Wednesday, June 26, 2013

HWP: Peter and Paul

This coming Saturday is the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul! Here are a couple of prayers to them for the HWP for today, which I've been slacking on big time!
O glorious Saint Peter, who, in return for thy strong and generous faith, thy profound and sincere humility, and they burning love, wast rewarded by Jesus Christ with singular privileges, and, in particular, with the leadership of the other Apostles and the primacy of the whole Church, of which thou wast made the foundation stone, do thou obtain for us the grace of a lively faith, that shall not fear to profess itself openly, in its entirety and in all of its manifestations, even to the shedding of blood, if occasion should demand it, and to sacrifice of life itself rather than surrender.
Obtain for us likewise, a sincere loyalty to our holy mother, the Church; grant that we may ever remain most closely and sincerely united to the Roman Pontiff, who is the heir of thy faith and of thy authority, the one, true, visible Head of the Catholic Church, that mystic ark outside of which there is no salvation. Grant, moreover, that we may follow, in all humility and meekness, her teaching and her advice, and may be obedient to all her precepts, in order to be able here on earth to enjoy a peace that is sure and undisturbed, and to attain one day in heaven to everlasting happiness.
V. Pray for us, Saint Peter the Apostle,
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
O glorious St. Paul, after persecuting the Church you became by God’s grace its most zealous Apostle. To carry the knowledge of Jesus, our Divine Savior, to the uttermost parts of the earth
You joyfully endured prison, scourgings, stonings, and shipwreck, as well as all manner of persecutions culminating in the shedding of the last drop of your blood for our Lord Jesus Christ.
Obtain for us the grace to labor strenuously to bring the faith to others and to accept any trials and tribulations that may come our way. Help us to be inspired by your Epistles and to partake of your indomitable love for Jesus, so that after we have finished our course we may join you in praising Him in heaven for all eternity.
V. Pray for us, Saint Paul the Apostle,
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Prayers taken from, found HERE.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Know and Follow

Readings for Sunday, June 23/ 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Zechariah 12:10-11; 13:1
Psalm 63:2-6, 8-9
Galatians 3:26-29
Luke 9:18-24

“Who do others say that I am?”

It’s interesting to note that when Our Lord asks this question to His disciples and they respond with ‘John the Baptist, Elijah, or another ancient prophet’ He doesn’t even respond. This is because Christ doesn’t concern Himself with what others think because He knows the truth. Rather He uses that question as an introduction to the more important question, “Who do you say that I am?”

To understand why it’s so important we need to understand a bit more about Luke’s Gospel as a whole. There comes a point in Luke’s Gospel when Jesus ‘sets His eyes toward Jerusalem’ and from that point on everything is focused on the coming Passion of the Lord. This question comes in that context, so it is ultimately to see if the disciples had really come to know Him or not; was it all in vain or had they grasped what He tried to teach them? You can imagine the joy of His heart when Peter says, “You are the Christ, the Son of God.” They do know! What joy to know that even if the world around them didn’t yet know, the Apostles would soon be able to tell them.

My brothers and sisters, today the Lord asks the same question of us. Do we know the Lord really? The truth is that Satan himself knows the Catechism and Scriptures better than all of us put together. He just doesn’t believe or follow. It doesn’t matter how much we know about Jesus from what others say, but rather about what we know for ourselves. To His question we should be able to respond: Lord, I know you are the Christ! I have heard you speak as I prayed with Your word in the Scriptures. I have known Your presence in the celebration of the Sacraments. And I have tried to love you in my brothers and sisters around me.

But as the Lord reminds us in the Gospel, goal is not just knowing Him but also picking up our cross daily and following after Him. And you know as well as I that none of needs to go looking for crosses. We all have the weight of crosses from family life, work or school, and other things to suffer in this life. But as Catholics we especially have no need of seeking out crosses because they are coming to us and they are coming quickly. It’s often been said, and not without truth, that the last acceptable prejudice in America in the Church. You can say anything in the world about the Church, her clergy, and her members and it’s acceptable. But say it about anyone else and there’s a small riot at hand. Simply being Catholic means that cross these days. We may not be experiencing it so much locally right now, but I think we soon will. We have only to look at our media and government leadership. Coming into full force in just a month is the HHS Mandate which is disguised as ‘healthcare’ but is equally effective as a means to persecuting the Church by trying to force us to abandon the truth of the Gospel or pay a high fine. To that we have the ‘gay agenda’, militant atheism, and our President who does everything in his power to degrade and question that Church when he gets the chance. Again, we don’t have to go looking for crosses – we just have to be Catholic. I can promise you that if we keep strong on our Catholic faith we will be called bigots, homophobes, racists – and those are just the acceptable things you can say in Church.

As those things happen, we will indeed be following after Our Lord as He endured much the same. And to help us in those times let us as the prayers of the Apostles. In the scriptures we hear that when they went out to preach Christ to the people they were brought in by the authorities and beaten severely then told not to preach anymore the Gospel of Christ. Did they shrink back and apologize? No! They left rejoicing that they were worthy of suffering for the name of Jesus and went back out into the city to continue preaching.

As we come to celebrate the Eucharist once more, let us pray that we might first come to know Jesus more deeply this day and then have the grace to pick up our daily cross and follow after Him, not moping but with rejoicing at the gift of our faith. That while we might have to suffer here for a time, we can look forward to that eternal inheritance about which St. Paul reminds us today – the joy of eternally beholding God’s face.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Be Aware

Readings for Sunday, June 16/ Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time:
2 Samuel 12:7-10, 13
Psalm 32:1, 2, 5, 7, 11
Galatians 2:16, 19-21
Luke 7:36-8:3

The readings this weekend invite us to reflect upon a number of important topics: sin, forgiveness, love of God, and reconciliation. But for us today I think the most important is that of an awareness of our sins.

In the Gospel we hear about Simon the Pharisee, who invites Jesus to his home for dinner. He doesn’t seem to have a real desire to draw closer to the Lord, though, as Jesus points out that he has failed to show any signs of hospitality. The common courtesy was to give water to wash a visitor’s feet, a little oil to freshen them up a bit, and a kiss of peace as a sign of welcome. By not attempting to do any of these things he shows that while he has opened his home to the Lord he surely hasn’t opened his heart. It seems, instead, that the dinner invitation is more about status; you can imagine Simon later in the week bragging to his friends ‘Hey, you know Jesus came to my house for dinner the other night.’

In stark contrast to Simon we have the woman, this nameless lady of faith, who comes and does everything that Simon should have done – and does it to excess. Rather than a bit of water she pours out her tears, instead of oil she gives the Lord precious ointment, and she kisses his feet ceaselessly, not just once. You can tell right from the start that she comes to express her love for the Lord and to have a personal connection with Him in that moment.

The difference between the two is an awareness of sins. Simon comes to the occasion thinking he has nothing to learn and nothing in need of changing. He’s just fine in his own eyes and so he keeps the Lord at arms length. The woman, however, recognizes her sins and comes to the Lord for His forgiveness and help. Both were sinners, but only she recognized it. So we have to ask ourselves the necessary question: Am I more like Simon or the repentant woman?

King David by Gerard van Honthorst
To help further our reflection on that topic we can look at the person of King David, whose own story of repentance we heard in our first reading. David is said in the scriptures to be ‘a man after God’s own heart’ and who is often depicted as a model disciple. That reality can be a consolation to all of us, that while David was indeed a man of holiness he was also a sinner, just like every one of us. Nobody is exempt from sin and its temptations. And so we hear about the great repentance of David who, by Nathan’s parable recognizes his sins, and repents. The repentance is intense because the deeds he committed were very serious – adultery, murder, lies, and abuse of his kingly authority were nearly all punishable by death under the Law of Moses. So David recognizes the seriousness of what has taken place. But the reality is that David didn’t just wake up one day and say, “I think I’m commit some serious sins today” and get to work on that. It never happens that way, does it? It’s always something more subtle. The devil is far too intelligent to suggest we dive right into serious sins. Instead he starts with a small trap and leads us along the way; and that’s what we see with David. If we go back a bit from the section we read today we find the full story. It begins with David in his palace. This detail seems insignificant, but it is actually quite important. The fact that Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba, with whom David commits adultery, is out on military conquest. It was the season for military men to be out defending or strengthening their country and it was duty of the king to be there leading the charge. But where is David? Enjoying some lazy days at the palace. You can hear the excuses: “I’ve done enough of that”, “They can take care of things without me”, and “Just this one year I need to rest a bit.” Always it begins with some little choice and for David it begins with a simple slacking up on his responsibilities as king. Then the description goes on to point out how David awoke late in the day; he’s been getting a lot of rest lately, a bit lazy it seems. And then the hinge is when David goes up on his roof to simply survey things, to look around and see what’s happening in his kingdom. Here we can see in a descriptive sense that David who once was obedient to the Lord has now slipped himself in the place of the Lord. David now makes the rules in a sense. Here is where he goes wrong and find himself looking up Bathsheba with lust and then follows the whole list of sins he committed.

The important thing is that the big things always start from little things, those things which seem so insignificant and we can easier give ourselves a ‘free pass’ of sorts. How many times have we said, “It been a long day at work/school…” , “But I did such and such the other, that should count for something…” , “That’s just my personality…” and any other number of creative phrases which simply mean “I’m don’t care about that little sin.” Like Simon, we can think everything is fine because we’ve blinded ourselves to our little sins and eventually the big ones. But what the Lord invites us to today is an awareness of our sinfulness, especially in the little things. But we must not stop there, lest we just become consumed by our sins. We are called to learn from David, Paul, and the woman of the Gospel who, recognizing their sins, fly to the Lord for forgiveness. Our Lord Jesus died for our sins and it is the deepest desire of His heart to have the same exact experience with us as He had with the woman in the Gospel. He longs to have us come with tears of repentance, to shower Him with kisses out of love, and to provide a special ointment of conversion to Him. And that happens in the confessional. There we can have the assurance of forgiveness. There we can know the Love of God for us and give that love in return. There we can hear also those blessed words, “Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you, go in peace.”

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Problem of Suffering

Readings for Sunday, June 9/ 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
1 Kings 17:17-24
Psalm 30:2, 4-6, 11-13
Galatians 1:11-19
Luke 7:11-17

As we come to this 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time we hear these two striking stories of people being raised from the dead, each of them being the only son of a widow. In these two stories we are shown the reality of a God who is good and active in our lives. In the Gospel reading we can especially see this as Jesus himself is said to have pity upon the woman who having already lost her husband has now lost her only son. He showed compassion. And for all of us the story is the same: our God loves us, is compassionate, desires our good, and is active in every moment down to the seemingly most insignificant details. As I was reflecting on this reality something kept coming up in my heart: if indeed we have a God who loves us and is compassionate and involved in our lives, which is true, then why is there still suffering? Why is it that in the past few months I’ve done a number of funerals for men who left behind children much younger than I am now? Why is it that as a hospital chaplain I had to sit with a man as he watched his 7-year-old son die? Why is it that some people experience not one major illness or setback but many all at once? And if not some major tragedy like that, then still there are countless other sufferings and trials that come. We all know it and we all have to deal with this question in our own hearts how the loving God can permit such things to happen.

The difficulty in understanding this is only intensified by the approach to suffering of some of our fellow Christians. So many preach a gospel of prosperity, that if we do what Jesus wants and the Bible says then everything is going to work out for us. We will be prosperous in our finances, have good health, no problems, and everything will be wonderful. And if everything isn’t wonderful? Obviously we’re not living right! This is the message that we hear from the lips of the woman in our first reading today. Upon seeing her son dead, she turns to Elijah to blame him. This was because the prophet was a person of incredible power in ancient Israel; they truly represented God. If a prophet blessed you, it was a sign of God’s blessing. And likewise a curse was God cursing you. So when she points out that he came and showed her guilt, she implicitly says that he saw her guilt and cursed her by killing her son. We see this mindset also in the gospel story of the man born blind. The disciples see him and immediately asked Jesus “Who sinned? This man or his parents?” In other words, ‘he is suffering, so he obviously did something to deserve it.’ And if that is not enough, we also have the conviction of some that if we have enough faith Jesus can heal anything. The power of Jesus to heal anything is absolutely true and we must have faith in that. But one cannot make the step, as some do, to think that if healing doesn’t take place then we lack faith because ‘if we had faith he would be healed.’ Not being healed doesn’t mean we lack faith. And enduring suffering doesn’t always mean that we’ve done something wrong.

The reality is something much more mysterious – that in the mind of God suffering is permitted for some greater purpose that we cannot yet know. We can get glimpses of it, certainly, but not the full picture. For instance, God sometimes permits suffering so as to change the one who suffers, to make them more Christlike. We can think of St. Paul with his ‘thorn in the flesh’ that kept him humble. But I bet each of us has a personal story of our own where some suffering in the past changed the way we lived and responded to things in the future. It had a purpose in the mind of God. And just as it can have a purpose for ourselves, it can also have a purpose for others. I have seen it time and again in my own life that things that have happened to me in the past later on happened to someone close to me and I was able to speak to them of my experience and give a word of hope and consolation that what they were enduring at the time would not always be the case. Again, we cannot know for certain why God permits sufferings great and small in our lives, but the reality is that He does and He does for a reason. It is not for us to understand fully here on earth, but rather to do our best to stay close to Him in the midst of those sufferings.

So how do we stay close to the Lord? How is it that we are supposed to respond when suffering comes our way? The first step is simply to acknowledge the pain. If we hide it away and act like everything is fine when in fact that world is falling down around us, it only hurts us all the more. But if we acknowledge the pain and bring it before God, it gives Him the opportunity to come into our lives and work with it. Sometimes that will mean taking the pain away and if that is the case, then praise God! But sometimes it is not the case, and we are invited to continue our journey with the pain present to us. In those cases, we must still praise God and then ask for His grace to carry the cross. This is one reason that I particularly enjoy reading Psalm 13 and 22 in times of trouble. Both of them go through the full emotions of one in pain. “Why have you forsaken me?”, “How long with you hide your face from me?”, “How long shall my enemy reign over me?”, “They gather around me and mock me.” It voices the reality of what is going on in our hearts. And yet at the end of each of them it turns to a praise of God who despite everything is clearly still at work somewhere in the midst of it all. That’s the place we’re called to get to: trusting that He is indeed at work despite what we can see, feel, or experience in the moment. To help with that I find it helpful for all of us to reflect often upon the crucifixion of Our Lord.

The passion of Christ is by far the most unjust act in all of human history. The one who had committed no sin, who deserved our worship, was mocked, beaten, spat up, crucified, and left there til His death. Imagine all of that through the eyes of Mary, who had known since the Annunciation from Gabriel that Jesus was the Son of God, the Savior. Imagine the thoughts of her mind as she beheld her God and her beloved son enduring the most humiliating death possible. The test of faith in that moment was like none other. What seemed to be the most hopeless of times, as we now, was not the end. Christ conquered death, raised up from the dead, and opened heaven for us to enjoy God for all eternity. What seemed to all to be absolute unjust suffering was transformed by God to be the salvation of humanity. And in a similar way God sometimes seeks to work in our lives, permitting some pain or trial knowing that He has something greater in store. He is always there for us and always doing something, we are never alone. C.S. Lewis adds to this reality of God’s presence in our pain. In his book The Problem of Pain he says, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain.” He shouts in our pain because He knows that in the midst of it we must try to focus on Him. That’s why any time we experience some pain what do we do? We go to Church, go to the chapel, pick up our rosary, read the Bible, or seek out some inspirational connection that will bring us into union with God. We’ve been hardwired that way, to draw near to God in our suffering so that we can do our best to trust in Him and there find consolation and the courage to bear our cross.

We are never alone. Our God is always with us, always there to care for us, working even in the smallest ways to bring about something good for us and for others. He loves us infinitely. And yet, in His mysterious ways He permits us to endure sufferings here in this life. The consolation above all of this is that if we persist in carrying the cross we can be assured of the eternal life won for us, where there is no pain or suffering but only the joy of beholding God’s face and rejoicing in the heavenly feast for eternity. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

HWP: St. Boniface

Today is the feast of St. Boniface, one of those old-school saints that was an evangelizing beast. Story has it that he went into one town where the people worshipped the deity Thor in an old oak tree. Boniface, filled with the Spirit, took an axe and cut the tree down himself as the people of the town watched. The tree, when it fell, is said to have split into four parts in the shape of a cross. He then erected a chapel and began converting the people to the Christian faith. A model of boldness, persistence, and evangelical zeal, he stands for us an encouragement in our secularized culture to continue the battle to bring souls to Christ. With that in mind, we offer as today's HWP....

The Prayer to St. Boniface

Saint Boniface, you faced discouragement and failure and learned from them. 
Help us to hear God's message in our moments of failure 
and use what we have learned to serve God better. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Have Faith

Readings for Sunday, June 2/ Corpus Christi:Genesis 14:18-20
Psalm 110:1-4
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Luke 9:11-17

As we come here this weekend to celebrate this feast in honor of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Our Lord in the Eucharist, we hear a story of faith and a call to increased faith within our own lives. The story of the feeding of 5000 that we hear in Luke’s Gospel today is a story that has many different aspects on which to focus and is an incredibly deep passage. As I was reflecting on it in preparation for this weekend’s homily, I was struck by the Apostles’ initial reaction and act of faith. As we pick up the story, the Lord has had this great multitude of people following Him and listening to His teaching. And as the end of the day comes, the disciples approach and encourage Jesus, “Dismiss them.” It seems an act of kindness in a sense, not to keep the people too long, not to force them to go hungry or be there too late that they would go without shelter for the night. But if we also look a little deeper, it can also be seen that this desire to ‘dismiss the people that they can go find food and shelter for themselves’ implicitly recognizes that they didn’t think that anything could be done to help such a large crowd. They knew they weren’t going to feed anyone with what they had and we get the feeling that they didn’t believe Jesus could either. They were limiting the Lord’s ability to provide and do so generously. How often do we do the same in our own lives? Limiting the Lord – surely He can’t do that! That’s too much to ask! Or that’s too little for Him to be concerned with!

To this lack of faith the Lord makes the invitation: “Give them some food yourselves.” Imagine the looks on the faces of the Twelve when the Lord said this. Each of them looking at one another and at the little bit of food they had, curious how exactly He wants them to feed the crowd before them. Then the Lord begins to give instructions and they follow His words. As the crowds are gathered into groups and seated, the food is passed around and in the end all are full, even having 12 baskets left over. The Lord provided, and generously. Exceeding all limits, He worked something miraculous for the good of the people. The Twelve originally struggled to believe that Jesus could do something like this and yet the Lord drew their faith out of them. They had enough to trust His directions and following Him there, the Lord worked through them. The invitation was extended and accepted.

This weekend the Lord extends a similar invitation to us to deepen our faith like the Apostles did. He gives us the chance, like them, to believe in something that goes against our senses and rationality. What seems to be bread is the Flesh of God. What seems to be wine is the Blood of the New Covenant that won us salvation. And we are blessed enough to receive it. It doesn’t make sense and it can’t be see with our eyes. It takes faith, so the Lord invites us to have faith and to trust in Him.

This is one grace that I have to be particularly grateful for in my own life, that the Lord has blessed me not to question the reality of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. When I was younger I was Methodist and at our church we celebrate communion every so often. Unlike Catholics, we didn’t believe it to be the Body and Blood of Jesus. It was simply a memorial action, since Jesus said “do this in memory of me.” When I came into the Catholic faith I wasn’t actually even Christian, but when I came to profess faith in a higher power and began to practice the Catholic faith, I knew deep within me that the Eucharist was really God. That simple faith in His presence has been my rock foundation from the beginning. All through seminary I knew that I could find peace by spending time with the Lord in Adoration or sitting quietly before the tabernacle because I knew it was Him. After my ordination as a priest I experienced an invitation to faith like that which the disciples received today. When I began celebrating Mass, after the consecration I would hold up the host and in my heart I would think, “Is this really You, Lord? Really? How can this be?” I had no problem believe that any other priest could celebrate Mass and make the Eucharist present. But I struggled to understand how God could use me – knowing better than anyone my own faults and failings – to perform such a mystery. It gave me a glimpse into the disciples own ministry, how they must have felt when the feeding of 5000 took place by their hands, how healing took place at their command, and how sins were forgiven at their word. If we set limits on the Lord, He cannot work. But if we simply follow after Him and allow Him to pull faith from our hearts, miracles happen right before our eyes and often through our own hands.

So as we come to this feast day, the Lord again calls us to have faith. To have faith that what we receive is not bread at all, but is the True Flesh of Jesus Christ. To have faith that the gift we receive is actually the same sacrifice offered on Calvary 2000 years ago. To have faith that God works gives us spiritual life through Holy Communion. To have faith that anytime we come before Him in Adoration, we are able to receive His grace and peace.

What an incredibly mystery! That all of these things happen, that we are brought into Heaven, made present at Calvary, and given the flesh of God for our very food! And it happens through bread. Think about that. God does all of this through simple flour and water. Now think about what can be done by we who are created in His very image and likeness if we set aside limits and simply say ‘yes.’

Lord Jesus, Bread of Life, King of kings, Creator of all, give us faith.