Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Building Blocks: Where Did the Catholic Church Come From? - Homily for January 15

In the first Sunday of Advent, I mentioned that I would begin doing homily series and that those would include lots of things on the basics of our faith - the hows, whats, whys of our daily experiences of Catholicism. What followed was a series of things that didn't exactly seem like the basics; they may not have been formed with a lot of questions of why, what and how, but indeed I prefaced them as a sort of foundation before we get into the things of our faith. I say that because if you remember, in Advent, we looked at the reconciliation of God: how the coming of Christ, first in the flesh, as He comes to us through the course of our days (in the scriptures, the Eucharist, and various other ways, as well as the coming in glory that we await in the end - all have one singular purpose: mainly to reconcile broken humanity back to the Father. As Christmas came upon us, we reflected upon the earthly life of Jesus, and especially those invitations for us to meditate upon the marvels that God shows to us, of how the Lord speaks to us in so many various ways through the course of our days. And last week, the invitation for us to obey the voice of the Lord when we hear Him speaks. Those points are important for us, again, because unless we recognize that reconciliation is our entire purpose, our entire goal in this life, and when we hear the voice of God we ought to follow Him to be able to be reconciled, unless we know those things, we ultimately fall short and all else can be lost because we fail to recognize the foundation of everything we do. 

For this entering into ordinary time in the Church year, I want to begin some of those basics that I mentioned during the First Sunday of Advent - to look at some of the whys, whats and hows of our faith. And I want to begin with looking at some of those things that are the basic building blocks of our Catholic experience. This week I would like to look at the question of "Where did the Catholic Church come from?". Next week, to look at, "Where did the Bible come from?, " and the week after that, the things that we profess as Catholics that are not in the Bible, where do we get that and why does it hold weight if it's not explicitly found in the scriptures. I would like to use these starting points for us in our reflection through the course of this year. 

And so, where did the Catholic Church come from?

We can find lots of answers for that particular questions. We can say, as the secular wisdom tells us and various encyclopedias, that the Catholic Church was found by Jesus Christ. It's true. We can say that the Church first came into being on Pentecost Sunday with the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles when they received the fullness of the strength to be able to go out and spread the Good News as Christ calls. And indeed that's true. But I would like for us to go back a little further and find the roots of our faith. Not just the external express because that's only a small portion of what we experience. 

The roots of our faith ultimately go back to the same thing we talked about in Advent, mainly reconciliation with God. In the first reading today from the prophet Isaiah, we heard the Lord God speaks to Isaiah, but through Isaiah to the whole people of Israel, the whole Jewish people saying, "I will make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth." That is our starting point. Again, always the invitation for us to focus on our reconciliation with God, the story of salvation. And so what I'd like to do, as brief as possible, is to be able to give you the salvation history timeline. Now we could go out and break this up. There's a DVD series that has 24 DVDs that are an hour long each that cover exactly this, so if you feel like I am giving you a whole bunch of information and you can't keep up with it all, there is a whole bunch more to be had and it goes at a much slower pace. You're welcome to go check it out. We also have on our website the link to FORMED.org that we subscribed to as a parish, you'll find a number of works that are very similar to this. If you are looking for more time to immerse yourself, we've got resources for it. But I would like to go back to the roots, to tell the whole story, from Adam and Eve until today. So ... pray that it's under half an hour. (I’m not joking)

Adam and Eve begin. They are created by our Lord God and He breathes life into them. We know the accounts. Adam and Eve have their children - Cain and Abel and Seth - and others that are not explicitly mentioned in scripture but that we know are there. And for generations, they go on doing exactly what the Lord God had said: to increase, multiple and to fill the face of the earth with your children. Except the problem is, because of the sin of Adam and Eve, as the generations increased, more and more come to recognize their brokenness, and the world falls into great depths of sin. The world is looking forward to a reconciliation with God. We know that in Genesis that as soon as Adam and Eve fell into their sin, the Lord God promised that a Virgin would bear a child, that the Man would crush the head of the serpent, and that ultimately God would have the victory. And so they looked forward to that day. But in the meantime, generation upon generation came and populated the earth. We know that at some point, the sin became so great that the Lord God sent a great flood. Noah, with the ark, brought a bunch of animals in and saved a number of the righteous and members of his family as well, and brought them safely to the land after the flood. The Lord God cleansing the world in a sense of its sin. So they start fresh once more, but it didn't actually heal humanity. It's just that the worst part was deleted in a sense and we started over, much like Adam and Eve. The families of Noah, the children of Noah, go out to various nations, and we can trace in the scriptures where exactly they went. We can look at where they went, and the nations began to increase and multiple once more. And always this longing for reconciliation with God. 

There came a day when the Lord God said, "It's time to begin the work." For generations, they have been waiting, but today is the day. He takes one man, Abram, whom he would later name Abraham, and he says, "Abram, I want to form a covenant with you. I want to form a family bond." That's what a covenant is, it's not just a contractual agreement. It would be a family bond that 'you're going to be a part of my family and I'm going to be a part of yours.' And so the Lord God says, "Abram, in your person, I want you to be part of the family of God." And as part of that covenant, as with a contract, there are promises and stipulations that were made. Abram was promised three things by God. First, "Your generations will increase." Remember how Abram looks up at the sky and the Lord God says, "As numerous as the stars in the sky, so greater will be the children that come forth from you." His family was to be immensely blessed even in his old age. So it's that question of faith for Abraham. So the Lord God promised him a greater lineage. From that, He secondly blessed him saying, "I will give you a promised land," the land of Israel as we understand it today. And He said, "This land I will give to you and your future generations." Lastly He said, "Through your family, I will bestow upon the whole world My blessings." There is ultimate crown that in the end, God will bless the entire world through this one particular family, ultimately through one particular man, Abraham himself. 

So begins the story of reconciliation: Abraham had Isaac, Isaac had Jacob, Jacob had the twelve sons. If you remember the story of how the twelve sons, eleven of them were jealous of their youngest brother, the baby brother, and so they sold him off to the Egyptians for a little profit... always a good idea, right? To sell your little brother and get a little money on the side ... And providentially, the Lord God used that because Joseph, the young one, worked his ways up the ladder by God's grace to be the second in charge in Egypt, second to Pharaoh, his right hand. And when the famine struck, the eleven brothers who remained and all the family who was with him, they fled to Egypt because Egypt had food. It was Joseph who became a type of Christ of saving the people. Joseph took in his nation, and he brought them into Egypt safely. Soon, they entered into exile in a sense. By being in Egypt, they were taken into slavery, and became slaves of the Egyptians, forced to build their towns, cities, etc. By all the time, the nation increased. More and more the people of God grew. The time came of course where God raised up Moses after several hundred years, and Moses brought the people of God out of Egypt, passed through the Red Sea, and they wondered in the desert for 40 years. At the end of that time, they entered into the Promised Land, the land of Israel. And there they rejoiced. 

To take a brief aside, as I'm speaking, I'm using multiple terms, but all are referring to one particular people. As Isaiah said, that was a common Jewish custom; they would say things in different phrases that meant the exact same thing just to heighten the intensity of it. They would say something and then double it up. As we heard in Isaiah, "They will raise up the tribes of Jacob, and they will restore the people of Israel." They were saying the exact same thing because the tribes of Jacob were the people of Israel. The people of Israel are the Jews. The Jews are Judaism. It's an interesting thing because a lot of times we can get the terms mixed up. Jacob was the grandson of Abraham. And Jacob is the last of the patriarchs (the fathers - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob). Jacob one night fought with an angel and after wrestling with this angel all throughout the course of the night, the angel bestowed his blessing upon him and then gave him a new name which always indicates a new mission. The name that was given to him was Israel which means, "The one who wrestles with God." So whenever we hear "Jacob," it simultaneously means Jacob the individual as well as the entire family tree that comes forth from Jacob. When we hear "Israel," we understand Jacob the man who was renamed Israel, but also the entire people is Israel because the entire people now wrestles with God, trying to make sense of God's will and living in that family with God, trying to make sense of everything as the Lord God speaks. So too, they were also later referred to as the Jews, the Jewish nation. It was interesting because it was not only a nation; it was a family tree that became a political nation, but also was a religion. It was one particular family, who became a country, literally, and that country was embody with the one true worship of the one true God. So, whenever we say Israel, the Jews, Judaism, Jacob, it's all the same. We have to think in both contexts. And so, getting back off the side track there ... 

Now that the people of God have entered into Israel, into the Promised Land, we see that two of the promises of God have been fulfilled. Entering into the Promised Land, you can go back and they have the numbers exactly of each tribe of how many were included, and it's well over a million people. I think it was 1.6 million people who were wondering in the desert for those 40 years and ultimately walked into Israel and the Promised Land. So, many people in the generations of Abraham. The land has been given - the Promised Land - but they are still waiting for when God will bless the entire world through their family. They are looking for the day and they don't see it yet because so far they have seen exile and slavery. Where is the blessing that will come through them to the world? And they wait for that for many years. 

As each of the twelve tribes get into Israel, the twelve sons of Jacob, they get their own portion of the land, a family portion. They are basically states in the country of Israel that was given to them. They go through the course of their years. They raise of kings, David and Solomon and so forth. The king became divided, north and south, and their was raising up of other kings and all sorts of upheaval in the political realm of things. Through that time there was even more separation. The people of God were exiled from the Promised Land twice before the coming of Christ. What happened during the exile, they would be prisoners of wars. A foreign country would come in and conquer the army of Israel. Rather than taking all the people and bringing them to one other place where they would be together and possibly have an uprising there overturning the government in return, what they would do is take the individuals in small groups. For example, if there were 100 people, they would take 5 and send them to one city, 5 people and send them to another city, and so on spreading them all through the nations, all over the empire they controlled they would send the various people they would conquer. The Jewish people, the Jewish nation, Jewish family, that was supposed to be a blessing to all the nations, began to disappear entirely almost. There was a point where there were almost no Jewish people in the land of Israel. And yet, the Lord God still had that one promise to give: universal blessing.

A thousand years passed from the time of King David, and a virgin conceives and bears a child. We know that story very well. Our Lady bears the Lord, and raised up, humbly living in Nazareth. St. Joseph as the father of the household. The Lord Jesus growing in holiness and wisdom, trying to understand what it is God the Father wills of Him in His earthly life. There comes the day where He enters into His ministry, and that's what we hear in the scriptures. As the Gospel comes to us, Jesus is baptized and we hear those blessed words of John, "Behold the Lamb of God." 'All these years, we were waiting for the blessing that would come forth from our family tree, here He is. This is the one. Follow Him. This is the one through whom all the world will experience God's blessing. The time is here. God is fulfilling His promise.' It was made manifest that that was exactly what was taking place as Jesus began to gather crowds around Him. Although He could have just kept it vague and general over the thousands around Him, He selected explicitly twelve people, twelve sons representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Any Jewish person looking at Jesus, hearing that He was the Lamb of God, and seeing Him raise up twelve disciples to gather around Him as a central core that would travel with Him, would have known immediately that everything is changing. The day God would come and restore the tribes of Israel, when He will raise up the sons of Jacob, it's now. And here He is at work. They would've understood that very clearly. They could've fought against it, and many did, because of the things that Jesus did and said, repulsed them. But they couldn't reject what He was saying. 

The Lord Jesus comes among us. For three years, He walks with those twelve and the countless thousands who walk around them. He trains them in the ways of His teachings. He gives them the new commandment of love. He tells them that one day, they will eat His body and drink His blood, and indeed they will do it in the same way He has, and so many other things. On the night before He died (as we will hear in just a few moments), He said those blessed words, "This is My body. This is My blood. Do this in remembrance of me." He went to His death on the cross and three days later was raised up in the tomb. For 40 days, He wandered around Israel appearing in different places to various peoples. We hear the accounts through the Acts of the Apostles. At the end of those 40 days, our Lord ascended into the heavens to sit at the right of God the Father and to claim the throne which was rightly His. Nine days later - the first novena - the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and our Lady who were gathered in the upper room in fear. In that moment, the birthday of the Church. 

The Church just didn't come out of nowhere. It's not as if the disciples were hanging out in the upper room thinking, "Well Jesus did this incredible thing. We ought to come up with a cool name for it and give it a title. Let's call it the Catholic Church. It'll be great!" It's not exactly what happened. But rather, they took their faith they knew, that they had been raised in through their entire life, and they lived it in a new way. There are so many things about our Catholic faith that are intensely Jewish, and yet we don't always clearly understand it. The arrangement of our churches is very similar to the arrangement of the Jewish temple. The vestment we wear, very similar to those that described in Leviticus, of how the priests were vested in the celebration of their rituals. The prayers we offer in Mass, very similar to those of our Jewish brothers. The fact that we come and celebrate two main parts to our Liturgy - the reading of the Word of God and the presence of the sacrifice - is the same as the Jews. The synagogue and the temple were meant to be together. We could go down a long list of things, but it suffices to say that the Catholic Church, Christianity, was not a radical transition or separation from Judaism, from the Jewish celebration of the faith, but rather the fulfillment of it. For a thousand years people were looking for the one who would bring the universal blessing to the world. In Christ Jesus, it begins, But He knew that He wanted it to go from generation to generation, and it wasn't His job to stay here among us in the flesh. And so He formed His Church. He reconstituted the twelve tribes in a sense. He gave the mission to go forth, to be the light to the nations, to spread the good news of salvation to all the earth. 

Those disciples took that message, went out and began to preach. Enlivened by the Holy Spirit, they went from town to town preaching about this Jesus. They would speak of the name of Jesus. They would set up shop somewhere, often times a synagogue or a local center of town, and they would teach the things that Jesus said, and tell about the things that Jesus did. As people would come and begin to listen and believe in this Jesus, they would do this for days, weeks, months, even years at a time. As the Christian community would be formed up, eventually there would come a day where the apostle or the disciple who was there, saw that they were more or less self-sustaining; that the apostle didn't need to be there anymore and he could go off elsewhere. And so they would ordain a priest to be able to offer the Eucharist. They would have deacons to assist in the service of the community, to serve those who were sick or homebound. If there was a large enough community, they would come together and a bishop would be ordained, so that he could watch over a number of smaller churches. This was from the first centuries. It wasn't something that was made years and years down the line. We can see all of these things within 100 years of the life of Christ. The disciples of the disciples write and speak of these things. 

In the 2,000 years subsequently, yes things change. Things have happened that we have become more formalized, more ritualized. But the reality is the same. That the Lord God comes and He sets one particular person over a community, and He says to build up the faith. That one is sent out to go, to preach and to teach. His disciples come. The day comes that the community seems to be self-sustaining and they move to the next place. Over and over and over again it's happened through history. And yet, here we are, almost exactly the same as the first day. The same mission. The same people. The same Holy Spirit who comes to compel us. That's where the Catholic Church comes from. Not from men, but from God. It's the fulfillment of the promise of God who said to Abraham 3500 years ago, "Through your family, all nations will be called blessed. Through you there will be a universal blessing." The word Catholic means universal. 

Brothers and sisters, we are the blessing. Not in ourselves in the sense that we are a blessing from God, God's gift to the world, but in the sense that we bring the name of Jesus. Every single one of us is a Christian. We bear the name of Christ, conformed to Jesus by our Baptism. We are lights, just like that of Christ, sent forth into the world. A world where darkness is meant to be cast out, it is our place to do so. We are the light to the nations. We are the ones who bring salvation to the world. What a blessing to be a part of the mission of God. What a blessing to be a part of the promise, to be a part of God's promise that He spoke Himself, is fulfilled in you. It's your words, your deeds that become the light to the nations, salvation to the people. 

May God grant us the grace today to open our hearts to Him even more than we already have, to let the light shine even more than it already does, to rejoice in being a part of the people of God, a chosen people, a holy people, ones called to go forth and share the light, to make known the name of Jesus. Let's call upon our Lord, to adore Him and worship Him here, that we might be able to rejoice and show Him and we leave forth today. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Papal Intention for January 2017

Papal Intention for January 2017

That all Christians may be faithful to the Lord’s teaching by striving with prayer and fraternal charity to restore ecclesial communion and by collaborating to meet the challenges facing humanity.

Prayer for the Pope

V. Let us pray for Francis, our Pope.
R. May the Lord preserve him, give him life, 
and make him blessed upon the earth, 
and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies.

Our Father... Hail Mary...

O God, Shepherd and Ruler of all Thy faithful people, look mercifully upon Thy servant Francis, whom Thou hast chosen as shepherd to preside over Thy Church. Grant him, we beseech Thee, that by his word and example, he may edify those over whom he hath charge, so that together with the flock committed to him, may he attain everlasting life. 
Through Christ our Lord. 

Christmas: Marvelous Things - Homily for January 1

Readings for Sunday, January 1 / Mary, Mother of God: Nehemiah 6:22-27  |  Psalm 67  |  Galatians 4:4-7  |  Luke 2:16-21

Have y
ou ever thought about how weird the word "spoon" is? What about the word "fork" or "knife" or "plate" for that matter? Who was the first person who thought "spoon" was an adequate description for the object we know as a spoon? Have you ever looked at your fingertips, looked at the patterns to see how they work, to how they go? Interestingly enough, all my fingerprints point the same way except one; it's backwards. I don't understand it. Maybe all of you are the same. It's the way it is. 

Those are odd questions to ask, and I can tell it by the looks on your face, presuming I had a little too much to drink last night to celebrate New Year's. But I ask those questions because they are questions we don't normally ask, things we don't normally think about. We say the words spoon, knife, fork and plate and we use them frequently, daily. We use our fingertips all through the course of our day, but how often are we mindful of them? How often do we reflect on why we are the way we are, why things are what they are, and their names and descriptions? 

Whenever I came to our parish, a couple years ago now, one of the things I did was I went around and took pictures of a bunch of random things: inside the churches, outside the churches, cemeteries and so on and I posted it on Facebook and asked, "Do you know where these things are?" Some of you may remember that. There were of course some things that were rather notable: statues of St. Vincent, stain glass windows, and various other things around here and at St. Ann. But there was one thing in particular caused a lot of people confusion because they didn't know where exactly it was, they hadn't seen it, and yet they were confused because it was so beautiful, but they wanted to know where it was. It was a little icon over the door at the back of the church here. How often we walk to the back of the church and we look down to make sure we don't miss a step, but we fail to look up to see a beautiful image right over our heads. And how many times we simply just walked out of the church without being mindful of it. That and so many other things that are so normal to us - spoons, forks, fingertips and things around us in the world - that they become simply, ordinary things, and they lose some of the marvel that ought to be rightly theirs, some of the awe that should strike deeply within our hearts. 

We celebrate a feast this weekend entitled "Mary, Mother of God." It's a title that should shock us, and usually it doesn't. In the early Church, there were great fights, literal fights, over the title "Mother of God" in regards to Our Lady. There were different bishops who were fighting among one another saying that she's the Mother of God and others who were saying that it was way too strong of a word, that she should be called the mother of the human nature of Jesus - She gave Jesus flesh. But to say Mother of God, no, that's too much. There was great division in the early Church. Many reflections that ultimately came down to bring to us this title of Mary, Mother of God which highlights certainly the maternity of Mary, that she is in fact the mother of God, Jesus Himself. But more importantly it spoke to Jesus, who was not just a human person, but fully God. These were things that shocked them. 

Indeed the scriptures we heard this past weekend, this weekend, the one we'll hear next weekend, and the ones we'll hear through the course of daily Masses, they are all ones where people are shaken. You hear stories of Elizabeth, who though barren, bore a child, John the Baptist, and how his father, Zechariah, while serving in the temple, saw a vision from an angel, and was told that his son would be the forerunner of the Savior. There was the incredible of recounting of how Zechariah doubted the angel's word, and he was struck mute. But on the day his son was born and he said his son's name was John, he scratched it on paper, he was healed and able to speak fully once more. Angels appeared to Our Lady to announce the good news and to St. Joseph. Angels appeared to the shepherds. A great star in the sky appears to the three magi, the three kings. All of these stories are things of incredible events. Our Lady, reflecting on all of these things in her heart and rightly so. And the news spread all through the region. Almost every one of those accounts indicates that little phrase with it: and the news spread all through the region, throughout Galilee, through the whole land, etc. Everybody heard. 

And yet, as time went on, the good news became normal. Jesus, the Son of God, the Son of David, God With Us, over the course of 30 years quietly working with his father in the workshop became no longer the Son of God to the people around Him, but became Jesus, the son of the carpenter. Mary, the Mother of God, the virgin who bore God in her womb, became Mary, another of the ladies living in Nazareth. St. Joseph, the one who heard the angel speak and was the caretaker of the Mother of God and God Himself became Joseph, the carpenter. So many normal things. And in the course of their days that's how they lived; they lived the exact same life as every single person around them despite the fact that there was something you unique about each of them. The extraordinary was right there in the midst of the ordinary things of daily life. And so many people likely missed it. How many people came to the workshop with St. Joseph and failed to recognize that his son was God - He was just working on a table. How many people sat alongside Mary at the well getting water to go home to take care of things at the house failing to recognize that she had bore God in her womb. How many people? As we reflect upon that aspect of Nazareth, the quietness, the hidden of the extraordinary in the ordinary things of daily life, it's an invitation for us to see again, to have our eyes opened up once more. 

One of the things I appreciated whenever I was working for my parents in the grocery store was that in the store, we could get used to things. In your workplace, things become part of the normal condition, and then someone comes in and says, "Hey, have you every noticed that you need to work on such and such." "No. It's just part of other things. I never thought about that. Thank you." It takes an extra set of fresh eyes to help see again, and it's that that the Church brings to us today. We come and we rest in the midst of Nazareth, in the quietness of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Mary the Mother of God. The Church simply says, "Have you noticed? Have you seen this? Have you let this speak to your heart lately?" To let it bring us to a state of awe, when we can't help but simply go, "Wow! How incredible!" 

This Christmas season has become a celebration that is very comfortable to us. We use the nativity scene, the magi and all the lights, the decoration, and all of these things. And it's good. But at the same time they are opportunities for us to see once again, see with new eyes, fresh eyes, the mystery of God before us. 

What I want to invite you to this week is to allow yourself to marvel at normal, even foolish, things. Marvel at them. Think about the word spoon for a while, look at your fingertips, think about the things of the Mass, the words we say each week. Look at your favorite scripture passage again and read it slowly with new eyes. Those prayers we offer that are so familiar to us, various prayers to saints, Our Lady, to Our Lord, various things we offer throughout the course of our days, to pause and say them differently and allow them to become fresh once more. To look at our churches and to see the beauties they possess and the ways in which they speak to us. Maybe it's our family and friends, people who we may take for granted, people are part of the normal scenery of our daily life, and to see the gift that they truly are to us. Opportunities for us to look around us, even in just the world, and to be in awed by God. Shock and wonder. Inspiration to be filled with the Holy Spirit and enjoy that moment of the things that God has done for us. 

As we allow ourselves to see incredible things in the course of our daily life, it becomes more and more easy for us to recognize that ordinary life is rather extraordinary because our Lord is with us. He has taken on our flesh, born of a virgin, lived among us, did the same things as you and I, and He comes to be with us even more still. Let us prayer for the grace of the Lord Jesus, through the intercession of Our Lady and St. Joseph, that we might be able to see with those new eyes the things that God desires to see with us and things He desires to show us, He who is "God With Us." 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Advent: With Us, With Him - Homily for December 18

Readings for Sunday, December 18 / 4th Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 7:10-14  |  Psalm 24  |  Romans 1:1-7  |  Matthew 1:18-24

As we begin this fourth Sunday of Advent. this fourth week, this last full week of the Advent season, as we look forward to the day of the coming of the Lord, we continue our reflection on reconciliation. The second Sunday of Advent I spoke on the way in which Christ came among us for the first time, of how the Infant Jesus taking on our flesh began that process of reconciling all of creation with the Lord God, and drawing humanity to Himself by His way of taking on our flesh, but also to join all of creation with us in the same. Last weekend we reflected on the way in which in Christ, creation was waiting for it's reconciliation in completion. And indeed we wait for the last day of the Lord Jesus, the day in which He will come in His glory. in which reconciliation will be completed and fully accomplished. This weekend, I want to reflect on the way in which we come to be with the Lord and prepare ourselves for that last day. Indeed, the entire time, from the day on which Christmas took flesh until the day He comes again in glory, it has one single purpose. We fill it with so many things, but it has one actual purpose: It's to give us an opportunity to encounter Jesus Christ. It's what St. Peter tells us in His letter as well. He says the Lord delays, so that many might come to know Christ Jesus and be saved. So the Lord, waits, for us, to come to know and love Him. Again, we fill it with a lot of things. Necessarily so in the sense, we get caught up with the things of this life; we get caught up with our homes, work, with the things of the world around us. We get caught up doing good and homily things - spending time with our family and our friends. In the Church, we also lose sight of things sometimes, and we get consumed with other things than what is the central reality of things we ought to focus on. So often we simplify our Catholic faith into a system of "do this, don't do that," rules and regulations. The reality is, our life is more than rules and regulations; our faith is more than rules and regulations. It's not about busying ourselves with many things, but about concerning ourselves with one thing just like St. Mary Magdalene - to know Jesus, to encounter Christ. 

In the end, when the Lord comes in His glory on the last day and we are all judged, or if He doesn't come before our death, at the hour of our death, we will stand before the judge, and our salvation for eternal life or eternal death will come basically in conjunction with one simple answer, our own answer. Remember that when Jesus was with His disciples, He was with the twelve after everyone had gone, and He asked them. "Who do people say that I am?". They began to think and respond with the things they had heard, "Some say you are John the Baptist come back again, some say Elijah another one of the great prophets." But then Jesus responds to that question which every single one of us must answer for ourselves, "Who do you say that I am?". Because the answer to that question determines everything, and it manifests to Christ what He already knows, but it manifests to us and to all of creation, something that can often be hidden to us. The answer to the question shows us how much we know God and how much we love Him. That's our entire life. We can have so many things, so many blessings, but if we never know God, we fall short of our purpose; fall short of the reason God created us in the first place. 

There are many ways in which we come to encounter God, to encounter Christ. In our own church, there are a whole variety of symbols and signs that speak to us of God. We can look to the Paschal candle near the Baptismal font, the Paschal candle which is light and consecrate on the Easter Vigil, and a hymn is sung to it, a hymn to Christ. We sing to the candle as Christ - the light come into the world to cast out darkness. The crucifix in the sanctuary that speaks to us of the love of God reminds us of what Christ did for us. In the celebration of the liturgy, the priest acts in the person of Christ. When the priests says, "This is my body ... this is my blood," he says it not himself, but as Christ. It's Christ who speaks these things. And you, the members of the faithful of God, members of the body of Christ, to see one another as Christ, to allow Christ who dwells within you to speak to others and to see Him. These and many others are ways in which we can encounter Jesus in this time, but there are two ways I think, and invite you to reflect upon and take some action on this week, two ways in which Christ is primarily with us: in the scriptures and in the Eucharist. They are the two main parts of the Mass: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. As it is typically described in liturgical books: the Word and the World made Flesh. 

In the first reading today, we hear from the prophet Isaiah and he comes and prophesied a gift from God that a virgin will conceive and bear a son and they will name Him Emanuel, God is with us. We heard the fulfillment of that passage in the Gospel reading as they come and the angel appears to Joseph, and Mary is that one spoken of from of old. Mary, his wife, is the one who is to conceive, though a virgin, and to bear a son - God with Us, Emmanuel. It's the name of Jesus because the name means "God Saves," and God has come to be with us, to save us. 

When Jesus was about to ascent to His heavenly Father at the end of His earthly life, one of the things He told His disciples was that, "I will be with you always." He told the disciples, I believe it was at the Last Supper, "I will not leave you orphans." I will not abandon you, I will be with you always. Again, Christ is with us in so many ways, but most especially and concretely in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist. 

What I invite each of you to do is to spend some time with the Lord this week in those two ways. Again we know it's the Christmas season, some of you may still have some Christmas shopping left to do, some of you may have some decorating to do, some of us have parties and these types of things going on. But we hear all the time that Jesus is the reason for the season, right? Except it's the thing that seems to happen the least, is the time we spend with Jesus. We get consumed with so many other things. So my invitation for you is to come and rest with the Lord, to come and place yourself in the presence of the Eucharist in the church, and to sit with Christ - to know that He is with you and to be with Him. The church of St. Ann is open all day each day, the church here is open various times throughout the week. The church at St. Mary's in New Roads has the adoration chapel where you can go and adore the Lord face to face in the Blessed Sacrament. Whichever of those options works best for you, I encourage you to take one, and to really speak some time. If the best you can do is five minutes, good, it's enough. If you can do more, good because it is about the encounter with Christ. It is about speaking to the Lord and allowing Him to speak to us. As you would go to the chapel or the church, I would invite you to bring along with you a Bible. The written word of God speaks to us; He comes to us and remains with us.

So often as we go before the Lord, we desire to hear the Lord to speak to us, and we desire to speak to Christ. At least we should. What we see in the Eucharist is not just a thing, it's a person - a person who loves us and desires to speak to us. It's Christ our God, Emmanuel. And so, we speak to Him and we look for Him to speak to us. Where is the way He speaks to us most concretely than in the scriptures? A lot of times we think the scriptures are hard to understand and I think more often than not we over-complicate them, we over think things a little bit it seems. But to be able to pick a place and simply read from the Word of God - start in the Gospels maybe and to hear Jesus speak to you. If you want some other place, go to the letter of St. Paul, St. Peter or St. John; those letters written to other communities like us and to hear them speak. Go to the Psalms - St. Augustine said that the Psalms capture every single human emotion, and to come and allow our hearts to be lifted up to the Lord through a psalm that may speak something that we don't even have the words yet but which Christ does. To go and to speak to Him and to listen - to know Jesus. That's the entire purpose. 

On the last day, our judgement will not be a surprise to any of us. If we know Jesus, it shouldn't be a surprise that He knows us. And if we don't know Jesus, it shouldn't be a surprise that He doesn't know us. And so we come. We place ourselves in Him presence. We come to be with Him who is indeed with us. We pray for the grace to love Him more deeply and to seek His face as we go forth from here each day. Come, Lord Jesus. Come O Come, Emmanuel. 

*Check out the 10:45 mark of the audio to see what happens when parishioners think there's a fire in the church during the middle of the homily! 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Are We Really Rejoicing? - Homily for December 11

Readings for Sunday, December 11/ 3rd Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 35:1-6, 10  |  Psalm 146  |  James 5:7-10  |  Matthew 11:2-11

As we come on this Third Sunday of Advent, we come with this rejoicing spirit about us. This Gaudate Sunday as it's often called is where we light the rose colored candle and have the option of wearing the rose colored vestments and things are supposed to seem to have a little extra pep in our step spiritually speaking as we know that the time of the Lord draws near, that Christmas is just a couple of weeks away. The prayers of the Mass also echo that same reality. In fact, the word "gaudate" for Gaudate Sunday draws it's place from the first words of the Mass - the entrance antiphon - quoting St. Paul's letter to the Philippians as he writes to them saying, "Rejoice in the Lord always! Again, I say rejoice. Indeed the Lord is near." 

It's good for us to rejoice, but it's that latter part, "for the Lord is near" - for many it's a time of rejoicing, but for many others it's a reality of fear that the Lord is near, a concern of the heart. This came to mind as I was thinking of my own experiences in that same reality. And the memory came to mind from my experiences with my parents. Two instances of when my parents came: one of which where I was rejoicing and another which filled me with fear. Rejoicing - it was a time when I was at the house and still pretty young, and there was nobody else at home. It was at night and things were dark, and I was scared because I had heard a noise and I was pretty sure that noise was someone in the house about to kill me. And so, I grabbed my handy golf club and walked around the house ready to bash whatever it was that was there to attack me. I searched every corner of every closest of every room and nothing was there, but there was still this great concern in my heart. And so when my parents drove up in their car in the drive way, it was this great sigh of relief, "They're back! I'm safe. Good." It was this rejoicing knowing that I was safe in the care of my parents. An opposite time was when my parents went to go to the LSU football game and left me at home saying, "Brent don't invite anyone over and don't go anywhere. Just stay here. Play video games, do whatever." They left, and I figured I at least had about four hours or so, so I called my friend Stephen. Stephen came over, he called some other people who came over. We had a pool party in the backyard, and then we decided to go ride bikes around the subdivision, and so off we went. We were making laps and having a good time, when Stephen's mom walked out of his house as we rode by and said, "Brent! Brent! Come here." So I rode over and Stephen's mom said that my mom said I needed to come home right now and that she was waiting for me. The return of my parents was anything but rejoicing in that moment. 

Rather it was a great a great fear because I know I was about to get torn up. And it was this recognition that both of those instances were very similar: my parents were gone, I was by myself, and depending on what I chose to do, one filled me with rejoicing at their return and the other with fear. It's the same with Christ Jesus. 

Our Lord Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father and reigns in glory now and we await his second coming - whether He comes back and He finds us in rejoicing or fear depends upon us and how we have chosen to live. Last weekend, I spoke about the reality of reconciliation of how the Lord comes to us at Christmas and how He took on our flesh that first Christmas day. A time of rejoicing. A time of being reconciled with God, of not only humanity, but all of creation, is drawn to God, as if pulled by a magnetic. But it hasn't been completed, yet, of course. And so we wait for that final reconciliation, when all things are finally one with the Lord. And that day is the second coming of Christ where the fullness of everything comes to the end - the Last Day.

The Last Day, again, can be a thing of rejoicing in our hearts or it can be a thing of great fear and trepidation. Depends on how we are experiencing our relationship with God in the moment. Where are we with the Lord? This time of year, at the end of Ordinary Time, as well as the beginning of the Advent season, is a time where the Church invites us to reflect upon those things, what the Church calls the "last things" - death, judgement, heaven and hell - the four last things. They are not pleasant for us to reflect upon. Most of us don't take great jot in reflecting on our death and judgement, it's not something we sit and dream about all day looking forward to. Most of us. And yet, it's a reality that every single one of us will face. Jesus Himself tasted death, as did our Blessed Mother. St. John the Baptist, of whom none born of women was greater, he too tasted death - a beheading. Every single one of us, everyone who calls himself a human person will taste death. Whether we are ready for it or not, it will come. And the Church invites us indeed to prepare. Reflecting on that, the Church has said from the beginning, that upon the death of a soul, the death of an individual in this world, they are immediately standing before the judgement of God. They are immediately standing before the Lord and He weighs our life. Were we merciful? Did we show love? Were we forgiving? Did we seek to serve others and the Lord before ourselves? Were we consumed with sin? Were we attached to the things of the world so much that we prefer them to God? And all of these questions will come forward to give us one single answer: Do we desire the Lord above all things or not? And that's the question. 

The answer to that determines where we go. For those who die before the coming of the Lord, there are three options for us at our judgement: heaven, hell or purgatory. Hell is the place of eternal separation from God, eternal isolation, eternal pain because we are not even able to love. We won't be able to love anyone else or concerned with anyone else because we will be so concerned about self, and it's a pain for us, a suffering, and a grievous and it goes for all eternity. In the opposite direction, we have heaven, the place where the righteous are called to enter in the heart of God, where we have the communion of the saints, being joined with others, with the saints and the angels, to be filled with all joy, all peace. Where there is no suffering whatsoever, and it too last for all eternity. The great majority of us, I think or at least I pray, will go through purgatory. The place by which our soul is cleansed, purged, of attachments. It's not God punishing us, per say, but us needing to be cleansed to enter into the One who is all holy Himself, to enter into God. Those three places will be the options before us. Purgatory - everyone who goes through purgatory ultimately winds up in heaven, so even there in the midst of purification, there is still great joy because you know you will one day get to the heavenly gate. 

That's the course of the normal life of each of us who are called to death before the coming of the Lord. But for those who are still living, things will be a little bit different. On the last day, when the Lord God comes in His glory, we know not when, we know not how, but He will come. The scriptures like it to a bolt of lightening that strikes in the sky, as it may strike in one place, but as it goes forth, it's seen all throughout the area. And such the same with Christ. It's been pondered before, who thinking in very earthly terms, have said that if the Lord comes, surely He'll have to come in time zones. He'll come in eastern time, so that I can see it on the news, we can report, and we have at least a good half hour or so to be able to straighten things up before the Lord comes. If only. But no. When the angel blows the trumpet, as Revelations says, the Lord will be made manifest to each and to all at once. And then each of us will stand to be judged, even without tasting death, there will be judgments. It will be the last day. And at that last judgement, things will be a little bit different because for the souls who have died before the coming of Christ, they will stand as souls. Those who are heaven right now, hell, purgatory, are just souls. They don't have a body. But we profess every week in the Creed, "I believe in the resurrection of the body." We are not talking about the body of Christ; we are talking about your body and mind. We will have bodies at the end on the last day. We don't know what they will look like. We don't know if they will be a little leaner. Maybe I have a little more hair on top and a little less grey, who knows. Whatever our body will look like on that day, it will be glorified. It will be different, changed. And then everyone will stand before God. Those who are still living when Christ comes will stand before Him body and soul. Those who have died will be raised up and will receive their body again. They will receive their body again. From dust we were created, to dust we will return, but then God recreates us again from the dust to give us a body. And so everyone will stand before God, the living and the dead, and will be judged once more. Except at that judgement, there is no purgatory. It's heaven or hell. Period. And it's not that there is an option to change. It's not that those who were in hell before of an opportunity to experience contrition and repentance of heart and they can get into heaven now. No. They are simply condemned in their spirit as well as their flesh. And such the same for those in heaven. They can't have done something bad, they couldn't have messed with the angels a little too much, cause a little ruckus in heaven and now merit hell. Rather, they have their salvation in the spirit as well as in the flesh. And in the end, there it will remain. Flesh and blood in heaven. Flesh and blood in hell. Depending on how we experience our Lord's coming, whether with fear or with joy. 

So the Church invites us, challenges us, compels us in a sense, to reflect upon these things, to give them serious attention. All throughout the Church, the saints over and over again have encouraged us to reflect upon the last things because if we don't reflect upon them here and now, we won't be prepared for them when they come. If we don't prepare for death now, when death comes, we feel like we have some work to do. How often it is seen. And so we prepare for the Lord. As we contemplate this second coming of Christ, whether there is fear or rejoicing in heart, if there is rejoicing, good, may it increase - if there is fear, rejoice, because there is time to be reconciled. Again, this time that we have on this earth, however long the Lord permits, is a time to be reconciled with ourselves, to be able to turn away from sin, to be able to detach ourselves from the things that are unhealthy for us, to reconcile ourselves with others, and to be reconciled with our God. 

It's the normal course of the Christian life - to draw more and more into the heart of God, and more and more in union with one another. If we are ready, good. If we are not, get there. It's the call of Christ. He's coming. We called upon Him and He will hear us. Come Lord and save us. Come, o come, Emmanuel.