hours it’ll stand stretching and drying its wings, moving them slowly up and down repeatedly. And then before you know it the butterfly will glide aloft, effortlessly riding the currents of the air, alighting on flower after fragrant flower, as if to show off its vivid colors to the beautiful bright blossoms.

The miracle of the butterfly never loses its fascination for us. Perhaps that’s because the butterfly is a living parable of the promise of the resurrection. On Easter morning, the disciples saw Jesus’ burial clothes on the cold slab of an empty tomb. Only the corpse was gone, the burial clothes were left behind, much like an empty chrysalis deserted by a butterfly that left it to soar high above. The women who had come to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ dead body are amazed when an angel declares to them “He is risen as He said.”

Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection are the most important events in all of history. The very calendar we use is dated by Christ’s life and because of it I still refer to years as BC/AD. We can presume the first person to see Jesus risen from the dead was his own mother, Mary. The gospels tell us about Jesus appearing to the Apostles, Mary Magdalene, and many others. In today’s first reading St. Peter proclaims the Father “granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” (Acts 10:40-41)

Those who weren’t privileged to actually see the risen Jesus in the early church have had their lives touched and impacted by those who did. Peter saw Jesus risen and his preaching impacted many as the Acts of the Apostles tells us (Acts 2:41) some 3,000 people were baptized after Peter’s preaching a single day at Pentecost. Peter is the first Vicar of Christ in his Church which is where the people found out about Jesus. If you want to find Jesus, the place to come is his Church.

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were taught by Jesus who explained the Scriptures to them and then recognized him as he broke bread with them (Luke 24:13-35). Those two disciples discovered celebrating the Eucharist is where you can learn from and know Jesus. If you want to be taught by Jesus, the place to come is his Church.

Jesus continues to live and is present to us in his Church through the sacraments. On Good Friday, the blood and water pouring forth from Christ’s side on the cross symbolizes the life of grace made available to us through the sacraments, particularly baptism and Eucharist. The sacraments are powerful encounters with the risen Christ so in order to enjoy the fullness of Christ’s life one is to embrace the sacramental life of the Church. If you want to encounter the powerful presence of Jesus in the sacraments, the place to come is his Church. Ok I think you get my point!

Brothers and sisters let’s not thwart the momentum begun on Ash Wednesday, but continue our good works and to live and to celebrate the transformation we began and embraced during Lent.

Easter can also be a time when many of us can make a new beginning. Perhaps there are some here who have fallen away from living their faith and practicing it on a regular basis. Maybe you feel distant from the Church because some parishioner or even some priest did something you disagree with or offended you. Maybe you’ve experienced some things in your life that have caused you not to realize the relevance of living your faith, that you can be misguided to think one can become holy on your own without the help of God’s grace. Perhaps you’re allowing the secular society’s thoughts and beliefs unduly influence how you live your life rather than what the God who created you and has loved you from all eternity teaches what is true and good and beautiful in his Church.

Whatever the reason is I ask you to come back home, to your Church and to your parish family and be an active Catholic once again. Think about all those things mentioned thus far in this homily about the need for God and his Church in one’s life. Let’s recall the famous passage from St. Augustine’s Confessions wherein he states “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you .” The Church wants you back and she needs you because without you the Church is incomplete.

A good place to start is to begin having a daily prayer life no matter how limited it may be, to cultivate a zeal to learn and live the rich beauty of the truths of our Catholic faith through all kinds of media available today and to receive divine power into our souls through the regular reception of the sacraments especially Penance and Reconciliation and receiving the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist, powerful heavenly food which our souls crave and need at least once a week.

Human life involves mystery. Sometimes we just don’t understand the whats and whys and hows of life. Easter is about seeing our world in a new way. Early that Easter morning, Mary Magdalene  didn’t find what she was looking for, the dead body of Jesus. She didn’t understand why Jesus died and where he was so she could give him a proper burial. But in her disappointment and confusion she found something better than she could ever have imagined: the Risen Jesus himself. Sometimes the things we think are right, the things we want and things we need most aren’t given to us and we wrongly blame God. I remember my best friend back in Jackson telling me his spiritual director gave him a very wise prayer: God help me to want what you want me to want 2x. That’s a simple phrase but a profound prayer. Saying that prayer sincerely will assure us what we get is exactly what we need and what we receive will be much better in the eternal scheme of things than anything we ever wanted or expected.

Easter provides us with a new beginning to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and his continued presence in our lives. The risen Lord is always with us on our journey of faith. Certainly our life’s journey will have its high and low points, but Jesus will be with us through them all. The grace of the Easter Season can remove sadness from our hearts, doubts from our minds and complacency from our souls and replace them with joy and a renewed zeal for the faith. The blessings of this season are being poured out on us right now and all we need do is to open ourselves up to receive them and stake claim to the power of God’s grace in our lives.

My dear children we are loved by God in ways and in a depth we can never imagine and so today on this Easter Sunday Jesus invites us to renew our faith and hope in him. Just as the caterpillar said it would never want to fly may we break out of our chrysalis and let our souls soar so that trusting in God we can experience the love and joy of the risen Lord and cry out with all our hearts today’s responsorial psalm, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad. Alleluia!”

Holy Thursday 2024

A man came to a priest wanting to ridicule his faith and asked, “How can bread and wine turn into the Body and Blood of Christ?” The priest answered, “No problem. You yourself change food into your body and blood, so why can’t Jesus do the same?”  The man didn’t give up and then asked, “But how can the entire body of Christ be in such a small host?”  He answered “In the same way the vast landscape before you can fit into your little eye.”  But the cynic persisted, “How can the same Christ be present in all your churches at the same time? The wise priest then took a mirror and let the man peer into it. Then he let the mirror fall to the ground and break into pieces and he said to the skeptic “There’s only one of you and yet you can find your face reflected in each piece of that broken mirror at the same time.” Don’t we wish we could all explain the faith like that?

This evening we begin the Triduum, a 3 day remembrance of the paschal mystery-The Mass, the cross, the empty tomb. Tonight we begin this sacred time celebrating the redemptive presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus’ Eucharistic presence is the renewal of His presence in the upper room and on the cross offering Himself, the new covenant sacrifice, for all of mankind and imploring us to do this in memory of him.

During Lent the readings have had us to reflect quite a bit on the concept of covenant. Unlike contracts a covenant is not merely an agreement but an arrangement, a relationship, which involves a sacred bond with God, a mutual relationship of love between the divine and the human.

We heard about the covenant God made with Noah, the covenant of the rainbow symbolizing God’s love and care for man, not sinful pride. We heard about the covenant of faith God made with Abraham reminding us that if we put our faith in God he will care for us even if our lives involve uncertainty and turmoil. We heard about the covenant made with Moses, the covenant of The Decalogue many of which were expounded upon in my homily series these Sundays of Lent. The Covenant of Sinai was a call to holiness, a call to be detached from a world that looks towards satisfying itself instead of living for God and others. It was called the holiness code because to be holy means to be set apart for the Lord, to be in but not part of the world.

Scripture tells us Moses took the blood of sacrificed lambs and sprinkled it on the people and said, [Ex24:8] “See this is the blood of the covenant the LORD has made with you.” This was the first shedding of blood in sacrifice of the old covenant, a biblical type, which we know will be perfected in the blood of Jesus given to us at The Last Supper and shed on the altar of the cross in the new covenant. Two weeks ago we heard the prophecy of Jeremiah that there would be a new covenant written not in stone but on the hearts of the people.

Tonight we celebrate the blood sacrifice of this new covenant. When we celebrate Mass we celebrate the one sacrifice of Jesus dying and rising for us on the altar of the cross, sealing us with the blood of the new covenant. When we receive Holy Communion we consume the blood of the new covenant written on our hearts when we say amen.

The Blood of the New Covenant is far deeper and infinitely more profound than any of those previous covenants. Within our hearts and souls we celebrate the sacramental presence of Jesus and we consecrate ourselves as his disciples to making the presence of Christ real in the world. Each time we receive Holy Communion we recall and proclaim our commitment to the blood of the new covenant.

Jesus told his disciples to do this in memory of me meaning the gift of the Eucharist necessitates the ministry of certain men who have been called to make God present for his faithful. Bishops and priests proclaim the memory of Jesus Christ alive every time they act in persona Christi and celebrate Mass. This evening’s liturgy celebrates not only the gift of the Eucharist but also the gift of the sacrament of Holy Orders.

So as we celebrate this Mass of the Lord’s Supper we give thanks to God for the ordained priesthood and the Eucharist. No priest, no Eucharist; no Eucharist, no sacramental life in the Church. There were many priests in the old covenant but there’s only one Priest, Jesus, in the new covenant and he has extended his priestly ministry to his ordained priests. I thank God for the privilege to be called to the ordained priesthood and it’s always special to attend the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral every holy week to be with the bishop and all the priests of the diocese as we renew our priestly vows.

The Mass is both a meal and a sacrifice and it takes a priest to offer sacrifice. There were many animals sacrificed in the old covenant by the Jewish priests, but there’s only one sacrifice offered in the new covenant, the sacrifice of Jesus in his priestly offering of himself on the altar of the cross. During Mass that one sacrifice of Jesus as both priest and victim of the new covenant is extended to us. It’s the same one and only sacrificial offering of Jesus as priest and victim but extended through time at every Mass and made present to us here and now.

This is better appreciated when we understand that the Jewish people who remember and reenact the Passover celebration every year, see themselves actually spiritually present with those who celebrated the very first Passover and benefit from it as being there. They truly believe they are participating and sharing in the benefits of the original event.

So in the same way during every celebration of Mass we are, so to speak, transported back in time to The Last Supper. We are present spiritually there with Jesus as he gives us his actual body and blood of the new covenant and like the Jews we believe we benefit spiritually each time we attend the celebration of Mass and receive Holy Communion.

Later in this celebration we’ll have a procession of the Blessed Sacrament around the church and then place our Lord in the altar of repose. We’ll have benediction and then adoration of the Blessed Sacrament until 10 o’clock. As we kneel tonight in adoration we remember the awesome gift of Jesus body, blood, soul and divinity given to us by the Father and made present to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. As we knell before him let us recall what a privilege it is to be people of the blood of the new covenant written on our hearts, keeping alive the mystery of the Lord’s presence in our wounded world today.

Good Friday #40 STFX 3/29/24

A deputy commander at Auschwitz  in July, 1941 received a report a prisoner had escaped. In order to set an example and to prevent further escapes the standard procedure was to have the commander of the barracks select ten men for the starvation bunker. One of those selected for the bunker became frantic screaming “My poor wife; my poor children!” Hearing his cry Fr. Maximilian Kolbe although not among the ten selected, in a heroic act of charity, volunteered to be the victim in his place altogether knowing he would slowly but surely die there. Fr. Kolbe had a passionate devotion to the Mother of God and on the vigil of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Fr. Kolbe’s two-week ordeal in the starvation bunker was brought to an end by an injection of carbolic acid. Of the ten victims, he was the last to die very providentially on August 15, 1941,the feast of Our Lady’s Assumption into heaven! As an innocent victim St. Kolbe imitated Our Lord as a Victim of the Cross for there is “no greater love than this, that a man lays down his life for his friend” (Jn 15:12).

Good Friday is the day to recall God the Father did something more than tell us He loved us. He expressed his love in action. The cross we honor today is a symbol of the sacrificial love of God the Son and the blazing love of God the Holy Spirit.

Crucifixion was used early in history by the Phoenicians, the Greeks and the Romans as a way of striking fear in and subduing conquered territories. The cross was the crudest instrument of torture used by the Romans to punish rebels and criminals. The slow death by hanging on the cross was the most excruciating experience of pain in the world.

Without question Good Friday is the most somber and solemn day on the Church’s liturgical calendar. It  brings us face to face with Jesus’ horrific suffering and agonizing death on the cross. It’s not very pleasant to meditate on a crucifix and have our sins and faults pointed out to us in such gravity. A marred and bloody crucifix as seen in many European churches is an in your face reminder of the grotesqueness of what sin is and what sin does and it challenges us today to call to mind the severity of our sins and our need to repent and return to God.

To our detriment however, we’re living in a world that has lost the sense of sin and which ignores the price Jesus paid for our emancipation from sin.  The prophecy of Jeremiah lamented this sad situation centuries ago when he proclaimed “No one regrets his wickedness, saying, ‘What have I done!’” Instead of evoking remorse for our wickedness we look love in the face and exclaim like the Jewish leaders crucify him!

However, filled with a spirit of true repentance and contrition on this Good Friday, we humbly ask God’s forgiveness for our sins and pray along with the Psalmist, “Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness; in Your abundant compassion blot out my offense. Wash away all my guilt; from my sin cleanse me. For I know my offense; my sin is always before me. Against You alone have I sinned; I have done such evil in Your sight.” (Ps 51: 3-6)

Jesus, as the role model for St. Maximilian Kolbe, knew beforehand every detail of his upcoming cruel suffering, humiliation, rejection and death. But he welcomed it all wholeheartedly according to the eternal plan of God his Father. There’s no greater proof of the Father’s love for us than the willing sacrifice of his Son on the cross. Jesus paid the price for us when he made atonement for our sins, the sins of all mankind. His last words, “It is finished!” expressed victory rather than defeat. Jesus bowed his head and gave up his spirit knowing he was triumphant in the battle over sin and death. On the altar of the cross Jesus realized the pure joy of victory. What the Father sent him into the world to do has now been accomplished.

This sacrificial love we meditate on this Good Friday beckons us to assess how well we return God’s love by how well we love our neighbor. Good Friday is the day to remember the new commandment of love Jesus gave us: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34-35).

The cross also issues us a challenge to accept suffering in this life, deriving strength and inspiration from the suffering of Christ and to offer it with His sufferings for the conversion of sinners and the salvation of the world. Not being critical, our protestants brethren don’t realize Jesus proved voluntary acceptance of suffering does have salvific value. It was actually a prerequisite for his disciples: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mt 16: 24, Mk 8: 34, Lk 9: 23).

But carrying one’s crosses doesn’t mean to seek out pain as a means of pleasing God. It’s not suffering for its own sake a Christian seeks. Rather it’s love born of sacrifice. When the cross is accepted and embraced, it becomes a sign of love and of total self-giving. To carry it with Jesus means we’re united with him in offering the greatest proof of love. That’s how the martyrs and saints understood it and they bore it triumphantly and it’s how we are to accept and bear our crosses as well.

United with Jesus in His sufferings we offer our self-donating love for others by sharing our blessings with them. We accept the agony involved in controlling our evil tendencies in order to allow God and His grace and love to help us strive for holiness and be a more loving person to our neighbor. We stand with Jesus and gladly follow him even if it means ridicule, scorn and humiliation from the rest of the world. 

None of us probably likes our cross but with the help of God’s grace we accept them like Jesus and St. Maximilian Kolbe did and draw strength and inspiration from them daily and in the process we can become a co-redeemer of souls united with Jesus and may say “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by bearing our cross we have helped to redeem the world.”  

Holy Saturday #41   

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all”. Christ answered him: “And with your spirit”. He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light”.

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

These words come from a 4th century Holy Saturday homily written in Greek. These words have just as much relevance today as they did back then. It concisely describes the plight of all who have gone before us as well as all of us now and whoever will come after us; sacred, wise words for all the ages.

[[[It is for all of us cradle Catholics but especially tonight for those in our midst who will be initiated into our beautiful Catholic faith. God has given them the grace to freely come here tonight to accept his gift of faith and we give praise and thanks to God for them.]]]

Tonight’s reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans describes this immersion into the faith, this baptism wherein sinful man is buried with Christ in his death to rise with him, to be reborn, to new life.

This sequence of dying and rising was demonstrated very well in the ancient church. In ancient parishes there were steps leading down into the baptistery where a pool of water lay. These steps down symbolized Jesus taken down from the cross and placed in the sepulcher. The catechumens were stripped and were then immersed, plunged into the baptismal waters three times symbolizing the three days Jesus spent in the tomb. They left their old lives behind evidenced by abandoning their old clothes and were reborn in the baptismal bath. They then donned white garments as they ascended another set of steps out of the baptistery where they received their baptismal candle indicating they have now received the light of Christ as we chanted just a few moments ago as we began our vigil service and to carry that light into the world as they exited the baptistery and would re-enter life in the world.

Being baptized is the easy part. But being reborn brings about the great challenge. St. Paul says that Jesus died to sin once and for all. Consequently, all of us [[[cradle as well as new]]] Catholics must think of ourselves as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.

Just as Jesus suffered and died for us so we are to suffer and die. This suffering and death is a suffering and death to sin and whatever distracts us from living our Catholic faith; from whatever leads us away from God rather than toward God.

As we [[[either make or]]] renew our baptismal promises tonight may we [[[commit or]]] recommit ourselves with the help of God’s grace to living this true and good and beautiful Catholic faith.

Palm Sunday 2024

Today with the celebration of Palm Sunday we begin the holiest week of the liturgical year. We’ve just heard the passion proclaimed wherein the creature, all of humanity collectively, committed the sin of deicide. Jesus the innocent Lamb of God was unjustly killed which is an excellent entre into our homily series on the Decalogue, today on the 5th Commandment Thou Shall not Kill.

I’ve mentioned before God has known and loved each and every person from all eternity; every person, every soul 2319 from the moment of conception until death is precious and sacred because every human life is made in the image and likeness of God. God is the author, creator and sustainer of all life. Therefore, 2261 the deliberate murder of an innocent person is a grave offense 2269 as well as doing anything with the intention of directly and/or indirectly bringing about a person’s death. The moral law also prohibits exposing someone to mortal danger without grave reason and imposes a moral duty to assist a person who is in mortal danger.

2263 The preservation of one’s own life 2264 is a moral duty. Therefore someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he’s forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow or 2321 to take action to render an unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm. 2265 Legitimate defense is not only a right but a grave duty for whoever is responsible for the lives of others and the common good [policemen, soldiers]. 2269 However, one is not exonerated if, acting negligently, unintentionally causes the death of someone. [manslaughter]

There’s been much debate recently regarding the death penalty. The CCC teaches 2267 assuming the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty if this is the only possible way of effectively defending innocent human lives against the unjust aggressor. This is only if non-lethal means [i.e. incarceration] are insufficient which is rare in our day and time.

The Church teaches at the moment of conception God infuses an immortal soul into the conceptus.  Therefore, 2270 from the first moment of existence the conceptus is a human being and must be respected and protected and thus recognized as having the rights of a person the most important of which is the inviolable right to life.

2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every abortion. The Didache, the earliest catechism dating back to the late 1st or early 2nd century, states “You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish” which is infanticide and unfortunately there are those today who support infanticide. Thus 2272 anyone directly involved or anyone who assists or encourages an abortion commits a grave offense.

2273 This inalienable right to life of every innocent human person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority which unfortunately is not the case today. We as a nation at least recognized this in the recent Dobbs supreme court case overturning Roe vs. Wade which legalized abortion. This is also respected here in Mississippi as well as in many other right to life states while some have unfortunately voted in abortion rights.

2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be cared for like any other human being. Prenatal diagnoses are morally licit if it’s done to safeguard or heal and not with the thought of possibly inducing an abortion depending upon the test results. 2275 “It’s also immoral to produce human embryos intended for exploitation as disposable biological material.” This as well as attempts aimed at producing human beings according to sex or other predetermined qualities and in laboratories exclusive of the natural marital act e.g. IVF are contrary to the dignity of the human person.

2277 Euthanasia is an action or an omission with the intention of causing death in order to eliminate human suffering. Whatever its motives putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons is morally unacceptable and constitutes murder. [Dr. Kerforkian, Terry Schiavo]

2278 It is morally possible to discontinue medical treatments that are “over-zealous”, deemed dangerous, present an overwhelming financial burden, are extraordinary or disproportionate to the expected outcome as long as the motive is not to cause death but to accept its ultimate outcome. [extra/ordinary means]

2279 Even if death is thought imminent ordinary care cannot be discontinued. Food and hydration are to be administered until the body is unable to assimilate it. The use of painkillers to alleviate suffering even at the risk of shortening one’s life can be morally licit as long as death or its hastening is not willed but merely foreseen as inevitable. Palliative care should be encouraged.

2299 The dying should receive the care needed to live their last moments in dignity and peace. They should be helped by prayer and the reception of the sacraments at the proper time to prepare them to meet God and enter into the next phase of human existence.

2280 Everyone is responsible for his life before God. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. 2281 Suicide is the taking of an innocent human life and it contradicts the natural inclination to self-preservation. Suicide is most likely a permanent solution to a temporary problem. In many cases however, those who consider and commit suicide think tomorrow will never be better. The Church understands 2282 serious psychological disturbances can diminish one’s culpability and she doesn’t want us 2283 to despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have committed suicide. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays and encourages us to pray for all who have taken their own lives.

Everything in moderation, right so 2290 the Church encourages temperance with food, alcohol, medicine, exercise. The use of drugs or “herbal” remedies [pot] is licit only when taken on legitimate therapeutic grounds.

2293 Scientific research is a significant expression of man’s dominion over creation. 2292 Scientific, medical, or psychological experiments on individuals or groups can contribute to healing the sick and the advancement of public health. 2295 Any experimentation on a person to be legitimate cannot pose an inordinate risk to the person’s health and must be done with full and complete consent.

2296 Organ donation is a noble and meritorious act and should be encouraged. The donation must be done with full and complete consent and wherein death of the donor is not hastened.

2300 The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect. 2301 Autopsies can be morally permitted for proper legal inquests or scientific research. The Church permits cremation provided it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body. The cremains must be interred intact within a reasonable amount of time. Therefore, in no way may cremains be stored at home, placed in lockets or jewelry or scattered on the ground or at sea.

Lastly, the Lord says Mt.5:22, “Everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment and Mt.5:44 Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Deacon Steve briefly preached on anger a couple of weeks ago. 2302 It is a grave sin when anger results in a desire to kill or seriously wound someone and when one deliberately wishes his neighbor evil or serious harm.

Again plenty more in the catechism including teachings on a just war. You can always read my homilies on the parish website stfxstl.org under the “From the Pastor’s Desk tab.

Fifth Sunday of Lent

March 17, 2024

With today being the 5th Sunday of Lent we realize this solemn season of penance is winding down and what’s known as the period of Passiontide begins. Actually this Sunday used to be referred to as Passion Sunday, a preparation for Palm Sunday and the recalling of the Lord’s passion during Holy Week next week. All of the statues have now been covered to help us realize Jesus will soon be taken away from us as we prepare for the Sacred Triduum – Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday which will be celebrated this year [here] at St. Francis Xavier.

The prophet Jeremiah says today I shall place my law within them and write it upon their hearts so we continue with our homily series on the Decalogue discussing 2 more commandments- the 7th commandment “Thou shall not steal” and the corresponding 10th commandment “Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s goods”.

2401 All of us know the 7th commandment forbids theft which is unjustly taking or keeping someone’s property whether lent to you or lost by someone. In these situations the goods should be either returned to its rightful owner or if that’s not possible restitution should be given to the owner for the value of the goods taken. If restitution cannot be made to the rightful owner then it’s value is to be given to some legitimate charitable organization. Everyone involved in the theft are obliged to make restitution in proportion to their responsibility and to their share of what was stolen.

Theft also includes business fraud; paying unjust wages; work poorly done; tax evasion; forgery; artificially manipulating the price of goods, violating the terms of a contract, personal use of business or government property. The commandment also forbids destroying or damaging someone’s property, negligence in the proper care of the environment and disrespect for the right to private property.

All of this stems from what is known as the universal destination of goods which is the principle wherein all the created resources God gave to man are to be shared fairly using the guidance of justice and tempered by Christian charity.

We know there’s much talk today about over population and those known as eugenicists such as Bill Gates want to curb the world’s population by at least half and some even more so to only 1 or 2 billion people and they want to do this in nefarious ways. God is a very generous loving God and he has given the earth the capacity to satisfy all of humanity’s needs and to sustain all human life. Genesis 1:26 – God gave man dominion over the entire earth. The goods of creation belong to all of humanity. Therefore, man has the obligation to try to see to it that all the world’s resources are fairly shared so that all people may be adequately sustained in their lives. Of course that’s not the case and the problem is primarily bad policy and tyrannical rulers who selfishly hoard resources.

2427 God placed Adam in the garden and bade him to till the soil. Work honors the Creator’s gifts and talents he’s given us. 2460 By means of his labor man participates in the work of creation. Hence work is a duty and a means of man’s fulfillment. Jesus worked. St. Paul tells the Thessalonians If anyone will not work, let him not eat. With that said it can be posited that government welfare programs unintentionally encourage inactivity which robs able bodied people of their dignity. This is a grave injustice and prevents those affected from contributing to their own good and the good of society.

2404 An owner of goods such as land, factories, practical or artistic skills is a steward of God’s benevolence. 2432 Business enterprises are to be good stewards of the environment and consider the good of their employees. Businesses should not focus solely on profits although profits are necessary because they make possible the investments to ensure the future of a business which will result in future employment.

2428 Everyone should be able to draw from his work the means of providing for his life and his family as well as serving and benefiting others. 2434 Employees are entitled to a just wage for the fruit of their labor. Ideally a just wage should provide a dignified living for oneself and his family although paying everyone a family wage based on one’s job skills and responsibility is impractical. Irresponsible government spending and printing and circulating billions of dollars into the economy like what’s being done now is extremely poor fiscal management. You learn in Economics 101 this devalues our currency and causes the double digit inflation we’re experiencing today and as a result decreases the purchasing power of consumers which greatly harms the poor.

2415 The 7th commandment mandates respect for the integrity of all creation including animals, plants and inanimate creatures. Beware anyone belonging to PETA 2416 man’s dominion includes the prudential use of animals for food and clothing which may involve domesticating them to help man in his work and leisure. 2418 It is inhumane to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. With that said animals may be used in medical and scientific experimentation as long as it’s done in a morally acceptable manner with the legitimate objective of caring for or saving human lives. I’m taking a risk here but it’s imprudent to spend excessive amounts of money on pets, money that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; however, one should not direct to them the affection due only to human persons.

2439 Wealthy nations have a moral responsibility to help poor nations with their overall development. 2440 Direct aid is an appropriate response to immediate, extraordinary needs caused by natural catastrophes, epidemics and the like.

Again there’s plenty more to learn about the 7th commandment in the Catechism.

2534 The tenth commandment forbids coveting the goods of another. This commandment guards against greed, the desire for power and the inordinate desire to be rich and acquire things without limit. 2537 Whereas it’s not wrong to want to obtain certain things, of course everything in moderation. 2551 Jesus said (Mt 6:21) “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”.

Jealousy is simply seeing a quality or a good someone has and wishing you had it. Being jealous can prompt someone to do whatever is necessary to legitimately achieve or gain what is desired. St. John Chrysostom said: “Rejoice in your brother’s progress and you will immediately give glory to God. God will be praised when his servant conquers envy by rejoicing in the merits of others.”

Now jealousy and envy are different in that envy refers to the immoderate desire to unjustly acquire whatever the good is for oneself. In other words to acquire whatever it is by wicked ways. Jesus taught Martha and Mary about the better part and that’s to not be so much earth bound but eternity minded 2549 for holy people desire the good things God promises which last forever. Christ’s faithful are to mortify their worldly cravings and with the grace of God, prevail over the seductions for pleasure and power. One cannot serve God and mammon. Again much more on the 10th commandment in the catechism.

Brothers and sisters obeying the Decalogue isn’t easy; living a good Catholic life is not easy. We need God’s grace of repentance and conversion to as our responsorial psalm tells us today to create a clean heart in us and renew a steadfast spirit within us. However, if we cooperate with God’s grace and as the gospel says lose our lives we’ll gain the joy of everlasting life with God in heaven.

Second Sunday of Lent

February 25, 2024

It’s common knowledge Lent is all about repentance which involves sacrifice. Peoples in the ancient world took sacrifice seriously. They realized God gave them everything and God deserves everything in return. So ancient peoples instinctively knew genuine sacrifice could never be just a casual nod to God. It had to be something significant to qualify as a real sacrifice.

Most are familiar with the story of Abraham and how God told Abraham he would be the father of a great nation. Not having a heir God promised he would give him a son in his old age. His son Isaac is Abraham’s joy as well as his last hope. There’s absolutely nothing more precious to Abraham than Isaac. But God puts Abraham to the test as he asks him to slaughter his son as a sacrifice.

But God really didn’t want Isaac’s blood; he wanted Abraham’s heart. It’s the same with us. In configuring our hearts like God’s heart he gave us the Decalogue and today we continue our Lenten homily series on the Ten Commandments with #s 3 and 4 most all of which will come from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The 3rd Commandment is to keep holy the Sabbath. As with every commandment it’s much more than this. It’s also about how one should spend every Sunday. CCC 2169 In 6 days the Lord created the universe and all that’s in it and he rested on the 7th day; therefore the Lord blessed Saturday, the Sabbath day and hallowed it. Six days you shall labor and do all your work; but the 7th day you shall not do any work.

2172 What God’s does is the model for us. If God “rested and was refreshed” on the 7th day, man should do likewise. The Sabbath brings everyday work to a halt and provides man a respite. It’s a day whereby we learn not to be a slave to work and not to worship money. It’s a day to rest, recreate and enjoy the beautiful world God created for us.

2190 The Sabbath, which represented the completion of the first creation, has been replaced by Sunday which commemorates the new creation inaugurated by Christ’s resurrection. 2175 For Christians Sunday now replaces the Sabbath. This should help explain to a 7th Day Adventist why we worship on Sunday, not Saturday.

2176 Sunday observes the moral commandment inscribed by nature as a matter of justice to render to God [now listen to these] an outward, visible, public, and regular worship. So the notion I can “worship” God in nature is invalid. Yes one can experience God in nature but that’s not worship and it’s not what God commands. Plus one can experience God supernaturally only at Mass when angels and saints surround the altar at the Eucharistic Prayer. Once again we’re to attend Mass every Sunday and every holy day of obligation; not just when we feel like it or when it’s convenient. Not to do so is a mortal sin and as I mentioned last week receiving Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin is a sacrilege which is putting sin on sin.

Instead of “working” on Sundays we’re to concentrate on “works” of mercy by devoting time and care to visit our families and relatives as well as charitable service to the sick, the infirm and the elderly. It’s a time for silence, study, prayer, reflection and meditation which furthers the growth of the interior life wherein we both recreate and re-create ourselves. Sunday shouldn’t be the catch all day when we get done whatever household duties we didn’t do during the week. We’re smart people and can plan accordingly. Rather I recommend making Sunday special by preparing a special meal or go out on a family outing, visit friends and relatives, whatever; just make Sunday special because it is!

The 4th Commandment is honor your father and your mother. Again this commandment involves much more than just obeying your parents. God has willed that after him we should honor our parents 2248 and those whom he has placed authority over us for our good to include 2199 members of the extended family like uncles and aunts, our elders, pastors, teachers, coaches, bosses and to those who govern us.

2204 The Christian family constitutes a domestic church 2207 and is the original cell of social life. The family is where from childhood one learns moral values, begins to honor God and make good and proper use of our freedom. 2250 The well-being of both the individual person and society is closely bound up with the healthy state of family life. As one may deduce our spiritual enemy is very clever in attacking the traditional family through selfishness, divorce and a government welfare system which rewards illegitimacy resulting in many cases fatherless families which weakens both poor white and black families.

The CCC teaches children are to respect and obey their parents. This derives from a natural affection and a profound gratitude to them for the very gift of life as well as their love and support in raising them. 2218 This love is to be reciprocated when parents need material and moral support in old age and in times of illness, loneliness or distress.

Conversely, the primary role of parents is to provide for the physical and spiritual needs of their children. As such parents are to educate their children in the Catholic faith. As the primary teachers of their children parents are to teach them what’s right and wrong, how to pray, to cultivate virtue, to be good examples of living the Catholic faith, to provide judicious advice and to protect them from the degrading and immoral influences of society. Parents should also foster vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life.

Parents should be parents, not their children’s best friend. You can’t compete with teenage friends. It’s good for parents to realize, your children belong to God and God has entrusted the care of his children to you and he wants them back to live with him forever.

Additionally the CCC teaches the role of government concerning family life. 2254 The state is obliged to respect a person’s fundamental rights and has a duty to ensure:

– the freedom to establish a family, to have the number of children they decide and raise their children in the moral and religious convictions they choose

– the freedom to profess one’s faith and to hand it on to their children

– the right to choose a school which corresponds to their own convictions; not government/cultural indoctrination

– the right to private property, to free enterprise, to obtain work and housing, and the right to emigrate;

– to the protection of one’s health especially with respect to dangers like drugs, vaccines

– to safeguard public morality with respect to pornography, human trafficking, wokeness

– the freedom to form associations with other families and to have representation before civil authority.

Good Catholics make good citizens and as such in conjunction with civil authorities we’re to contribute to the good of society. This means 2240 paying taxes, to exercise the right to vote which a moral act, to defend one’s country and to pray for our civil leaders.

2245 The Church is not a political community. However, 2246 the Church has the right “to pass moral judgments in matters related to politics whenever the fundamental rights and the dignity of the human person or the salvation of souls requires it. 2242 One is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Church. In other words we are not to obey an immoral law, any law that is antithetical to Catholic doctrine. “We must obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29

Again this isn’t an exhaustive rendering of the CCC so please read it.

Ancient peoples instinctively knew genuine sacrifice could never be just a casual nod to God. It had to be something significant to qualify as a real sacrifice. In configuring our hearts like God’s heart he gave us the Decalogue to help us to give him our hearts as he had Abraham give him his. In doing so reminded of the end of today’s first reading may we think of the blessings God will bestow on us because we obeyed his commandments.

First Sunday of Lent

February 18, 2024

St. Jerome, the brilliant doctor of the Church, lived in the cave where the Child Jesus was born for 25 years. One day he prayed: “Dear Jesus, you’ve suffered much to save me, how can I make amends?” “What can you give me, Jerome?” he answered. “I shall spend my entire life in prayer and offer to you all my talents,” Jerome replied. “Oh that will glorify Me well, but what more can you give to Me?” the Voice asked again. “I shall give all my money to the poor,” Jerome exclaimed. God replied: “Giving your money to the poor would be just as if you were giving it to Me. But what else can you give to Me?” St. Jerome became distraught and said: “Lord, I have given You everything! What is there left to give?” “Jerome, you have not yet given Me your sins,” the Lord replied. “Give them to Me so I can erase them.” Hearing these words St. Jerome then burst into tears realizing the enormity of God’s love and mercy.

Today we hear in our first reading how God dealt with the sins of mankind in the account of Noah and the flood. The CCC 401 states After that first sin, the world is virtually inundated by sin. I like to kid around and say we got really good at sinning pretty quickly and unfortunately that’s true. Although Adam and Eve broke the original covenant with God, our faithful God chose Noah and his family to renew his covenant with man. The waters of the flood brought cleansing upon the earth and life began anew. The cleansing waters of the flood prefigured baptism as St. Peter points out in our second reading, “This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.”

The sign of the renewed covenant with Noah was the rainbow. The rainbow in the sky symbolizes the linking of heaven and earth. God said of the rainbow-This shall be the sign of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh upon the earth. So the rainbow is a sacred sign of God’s covenant with man and that’s why it angers many that it now symbolizes homosexual sin and its lifestyle which is an abomination to God as chronicled in both the Old and New Testaments and the Catechism.

Noah’s rescue from the flood waters symbolizes our being saved through the baptismal bath which cleanses our soul of all sin both original and personal. The rainbow then is a sign not of man’s destruction by a flood but of God’s covenant love saving mankind. This is why I’ve placed signs on our website, bulletin boards and the cry room at St. Francis Xavier: The rainbow: symbol of God’s covenant love for man, not sinful pride.

Though we’ve become a new creation in the flood of the sacramental grace of baptism we’re still threatened by “floods” of temptation to sin. The CCC 1849 defines sin as an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience and thus 1850 against God. Sin is a word, deed or desire in opposition to God’s law, the Ten Commandments also known as the Decalogue. With that said I think it will be good exercise to briefly examine each of these commandments over the Sundays of Lent.

All of this was taken from the Catechism. The first commandment is 2133 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut 6:5). News flash-we break this commandment every day. No one loves God as we should. Rather than beating ourselves up about this reality we should be grateful Jesus came to save us.

Only God can save us. Pelagianism was a heresy which believed one can save oneself without the help of the grace of God. Good luck doing that! This is a sin of presumption as well as the belief I can be foot loose and fancy free doing whatever I want and God will forgive me. That’s not how it works. We’re to try our best not to sin but when we do sin and we’re contrite we go to confession and we’re forgiven.

As a matter of justice we are to worship only God, no other deity. We are to love God above everything. The bottom line is who or what holds first place in our hearts? Answer: whatever one spend most of their time and energy. The common transgressions are power, pleasure and money. But whatever it happens to be we should try to limit its power over us with the knowledge God cares for all our needs.

2088 The first commandment requires us as I’ve said this many times to learn, nourish and protect our faith and to reject everything that’s opposed to it. 2104 All are bound to seek the truth especially in what concerns God. Jesus is the truth and he gifted his Church with the fullness of divine revelation found in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. It’s a sin against the first commandment to doubt the teachings of the Catholic Church in matters of faith and morals. Now one can struggle and have difficulty believing Catholic doctrine, but we cannot doubt its veracity. St. Augustine and other saints have said we don’t understand in order to believe, we believe to better understand. Another way of saying this is faith comes first and then understanding with the help of God’s grace.

This doesn’t mean we don’t respect other religions which contain elements of truth. But ultimately it’s the hope of shedding the light of revealed truth in its totality in the Lord Jesus and his Catholic Church to all in the world. That’s the great commissioning of every baptized intentional disciple.

The first commandment prohibits superstition. This includes having a false notion of protection by having something like a good luck charm. More severe is any attempt no matter if it’s curiosity or serious to know the future which is an offense against God. I’ve shocked many when I’ve told them it’s a sin to seriously read and believe horoscopes, astrology, have palm or tarot card readings, play on ouji boards, crazy 8 balls, magic, sorcery and who in the world would want to attend a séance. Why do I mention these? Because they all can open one up to the occult and I’ve seen it happen. Now I’m not trying to scare anyone but if you have engaged in any of these as a precautionary measure I strongly suggest going to confession asap.

Included in the Catholic version of the first commandment is the forbidding of worshipping graven images. This is the second commandment for protestants. We all know Catholics don’t worship statues or any form of religious art. 2130 In the Old Testament however God ordained the making of images that pointed symbolically toward salvation such as the bronze serpent, the ark of the covenant, and the cherubim. So 2132 the Catholic veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment. The honor paid to sacred images is a “respectful veneration,” not the adoration due to God alone.

A couple of other quick things: despair is a sin wherein one doubts God’s mercy in that he has sinned so grievously he cannot be forgiven and thus has lost hope in his salvation. Sacrilege is the irreverent misuse of sacred items for example maliciously desecrating a piece of religious art such as a painting or statue. But much more severe is desecrating a consecrated host by destroying it or using it for a satanic ritual. It’s also a sacrilege to receive Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin. You must go to sacramental confession and receive absolution first before approaching the altar.

The Second Commandment is You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. 2143 The name of the Lord is holy and his name should be used only to bless, praise and glorify him. For this reason one must not abuse it or use it for trivial matters. One fails to respect God’s name when one casually says the name “Jesus Christ” or “OMG” as an expression of incredulity or surprise. Pick something else instead of these. The worst of course and I won’t even say it is G/D. I cannot stand to hear anyone say that and it’s one of the reasons why I won’t go to a movie because of its extensive use in them. It’s totally inappropriate to ask God, the only judge of a person’s soul and who came to save all men, to damn anyone. This also includes cursing and the use of indecent language.

2152 A person commits perjury when he makes a promise under oath with either no intention of keeping it, or when after promising on oath he doesn’t keep it. 2148 Blasphemy is speaking irreverently of God, against Christ’s Church, the saints and sacred things.

There’s much more I could mention so I encourage you to read The Ten Commandments section of the CCC which is an excellent source of reference for understanding sin and examining one’s conscience. We’ll continue with the other commandments over the next few weeks.

St. Jerome tells us today God wants us to give him our sins and we have to know them in order to give them to him. Brothers and sisters Lent is the time to give our sins to God with repentant hearts so as God said to St. Jerome go to Confession and give God your sins so he can erase them.

Ash Wednesday

February 14, 2024

Today is Ash Wednesday and as we all know Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent. The use of blessed ashes reminds us of our human mortality, that we are dust and unto dust we shall return and the need to be redeemed by the mercy of God. The ashes are a symbol of penance that helps us to develop a spirit of humility and sacrifice during this most solemn liturgical season.

The word Lent comes from the lengthening of daylight hours as we proceed from the darkness, drabness and coldness of winter to the brilliant light and warmth of spring. It is a traditional doctrine of Catholic spirituality that the observance of Lent includes repentance, a turning away from sin and a turning back toward God. Holy Mother Church strongly encourages the faithful to engage in the traditional penitential practices of Lent which are prayer, fasting, almsgiving and the reception of the sacraments.

The Jews considered prayer, fasting and almsgiving as the principal works of the religious life. They were seen as the key signs of a pious person, the three great pillars on which living a good and holy life were based.

The increased emphasis on prayer is to help us to commune more daily with God and as a result to know God better. Just as one converses and interacts with someone in order to better know that person so do we engage in that same type of activity with God. Familiarity with God will no doubt increase our appreciation of and love for our merciful God.

If our prayer life is non-existent Lent is a good time to begin one. It may start with a simple good morning to God as we awake and a thank you when we go to bed. Hopefully a habit of prayer will commence and will grow over the 40 days of Lent.

If one already has a prayer life, pray and ask God what additional forms of piety will enhance your spiritual growth. This can take on many different forms and may include going to Mass more than once a week, prayerful reading of the scriptures passages for daily Mass including the reading of a commentary such as the Word Among Us, The Magnificat, the Laudate app and a host of others. It may also include reading the lives of the saints who are our holy role models, buying a Catholic prayer book and praying a couple of prayers from it each day, the daily recitation of the rosary, attending the Stations of the Cross and especially spending some time in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.

Jesus pointed out to His disciples they would fast once He departed. Far from being negative, fasting is a means of escaping our self-preoccupation and freeing us to better center our hearts and minds on our relationship with Jesus. Through eating less, we may be able to feel some of the hunger Jesus has for our souls and realize through our physical weakness the need of the spiritual power of God’s grace to live and sustain a holy life. The practice of denying ourselves some legitimate pleasure is also healthy in a culture that emphasizes unbridled personal pleasure and self-gratification.

Through almsgiving we are reminded of our obligation to support the ministries of the Church and of our solidarity with those who are less fortunate. It also reminds us of how attached we are to the material things of this world which will one day pass away as well as a reminder to empty ourselves in a small way as Jesus emptied himself totally on the altar of the cross.

Through the reception of the sacraments, especially Confession and the Eucharist, we receive grace which capacitates us to overcome sin and be drawn more closely into union with God.

While these traditional practice of “doing something” for Lent is praiseworthy, there is much more to this wonderful season. During Lent the Church asks us to do some introspection; of taking a look at where we are spiritually and trying to see where we ought to be; of how our values stack up against those espoused by the Church. This involves a process called metanoia.

Metanoia denotes a change of mind and heart. So while eliminating candy, eating less or giving up alcohol or smoking may be our traditional Lenten observances perhaps one may consider engaging in something that will enhance one’s spiritual life as well. This may include spending less time on entertainment like watching television and surfing the net and use that time in a spiritually constructive manner such as coming to Mass early to pray, attending adult education opportunities, reading good spiritual books, studying our faith and performing corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

Lent is a wonderful example of the Church’s wisdom beckoning us to take a time out in our busy lives and concentrate more fully on what is truly important, eternal life with God. As I always mention I pray we all have the best Lent we ever had.

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Feb 4, 2024

Technological progress is happening today at an extremely rapid rate. Who would have thought 40 years ago we would have a small device that literally brings the entire world into the palm of our hands. The invention and development of smart devices have drastically changed our world and how we live.

Growing up my other older brother Ricky and I would get up on Saturday mornings, cook our own breakfast and watch cartoons. One of them was The Jetsons and one of the futuristic inventions on that show was video calling and I can’t believe that’s now a reality with Facetime. Of course I still hold to my belief the end of the world is nowhere close because no one has invented a flying car that turns into a briefcase. Now if Elon Musk invents one before he blasts off to Mars I’m joining a monastery immediately!

With the widespread use of smart devices we of course can communicate with people via texting. This mode of communication has spawned the use of more or less a texting language through the use of abbreviations to save time. I’m familiar with the common ones “idk” for I don’t know, “hru” – how are you, “wyd” – what you doing just to list a few. Sometimes I have to hop on the internet for help in translating what a particular abbreviation means. I guess I’m out of the loop and that’s fine.

Related to that is the use of contemporary catch phrases we inject into our everyday discourse. You know those zingy little one liners and acronyms like TGIF, 24/7, just saying, been there done that and I’ll never forget when I heard one of my employees tell me to get out my grill. What? Again I’m pretty much out of the loop so I’m sure there are plenty more current ones circulating that I haven’t heard of and am unaware.

One other such catch phrase bandied about from time to time is that was then, this is now. We use it in the context of explaining how things were or may have been done in the past but not any longer. Some examples of this are very few people write and mail letters anymore, we email, text or use social media. Many of us no longer use cash to make most of our purchases, we use credit cards. Many seldom use a map anymore; rather we use GPS. All of these are examples of that was then, this is now.

Well we get a biblical glimpse of this that was then, this is now scenario in our scripture passages this Sunday. In our first reading Job describes the challenging struggles of life in the old covenant before Christ. His lament is reminiscent of the OT book of Ecclesiastes which reminds us of the curse of toil and death placed upon Adam following the commission of the original sin. After the fall life for man can be miserable at times.

Job poignantly expresses what all human beings experience at one time or another and that is the feeling life is a burden, that one must somehow endure the daily grind, that our suffering is meaningless and there’s little hope for the future.

The book of Job is a long didactic poem intended to refute the ancient Jewish belief God rewards the good and punishes the wicked in this life. The book describes God’s permitting Satan to test the commitment and fidelity of His servant Job. A prosperous and God-fearing man, Job suddenly experienced the successive, catastrophic losses of wealth, family and health. Based on that Jewish belief the good are rewarded and the wicked are punished in this life Job doesn’t understand why he, a good man, has to suffer any type of punishment as if he were guilty of doing evil and committing sin. Everything that’s happening to him seems utterly absurd and he questions whether life will get any better. He’s tempted to wonder where God is and why God doesn’t intervene for him.

Many of us can relate to Job and say been there, done that. Many struggle to earn a living due to spiraling inflation caused by poor economic policy of the current administration; to keep safe in a world that’s becoming more and more violent. Many have to cope with broken homes, handicaps, illness, life altering decisions and a host of social and personal tragedies that happen without any reason or warning.

But we hear in today’s Psalm great is our Lord, mighty in power, he sustains the lowly, he heals the brokenhearted, he binds up their wounds. We can take solace in these words for now we see these promises being fulfilled in today’s gospel.

Unlike in Job’s day today’s gospel depicts a world suddenly being changed and transformed. Demons that normally instill terror now run away in fear, fevers flee, incurable illnesses and diseases are cured. Instead of hearing about the law with its seemingly countless stipulations, the Good News is announced in a way that’s giving people hope again.

But what’s bewildering is the one responsible for this transformation happens to look like one of us, and in fact is one of us. But he does things only God can do. Something new and exciting is taking place. This man Jesus speaks with authority and like in the creation account He speaks a Word and it comes to be. The old covenant is in the process of being fulfilled and replaced by the new. That was then, this is now.

The situation of Simon’s mother-in-law is just like Job’s. It’s the hopeless plight of all humanity. She like many of us was struck down and cannot overcome it. But Jesus grasps her by the hand and raises her up. Word of her healing spread quickly and at sunset that very day the sick and oppressed had gathered at Jesus’ door and he healed them; he raised them up too. The original Greek word used here is the same verb used when Jesus commanded a dead young girl to arise and when Jesus rose from the dead.

When Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law he also empowered her for ministry. What Jesus did for Simon’s mother-in-law He continues to do through his Church. Through the reception of the sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation we too are healed of sin and raised up to new life; through Confirmation and the reception of the Most Holy Eucharist our souls are strengthened and empowered for public ministry.

Like Simon’s mother-in-law, there’s only one way to thank God for the new life He has given us. We too must rise and serve Him. Our lives must be our thanksgiving and resemble that which St. Paul describes in today’s Epistle. We as his intentional disciples must become all things to all people and preach the gospel in both word and deed proclaiming to everyone the good news so that others, too, may have a share in Christ’s redemption.

But in order to do this well in addition to being empowered through the reception of sacramental grace we too need to do as Jesus did and spend some quality time alone in prayer every day before we engage ourselves in the Church’s ministry. Nowhere is this time better spent than in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. I spend an hour with Jesus in front of the blessed sacrament every day and he has richly blessed our time together. It is there where we are face to face with our Savior and Lord. This is precious time where we can be alone to talk to Jesus, but more importantly to listen to what he wants to say to us. In so doing God will speak to us and give us the words to speak to our neighbors words that will rouse them and have them realize their lives have meaning; that their lives are worth living; that things will improve. They will be renewed in hope and realize our Lord truly is great and mighty in power; that he sustains the lowly, heals the brokenhearted and binds up our wounds.

Job ended up passing the test. But it’s only in light of Christ’s sufferings and cruel execution that we can see the value of redemptive suffering in this life and the blessings derived from it; contrary to Jewish belief it’s a blessing not a curse to suffer for Christ.

Just as Jesus attracted crowds who gathered outside his door so shall people be attracted to us Catholics who know and live our beautiful Catholic faith. Hopefully one day we’ll look back and marvel at how our own lives and the lives of those God entrusted to our care have remarkably changed, how they have been raised up in holiness. Hopefully one day we’ll look back in retrospect and realize – that was then but this is now.

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 28, 2024

Suppose you’re sitting at a traffic light in the middle lane waiting for the light to change. On your left is a black Dodge Viper, with about a zillion horsepower rumbling like a thousand snarling lions waiting for the light to change. That’s power! On your right is a red Ferrari Monza whose engine is purring like a kitten waiting to streak away like a shot. That too is power! How exciting to be surrounded by 2 beautiful exotic cars and feeling all that mechanical power. And here I am in my 4 door sedan.

Anyway just before the light begins to change you see a police car stopping in the middle of the intersection. The policeman gets out of the car, walks to the center of the street and holds up his hands stopping all traffic in order to allow a funeral procession to proceed. You wait. The Viper waits. The Ferrari waits. Those purring, rumbling engines may have power. But the policeman has authority!

The common theme of today’s readings is the power of divine authority as exercised by the prophets of the Old Testament in their messages, by the apostles including St. Paul in their writings and teaching in the New Testament, and of course uniquely by Jesus in his teaching and healing ministry we hear in the gospels.

So what is authority? Authority is defined as possessing official or legitimate power over a person or organization. We respect authority based on the position and/or knowledge one has. We begin by teaching our children to respect the authority of parents over their household and pastors over their parish. When they begin going to school to respect the authority of their teachers and coaches. As adults we respect the authority of the Church and the rule of civil law and in the workplace that of our bosses. This respect of authority properly translates into obedience to those who have authority over us as taught by the Catechism with reference to the 4th Commandment.

In the Old Testament Israel initially understood the authority of the prophets was to interpret previous revelations by God and to expand that understanding to future generations.  After the return from the Babylonian exile rabbis began to interpret today’s passage from Deuteronomy as referring to one individual, namely the Messiah who was to come. The New Testament followed this interpretation and saw the words of dying Moses, “a prophet like me,” verified in Christ (Acts 3:22; 7:37). In fact today’s gospel passage begins and ends with comments about Jesus’ authority as a teacher who spoke like Moses, telling people directly what God had to say.

The synagogue was a place of instruction and Sabbath prayers and once again we hear in today’s gospel Jesus teaching in the local synagogue. But what was unique about Jesus is he explained the Scriptures with complete authority citing no supporting human authorities or experts which amazed the people. The Sermon on the Mount supports this when Jesus proclaims “you have heard it said…but I say to you”. Jesus is the new Moses.

But he doesn’t just entice the humble townspeople. When he encounters superhuman forces striking fear into the hearts of men, he’s undaunted. He speaks no incantations; he doesn’t plead. Instead of Jesus being afraid of them, the demons are afraid of him. Upon seeing him they shriek and He commands, “hush, get out” and all is well. Jesus is unique in that his supernatural power and divine authority is confirmed by his curing the sick and forgiving sins. Victory over the unclean spirit, as the devil is usually described, is a clear sign that God’s salvation has come; by overcoming the evil one, Jesus shows He is the Messiah, the Savior who is more powerful than the demons.

But isn’t all this talk of demons just a myth of a pre-scientific people? After all, these primitive folks didn’t know about certain diseases, mental illness, chemical imbalances and modern treatments. Surely they just explained what they couldn’t understand in terms of the supernatural. While that may sound very sophisticated, it’s dead wrong. First of all, demons are not supernatural at all. Supernatural means above and beyond nature or creation–in other words, uncreated and transcendent. Only God qualifies for that.

So while the ancients may have attributed too much to demonic influence today we tend to make the opposite mistake. When we profess in the Creed we believe in the Creator of heaven and earth, “of all things visible and invisible,” the invisible refers precisely to the existence of the angelic and demonic realm. So people in Jesus’ day had good reason to fear demons. They were powerful, hostile and superior in intelligence to humans. They instantly recognized who Jesus was, I know who you are—the Holy One of God!

Do you believe unclean spirits exist today? Well you might get some funny looks if you told people the world is full of unclean, evil spirits. However, there’s doubt there is an evil force in the world. How else can one explain all the mass murders, suicidal impulses, intense jealousies, wild sexual fantasies, manic depression, gender dysphoria and all the atrociously evil acts people commit today? We often wonder how can anyone be indifferent about killing a baby in the womb, how Hamas can kill and rape innocent people like they did, about all the human and sex trafficking around the globe. Where do all those “unclean thoughts” come from and why is it so hard to get rid of them?

Jesus didn’t use his divine authority and supernatural power to rule and control people. One of the reasons why Jesus became man was to heal us and to set us free, to drive out those “evil forces” within us, to send them away and to rid our lives of them. Jesus said in St. John gospel (10:10) “I came so that they may have life and have it more abundantly”.

Jesus told us to ask and you shall receive so let us approach Jesus asking him to free us from the evil spirits that keep us from praying, from believing all the Church teaches and prevents us from loving our neighbor and sharing our blessings with others. Furthermore, to heal us from all the evil spirits of fear, compulsiveness, selfishness, anger, resentment and hostility. Let’s pray for Jesus to free us from all those evil spirits which harm us physically, psychologically, emotionally and especially spiritually.

Jesus brings his supernatural power to us in word and sacrament and says the same words to the demons in our life, “Be gone!” no matter how many and how often we may need it. The man in the synagogue enjoyed a new life after encountering Jesus and Jesus offers the same new life to all of us as well. So while the Viper and the Ferrari may have power and the policeman authority Jesus, the Son of God, has divine authority and possesses supernatural power over any and all demons. Whether those demons be addictions, heartaches, secret sins or just whatever plagues us, Jesus can heal us and set us free and the kicker is he yearns to do so

Third Sunday in Ordinary time

January 21, 2024

Fr. Mario Borelli was a priest in Naples, Italy in the 1950s. One day he asked his bishop for permission to take a leave of absence to embark on a special project. He wanted to live on the streets of Naples with the so-called alley boys. The elderly Cardinal was skeptical because he knew how hard times were then – 200,000 people out of work; young boys hanging out on the streets because their parents without work couldn’t feed them. They lived by stealing, peddling stolen goods, begging and black marketeering. They slept on the streets and like wild cats dodged the police.  

But Fr. Borelli wanted to help them, to give them a roof over their heads, food to eat and a bit of human warmth and care. He explained to the bishop: “If I go to these boys as a priest they will spit in my face. They are fearfully distrustful.” The dubious bishop said he needed time to think and pray about the proposal and after 10 days he approved.  

Fr. Mario then went out on the streets dressed just like the alley boys with a cigarette in the corner of his mouth. He begged, collected cigarette butts and became a vagrant. Gradually he won their confidence and before long he became the head of the gang. The boys were drawn to him so when he found a primitive shelter, his gang followed him. 

You see Fr. Mario possessed something irresistible. The boys had no word for it because it was something they hadn’t experienced since their early years at home. How could they know, that word was love? Fr. Mario’s efforts eventually evolved into professional training of abandoned youth in the post World War II era.  

The main theme of today’s readings is God’s call to discipleship. They highlight our vocation either as ordained priests or members of the universal priesthood of the baptized to be intentional disciples whose mission is to evangelize.  

Today’s first reading tells us how God had to deal with a very reluctant prophet. The Lord called Jonah to preach to the Ninevites so they would convert and be saved. But the Ninevites were Israel’s pagan enemies, notorious for their idolatrous, decadent life-style. Jonah wanted them to be punished, to be destroyed rather than preached to, converted and forgiven. As a result Jonah flees in disobedience the first time the Lord called him going not to Nineveh but boarded a ship going as far away as he could in the opposite direction. After being thrown overboard and all the drama with the whale he answered God’s call the second time which is the passage we hear from today. 

Let’s try to understand however what Jonah might have been thinking. God asking Jonah to go to Nineveh is analogous to one being sent to Mecca to convert the Muslims.  Guess where that would get ya! Yep say goodbye to your head! But look what happened. These terribly immoral enemies heeded Jonah’s preaching and everyone from the king on down to the lowest peasant immediately responded to God’s call for repentance. This is a powerful reminder of nothing is impossible with God which should give us all hope. 

But perhaps the greater change, the more radical transformation happened in Jonah himself. In the original Hebrew the word “evil” is used to describe Jonah just as often as for the Ninevites! Jonah too had to repent of the evil within him and allow himself to be transformed and converted by the grace of God. This episode taught Jonah God’s love is unlimited, God’s forgiveness cannot be contained, God’s offer of salvation is for all and he like all of us are to put our prejudices aside and be obedient to God’s promptings. 

Shifting to the gospel it may seem Andrew, Simon, James and John unlike Jonah answered Jesus’ call immediately. But we know Andrew was already a disciple of John the Baptist and the other 3 lived in the same town and were partners in the fishing trade. Andrew had probably told them about John the Baptist so they were already introduced to a prophetic message prior to meeting Jesus.  

But because of that it would have been very easy to pass on the chance to hear some new upstart prophet proclaiming the Kingdom of God had finally arrived. It would have been easy to  make excuses this was all very interesting Andrew, but following a wandering rabbi from Nazareth was more suitable for single men without a business to run. 

Nevertheless, when Jesus called, all of them answered the call. They may not have answered the call instantaneously but nonetheless they did indeed answer. In so doing these men gave up a lot in order to follow Jesus. James and John left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the task of running their fishing enterprise and handling the hired men and followed him. Likewise Simon and Andrew abandoned their business and followed him. Again they may not have answered the call immediately but all 4 gave up their families and their livelihood to follow him. This may be the same situation for all of us as well but each one of us has the same opportunity of answering the call as they did. 

I know I can relate to all of this. I certainly didn’t answer the call instantaneously. I enter the seminary at 49 and get ordained at 55! I too gave up a lot; the prestige of being a professional in the business world making the equivalent of a 6 figure salary, a big house in a prestigious executive Jackson neighborhood. Here’s a big one – I traded driving beautiful sports cars to buying ordinary 4door sedans. I still dream of owning a red Ferrari one day though. Probably won’t happen but I can still dream! 

So initially we might think these 4 ordinary men gave up so much to follow Jesus and they did, but that’s not the full story. Let’s think about not only what they gave up but about what they gained. Jesus using their own fishing language to help them realize what was being offered to them said, “I will make you fishers of men” meaning you will be 4 of my 12 apostles, successors of the heads of the 12 tribes of Israel who will inaugurate and spread the good news of salvation found in the new covenant to the whole world.  

We read in the Acts of the Apostles Peter would later haul in a great catch on Pentecost when 3,000 were baptized like Jonah after listening to him the very first day he preached (Acts 2:41). People carried the sick out on to the street hoping Peter’s shadow might fall on them as he passed by and be healed (Acts 5:15).  

A few years ago, Cardinal Richard Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, wrote:  “If all the sleeping folks will wake up, and all the lukewarm folks will fire up, and all the disgruntled folks will sweeten up, and all the discouraged folks will cheer up, and all the depressed folks will look up, and all the estranged folks will make up, and all the gossiping folks will shut up, and all the dry bones will shake up, and all the true soldiers will stand up, and all the Church members will pray up, and if the Savior of all will be lifted up then we can have the greatest renewal this world has ever known.” 

The world is in a mess; we have a world to save. But I’ve said many times our task as intentional disciples is not to the change the world. Our obligation is to change our little part of it. Jesus chose very ordinary people like us to do extraordinary things. Like the apostles we too will “catch people” for the kingdom of God by the way we live and speak and witness the joy of the gospel. Our community, our family and friends, our sphere of influence are all lakes full of fish. Your neighborhood, your office, your school are all lakes full of fish. When Jesus said, “I will make you fishers of men,” He was saying to all of us, I will take you with your personality, your background, your testimony, your influence and I will use you to catch men, women, boys, and  girls and bring them into the kingdom. That my brothers and sisters is exactly what he did with Fr. Mario Borelli and he can do the same with every one of us.

The Epiphany of the Lord

January 7, 2024

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of The Epiphany. The Epiphany in early Christianity was the original feast celebrating Jesus’ nativity. Christians in the East celebrated this solemnity on January 6th while Christians in Rome celebrated the birth of Jesus on December 25th. The Church decided to retain both traditions wherein December 25th was the date the Church celebrated Jesus’ birth and January 6th the date the Church celebrated the revelation of the birth of the Christ child to the world at large.  

Epiphany is a Greek word meaning an appearing, a revealing, a manifestation and there are actually three manifestations in the life of Jesus that encompass this feast. They are [1] the appearance of the star which leads the magi to the Christ child in Bethlehem, [2] Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River and [3] the miraculous changing of water into wine by Jesus at the wedding feast of Cana. All three of these epiphanies demonstrate the revelation of Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, to the non Jewish, Gentile world. 

Today our gospel concentrates on the story of the magi. There are diverse views among biblical scholars about who these men actually were and exactly how many there were. Some speculate they were kings because they came bearing expensive gifts and because there were 3 gifts given there must have been 3 kings. This is by the way why most of the world outside the United States doesn’t exchange gifts until the feast of The Epiphany rather than on Christmas day. 

Another theory is they were pagan priests learned in matters of astrology and the interpretation of dreams. And because of their knowledge of astronomy (the star) they were also known as the three wise men. 

Whoever they really were the more intriguing question is what made these wealthy wise men abandon their secure and comfortable way of life and their respectable standing in their communities to set out on a journey towards the unknown?  

One such possibility is these wise men were seekers of supreme knowledge, they were seekers of truth. Perhaps as today these wise men may have had to deal with the false notion of those who say that light and life happened because of blind chance; that the universe came into existence as a result of a chaotic development of an evolutionary force. Dissatisfied with such shallow human thought the magi may be questioning how can something come from nothing and how can the concept of evolution which is being discredited today create light out of darkness? They inherently knew the origins of our complex universe cannot be by just simple happenstance.  

On the contrary when the wise men looked at the cosmos, the world, and our own human nature, they saw evidence of a cosmic creative intelligence. Their inner being when they gazed at the sun, moon, stars and the creatures inhabiting our world, realized they were manifestations, epiphanies if you will, of what St. Anselm would describe God as “that which nothing greater can be thought”. They were searching after something greater than themselves; to answer the fundamental question of the origins of the universe as well as the fundamental human desire whether one realizes it or not to encounter almighty God. It was a journey from the natural to the supernatural. 

The magi’s expedition from Persia to Bethlehem is really symbolic of the interior journey of a person’s soul, a journey from doubt to belief in the true God, the creator of the universe. The wise men courageously followed that star and found what their hearts ultimately yearned for. They found Jesus, the creator, that which nothing greater can be thought; the glorious light which illumines all of humanity and they fall prostrate before Him. The Greek word used here literally means to fall down in worship, to adore. This is no mere sign of human respect given to an earthly King. This is true religious adoration of the divine; a profession of faith. These wise men have now taken a different route, their lives have forever changed, they are converted! They have encountered the awesomeness of the divine, the supernatural. 

So what about us? Are we great thinkers like the magi searching for that which nothing greater can be thought? Do we even care to know? Modern thought brings about a huge challenge for Christianity. There’s a perceived conflict today between faith and science. It’s perceived because when you think about it, it really doesn’t make any sense. If one believes God created the universe then good science should actually lead one closer to God the architect of it all whereas bad science will push one further away. 

Unfortunately our secular culture today looks down on faith; it considers it narrow-minded and even dangerous. Conversely, popular culture sees agnosticism and atheism as clever and distinguished while painting faith as unsophisticated and mythical make-believe. When someone concludes he’s agnostic or an atheist he falsely considers himself a person of intelligence; as one of the enlightened (pride) and is no longer trapped in pietistic pie in the sky. Actually I think atheism is intellectually vacuous because it neglects the immaterial, metaphysical world which is just as real as the physical world. 

But therein lies the problem. The great majority of those in higher academia and in scientific research today are professed atheists and they are the ones teaching our children. Many of our young people are leaving the faith as a result of atheistic indoctrination. Surveys reveal many begin to doubt the faith in their early to mid teen years. In interviews teens have commented [1] as I learn more about the world around me and understand new things, I find the thought of an all-powerful being to be less and less believable. [2] I now realize religion is in complete contradiction with the rational and scientific world. [3] Faith no longer fits into what I understand of the universe. These statements are scary and of course absurdly false, but our youth are being taught it which emphasizes the need for parents with the help of the parish to educate our children in the faith. It’s a team effort and as I mentioned last week we’ll be judged on how well we educate our children in the faith so let’s take this most important responsibility seriously. As you know one cannot teach what one doesn’t know so parents learn your faith and teach it to your children. The souls of our children are too precious to lose to phony secular reasoning and propaganda. May our youth, the future of the church, and us adults be enlightened by the beauty of our Catholic faith so that all of us may shine like bright stars in our darkened world. I heard one priest say in the darkest night the stars may look small but they shine ever more brilliantly. 

It was popular recently to term our “a-ha moments” as epiphanies so on this Solemnity of the Epiphany may we all be like the magi, to have the courage to be true seekers of God, to seek after that which nothing greater can be thought, to be in pursuit of supreme knowledge and truth. Our Catholic faith makes sense, it’s rich and beautiful, it’s deep in some respects and it connects the natural to the supernatural.  

So let’s challenge ourselves to be like those wise men and may our lives also take a different route, may we be converted and forever changed so as intentional disciples we share this rich, beautiful, rational faith which our world so desperately needs with all those we meet.

Feast of the Holy Family

December 31 2023

One of the many responsibilities I as a parish priest do is to prepare couples for marriage. The engaged couple comes in all giddy and happy as they introduce themselves. That giddiness many times quickly wanes as I tell them the first thing they have to do is fill out a pre-nuptial investigation and take a test of about 150 questions. Reaction to this vary but many think, hey wait a minute Father we just want to reserve the church for the date of our wedding and get married. What’s all this investigating and questioning all about?  

Well I don’t let them squirm for long and I explain to them the pre-nuptial investigation is simply a form used to gather certain information about them and the test is not a compatibility test but rather a questionnaire used to identify areas in their relationship that may not have been fully discussed and agreed upon by them during their courtship. These areas include the way they lived growing up in their family of origin, friendships, dating, sexuality, attitudes towards religion and the practicing of their faith, communication and finances among other “fun things” to discuss with a priest.  

The primary focus of these pre-Cana tools the Church uses for marriage preparation is centered around helping the couple begin as soon as they say the “I dos” and return from their honeymoon to live happy and holy married lives. The Church as a good mother wants any possible areas of conflict to be brought out into the open and discussed so that they are less likely to pose any future potential problems after they’re married.  

Another reason for all of this marriage prep is the kingdom of God needs holy families! In every time in history and most especially in ours today where the traditional family is under attack the kingdom of God here on earth needs intact, traditional holy families.  

Holy families begin with holy spouses and holy spouses make holy parents and holy parents make it possible to do their duty of raising holy children in the hopes of producing other holy families.  

Holy families just don’t happen; it takes energy and effort, but they’re not just some unattainable ideal either. The holy family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph are the perfect role models for us although their household was really not an easy or perfect one. The holy family endured hardships just like any other family, but it was the way they overcame their adversities is why they were a holy family and are our role models.  

Jesus was born into a human family and as devout God-fearing Jewish parents, Joseph and Mary raised the boy Jesus according to the Hebrew scriptures and Jewish customs. Jewish home life was centered around daily family prayers and the reading of Sacred Scripture. Every Friday evening the family gathered for a festive meal with the lighting of the Sabbath candle and they said prayers of blessing over the bread and wine to open the celebration of the Sabbath holy day. Every Saturday morning the family attended the Sabbath service at the local synagogue.  

Older boys were sent to school on weekday mornings either at the synagogue or at the rabbi’s house where they were given additional instruction in the reading and study of the Jewish Scriptures. Every Jewish boy was required to memorize certain scripture passages by the age of 13 as well as memorize and put into practice some of the wise teachings found in the OT Wisdom books such as Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Sirach.  

This is our blueprint for holy families and with some effort and God’s grace it can be replicated in our families today. First of all to cultivate holy families it takes the realization of how important holiness of life truly is. Holiness or lack thereof will determine believe it or not how happy our lives will be here on earth and hereafter and who doesn’t want to be happy?  

Many years ago Dr. William Bennett rightly described our cultural disintegration saying “We have ceased being clear about the standards we hold and the principles by which we judge. As a result, we have suffered a cultural breakdown of sorts, in areas like education, family life, crime, and drug abuse, as well as in our attitudes toward sex, individual responsibility, civic duty, and public services.”  

With this said our culture is very successful at convincing us it’s all about what we want in life no matter what and that traditional values are outdated and of no use anymore. However, obedience to God’s will in our lives will not only sanctify us but will make our lives well maybe not fun and easy all the time, but ultimately happy which gives us peace of mind. Holiness of life needs to be understood then as a basic part of each person’s desire in life and if we’re able to understand holiness and happiness are actually interconnected the rest of the holy family’s lesson will make more sense and as a result encourage us to follow it.  

Second the holy family spent quality time together which drew them close to each other. Spending quality time together involved eating meals together, doing household chores together, traveling together and just being together and enjoying each other. It also involved forgiving each other, praying daily and worshipping together every week as a family. They realized how important family life was so they limited activities outside the home and did not allow the busyness of life to rule their lives and deprive them of their family and worship time together. They knew how true Fr. Peyton’s maxim of the family that prays together stays together truly is.  

Spending time together with family is a way of showing our family we love them. When we love our family we prioritize our life in order to spend time with them and all the more so when we realize by not spending time with them we’re depriving them of our love which actually hurts them. The best we can give our family members is not things but ourselves.  

Next the holy family learned their faith by studying and even memorizing Sacred Scripture and Jewish doctrine or catechism. They knew no one can give what they don’t have and they realized one cannot live or pass on to the next generation a faith they don’t know. The lesson here is a family who’s close to each other, who loves and forgives each other, who prays and worships together regularly is on its way to becoming a holy family.  

What all this boils down to is this – holiness is not something that just happens. It takes desire, effort and commitment. Just because the holy family was composed of Jesus, God incarnate, the Virgin Mary who never sinned, and the righteous St. Joseph didn’t mean they took holiness for granted and didn’t have to work at being holy. They were all tempted in ways probably much greater than we are. But working with God’s grace they became and remained a holy family.  

Every priest is a father and that’s why you address priests as father and that’s why I address you at the end of many of my homilies as “my dear children”. Like all priests I’m a spiritual father whose task it is to help you my spiritual children to become holy. The greatest responsibility of a parent is to teach their children the faith, to help sanctify them and get them to heaven. The parish helps in teaching the faith, but parents are the primary teachers of their children. So like every parent I have a vested interest in helping you my spiritual children to become holy because I like every parent will have to answer to God for how well I did in helping my children learn their faith and become holy.  

Every household is filled with saint makers and living in a family I can relate to the difficulties of family life and the challenge to raise holy children today with all the many pitfalls and stumbling blocks the world throws at us. But again we have the blueprint and we have to accept this monumental challenge and succeed at it. It will make all the difference in our lives and our children’s lives both here and hereafter and possibly influence others to do likewise. The success of family life must include a desire to preserve and strengthen the bonds that unite us and, when necessary, to expend whatever effort is needed to repair and renew those bonds when they’re strained.  

My dear children holy families begin with holy spouses and holy spouses make holy parents and holy parents make it possible with God’s grace to raise holy children which we pray will result in other holy families. So on this feast of the Holy Family let’s all pray for each other and may God’s grace help us all to be and to remain a holy family

Christmas 2023

Wally was a 9 year old in 2nd grade when most children his age were 4th graders. He was big for his age, a little clumsy and a slow learner. But Wally was a hopeful, willing, smiling boy and was well-liked by his classmates. His parents encouraged him to audition for the annual parish Christmas play. Wally agreed and wanted to be a shepherd, but he was given the role of the innkeeper. The director reasoned that Wally’s size would lend extra force to the innkeeper’s refusal of lodging to Joseph. During rehearsals Wally was instructed to be firm with Joseph. Well when the play opened no one was more caught up in the action than Wally. And when Joseph knocked on the door of the inn Wally was ready. He flung the door open and asked menacingly, “What do you want?” “We seek lodging,” Joseph replied. “Seek it elsewhere,” Wally said in a firm voice. “There’s no room in the inn.” “Please, good innkeeper,” Joseph pleaded, “this is my wife, Mary. She’s with child and very tired. She needs a place to rest.” There was a long pause as Wally looked down at Mary. The prompter whispered Wally’s next line: “No! Be gone!” but Wally remained silent. Then the despondent couple turned around and began to slowly walk away. Seeing this Wally’s heart was overwhelmed with emotion. His brow creased with concern, tears welled up in his eyes. Overcome with love and concern he suddenly cried out, “Don’t go! You can have my room.” 

The opening prayer known as the “collect” for the Mass during the day the Church prays “O God, who wonderfully created the dignity of human nature and still more wonderfully restored it; grant, we pray, that we may share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” Prayed at Christmas from ancient times, perhaps as far back as the 5th century, this prayer touches upon one of the most fundamental mysteries of our Christian faith: the incarnation. 

The incarnation describes God’s loving act of humbling himself to become human in the person of Jesus so that he might accomplish our salvation and restore our dignity as one of us. He did so not infringing upon our human freedom but ennobling it and restoring it to an even greater honor than it had in the beginning. It even offers giving us the possibility of sharing by adoption in the divinity which Jesus enjoys by nature. This is what’s meant by the words of the prayer “that we may share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” 

All throughout human history peoples the world over have naturally yearned for someone or something to rescue them from the trials and tribulations of life. We see expressions of this in ancient writings and art. When God began to gradually reveal himself to his chosen people Israel they hearkened to the words of the prophets and found in them inspiration that such deliverance would indeed come and it would come not by means of nature or the false gods the Israelites’ neighbors created, but by the Lord God himself. The creator of time and space will be born in time and space; the one who fashioned everything in the universe out of nothing will become part of it. 

Later in the period of Christian revelation the inspired author of the Epistle to the Hebrews taught us in Jesus Christ we behold the perfection of God’s revelation to all of us his adopted children both those of Israel and those of other nations. We hear: “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he has spoken to us through his Son” (Heb 1:1-2a). This means that in Jesus we finally meet the one who brings the glad tidings of the deliverance humanity has been longing for and is now here in the person of Jesus, the God-man.  

Why was it necessary for the Son of God to become flesh? Because sin alienated us from God and we all sin and so we all needed a savior who could reconcile us with God. For 2 millennia Christians have professed in the ancient Nicene Creed: “He became man for our sake and for the sake of our salvation.” The eternal Word became flesh for us so he could offer his life as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world through the shedding of his blood on the cross. The Word became flesh to show us the infinite love and tender mercy of God for us sinners. The awesome consequence of this is that through the incarnation we who have been hoping for liberation from all that binds us might now “share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” 

But even more so God became a man to reveal himself and so that we might become more like God who is love. In so doing Jesus became human like us so that we might believe beyond any doubt God truly does love us and being made in his image and likeness we are called to love him and our neighbor. Unfortunately we often fail on both counts. Many today are indifferent toward God and think life without God in their lives is fine. This failure to love God who is love spills over into our relationship with others. There’s a lack of goodness and love in the world today and it’s not just the war in the Ukraine and Israel, it’s here. There’s a lack of simple kindness and civility in our society. 

So let’s gaze upon Jesus in the manger; he being the prince of peace is the answer to today’s strife in the world. Gazing upon Jesus in the manger prompts us to reflect on God’s way being a way of gentleness and tenderness; instead of violence, gentleness; instead of hatred, tenderness; instead of selfishness, generosity.  Brothers and sisters let’s pray for the grace to help us to be gentle, tender and like Wally be loving with those around us; to be people of peace and to spread his peace everywhere we go. 

There’s really only one gift at Christmas that has any real value at all and that’s Jesus. In sharing Jesus we share what lasts beyond tomorrow. Jesus invites us to give him a gift in return, the gift of our hearts, the gift of making room in the inn of our hearts for him not just at Christmas or Easter but every day and especially to worship him at Mass every Sunday. Let’s not deprive our souls of the nourishment it needs and craves every week. 

My dear children as we conclude a year we give thanks for the many blessings received and we look ahead with great hope to a new year of more blessings to come. As we celebrate the birth of the Christ child this year may we remember the Lord’s fidelity to us and allow the hope that springs from it to carry us through the joys and challenges of the new year to come. Merry Christmas everybody

Third Sunday of Lent

December 17, 2023

A young college student was working as an intern at his college’s Museum of Natural History.  One day while working at the cash register in the gift shop he saw an elderly couple come in with a young girl in a wheelchair. As he looked closer at this pretty young girl he realized she had no arms or legs, only a head, neck and torso. She was wearing a white dress with red polka dots. As the couple wheeled her up to the checkout counter, he turned his head toward the girl and gave her a wink. Meanwhile, he took the money from her grandparents and then looked back at the girl who was giving him the cutest and biggest smile he had ever seen. All of a sudden her handicap vanished and all the young man saw was this beautiful girl whose smile just melted his heart and almost instantly gave him a completely new sense of what life is all about. She took him from the world of an unhappy college student and brought him into her world — a world full of smiles, a world full of love and joy and warmth.  

Today, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, is also known as Gaudete Sunday coming from the Latin word “rejoice.” The prayers and readings today invite us to rejoice because the day of the Lord is near. We hear the prophet Isaiah say; “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.” St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians; “Rejoice always.” We lit the rose candle of our Advent wreath and wear rose colored vestments indicating we’re half way through Advent and the Church wants us to rejoice as we continue our preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth as we joyfully await his second coming. 

So what is joy? Is it the same as happiness? In short, happiness is a feeling, while joy is more properly related to the state of one’s being. Joy is much more than happiness, just as happiness is more than pleasure. Pleasure is in the body; happiness is in the mind and emotions. But joy is deep in the heart, the spirit, the center of one’s self. 

Joy runs throughout today’s readings. This section of Isaiah comes from the turbulent period in the 6th century BC when the Jews were trying to re-establish themselves in their homeland after enduring a generation of exile in Babylon. Isaiah expresses Israel’s joy as he brings the good news of healing to the broken-hearted and liberation from Israel’s oppressors using the image of being clothed in elegant garments, as a bride and groom wear at their wedding. 

Today’s responsorial psalm highlights Mary’s Magnificat, her song of praise when she visited Elizabeth, as it reminds us God is our joy: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. 

It may be hard to grasp but John the Baptizer is the patron saint of spiritual joy. After all, he leapt for joy in his mother’s womb at the presence of Jesus and Mary (Luke 1:44).  He rejoiced to hear the bridegroom’s voice (John 3:29-30). He whom Jesus said among those born of women, no one is greater than John; he who is known as the greatest of prophets found joy in humility saying “I am unworthy to untie his sandal strap. My joy is now full. He must increase and I must decrease.” 

St. Paul suffered in many ways including rejection, beatings, stoning, shipwreck and imprisonment. Yet as we hear in today’s Epistle he never stopped calling upon the various Christian communities to rejoice. When St. Paul speaks of joy he’s not referring to a nice, fleeting feeling that makes one feel good; rather it’s the rich enduring joy coming from the Holy Spirit that goes to the very core of his being. It’s a deep inner joy that comes from really knowing Jesus and this joy was the source of his strength. He truly believed and experienced God was always with him and he knew that even in the darkest and most difficult situations God would take care of him. St. Paul welcomed and experienced the Holy Spirit which allowed him to shout for joy even during his most difficult times. 

Through her ministry Mother Teresa brought untold blessings and joy to the poor who lay unattended and forgotten on the streets of Calcutta. When asked the source of her joy, Mother Teresa replied as only a saint can: “Joy is prayer, joy is strength, joy is love. A joyful heart is the normal result of a heart burning with love; loving as He loves, helping as He helps, giving as He gives, serving as He serves, rescuing as He rescues, touching Him in His distressing disguise.” 

But Father these are all instances dealing with saints. Well remember they are our role models and hopefully we’re striving for holiness and are aspiring saints in process. There’s never been a time since the fall that man has enjoyed perfect peace and happiness. Today we’re confronted with all kinds of challenges. There’s the war in the Ukraine that for some reason the United States thinks it has to fund although we face massive illegal immigration at our borders resulting in abuse through human and sex trafficking, an influx of Fentanyl and other dangerous drugs that have killed 1000s and quite possibly have allowed terrorists to enter our country. There’s the financial pinch of inflation where everything costs significantly more now because of Bidenomics, reckless government spending and poor economic policy. There’s discord and strife in our streets as flash mobs have become violent and rife with crime; Palestinian sympathizers calling for the genocide of Jews are conducting sometimes violent and disruptive protests and where innocent Jews are being physically threatened for their safety.  

All of us are facing certain challenges due to age, health, loneliness, family conflicts and financial problems. All these and more make it difficult to experience joy in our hearts. Instead we wonder if happiness and joy are even possible?  

Well John the Baptizer, Mary, St. Paul, Mother Theresa and all the saints had their own personal challenges. So how did they cope? They had a deep relationship with the Lord, they trusted God and although they experienced hardships they cultivated and maintained a sense of joy through fortitude and with the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. They lived and worked with one eye on their earthly task and the other on the joy awaiting them in heaven. They knew in the depths of their hearts only in God can one find true happiness and joy. 

Brothers and sisters this same joy can be ours when we put our trust and hope in God as the saints did; one eye on earth and one eye on heaven. Then even in difficult times we too can rejoice. Many of us have witnessed people going through very difficult times and having terrible problems who still managed a smile that radiated an inner peace and joy. This joy can be ours as well. It may not take away the problems and pain we might experience, but it helps us to accept them, bear them and trust that Immanuel, God is with us. With God’s help nothing is impossible. 

Dear children today the church calls us to rejoice and to walk in faith for God truly is with us. We walk believing in the truth and beauty revealed to us by Jesus and share with Christians throughout the world the importance of his birth, his precious blood pour out on the cross which won our redemption and faith and hope in his second coming. This is what opens us up to being filled with that deep joy at the core of our being that comes from really knowing Jesus and that God is always with us. This joy can be inexpressible at times but nonetheless we can know it’s always present in our lives. 

So like that college boy saw in that beautiful young girl knowing all this should put the cutest and the biggest smile on all of our faces, smiles of love and joy that warms not only our hearts but radiates out to all those we meet.

The Second Sunday of Advent

December 10, 2023

Many of you know I was in the business world for over 25 years before I entered the seminary. As an accounting major at USM I had to study all kinds of economic theory. From my studies and business experience it was easy to conclude capitalism is by far the best economic system and although it’s admonished by many capitalism, trickle down and supply side economics work extremely well and has the potential to elevate more people out of poverty than socialism or any government program ever imagined. 

Now that doesn’t mean capitalism doesn’t have its faults and there are those who abuse its principles. Capitalism thrives on competition in the marketplace and it can be quite fierce. But competition is good, it makes us better and it’s nothing new to the world. In fact competition has been around from the very beginning of time wherein man and animals had to compete for food. Competition is simply a fact of life; always has been and always will be. 

There’s another kind of competition that’s been raging as well since even before God created the physical universe. It’s a spiritual competition, a spiritual battle between the goodness of God and evil spirits which began when Lucifer, an immaterial created being, decided not to serve God his creator, who fell from grace and was thrown out of paradise.  

Later when God created the material world Lucifer, or Satan, assuming the image of a serpent tempted the creature made in God’s image and likeness to do just as he did – to reject his creaturely status and be like a god. He deceived Adam and Eve into believing what he said rather than what God, Truth itself, had told them. He used deceptive speech to trick our first parents to commit the original sin and thus the saying “serpentine tongue” was coined.  

Today’s scripture passages incorporate this notion of the power of speech. Instead of using a deceptive serpentine tongue the prophet Isaiah speaks tender words of comfort and St. Mark words of repentance and forgiveness. They like all the other men of God before and after them had to compete with the deceptive voice of the world.  

This fierce spiritual competition for truth continues to be a tremendous battle today. We happily honor the right of free speech in our country but our popular culture through radio, television, movies and social media try to convince us they’re the voice of truth, goodness and right reason. While some things our culture says are true many others are not so who and what are we to believe? 

God created every human person with an inner voice in which the CCC explains 1776 “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its [persistent] voice is ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil. For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God and 1777 when he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking to him.”   

So we’re all born with a conscience. But just as we don’t know everything we need to know in life as soon as we exit the womb and become a teenager 🙂 so it’s a prudent and wise thing to develop our conscience by learning our faith in the hopes it will steer us in the right moral direction. Knowing our faith will help us to recognize whether something is true or is the deceptive voice of error. 

This intense spiritual battle is quite evident during the Advent season. The business world I left behind uses advertising to distract us with Thanksgiving Day sales, black Friday, cyber Monday and clearance sales. Now let’s remember the initial period of Advent is to prepare ourselves for Christ’s second coming, but unfortunately many spend too much time and energy on buying gifts, decorating homes and attending Christmas parties. We decide everything that’s necessary for Christmas to be Christmas, but there’s only one thing that’s necessary and it’s not a what, it’s a who – Jesus! 

This spiritual competition became quite evident a few years ago when Target and other department stores began greeting shoppers with the phrase “happy holidays” instead of Merry Christmas. This new policy claimed to be a recognition of cultural and religious diversity but most of us know it was a deceitful disguise at transforming Christmas into a secular event. 

Whether one is aware of this or not many ignore it and continue to spend enormous amounts of money on buying “Christmas” gifts without any thought of the “real reason for the season” as the catch phrase goes. Very few decorate their homes with nativity scenes but with trees and gobs of lights, Santa Claus, Rudolph and Frosty. Very few holiday parties involve any type of Christmas message, prayer or acts of charity.  

Isaiah tells us in our first reading today we have work to do; that a road in the desert must be prepared for the Savior’s coming. Valleys must be filled in. Mountains must be leveled. Crooked ways made straight. The desert can symbolize  spiritual dryness needing to be quenched by the grace filled waters flowing from the Holy Spirit; valleys – spiritual gaps caused by sins of omission; mountains – pride needing to be conquered through humility and crooked ways – sinful waywardness caused by culpable ignorance of God’s ways. 

John the Baptist tells us this filling, leveling and straightening for the coming of the Messiah lies within us, in our hearts and our minds by emphasizing forgiveness and repentance. St. Peter comforts us in today’s second reading “The Lord is patient and does not wish any to perish; so be zealous to be found by him without spot or blemish”. 

While all this may sound daunting and quite challenging it’s really not meant to dampen our spirits and to imply one shouldn’t be engaging in any of these seasonal activities at all. Rather it’s a wakeup call to take advantage of the wisdom of the Church who gives us this penitential season of Advent to examine our lives, get our priorities in order and prepare for Christ’s coming by slowing down, taking a breath and pausing to ask ourselves some very important questions in light of this spiritual competition.  

Do we think of Jesus with every gift we buy? Are we doing these things for the right reason? Are we doing them in moderation being mindful of the needs of the Church and those less fortunate at this special time? Are we being distracted from acts of penance, from spending extra time in prayer and other spiritual exercises aimed at inviting Christ into our hearts and minds and souls?  

Again the prophet Isaiah today emphasizes comfort. People are looking for and desire comfort in their lives but many are subtly seduced into finding it in earthly things and worldly pleasure. God has placed in every human heart a natural desire for him. They may not realize it, but what they’re actually looking for is God, the perfect good.  

 I recently read a little snippet that may help us to refocus our efforts – let’s not just prepare for Christmas, let’s prepare for Christ! Brothers and sisters we’re called to tell others comfort is near. Isaiah says today fear not to cry out so we’re to be engaged in this spiritual competition raging in our deceptive world today and to tell everyone true comfort is found not by how many presents are under our tree, nor by what we have but by those who have faith and trust in God and prepare themselves for Christ’s second coming by striving for holiness.  

Our God promises a peace and a joy no economic system can imagine and no pleasure or thing dreamed of in this world can give us. So let’s not just prepare for Christmas, let’s prepare for Christ! and make this Advent the best we’ve ever had

Christ the King

November 26, 2023 

Nicolaus Copernicus was a Polish astronomer and mathematician. Prior to the publication of his major work, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, in 1543, European astronomers argued that Earth lay at the center of the universe, the geocentric view which was also held by most ancient philosophers. Copernicus was the first European scientist to propose that Earth and other planets revolve around the sun, the heliocentric theory of the solar system. Copernicus also argued that Earth turned daily on its axis [the earth is not flat] and that gradual shifts of this axis accounted for the changing of seasons. His studies led him to discover the sun does not revolve around the earth, but instead the earth revolves around the sun. 

You know we’re told today to follow the science and most scientists today will argue based on computer model projections to expect extreme climate changes in the immediate future and this is all caused by man. However, some truthfully assert our Milky Way galaxy is continuously in motion, it doesn’t sit still, so our solar system may very well be in a position it’s never been before. This coupled with Copernicus stating the earth shifts on its axis which may vary considerably could explain the volatility in our weather patterns which have fluctuated sometimes significantly throughout the ages. So maybe it’s not man and fossil fuels and bovine flatulence that’s the reason for this so called climate change. Just some food for thought. 

Copernicus was a devout Catholic so while he discovered the correct relationship of the earth to the sun, he also knew something much more important – the correct relationship of man to God. On his deathbed his admirers brought him the astronomy books he had written, asking him to point out the most significant passages. He brushed them all aside and instead asked a friend to write this epitaph: O Lord, I cannot ask for the faith you gave to Paul; the mercy you showed to Peter I dare not ask. But the grace you showed to the dying robber, that, Lord, show to me. By the way it’s believed the name of the repentant thief on the cross was Dismas. Keep that name in mind. 

On this last Sunday of the liturgical year we celebrate the feast of Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe. Yes we begin a new liturgical year next weekend with the first Sunday of Advent so start getting your new year’s resolution ready. On this feast we declare today and every day for that matter Jesus is sovereign, he is the Lord of lords and King of kings.  

In the gospels Jesus uses the image of a kingdom several times to illustrate what the new life which he came to inaugurate will be like. While we have systems of government today that are elected by the people and not inherited from generation to generation we can nonetheless see the relevance of the image of a kingdom unifying an entire people under the leadership and providence of a benevolent ruler. Throughout the history of the Church many Catholic nations had devout Catholic kings. King St. Louis of France and King St. Stephen of Hungary are prime examples of a holy Catholic king ruling his people under the guidance of Catholic doctrine. 

But Christ’s Kingdom doesn’t follow this particular model of a kingdom. In celebrating the solemn feast of Christ the King we look not to an earthly dominion as the fulfillment of the Church’s mission, but to the conversion of all peoples to the kingdom of Christ which he himself said “is not of this world” (John 18:36). He is a conquering Messiah, but his army is spiritual, not physical. He battles to restore life, not destroy life. He came down from heaven to bring us up to heaven. 

Today’s readings invite us to reflect on the final judgment which will signal the completion and perfection of the Kingdom of God. Having the feast of Christ the King occur at the end of the Church year conforms to our belief that our Lord’s Kingdom will only come in its fullness at the end of time.  

Today’s gospel from St. Matthew appropriately portrays Christ as a king who presides over the scene of the final judgment. It’s central point concerns the criterion that will be used for determining who will be judged worthy and who will be condemned, who are the sheep and who are the goats. We’re told the decisive factor in rendering judgment will be an account of how well we’ve cared for the less fortunate people among us: the hungry, the thirsty, strangers, the naked, the sick and prisoners; that is the powerless and needy. This attention to the less fortunate is what the Church calls the corporal works of mercy. It’s important to realize Jesus has chosen to identify himself with the powerless and needy so our attitude toward them will reveal how much we relate to Jesus and care for him. In other words the care we give to others is the care we give to Jesus, and this will be the currency with which we’ll take into the next life. 

Lots of people think as long as they don’t lie, cheat and steal, but just keep to themselves and mind their own business they’re good with God. While this is true to a certain degree, it’s only half of the equation. They didn’t “commit” those sins, but no doubt they “committed” others. But as I mentioned last week there are sins of omission, sins of not doing something we ought, sins when we neglected to do the good God requires us to do and what’s scary is these sins of omission are the very thing Jesus is telling us we’ll be judged on. 

So how do we fulfill these corporal works of mercy? Well either directly, by personally performing them or indirectly through donations. So one can actually feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked and visit the sick and imprisoned or donate money to various organizations who do that. Ruth heads up our parish outreach at St. Francis Xavier and both parishes financially support the local food pantry. Second collections also support other forms of outreach to the needy in various ways as does donations to the Catholic Sharing Appeal. 

Personally I highly recommend a Catholic organization called Unbound who provide needed assistance to poor families all over the globe. $50 a month will support a poor child or elderly person and all the parish are in the process of becoming an Unbound benefactor.  

Now the one ministry that’s difficult to perform is caring for prisoners. Honestly it’s probably the most challenging ministry I perform. While you may not be able, a couple of ways to support prison ministry is to contribute to the Catholic Sharing Appeal and/or to an organization called – Dismas Ministries. I told you to keep that name in mind 🙂   

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910 C.E.), the great Russian author was a Christian who took his faith seriously. In his story, “Martin the Cobbler,” he tells of a lonely shoemaker who is promised a visit by our Lord that very day. He eagerly awaits his arrival all day long. But all that come are a man in need of shoes, a young mother in need of food and shelter, a child in need of a friend, all of whom he helps. Martin ends the day thinking, “Perhaps tomorrow He will come,” only to hear a voice reply, “I did come to you today, Martin; not once, but three times – and you helped Me!” This is the type of love Jesus is talking about today; an unselfish, generous love that ought to animate us to reach out to all who are more in need than ourselves.  

Brothers and sisters Copernicus understood the earth is not the center of our galaxy; he also knew man is not the center either which is news to some people. We know Jesus is the center or should be. He is sovereign, he is the Lord of lords and King of kings and that’s what the Church celebrates every day but especially today.

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 19, 2023

Antonio Stradivari was born in Cremona, Italy, in 1644. Antonio had a passion for music but because his voice had an extremely high pitch and was quite squeaky he didn’t pass the audition for the Cremona Boys’ Choir. He then decided to take violin lessons, but his neighbors persuaded his parents to make him stop. His friends even made fun of him because his only talent seemed to be wood-carving. Unperturbed by all of this Antonio still wanted to make music. So when he was 22, he became an apprentice to a well-known violinmaker, Nicholas Amati. Under his master’s training, Antonio’s knack for carving grew and his hobby soon became his craft. He got so good at his craft he started his own violin shop when he was 36. For many years he worked patiently and faithfully and by the time he died at 93 he had built over 1,500 violins, each one bearing a label that read “Antonio Stradivarius of Cremona made in the year xxxx ”.  Stradivarius violins are the most sought-after violins in the world and they sell for more than $100,000 each.  Antonio couldn’t sing or play an instrument well, but he used the ability God gave him to satisfy his passion for music and his violins are still making beautiful music to this day.   

In contrast about a century later Niccolò Paganini (1782 –1840) was an Italian violinist, violist, guitarist and composer. He was one of the most celebrated violin vituosi of his time, and left his mark as one of the pillars of modern violin technique. His Caprice No. 24 in A minor, Op. 1, is among the best known of his composition, and has served as an inspiration for many prominent composers. But he willed his violin to the city of his birth, Genoa, Italy, with the condition that his violin never be played again. What a pity! The lack of use and handling resulted in the decay of the wood used in the instrument. A violin that is constantly used can be preserved and, in some cases, even grow richer in tone for hundreds of years. Unfortunately Paginini’s misguided wish resulted in the crumbling of his precious violin. 

St. Matthew gives us 3 parables in the 25th chapter of his gospel – The Wise and Foolish Virgins which we heard last week, this week, The Talents and next week, The Last Judgment. These parables are set within the last of Jesus’ 5 great discourses with all 3 of these parables focused on the end times. With this in mind today’s parable, the Parable of the Talents, is urging us to be ready for our master’s return whenever it will be. 

In the ancient world, a “talent” was a large sum of money. So right off the bat the parable speaks of the master’s huge trust in his servants. While there were no “strings” attached this was obviously a test to see if his servants would be industrious in their use of the money entrusted to them and produce a nice return on their master’s investment. 

Interestingly though the talents weren’t distributed to each servant equally. Instead they were distributed to each according to his ability indicating the master knew his servants well. Therefore each servant received just the right number of talents. Each of the first 2 servants doubled the amount given to them which gained for them the appreciation and admiration of their master with the words well done my good and faithful servant, come share your master’s joy! What a gracious invitation for a servant to share in his master’s joy. 

However, the third servant did nothing with his talent. He too was given according to his ability, but he failed to produce a profit. It wasn’t that he was terribly immoral and committed grave sins. His sin was a sin of omission rather than a sin of commission. His sin was what he should have done but didn’t do. As mentioned in the parable, he buried his talent. 

He’s the exact opposite of the worthy wife whose value is beyond pearls we hear about in today’s first reading. She’s like the first two servants in the parable, good and faithful. Today’s short passage lists some of her good qualities but it’s only an excerpt of many more found in the passage from Proverbs 31. Like the 2 industrious servants she put all her talents to good use and as a result, “Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize.”  

St. Gregory the Great understood this parable as the master who went on a journey being Jesus and the journey was Jesus’ ascension into heaven. At some point in time Jesus will return which is either the moment of one’s death or his second coming at the end of time. So while we wait each person has been given talents by the Lord who will judge each of us by how well we’ve used them for whatever purpose God intended. 

Actually it’s easy for us to draw the parallels here to ourselves. As an expression of the Father’s wisdom and love God has given each of us talents according to our ability. God has given you and me and everyone else just the right talents. So, it’s not good or wise to compare ourselves with others because our omniscient God knows exactly what to give us.  

Think for a moment of all the gifts and graces and blessings we’ve received from God. It’s a bunch! It’s actually everything we are and have. We’ve received the gift of life, family, friends, home, intellect, education, work and all the conveniences of life. Pope Benedict XVI says the talents refer not just to our natural talents and abilities but also includes the spiritual riches Jesus gives to us as well. We’ve received the gift of faith, forgiveness of our sins, a continuing relationship with Jesus through the sacraments, prayers, Sacred Scripture, error free doctrine and the gift of his mother Mary as our spiritual mother as well. As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving Day as a family, people and nation we give thanks for all of God’s blessings.  

So what are all these talents given to us for? To make tons of money so we can have everything we want and live a life of pleasure and leisure? Well first of all for what we need in life remembering all things in moderation, right? All of these gifts are also given to us along with sufficient wisdom and grace to do God’s will in our lives, to strive for holiness which hopefully influences others, to know the beauty and wonder and love of God and to desire the highest and best thing for ourselves and others which is??? HEAVEN!!!  

St. Luke tells us our Lord expects much from those who have been given much (Lk 12:48). He expects us not to hide our talents but to use them and use them well and often. We don’t want to be like the 3rd servant who did nothing and not reap any fruit for the kingdom. God forbid we’ve buried our talent, but if any of us have, go dig it up and stir into flame the gift of the Holy Spirit bestowed on us. God honors those who use their talents and those who are faithful with even a little are entrusted with more! What a deal! Conversely, those who neglect or squander what God has entrusted to them will lose what they have.  

In conclusion here’s another music story, this one about Ludwig van Beethoven. This famous composer was well aware he had very few social skills. Simply talking to people in any situation was extremely difficult for him. The story goes one day he heard a dear friend of his had suddenly lost his son. Beethoven rushed over to his friend’s house, but he just couldn’t find the words to comfort the dead boy’s father. So he went over to the piano and for a full 30 minutes he played a magnificent elegy. It’s believed he composed the funeral song on the spot. Words were difficult for him, but he spoke using his God-given talent of music to console his grieving friend. 

So, as the world implodes here and abroad, will the world end soon? Maybe yes, maybe no. It’s not our job to worry about the exact day or hour. Our job is to be prepared whether it’s at the end of time or most likely at the end of our lives here on earth. So let’s not be like Niccolò Paganini, but like Antonio Stradivari and Ludwig van Beethoven and use wisely the talents God has entrusted to us so that when our earthly life ends the Father will look at us with great appreciation and admiration and say to each one of us, well done my good and faithful servant, come share your master’s joy!

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

11/12/23

There’s an old legend about a man who had a rather foolish servant. The master often got infuriated with him and one day in a fit of frustration he said to the servant, “You’ve got to be the most dim-witted man I’ve ever met. Look, I want you to take this staff and carry it with you and if you ever meet a man dumber than you are, give him this staff.”  

Carrying this staff everywhere he often met some pretty dense people, but he was never sure if they were worse off than he. Several years passed and then one day he returned to the castle and was ushered into the bedroom of his master who was quite sick. In the course of their conversation the master said, “I’m about to go on a long journey.” The servant replied, “When do you plan to return?” The master said, “This is a journey from which I shall not return.” The servant said, “Sir, have you made all the necessary preparations?” The master said, “No, I have not.” The servant said, “Well could you have?” The master said, “Yes, I guess I’ve had my whole life to make them, but I’ve been busy with other things.” Incredulous at this the servant said “Master, you’re going on a journey from which you’ll never return and you could’ve prepared for it but you didn’t?” The master replied, “Yes, you’re exactly right.” The servant took the staff he’d carried for so long and said, “Master, here take this staff. At last I’ve met a man more foolish than myself!” 

As the Church always does our readings end the Church’s liturgical year with passages about being prepared not so much for the second coming of Christ which no one will ever figure out until it actually happens, but instead on being prepared for when we die and meet Jesus. This Sunday’s readings bring the usual warnings about preparing for the end of our own time here on earth and then on to our passage to the next, that mysterious form of human existence. They ask us whether we’re ready for these events and how we’re preparing for them. 

As I’ve mentioned before the first couple of years of seminary formation involve primarily the study of philosophy which I liked very much. This begins with an in-depth study of the ancient Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras [yes he was a philosopher and you thought it was just the name of a geometric theorem] then to Catholic scholastic philosophers like St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas and then on to what’s known as modern philosophers like Renee Descartes, David Hume and Immanuel Kant. When we think of philosophers we usually picture learned men deeply pondering high brow thoughts like how all this came to be, the origin and destiny of man, the nature and meaning of human life, the source of the beauty of creation. 

How many philosophers do you think are here at church right now? I’m not good at estimating numbers but I’d say there are about X people here today so we have X philosophers at church. Why do I say that? Because a philosopher is simply a person who has an opinion about life. That makes all of us philosophers although most have not formally studied philosophy. 

So what do all those philosophers I’ve mentioned and all of us here endeavor to gain from being a philosopher? The answer I propose is to gain wisdom and what is wisdom? One good secular definition is the ability to use one’s knowledge and experience to make good judgments and decisions. St. Thomas Aquinas refers to wisdom as right judgment in accord [and here’s the difference] with God’s eternal law (ST II-II, q. 45, a. 2) wherein man seeks the perfect knowledge of the order of creation and human life. Put another way wisdom is seeing things the way God sees them. 

I mention all this because today’s scripture passages are really all about wisdom. The first reading from the Book of Wisdom, also known as the Wisdom of Solomon, was written in Greek by a poet writing long after Solomon’s death. When King Solomon asked God for wisdom he wasn’t asking for merely human wisdom, but for a gift of divine wisdom, a wisdom far beyond mere human thought and reasoning. The author is advising his Jewish audience not to envy the wisdom of those pagan ancient Greek philosophers which may be good and helpful in many ways but is limited and can be flawed with merely human logic. It’s similar to the philosophers St. Paul had to contend with while on his missionary journey to Greece. 

The ideal then as Catholics is to pursue and obtain a divine wisdom, a wisdom rooted in divine revelation and Catholic doctrine which encompasses not only this life here on earth but prepares us for the life that awaits us. Wise Christians consistently keep one eye on this world and one eye on the next. Yes we take responsibility and care of the things of everyday life here on earth, but we’re also aware of the care of the spirit, the immortal soul that lives within us which extends beyond this temporal physical world so as to also focus on the beauty and grandeur of that mysterious life we pray awaits us and will last forever. 

This divine wisdom instills in us the realization of having to be prepared, a readiness at any time to enter into that next phase of human existence. We have to be like the 5 wise virgins in today’s gospel and make sure our lamps are stocked with enough oil so that we’re ready at any time for when the bridegroom comes. This oil in our lamps can be understood as living a holy life of Christian virtue which is nothing new but something we just need to be reminded of.  

Christian virtue is cultivated by a daily commitment to spiritual disciplines and exercises such as [1] daily prayer wherein we commune with God and speak to him but pay more attention to what God wants to tell us [2] reading, studying and meditating on Sacred Scripture and to help us we need good Catholic biblical scholars like Dr. Brant Pitre and [3] by studying our Catholic faith like the Catechism in a year podcasts by Fr. Mike Schmidt and what we learn from these we’re to apply to our daily lives [4] living a sacramental life meaning at a minimum Sunday Mass and Holy Days of Obligation and frequent reception of the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (I recommend at least once a month) [5] courageous obedience and moral faithfulness to Church teaching especially when they conflict with the culture and [6] offering acts of service to others. One cannot “borrow” these virtues at the last minute like the 5 foolish virgins tried to; instead we must live them daily like the 5 wise virgins.  

Jesus intentionally uses the symbol of oil in today’s gospel. In Sacred Scripture oil is often a symbol for the Holy Spirit. Wise Christians are eternity minded and they carefully make their daily choices for God. This isn’t always easy so we need the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit and we shouldn’t hesitate to ask for it. 

Fellow philosophers the end really is near. Our role is not to calculate the day; that’s an exercise in futility. Rather we’re  to prepare for it. Like the 5 wise virgins we must maintain a constant state of readiness, with our lamps filled with the oil of Christian virtue. Let’s be wise Catholics and not be caught off guard like the foolish master who was entirely absorbed by the tyranny of everyday life and only the things of this world. We can all still enjoy this earthly life as God intends while using it as a springboard into the next. 

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time 

October 8, 2023

In 1978 Jeff travelled to Cincinnati to attend the funeral of a man named Max who had been like a father to him for 20 years. What makes Jeff’s attendance at Max’s funeral unusual is as a 15-year-old a week before Christmas in 1958 Jeff took his mother’s car out for a spin and struck and killed Max’s 5-year-old son. At the arraignment Max surprised everyone when he asked the court for the charges to be dropped. Instead, he wanted to give Jeff, this young driver who killed his son, a job and to fund Jeff’s education. In effect Max virtually adopted this 15-year-old boy into his family sharing his home and money, his time and energy, his love and understanding with this troubled youth. We might wonder how could Max do such a thing? Most people could never befriend a reckless teenager who had just killed his 5-year-old son. Many would think he must have been a little crazy to go so out of his way to become like a father for that boy. If we think Max was a little crazy we have to also think so is God our Father.  

The common theme of today’s readings is the magnanimous love and generosity of God as well as an expectation of bearing fruit in the Christian life for His kingdom. Throughout the centuries God has used various ways to communicate to us the assurance of his love and his desire that we return his love by entering into friendship with him.  

Our first reading from the prophet Isaiah is one example. In this passage known as Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard, Isaiah begins by describing the love and care poured out upon his vineyard. He did everything he could to make his vineyard fruitful: he cleared it of stones, planted the best vines, built a watchtower and winepress. After all this preparation the vineyard yielded only wild grapes, unsuitable for making good wine which to me, a red wine drinker, is absolutely horrible, a travesty! hehe Isaiah explains this song is about how God established and made a covenant with the house of Israel with the expectation it would bear fruit, that it would sanctify the world but it didn’t so God, the owner decides to tear the vineyard down.  

Paralleling Isaiah’s Vineyard Song Jesus in the gospel tells the parable of the Tenants wherein Jesus is telling Israel’s religious leaders they’ve learned absolutely nothing from Isaiah or Israel’s past. Like the religious leaders of old they too not only refused to listen to the prophets, they too abused and killed whom God sent to help them cultivate and produce grapes for good wine, a symbol for the holy lives God wanted for His people. As a result they too failed to harvest souls for the kingdom of God. 

Then Jesus adds a cutting twist. In a stark foreshadowing of His own crucifixion outside Jerusalem, Jesus says the tenants’ final outrage will be to seize the owner’s son, drag him outside of the vineyard walls and kill him. For this, the vineyard which Jesus calls the kingdom of God, will be taken away from them and leased to new tenants who will produce fruit.  

Going back to today’s first reading Isaiah’s asks the question what more could I have done for my vineyard? The implied answer is, nothing! He did everything humanly possible. But we know there’s one more thing God could do and did, out of divine love He sent his Son, Jesus. We all know the story of salvation didn’t end with Jesus’ death. He rose from the dead. But before he died and rose from the dead he told Peter he will be the Rock upon which he will build his Church and he hands the keys of his kingdom to him. 

The Lord’s new vineyard is the Church and He put his entire self into preparing his vineyard for us, namely his sweat and every drop of his precious blood on the altar of his cross. We are the tenants now of this new vineyard. Each of us is a vine in the Lord’s vineyard grafted by baptism onto the true vine of Christ. Through our Baptism we’ve become workers in the Lord’s vineyard and we’ve been given a beautiful, well equipped vineyard with everything we the tenants need to bear fruit.  

First and foremost our vineyard is equipped with Jesus, the owner of the vineyard and the head of His Church. His vineyard, the church, is cultivated and maintained by Peter, the popes, who by the grace of the Holy Spirit safeguard the deposit of faith which is all Jesus did and taught while on earth contained in both Sacred Tradition, primarily the teachings of the early Church Fathers such as St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Justin the Martyr and St. Clement of Alexandria and of course Sacred Scripture.  

Our vineyard is also equipped with the sacraments, those 7 powerful encounters with Jesus Christ. No matter when we were baptized our baptism began a radical transformation in our lives as we became adopted children of God and heirs of his kingdom. We have Jesus himself in the Eucharist body, blood, soul and divinity as the source of spiritual nourishment our souls need, the intercession of Our Blessed Mother and all the saints, prayers and devotions for every occasion.  

All of these form the foundation of what we believe and how we are to live as Catholics in the hope it helps to make us good fruit-producers. We should be proud and grateful of how well Jesus has equipped his vineyard, the Church, so we can harvest the fruit he expects from us.  

So how do we bear good fruit? How do we tenants in the vineyard make a good harvest? St. Francis of Assisi supposedly once said preach always and if necessary use words meaning we are to both live a holy life and also proclaim the gospel. Our protestant brethren are much better at this than we Catholics are and we’ve got to get better at it quickly so that our world doesn’t get even more insane than it is already. This may not mean preaching on street corners and ringing doorbells, but to present the truths of the gospel in the way we live, how we act and what we say in our personal conversations and on social media which Deacon Steve is very good at in defending our Catholic faith. 

Many societies have become deaf and even belligerent toward Christianity, erecting barriers to our sharing the gospel. In many public places one cannot display anything religious. The same is true in the workplace and heck you can even get in trouble for wearing something religious on a t-shirt. 

 But fellow tenants in the vineyard that shouldn’t stop us. The world is hurting, the world is becoming more and more hostile and unloving because God has been shoved aside and in many places God is unknown and/or unwanted. Many think their lives have no meaning or value and they have no hope because they don’t know Jesus and what he’s done and offers us. 

The story of salvation briefly answers these basic questions [1] Why is there something rather than nothing? Answer: Out of divine love, God created everything out of nothing and saw it was very good [2] Why is everything so messed up? Answer: Through the deception of Satan, sin and death entered the world [3]  What if anything has God done about it? Answer: Jesus, the Son of God, became man and by his passion and death made atonement to the Father for sin and won our salvation. By his resurrection and ascension into heaven man now has renewed hope of eternal life with the God who created him.  

In a nutshell that’s kerygma, the proclamation of the good news of salvation and we should be happy to proclaim it to the ends of the earth. It’s a good start but I recently read a very good book titled The Christian Cosmic Narrative, The Deep History of the World which  wonderfully chronicles the story of salvation. I highly recommend you read it but give it away.  

Brothers and sisters it’s no secret our world is in a mess and the only solution to the mess of our world is Jesus. He’s the only one that can save us and the world. We believe this because Jesus told us to have no fear for he has conquered the world and that’s why our “crazy” God sent his Son, Jesus, to save us and do you know what’s even crazier is as tenants in his vineyard, he expects us to produce an abundant harvest.

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 24, 2023

There’s an old rabbinic parable about a farmer who had two sons. As soon as they were old enough to walk he took them into the fields and taught them everything he knew about growing crops and raising animals. When he got too old to work the 2 boys took over the chores of the farm and when their father died they continued working the farm together. At every harvest season they would equally divide what the farm produced.

The elder brother never married, but the younger brother did and had 8 wonderful children. Several years later when they had a bountiful harvest the bachelor brother thought to himself “My brother has 10 mouths to feed and I only have one. He really needs more of the harvest than I do. But I know he’s much too fair to renegotiate. I know what I’ll do. In the dead of night while he’s already asleep, I’ll take some of what I have in my barn and put it into his barn to help him feed his large family.

At the same time his younger brother was thinking to himself, “God has given me all these wonderful children and my brother needs more of this harvest than I do to store up for his old age. But I know he’s much too fair and will never renegotiate. I know what I’ll do. In the dead of the night while he’s asleep, I’ll take some of what I’ve put in my barn and put it in his.

One night when the moon was full those two brothers came face to face each on their mission of generosity. The old rabbi concluded the story by noting there wasn’t a cloud in the sky yet a gentle rain began to fall. He said it was God weeping for joy because two of his children had understood generosity is one of the deepest characteristics of love.

Americans have always believed to value justice. Playing fair is part of our earliest training in life. That’s why when we hear today’s Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, we immediately think that’s just not fair. It shocks our sensibilities of how unfair it is for some laborers to work longer than others but at the end of the day all get the same pay. Those who worked in the fields all day felt cheated that they didn’t get more than those who worked only part of the day. They thought the master wasn’t fair and should’ve paid them more.

But wait a minute; was the landowner unfair? I mean he paid those who worked all day exactly what he told them they’d get. As this homily unfolds we shall see life is not fair, thank God!

It seems whenever this parable is discussed the question of fairness always becomes the focal point. We get so focused on the pay situation and miss the primary point of the parable. The parable is really not about how much someone should get paid. It’s not about the amount of work done. The overriding focus of the parable is much more about the good and gracious nature of God and his generosity. At the beginning of the parable Jesus said “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner going out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard.”  Jesus is explaining to us something about the kingdom of heaven, not economics. Conversely, he’s using economics to teach us about the kingdom of God.

In Jesus’ time laborers had to wait each day in the marketplace until someone hired them for a day’s job. The normal pay was just enough for a person to feed his family for one day so no work that day usually meant no food on the family table. The fact that some of them stood around until even late afternoon proves how desperately they wanted to support their families. The generous landowner knew this so he hired all those in the late afternoon so they wouldn’t have to go hungry or rely on the generosity of family and friends but with heads held high they could go home and feed their families themselves.

Here’s the biblical backdrop with respect to salvation. The landowner is God and the vineyard is the kingdom of heaven. The workers hired at dawn are the Israelites, to whom God first offered His covenant. Those hired later in the day are the Gentiles, the non-Israelites, who, until the coming of Christ, were strangers to the covenants of God’s promise. In the Lord’s great generosity, the same wages, the same blessings promised to those first-called Israelites, will now be paid, given, to those called last, the rest of the nations, the Gentiles, us!

We’re the recipients of this generosity. All the baptized have been grafted onto the root of the tree of God’s chosen people and have become adopted children of God. God, the divine landowner, wants everyone to be in his vineyard, the kingdom of heaven. God wants us all in relationship with him and to enjoy his love and friendship.

But we live in a fallen world and we’ve all unfairly walked off the job at various times–thumbing our noses at him through disobedience, pride and selfishness. Some have gone AWOL longer than others, and some have committed sins far more grievous than others. Actually the bottom line in terms of strict justice is God doesn’t owe any of us anything except, perhaps, punishment. Fortunately justice doesn’t preclude generosity.

God is generous in opening the doors of his kingdom to all who will enter, both those who have labored a life-time for him as well as those who come at the last hour. We rejoice God has compassion on every person He’s created. This should console all of us sinners especially if we have loved ones who remain far from the vineyard. I’ve heard from so many people how they lament that many of their family members have left the Catholic Church and/or no longer practice any type of religion. The hurt runs deep; they care about their spiritual well-being and there’s nothing they want more than for the strayed to return to God’s vineyard and enjoy his friendship and so we pray in earnest for them and never give up.

It’s never too late to return to the Lord. It’s never too late to stop living an aimless life, to repent and leave sinful ways and be welcomed back into the loving embrace of the mercy of God. Like the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Lord continues to go out to the marketplace every hour to invite people into his vineyard.

Brothers and sisters, God isn’t fair, thank God! In his extraordinary generosity, the Lord has offered all of us an exceptionally generous opportunity. If we will accept His beloved Son in faith as Savior and Lord, and through the power of the Spirit seek to do His will, and if we will repent each time we fail, He will give us what we do not deserve–friendship with Him not just here on earth but a friendship that will lead to eternal glory in heaven in the hereafter.

My dad used to say you cannot out-give God. God is love and we made in his image and likeness are to extend that love to Him first as a matter of justice and also to our neighbor. May we appreciate and imitate that same generosity to both friend and foe so that like the 2 brothers each of us may make God weep for joy because we too as his children have understood generosity is one of the deepest characteristics of love.

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 17, 2023

Betty was a woman who lived at Amsterdam during World War II. When the Nazis occupied the Netherlands her family began to help Jews who were being rounded up and sent to death camps. Eventually someone turned her family in and they were also sent off to concentration camps. Betty and her sister were sent to the infamous Ravensbruck camp. Sadly she would be the only family member who survived this tragic ordeal.  

After the war Betty travelled around Europe giving lectures on forgiveness and reconciliation. After one talk in Munich, Germany a man came forward to thank her for her talk. Suddenly she recognized this man was one of the Nazi guards who used to stand duty in the women’s shower room at Ravensbruck. The man reached out to shake her hand but she froze. The horror of the camp and the death of her sister rushed back into her memory. She was filled with resentment and revulsion. She had just given a riveting talk on forgiveness and now she herself was confronted with a situation where she found it extremely difficult to forgive someone. Betty immediately began to pray silently and all of a sudden her hand, as if empowered by another source and with a gaze of true forgiveness in her eyes took the former guard’s hand. At that moment she discovered a great truth; forgiveness is only possible with the help of God’s grace. 

The theme for this week’s readings concern mercy and forgiveness with the ultimate hope of reconciliation with all who have hurt us in anyway. Actually to forgive those who offend us is a sacred duty. The mercy and forgiveness we show to others should be the heartfelt expression of our gratitude for the mercy and forgiveness God has extended to us. 

Being one of the OT wisdom books, at least in the Catholic Bible, Sirach tells us it’s wise to forgive but unwise to nurse grudges. It teaches us it’s against our own best interests to hold onto anger. Sirach wisely reminds us we often cherish our wrath, nourish our anger and refuse mercy to those who have done us wrong. Jesus strikes close to home as well in today’s gospel with His portrayal of the abusive wicked servant who refused forgiving a fellow servant’s debt although his own slate had just been wiped clean by their master. 

All of us have our own personal stories of being hurt. Everyone of us has been wronged by someone and because we still live in a fallen world we’ll continue to be hurt by others. Some wounds are nominal pricks while others can be extremely deep. Many times we over dramatize the situation. But it doesn’t always matter whether big or small the fact we’ve been hurt is the focal point and sometimes something within us seems to allow us to feel we have a right to continue in our anger towards someone who has hurt us. 

After all we didn’t create the situation, the other person did. We didn’t attack anyone, the other person attacked us. We were the victims, not the perpetrators. We rationalize our lives would have been significantly different if that person had not said or done this or that. And so we attempt to justify our anger and hold a grudge. 

To make matters worse when we reflect on a past hurt we relive it in our minds. We feel the emotions welling up in us again although the incident occurred a long time ago, even decades ago. Before we realize it we’re back at the scene of the altercation. We feel the rage we had once more and obviously still have. 

Alexander Pope once said, “To err is human, to forgive, divine” meaning it’s natural to hold on to hurts but supernatural to extend forgiveness. Everyone knows forgiving is not easy and may be more or less difficult depending on the person and events involved. But it’s the only way forward. As long as we fail to forgive, we aren’t free; we’re held captive by it, whereas forgiveness brings freedom! 

Our willingness to forgive demonstrates the depth of our Christian charity. When we withhold forgiveness we remain the victim. Our failure to offer pardon means we’ve either forgotten God’s goodness and mercy or we haven’t fully appreciated the unconditional forgiveness we’ve received from Him. No offense our neighbor can do to us can compare with our own personal debt to God for often offending him! If we expect God to pardon us and show us his mercy when we sin and disobey his commandments, then we must be willing to let go of any resentment, grievance, or ill-will we feel towards our neighbor and forgive them. 

I once heard a priest say unforgiveness is like stubbornly holding a venomous snake close to our chest which can inflict a mortal wound on you. Instead of holding on to unforgiveness we should throw it as far away from us as we can like we would a poisonous snake. 

What God expects from us and offers us grace to give, is unlimited forgiveness with the ability and willingness to overlook faults and to keep on loving even in the face of future altercations.  Forgiveness allows us to move beyond the pain, resentment and anger. We always have a choice: to forgive or not to forgive, but when choose to forgive we make the choice that heals. 

Brothers and sisters all of us have received plenteous mercy from God because he loves us too much to hold a grudge. We’ve been forgiven an enormous debt we can never repay on our own. Living under God’s mercy we must bring his mercy and compassion to others and as always God gives us the grace to do what he asks of us. Here’s another anecdote to show this. 

The prison ministry of a mother began 18 months after her son was brutally murdered. She knew it was God’s will for her to forgive him. She had spoken the words in her mind, but she continued to harbor ill will in her heart toward the man who had robbed her of her son.  

She previously agreed to never say “no” to God so when she heard Him telling her, “I want you to love the man who killed your son,” she had no choice but to fight the natural rage boiling up within her and to practice Christian charity and mercy.  

While visiting a prison to support a friend at a parole hearing she suddenly came face-to-face with her son’s murderer. Controlling her inner rage with prayer she said to the man “Richard my name is Judy. You murdered my son and I want you to know I love you and I forgive you.” The man began sobbing and the prison guards had to remove her from the facility.  

Afterwards Judy sent the murderer letters, but he sent them all back. Although her family and pastor advised her to stop she obeyed God’s message to her and continued to write. God’s grace finally broke through and the two were reconciled.  

There’s a surprisingly twist to this saga-the two began a prison ministry team proclaiming God’s grace and forgiveness to inmates. Before her death Judy became the spiritual mother of scores of hardened criminals. On her last Mother’s Day she received 40 Mother’s Day cards from former criminals whose lives she touched.  

None of this fruit would have been possible had she held on to her unforgiveness. Instead she and Betty chose forgiveness that healed their hurt and set them free and the same my dear children can happen for us.

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 10, 2023

One night in 1935, New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia showed up at night court in the poorest ward of the city. He dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench. One case involved an elderly woman who was caught stealing bread to feed her grandchildren. La Guardia said, “I’ve got to punish you. Ten dollars or 10 days in jail.” As he spoke he threw $10 into his hat. He then fined everyone in the courtroom 50 cents for living in a city where an old woman had to steal bread so that her grandchildren wouldn’t starve. The hat was passed around and the woman left the courtroom with her fine paid and an additional $47.50. 

This short anecdote describes a person in authority who is humble, not too good to perform a lesser task, stands up for the rule of law and has the compassion to help someone in need. 

The common theme of today’s scripture passages is God’s command concerning our spiritual responsibility for others in our families, parishes and community. This accountability arises from our identity as all being God’s children. As brothers and sisters in Christ we become each other’s “keepers”. 

In today’s first reading God tells Ezekiel he is to be a “watchman for the house of Israel,” meaning he’s obliged to warn Israel of moral dangers. As a prophet he must not only keep watch, but do everything in his power to advise the people about the potential results of their actions. In this role he must be willing to risk his popularity and even his personal safety if necessary. In so doing he realizes many people will be more apt to ignore and mock than listen to him. Nevertheless, regardless of the people’s reaction he still has an obligation to be watchful. 

The greatest danger for a prophet is to be silent. Failing to speak out causes people to be ignorant of God’s message and of any repercussions if they decline to listen and not act accordingly. Of course the hope is they will heed his message and reform their lives. However, if the people resist his message the retribution will fall on them, not him. Ultimately however, God will hold the prophet accountable and punish him if he’s cowardly silent. 

So have prophets become extinct? Are there any in our world today? Well the answer is no they aren’t extinct, and yes there are many in our world today and we Catholics call them, Father! Every priest by virtue of his ordination shares in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ who is the consummate prophet. Every priest based on his seminary training is equipped and commissioned to prophetically preach the Word of God and teach the truths of the faith. 

As spiritual fathers, priests have the solemn and vital responsibility to protect their spiritual children. As such they shouldn’t allow them to be put in any kind of spiritual danger. Priests are to teach authentic Catholic doctrine whether they agree with it or not and not their version of it. 

One of the temptations some priests have is to want to be popular and that can sometimes prevent them from speaking out on certain moral issues. People need to be taught and reminded from time to time of important moral truths of our faith so sometimes paternal love demands priests as God’s watchmen to tell their spiritual children things they may not want to hear on moral issues like: abortion and euthanasia, homosexuality, artificial contraception, in-vitro fertilization and this insane trans issue today. 

Catholic doctrine teaches God places a soul into the conceptus at the moment of conception making the conceptus not a blob of tissue but a human person so abortion is the taking of an innocent human life. Likewise euthanasia or aptly called “mercy killing” is intentionally taking the life of the inconvenient, mostly the elderly, the handicapped and no longer wanted cryo-preserved embryos. Homosexuality is the inordinate, unnatural attraction of people of the same sex and when this attraction results in a sexual act between them, the act is sinful. God is the author of all human life and to use any type of artificial barrier to fertility is in effect playing God and is sinful. All conceptions of human life are to be the result of natural marital love. To “produce” human life in a laboratory is unnatural and thus contrary to the dignity of the human person and is sinful. God created man in his image and likeness, male and female he created them. There are no other alternatives. Research has proven gender dysphoria is almost always remedied with biological gender affirmation as the person matures but if not psychiatric help is advised. Any type of gender realignment therapy through medications which have severe side effects and/or surgery which is  considered mutilation of a person’s body are unnatural and again contrary to the dignity of the human person. 

As with some biological parents if the goal of a priest is to be everybody’s buddy rather than their spiritual father, they will not only be ineffective in teaching their spiritual children to live moral lives and diminish the sin committed in the world, as his brother’s keeper he will also commit a sin of omission and as a result the sins his spiritual children commit will actually append to his soul rather than theirs. Now I’ve already racked up a lengthy stay in purgatory for the sins of my prior life and priestly life and I don’t need to add any of yours. For all these reasons and more I just proved I don’t shy away from preaching on the tough issues we face today. I may not be able to change anyone’s mind or behavior but I’m still obliged as a watchman to speak the truth in love for all to hear. 

Now this teaching isn’t just about priests’ obligation to be watchmen for their spiritual flocks. All of us are our brothers’ keepers. Fraternal correction, to admonish a sinner is a spiritual work of mercy. Of course this doesn’t mean we’re to confront every moral infraction we notice and I’ll give some advice on what and how to do that in a moment. But many people think they have no moral obligation or right to call to mind something they notice is a serious sin since they’re sinners themselves. They recall Jesus saying “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” and wrongly conclude how can I a sinner correct a sinner? If that’s the case no one would ever correct anyone. Making a critical assessment about one’s actions is not being judgmental. Strangely enough though many have no problem at all telling others what that person may be doing behind their back which by the way is a sin of detraction and uncharitable speech, but lack the moral courage to confront the person in fraternal charity which perpetuates the bad behavior of the person committing the act and its effects on others. 

Jesus is love and St. Paul reminds us he taught us to love God and our neighbor as yourself. St. Paul also tells us today love does no evil to his neighbor. So here’s the advice I spoke of a moment ago. There are four basic things one can do to make the spiritual work of mercy of admonishing the sinner or fraternal correction effective rather than destructive and they are supernatural outlook, humility, consideration, and affection. 

First supernatural outlook involves prayer wherein one discerns to give fraternal correction only when  convinced God wants it for the sake of the person one is correcting and those affected by that person. One is to pray asking the Holy Spirit if he wants this correction to be made he will counsel the person on how to go about giving it. 

Humility is necessary because we have to remember we’re all sinners and fail in many varied ways. Any air of self righteousness is counter-productive. Humility acknowledges no one is perfect, but God still wants us to love our neighbor by helping them. 

No one likes to be corrected and it’s so easy in our emotion driven society today to hurt another person’s feelings which will deflect any good we’re trying to accomplish. So it’s vitally important to be considerate meaning to say what we have to say in the least hurtful and constructive way possible but to also tell it like it is in charity.  

Finally true affection involves the fraternal correction being delivered with empathetic love and concern. The motive for any “intervention” is the eternal good of the person being corrected and not to portray any degree of spiritual superiority. 

Brothers and sisters we are all watchmen, we are all our brothers’ keepers. While most of us avoid conflict at all cost and I am one of those, sometimes it’s necessary to confront someone in charity when we notice harmful and sinful behavior. So we ask for the grace of the Holy Spirit to guide us when led by him to do any type of fraternal correction. We pray to be humble, gracious and compassionate admonishers even if we don’t get a major city’s airport named after us.

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 27, 2023

A couple of months ago I was told a local Methodist church was voting whether to stay as part of the Methodist Church or leave and become a non-denominational Christian assembly. The topic of debate was homosexuality. Several years ago the Presbyterian Church voted to allow same sex marriages in their churches prompting an amendment to its constitution wherein its definition of marriage was changed from being between “a man and a woman” to “two persons”. The Episcopal church has proudly accepted openly homosexual ministers. 

What has caused these and other protestant ecclesial communities as well as Reformed Judaism and even some prominent Catholics who should know better like President Biden to endorse the lgbtq agenda in abject opposition to Sacred Scripture? Well the answer more than likely is they’re bowing to current societal pressure and as such are repudiating the eternal truths found in both Sacred Scripture and the natural law.  

My purpose is not to be critical of other faiths or denigrate those living a sinful alternative lifestyle. I mention this because this changing of course ties in perfectly with the Catholic interpretation of today’s gospel, an interpretation which distinguishes Catholic doctrine from all other Christian denominations. In this passage St. Matthew describes the foundation for the Catholic understanding of the Papacy and the prominence the Papacy enjoys. 

Actually the roots of the papacy go back to the OT system of governing. Like most heads of state, King David and his successors had officers in positions of authority. The most important officer assisting the king was something like a prime minister who was called “the Master of the Palace” who proudly carried the “keys,” symbolizing his rank as second in command of the royal palace. As the bearer of the keys he had the power to open and close doors which basically controlled access to the king himself. 

In today’s first reading Isaiah foretells the keys to David’s kingdom would be given to a new master who would rule as a father to God’s people. This passage prompted some of the early Church Fathers to understand it as a Messianic prophecy, foretelling the transfer of power from the leaders of the chosen people of the old covenant to Jesus who in turn would hand it on to Peter as head of His Church. How so you may ask? Well St. Matthew gives us all the answers. 

After conducting the first ever Gallup Poll asking his Apostles who do people say he is, Jesus follows up by asking who do you say I am? And Simon says “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God!” Here’s the only time Jesus changes someone’s name and when God changes someone’s name it indicates this person is to play a significant role in salvation history. OT examples include Abram to Abraham and Jacob to Israel.  

Following Simon’s profession of faith Jesus declares what the Church calls the Petrine promise  I say to you Simon you are Peter (Petras, you are Rock) and upon you Peter (upon you Rock) I shall build (what?) MY church (not churches, it’s singular not plural) and the gates of hell will never prevail against her (eternal). 

A rock is something stable you can stand on, even build on. We’re familiar with the saying something is “rock solid”. Now that Simon Peter has been named the bedrock of the Church Jesus fulfills what Isaiah foretold about how the keys of David’s kingdom would be given to a new master of the palace saying I give to you Peter (Rock of my church) the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you declare bound on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you declare loosed on earth will be loosed in heaven. Jesus, the root and offspring of David, has now entrusted the keys to Peter as this new master of the palace, the Vicar of His Church. In fact both the Papal Seal and the Pope’s Coat of Arms contain the image of 2 keys representing this divine ecclesial authority.  

Jesus gave Peter and all the Apostles the authority to bind and loose, but he only entrusts Peter with the keys. Let’s be clear Jesus is the foundation stone on which his Church is founded, he is her head. But Peter, the Pope, is the visible human head of his Church on earth. 

This primacy Peter holds is not isolated to this declaration by Jesus. On other occasions we see Jesus giving preference to Peter. During the Last Supper we read in Luke’s Gospel Jesus spoke to Peter about his future role: Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers. (Luke 22:31-32) 

We see the unique role of Peter among the other apostles. On Easter Sunday although St. John got to Jesus’ tomb first he waited for Peter and entered after him. After his resurrection Jesus appeared to the apostles by the Sea of Galilee and he asked Peter 3 times if he loved him and 3 times he commanded him to tend the flock of his Church. Whenever the gospels list the apostles they always put Peter’s name first to signify his vocation as head of the Church. Again and again in the Acts of the Apostles we see it’s Peter who has the role of leadership in the Church. It was Peter who decided Judas had to be replaced (Acts 1:15-26). It was Peter who preached at Pentecost. So it makes perfect sense Jesus would give Peter the authority to make decisions for his Church as we heard in today’s gospel. 

Before Jesus ascended into heaven he didn’t give Peter a manual on how to run his Church entrusted to him. This is where the binding and loosing play an enormous role. Peter, the new master of the palace, has the keys signifying his authority to govern the Church and therefore make decisions for the good ordering of Christ’s Church.  

The Catechism (#553) describes the power to “bind and loose” as signifying the authority to pronounce judgments regarding Catholic doctrine, to absolve sins, to make disciplinary decisions and determine who and what may or may not be permitted in Jesus’ Church. As the Church was to continue long after Peter had died it was rightly understood from the beginning those privileges given to him were given to his chosen successors, the Popes. 

Jesus foreknew his teachings would be challenged and misunderstood. Our Catholic faith is a gift received; it’s not a matter of a democratic vote or public opinion which changes with the whims of society throughout the ages. Jesus didn’t want us his faithful to be confused or to be in doubt and that’s why he has given to the Pope a special charism or grace of infallibility meaning whenever Our Holy Father teaches on matters of faith or morals he is prevented from teaching error. This doesn’t mean he can’t be wrong about other things like the source of climate change or who will win the World Cup. However, he does have a duty to safeguard the deposit of the faith and even when there have been immoral Popes like the Borgia Popes, their teaching was preserved from error. 

When Jesus was on trial before Pilate, he said he had come to bear witness to the truth and all who are on the side of truth listen to him (John 18:37). Pilate, staring at Truth itself replied, “Truth? What is that?” (John 18:38). Jesus is the Truth, he is God and as such he is perfect and perfection denotes immutability, truth cannot change. There is right and wrong and we are very grateful to Jesus for giving us a “rock-solid” source of authority so that we don’t have to be engaged in and depend on any type of democratic vote to guide us with absolute certainty of what is true and good and beautiful.

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 20, 2023

One day a certain curious person in heaven asked St. Peter “How many Hindus are in heaven?” Peter replied: “No Hindus”. Then he asked: “How many Muslims?” “Not even one”. “How many Jews?” “No Jews either.” The man was surprised and said: “Oh, then there’re only Christians in heaven?” “No, there’re no Christians in heaven either,” replied Peter who then said, “Heaven is not meant for any particular group of people. Here there is no distinction between religions; heaven is for all who love and obeyed the one true God.”  

Today’s scripture passages speak of the expansive and universal nature of the Kingdom of God. They present a united theme that God’s salvation is available to all who put faith in him regardless of religion, race, gender, ethnicity, political ideology, social status or any other social stratum our contemporary culture identifies and endorses. The prophet Isaiah promotes this by proclaiming, “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord…and hold to my covenant, them I shall bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer…for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples”. 

So not just Jews but all who truly seek the Lord and abide by his covenant have now been grafted onto the ancient rootstock of Israel along with their heritage of salvation and can be now counted among those redeemed by God. The Psalmist today affirms this in today’s responsorial: “O God, let all the nations praise you!” St. Paul says today he’s the apostle to the Gentiles. 

As Catholics we believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and God the Father sent his Son to redeem the world. Jesus established a Church as St. Matthew tells us and we’ll hear again nextd week And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I shall build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I shall give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  

Every Sunday we pray in the Creed we believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church which we believe is founded on the Rock of Peter, our first pope. We believe she, the Church, has been given the fullness of divine revelation, all 7 sacraments which are necessary for our salvation and that we are to spread this good news to the ends of the earth.  

Just as the Chosen People were to unite the world in the faith of the One God in the Old Covenant so now with the coming of Jesus and his victory over sin, death and Satan, the baton has been passed to the Catholic Church to evangelize and sanctify the whole world. Jesus commanded us to baptize all nations, all peoples.  

Many may not know but this evangelization was one of the main motivations of the Second Vatican Council. In his opening remarks on October 11, 1962 Pope John XXIII said: 

Without the assistance of the whole of revealed doctrine man is quite incapable of attaining to that complete and steadfast unanimity which is associated with genuine peace and eternal salvation. For such is God’s plan. He “wishes all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  

Unhappily, however, the entire Christian family has not as yet fully and perfectly attained to this visible unity in the truth. But the Catholic Church considers it her duty to work actively for the fulfillment of that unity for which Christ prayed so earnestly to His heavenly Father on the eve of His great sacrifice. 

There is first of all that unity of Catholics among themselves which must always be kept steadfast and exemplary. There is also a unity of prayer and ardent longing prompting Christians separated from this Apostolic See to aspire to union with us. And finally there is a unity, which consists in the esteem and respect shown for the Catholic Church by members of various non-Christian religions. 

It is therefore an overwhelming source of grief to us to know that, although Christ’s blood has redeemed every man that is born into this world, there is still a great part of the human race that does not share in those sources of supernatural grace which exist in the Catholic Church. 

Such is the aim of the Second Vatican Council. It musters the Church’s best energies and studies with all earnestness how to have the message of salvation more readily welcomed by men. By that very fact it blazes a trail that leads toward that unity of the human race, which is so necessary if this earthly realm of ours is to conform to the realm of heaven, “whose king is truth, whose law is love, whose duration is eternity.” 

It’s quite unfortunate society today identifies people using various social strata, many of which I stated at the beginning of my homily. Being proud of who you are is great; you should be. But differences can be divisive which thwarts the realization we truly are one family created in the image and likeness of God. This divisiveness is primarily the result of sin all of which hinders the Church’s efforts of evangelization. Here is another anecdote to illustrate what I mean. 

A catechist asked her students, “How many of you want to go to Heaven?” All the hands instantly shot up into the air except one. The catechist was astounded and so she asked, “Charlie, you mean you don’t want to go to Heaven?” He said, “Sure, I want to go to Heaven, but not with that bunch.”  

Unfortunately, that’s how many groups see  one another. One can look to the Middle East where Jews, Christians and Muslims are at odds with each other.  All three of these religions trace their origins to the patriarch Abraham. All of them are monotheistic and honor the Mosaic Law. However, intertwined in all of this is political tension as well which drives an even deeper wedge among them. Rather than accentuate their common belief there’s conflict. 

I sincerely believe God had a hand in the establishment of The United States. The Constitution written by the wise founders of our great country is an epic governing ruling document. Our country’s motto of In God We Trust, not in man or government, our Pledge of Allegiance includes “one nation under God” and finally E Pluribus Unum reinforces this belief that although we come from many backgrounds we are all one nation. Most all Americans come from different countries scattered around the globe. All of us are part of the “melting pot” which comprises the United States and we have to admit we now face some serious societal challenges today which impact not just the United States but because we value freedom we remain the predominant super power and capitalism has made us the economic giant we enjoy so our troubles affect the whole world. 

So being Catholic and American presents a double responsibility on us. I’ve mentioned several times none of us single handedly can change the world, but we can change our little part of it. The best thing for us to do to help our country and the world is to be good Catholics, to be good citizens. We’re fortunate to live in the deep south where family and Christian values still permeate our communities and while we face some difficult challenges with our protestant brethren it’s time to put those differences aside and stop fighting each other and realize as Pope St. John Paul II told Billy Graham once “we are brothers.”  

I close with yet another anecdote. This one I think exhibits the oneness we hope to recapture in our country and spread throughout the world: 

A man and his family from Texas served as host to a rabbi from Moscow one Christmas. To treat the rabbi to a cuisine unavailable to him in his own country, they went to eat at a favorite Chinese restaurant. After an enjoyable meal and pleasant conversation, the waiter brought the check to the host and presented each person at the table with a small brass Christmas ornament as a complimentary gift. Everyone laughed when the rabbi turned the ornament over and read the label “Made in India.” The laughter quickly ended when everyone saw tears running down the rabbi’s cheeks. The father asked the rabbi if he were offended at having been given such a gift on a Christian holiday. Smiling, the rabbi shook his head and answered, “No, I was shedding tears of joy to be in such a wonderful country in which a Chinese Buddhist restaurant owner gives a Russian Jew a Christmas gift made by a Hindu in India.”  

Each of us is defined by our religion, race, gender, ethnicity, political ideology and social status. Again heaven is not meant for any particular group of people. Here, there’s no distinction. Brothers and sisters my final point is we need to pray in earnest for unity among all peoples so that heaven can begin here on earth, and there’s no better time to start than right now!

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 13, 2023

There’s a story told about a young man who was struggling with several problems and went to a priest for pastoral direction. He lost his job, was estranged from his parents and his girlfriend was pressuring him to marry her and he didn’t know which way to turn. Pacing about the priest’s study the young man ranted about his problems. Finally, he clenched his fist and shouted, “I’ve begged God to say something to help me. Tell me, Father, why doesn’t God answer me?” The priest who sat across the room spoke something so hushed it was indistinguishable so the young man stepped across the room and asked “What did you say?” The priest repeated himself again in a very soft tone. So the young man moved even closer and said again, “Sorry Father but I still didn’t hear you.” With their heads practically next to each other the priest spoke once more. “God sometimes whispers so that we’ll move closer to hear Him.” This time the young man heard and he understood he needs to be quiet in order to hear what God wants to tell him. God often speaks in the silence of our hearts and souls.  

This hushed voice is featured in our first reading from the first book of Kings. King Ahab married Jezebel, the daughter of the pagan king of Tyre. He not only allowed her to build a temple for her god, Baal, he even took part in and endorsed the sin of idol-worship. As a result the prophet Elijah was sent by God to bring His people back to true worship.  

Elijah challenged the pagan priests of Baal to summon their god and when they failed and Elijah summoned God who did appear he slew the 450 priests of Baal which put Queen Jezebel in a rage. She then basically put out a contract on his life in retaliation. Scared to death and questioning his vocation Elijah ran for his life for 40 days to the mountain of God, Horeb, also known as Mt. Sinai where he hides in a cave awaiting God’s word of direction. While there Elijah might have expected a spectacular miracle from God to protect and vindicate him, or a demonstration of God’s great power. He experiences heavy winds, fire and an earthquake but in none of them does he hear God speak. Rather it’s in the tiny whispering sound of God speaking in a gentle breeze that puts him at ease and gives him security and courage to leave the cave.  

Likewise in today’s gospel the apostles have a similar scare. We’re all familiar with the story and we can all relate to the fear the apostles had. In order to cut the apostles some slack here’s a little bit of trivia. In Jewish folklore only God could walk on water and no one can see God and live. So if a person thinks he sees someone walking on the water it must be a ghost! Besides, there was also a superstition there were monsters at the bottom of the Sea of Galilee which likely played into the apostles alarm as well. And the way to get rid of ghosts was to scream and shout which is exactly what the apostles did until Jesus told them, “Take courage; it is I.”  

It’s good for us to realize Jesus was fully human so he too faced fear. On two occasions in the gospel we see Jesus afraid. On one occasion anticipating his passion Jesus said, “Now my soul is troubled.” At Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion again anticipating his suffering and death, he prayed to his Father to let this cup pass him by. Jesus prayed and his prayer was answered and he received the strength to face his passion by following His Father’s will, “not my will, but yours be done.”  In both instances he prayed to his Father and in prayer he got the strength to face the difficult situation.  

Like the apostles we all from time to time become frightened and worry about all kinds of things and like the apostles we might believe the Lord is with us but our trust can easily evaporate. We tend to panic when a sudden severe storm arises in our lives and things get out of control. Like Peter we may start out confident, but soon we notice the wind is really strong and the water is really deep. Our confidence quickly turns to fear and if the wait for help is prolonged we get upset and think God doesn’t care and has forgotten us.  

But that’s never the case. Just as in today’s gospel Jesus saves the apostles so maybe not every time but many times he will come to us in some way usually through the help of those near to us saying, “Take courage; it is I! Do not be afraid.” How often have we heard someone say, “If it wasn’t for the help of so-and-so, I would never have made it through that tough time.”  

Storms in life reveal to us our inability to save ourselves and point us to God for help. When Jesus shows up in our life’s storms, we discover we gain strength to do the seemingly impossible. So when troubles and worries come our way, our best approach is the same as Jesus, to pray for the grace to endure and persevere and no matter what happens whether things turn out as we want or not, we continue to trust in Jesus.  

Many times when something bad happens the first person blamed is God. But man has a free will and unfortunately some people do bad things to other people. Another consoling aspect of today’s gospel is adversity is not a sign of God’s displeasure, nor prosperity a sign of His favor; that illness is not a sign of inadequate faith, nor good health a sign of great faith. Paradoxically, the storms of life can be a means of blessing. God can and does draw good out of bad. Many times when things are going badly our hearts are more receptive to God. A broken heart is often a door through which Jesus can find entry and he wants so badly to come to us in the midst of our troubles, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”  

If we permit the chaos and adversities in life to distract and influence us we’ll sink into the very chaos we fear. On the other hand, if we keep our focus on the source of our remedy the One to whom we call out to to save us then the winds just may die down and we’re comforted by God’s presence. May we pray for an increase in faith so that we never doubt that comforting presence in our lives. Some might remark but Father I just don’t feel God’s presence in my life. Ok so if God seems distant the question one should ask themselves is who do you think moved?  

When we’re troubled or confused one may want God’s voice to thunder through the air with all the answers to our problems and even presumptuously expect him to fix them. But God speaks in silence, in the still, gentle whisper. Nothing draws human focus quite like a whisper. Being aware of God’s whispering means we must stop our anxious ranting and move close to Him until like the young man and the priest our head is right next to God’s. Then as we listen we’ll find our answer. But better still, we’ll have drawn closer to God in the process.  

Jesus proclaims he is the Life. Forget Darwinism, it’s a debunked hypothesis and the big bang which had to have an origin and someone to put it in motion. Things don’t just appear out of nowhere, they have to have a source.  

All we need to know is what Genesis tells us that God is from all eternity the origin and creator of all that is. He is the author, giver and sustainer of all life and without him nothing can have life or meaning. We exist because God existed first and He alone can give us the perfect, joyful, abundant life that will last forever. 

In the 15th century Thomas a Kempis wrote, “Without the Way, there is no going. Without the Truth, there is no knowing. Without the Life, there is no living.” No one knew this better than Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus and our blessed mother.  

May is the month dedicated to Mary and today we crowned her as our queen mother. In her first apparition to the 3 shepherd children at Fatima, Portugal she told them civilization has lost its way because it has stopped listening to her Son who is the way, the truth and the life. In each of her apparitions she stressed the importance of praying reverently every day especially the rosary to help her in her only mission which is to bring us her children closer to Jesus, her Son.  

She also asked the children to devote themselves to her Immaculate Heart and to console her Immaculate Heart which has been so wounded by the sins of humanity, sins that greatly offend her Son. To emphasize this she showed them a vision of her heart pierced by thorns which confirms Simeon’s prophesy that her heart would be pierced by a sword.  

Our Lady also told the children God is very much offended by man’s sins, that sin is the root of all the troubles in the world and she asked them to repent and reject temptations to sin, to sacrifice in reparation for sin and to pray, especially the rosary, to obtain the graces needed to overcome sin which again terribly offends God.  Her maternal advice and instructions during these apparitions were not just for Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta but for all of us.  

Next weekend we celebrate Mothers Day and Mary is the model of authentic motherhood. This is one area our society has it terribly wrong. It has lost its way because it has deviated from the truth and the spoils are 10s of millions of innocent lives. Every female who gets pregnant is a mother at the moment of conception. The Church teaches at the moment of conception God infuses a human soul into the conceptus i.e. it’s a human person at conception. But our society has lost its way in reference to the sacredness of the marital embrace, emphasis on “marital” and tragically to appease consciences a lie is perpetrated that it’s simply a mass of cells, that’s it’s not a person in utero but only after birth and now that’s even being contested. 

So what is our task in this endeavor? It’s the same as Mary our Mother gave to the children at Fatima and that is to pray especially the rosary every day for peace and for the conversion of sinners. It is hoped through our prayers, penance and acts of reparation the grace of the Holy Spirit, the spouse of Mary, the mother of Jesus, will renew in the hearts of all mothers the sacredness and dignity of their vocation given to them by God to be good and holy mothers. May Mary, the mother of the way, the truth, and the life be their model who trusts God the Father and will take a leap of faith just as Jason did and by the example of her fiat say let it be done not my way but your way Lord and according to your word.