Wednesday, July 30, 2014

HWP: St. Martha

Last Tuesday we celebrated the feast of St. Mary Magdelene. Yesterday we celebrated the feast of her sister, St. Martha. These two women of faith are great models in the Gospels to show us the way to love and serve the Lord Jesus. In looking for this week's HWP, I found this powerful prayer that opens the way for us to bring our troubled hearts to the Lord, where we might find rest in Him. So, take a moment and recollect the many things that have been on your heart in recent days and pray with me this...

Prayer to St. Martha
O blessed St. Martha, your faith led Jesus to proclaim, “I am the resurrection and the life”; and faith let you see beyond his humanity when you cried out, “Lord I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” With firm hope you said, “I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him”, and Jesus called your brother Lazarus back from the dead. With pure love for Jesus you welcomed him into your home.

Friend and servant of our Saviour, I too am “troubled about many things”. (mention your intentions) Pray for me that I may grow in faith, hope and love, and that Jesus, who sat at your table, will hear me and grant me a place at the banquet of eternal life. Amen.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Smelly Fish and Fine Pearls

Readings for Sunday, July 27/ 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
1 Kings 3:5,7-12

Psalm 119
Romans 8:28-30
Matthew 13:44-52

Last weekend the Lord gave us three parables about the identifying features of the Kingdom of Heaven: the evil mixed with the good, the exponential growth from seed to bush, and the transformative power of even the smallest bit. Today we continue with that section of the Gospel and hear the Lord Jesus tell us that it is not enough simply to know where the Kingdom of Heaven is. We must choose it for ourselves and be willing to give up everything in order to attain it.

The parables of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price illustrate well the challenge of Jesus. The individuals found something that was of greater worth than all of their other possessions and went to sell all that they had in order to attain the great treasure and pearl. There was nothing that could stop them from doing so because they were filled with such joy and the same should be said of the Kingdom of Heaven that is to come and the Kingdom of Heaven among us and within us even now. There is no greater treasure in the world. Do we live it?

The men who found the treasure and the pearl, if they had found them and then gone off rejoicing that they had found the special treasure but failed to actually go back and get it for themselves would be absolute fools. And us – we, too, would be absolute fools to discover the Kingdom of Heaven and fail to take the steps to attain it because it is greater even than the pearl of great price and the precious treasure. It is so great that there is nothing in this world that can compare to it. That’s why it’s worth setting everything else aside to attain it. But sometimes that ‘everything’ can be difficult to part with.

It’s been said that the cost of discipleship is nothing less than everything, all that we have and are. When I was discerning the priesthood there were many places where I encountered that ‘nothing less than everything’ in concrete ways and the one that was most difficult for me was, of course, the concrete cost of not having a wife and children. The desire for a spouse and children is written in every human heart, but some are invited to live that desire out in a spiritual manner rather than physical and I struggled with that discernment and the ultimate step of willingness to pay that cost. My consolation in those times was to turn to the words of Jesus in Matthew 19, where He says ‘whoever leaves behind father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and lands for my sake and the sake of the gospel will have it paid back a hundred-fold in this lifetime and more in the next.’ Well, I’m here today to tell you that I kinda think Jesus was lying to the disciples when He said a hundred-fold because as a pastor, I am quickly realizing I have way more than a hundred wives because every lady in the parish has a honey-do list for me, I have more kids than I could have dreamed of having and each has specific needs, and I have more brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and so-on than I know what to do with! I say Jesus was lying to them because the abundance of repayment that comes when we give up something for His sake is far beyond a hundred-fold. If He had been more accurate I think it would have scared the disciples at the immensity of the gift they would shortly receive. And that’s not even the best part!

A couple of weeks ago we heard St. Paul’s letter to the Romans tell us that ‘the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared to the glory that is to be revealed in us.’ The worst things in this life will seem as absolutely nothing compared to the glory we will experience. But that applies also to the joys – the joys of this life, as good as they are, aren’t even a small bit of what is to come. It’s like comparing apples and Ferraris! That’s the kingdom that awaits us!

Often when we realize this blessed gift that is freely offered to us, there is a sense that in order to accept it and to live it we have to become this entirely new person; I have to stop being me and start being a holy person. This is not at all what Christ calls us to. He actually just calls us to be ourselves, but enlivened with His Holy Spirit. I’ve always had a great love for music. I love to listen to it, sing it, I used to play and write it. When I was in my teens I wanted to be a rock star, so when confirmation time came around I figured who better to help that dream come true than the patron saint of musicians – Pope St. Gregory the Great. So, I picked Gregory and knew I’d be set for the big stage. Fast-forward a few years and I’m in the seminary learning a new style of singing, writing different music, and preparing to perform on an entirely different ‘stage’ for the Lord. My love for music wasn’t erased but it was given a new focus by the Lord and my passion for it has changed to glorify Him in the liturgy instead of at bars and arenas. We could look to St. Paul who zealously lived the Jewish faith and persecuted the Church, but after his conversion he fought for the Church and endured the persecution he once inflicted on the Christians. St. Ignatius of Loyola took a cannonball to the knee in battle and while in the hospital read the life of Christ and learned of the saints and was converted, becoming soon a powerful soldier in the army of Christ. This is what Jesus means in that strange conclusion at the end of the reading today.

Jesus asks if the disciples if they understand and they say ‘Yes!’ (because a good disciple always does, right?) and He continues, saying, “every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” The 'old' is me, my gifts, my desires, my weakness, and all that God has made in 'me'. The 'new' is the Holy Spirit-led mission that Christ wants to live out through those 'old' aspects. The point is that Jesus wants us to be ourselves, not anyone else. Whether we’re working at the farm, teaching in the classroom, caring for kids or grandkids, volunteering in the community, or anything else under the sun – do those things as a Catholic. We must not simple be Catholic. We must live Catholic. That’s the little piece about the fish in the net. The Church is the Kingdom and she is full of all sorts of different ‘fish’. But simply being in the net, simply being Catholic, is not enough to get into Heaven. We must be good fish worth keeping. Like a crawfish boil – you don’t eat the dead ones! The same with the Lord; He only takes to Himself the good fish to celebrate the heavenly banquet and the rest are cast into fire because they have no life.

As we come to receive the Lord Jesus today, let us ask these graces: to set aside anything that separates us from Him and to be open to the grace to live the life He has called us to live. Don’t worry about being someone extraordinary. Just be yourself in Christ – that is enough for you and it is enough for Him who made you.  

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

HWP: St. Anne

Being that this Saturday is the feast of St. Ann/Anne and I'm the Pastor of St. Ann's Catholic Church, I feel compelled to offer this week's Half-Way Prayer to the mother of the Blessed Virgin, mother of the Lord Jesus. The problem is that there are so many beautiful prayers! After reading through a handful, this one seemed fitting. If you want to check out this others, you can find them HERE. So, we pause to drink of the wellspring of grace as well pray...

A Prayer to St. Anne
Good St. Anne, you were especially favored by God to be the mother of the most holy Virgin Mary, the Mother of our Savior. By your power with your most pure daughter and with her divine Son, kindly obtain for us the grace and the favor we now seek. Please secure for us also forgiveness of our past sins, the strength to perform faithfully our daily duties and the help we need to persevere in the love of Jesus and Mary. Amen.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Welcome Home.

Welcome Home!
Readings for Sunday, July 20/ 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Psalm 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16
Romans 8:26-27
Matthew 13:24-43

As I shared with you a couple of weeks ago, I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio and just a few days later made the long trek down to Denham Springs. I have seen that as rather providential, because I have always loved to travel. The joy of seeing new places, meeting new people, experiencing new adventures, and creating new stories are all wonderful things to do, but for me the best part is being able to come back and have that renewed appreciate for being home. As I was praying with the readings this weekend I was struck by that reality and the fact that home has so many levels which we can understand. For instance, if we travel overseas the customs agents will often say “welcome home” when returning to the United States; I can be in New York City, but I’m still home. If we just go on a road trip to another state, there’s that big blue “Welcome to Louisiana” sign to welcome you back to Louisiana – welcome home. Though there is no clear marker, when I start to get near the Baton Rouge area there is a sense of being home. And as of July 1, my final destination for ‘home’ is the rectory here at St. Ann’s.

That image came to mind because the Lord gives us today a series of parables on the kingdom of Heaven describing where it can be found. And then at the end of the passage He speaks of the kingdom in the future sense, as also being something in the future. There is a sort almost-but-not-yet reality; theologically we describe it as ‘liminality’.

The ultimate reality of the kingdom of heaven – the St. Ann’s rectory, if you will – is the experience of Heaven itself. It is the encounter with God that never ends and in which He has absolute reign and authority, such that there is no longer sin or death, sorrow or despair, doubt or fear. Those things will be completely conquered in the end and there will be simply peace, love, joy, and all of those things that we long for in this life but cannot attain in their fullness. Although we cannot attain these things in their fullness yet, it does not mean that we can’t experience a taste of them in this life. This is what Christ speaks to us about in the parables – that reality that is already among us and in our midst where the kingdom of heaven is present in a seminal form. He uses parables to help us to see where it can be found, its characteristics, if you will. And if we look at them with the eyes of faith, we can see that the kingdom of heaven is the Body of Christ on Earth – the Catholic Church.

The first clue is that the kingdom of heaven is like a field with good and bad seed. The Lord instituted the Church knowing that its members would not always be perfect, but that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ In the field that is the Church, there are many, many saintly people – the good wheat sown by God – but there is also that small group of people who are not godly people but have simply acted as such for some purpose. It shouldn’t surprise us to find that those who harm the Church the most these days are Catholics themselves. After all, it was Judas, one of the Twelve closest to Jesus who was the betrayer. And yet, the Lord was greater than that and the eleven continued to bear much good fruit in the salvation of souls and preaching of Gospel message. The Church is perfect in herself, but her members are sometimes flawed as individuals.

The second clue is that a small mustard seed shall become a large bush. Here, too, we can see how the Church began as a small see with the Apostles and disciples of the Lord and yet has grown today to include billions of people today and many more throughout history. The words of Jesus about ‘every bird of the air’ finding a place is symbolic of the fact that the Church reaches to the ends of the Earth and has sought to evangelize every people that she has encountered, welcoming them to find shelter in her.

Lastly, the Church is that insignificant amount of leaven added to leaven three whole measures of wheat flour. The Church has literally changed the course of the world; things would be drastically different were it not for the presence of the Body of Christ all throughout the world. This is no exaggeration, but a statement of truth and it fulfills that third characteristic expressed by the Lord.

The kingdom of heaven is indeed a place in the future and it is a place all around us and in which we find ourselves making a home as the other birds of the sky have done. But there is yet a third aspect to consider: that the kingdom of heaven is within you and me as individuals. We are each a sort of microcosm of the larger Body of Christ and the aspects evident in the whole are also detectable in ourselves. The weeds alongside the good wheat remind us that we are fundamentally good people, but that we have flaws, we sin. The good news is that we don’t have to wait until the end of the age to be separated by the angels, but rather we can go to that confessional in the back of the church and allow the Lord to forgive us our sins and to pluck up the weeds now so that we can become today the perfect field God desires us to be in Heaven. Too, our faith begins small but grows exponentially in size. Most of us were baptized as infants, so we were not even aware of the seed of faith that was planted in our hearts with those blessed words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And where are we today? Large bushes giving much fruit as we live our lives, grow in our understanding of the faith, and encounter the Lord God daily. And lastly, we are that leaven that changes everything. The other day I went to go visit one of our parishioners and in the course of our conversation she turned to me and said, “Father, when you can kiss your 90th grandchild on the head, things aren’t that bad.” It hit me because her simple yes to the Lord in her vocation as a wife and mother has brought into existence 100 other people who wouldn’t be here otherwise. We can say the same of each of our families, but the reality is that we can say in the life of faith too. If we let ourselves be used by the Lord, the world around us will also catch fire with the faith and others will have life in the Spirit because of us.

Now, all of this is fine and good, but the question is how to do this? How do we build up the courage to let the Lord pull out the weeds? To persevere in nourishing our faith? To say yes daily to being an instrument in God’s hands? At the sake of being overly-simplistic, I say the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ; the flesh of God Himself! Come to Mass each week and enter into the mystery that we celebrate. If you can, come to daily Mass, even if it’s only once a week. It changes us. He changes. The other day I stopped at Jack in the Box and got my usual cheeseburger combo with fries and a coke. That’s fine to do once in a while, but if I did that every day you’d soon recognize that I’ve been eating pretty well lately, right? The same with our spirits! If we fail to give our spirit the food that it needs, it will be completely unhealthy and will be starved for something wholesome. If, on the other hand, we eat of the Eucharist that can heal every ill and convert our hearts, we will be strong in spirit. Come to Mass, come to Adoration, come spend time in the church with the Lord Jesus! The Scriptures tell us that it is the Spirit who comes to aid us in our weakness and we get that Spirit every time we receive Holy Communion. Let us not be afraid of our weakness in this life, but rejoice in it and bring it to Jesus, because when we are weak, Jesus is our strength.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Pray With Me?

As the pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church, I'm trying to foster within my own spiritual life a devotion to that beautiful woman of faith, the mother of Mary and grandmother of the Lord Jesus. To help me in this endeavor, as well as to continue to increase devotion to her in our own parish, my parish and I will be praying a novena to St. Ann in preparation for her feast, July 26. I invite you to join with us beginning Thursday, July 17 as we turn to this heavenly intercessor for aid in our need (Novena prayers can be found greater HERE).

Good Saint Ann, pray for us!

HWP: St. Bonaventure

So... I missed the HWP for last week and we had a mission appeal this weekend at the parish, which is why you haven't seen much from me in the last week or so. But as things are beginning to stabilize and I'm find my groove here in the new parish, a return to normalcy here at the blog shall return as well. 

This week we celebrate a number of notable saints, including St. Bonaventure, who is a Doctor of the Church but not often quoted or referenced. Since he doesn't get much 'air time' in the usual discussions, I figured it might be good to pull up something from his for the Half-Way Prayer this week. So, in union with the devotion to the Most Precious Blood of Jesus in this month of July, we present:

A Prayer of Thanksgiving after Holy Communion

Pierce, O most Sweet Lord Jesus, my inmost soul with the most joyous and healthful wound of Thy love, with true, serene, and most holy apostolic charity, that my soul may ever languish and melt with love and longing for Thee, that it may yearn for Thee and faint for Thy courts, and long to be dissolved and to be with Thee. 
Grant that my soul may hunger after Thee, the bread of angels, the refreshment of holy souls, our daily and supersubstantial bread, having all sweetness and savor and every delight of taste; let my heart ever hunger after and feed upon Thee, upon whom the angels desire to look, and may my inmost soul be filled with the sweetness of Thy savor; may it ever thirst after Thee, the fountain of life, the fountain of wisdom and knowledge, the fountain of eternal light, the torrent of pleasure, the richness of the house of God. 
May it ever compass Thee, seek Thee, find Thee, run to Thee, attain Thee, meditate upon Thee, speak of Thee, and do all things to the praise and glory of Thy name, with humility and discretion, with love and delight, with ease and affection, and with perseverance unto the end. 
May Thou alone be ever my hope, my entire assurance, my riches, my delight, my pleasure, my joy, my rest and tranquility, my peace, my sweetness, my fragrance, my sweet savor, my food, my refreshment, my refuge, my help, my wisdom, my portion, my possession and my treasure, in whom may my mind and my heart be fixed and firmly rooted immovably henceforth and for ever. Amen.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Pastors and Flocks and Jesus, Oh My!

Readings for Sunday, July 6/ 14th Week in Ordinary Time:
Zechariah 9:9-10
Psalm 145:1-2, 8-11, 13-14
Romans 8:9, 11-13
Matthew 11:25-30

Transitions in parish life are always bittersweet. It was hard for me to leave behind the parish family that I had come to know and love after being there for two years and I know that it was tough for y’all to see Fr. Lee leave after ten years here and becoming such an important part of your lives and community. For me, though, and hopefully for you as well, there is still a great sense of joy in transition because it gives us the chance to reflect back upon the many ways that God has acted in our lives before, the blessings we’ve received, the relationships that have changed us and give thanks to the Lord for those things. And it is a chance to start anew, to witness the work of God in a new context, and to build new relationships. That said, I’m very happy to be here to see what God has in store for us.

Apparently that joy is evening showing on my face a little these days. Friday I went home to celebrate the 4th with my family and my oldest sister came up and said to me, “Brent, you look…happy!” Now that might not seem like a big deal, but it was and reason is this: I’m not a very visually expressive person. Often I am having a great time and you simply can’t tell from my facial expression. And I can remember several Christmases when I got absolutely incredible gifts and my response was a subdued “cool,” much to my parents’ frustration. So when my sister told me I looked happy, it really struck me and was good to hear that the joy in my heart was actually showing in my face. The joy is showing more now not because my other assignments weren’t enjoyable (quite the opposite!) but that it I’m entering into the state of life that I was created for and for which I have longed – to become a father in a community.

A quick snapshot of my vocation story: I was baptized Catholic, raised in the Methodist faith, and confirmed on my 11th birthday in the Methodist Church. Then my mom decided to become Catholic and my stepdad returned to the Church and I came along with them and, joy of joys, I got to start my religious education all over again in a new church when I had just finished it. You can probably guess how excited I was about this becoming Catholic thing! But I became Catholic nonetheless, or at least attended the Church. I say that because while I was externally Catholic, I was internally an atheist. I thought all of the stuff I was hearing, seeing, and doing was just a bunch of nonsense, but I had to continue on to keep mom happy. Eventually I got involved in the high school youth group and began to believe in God and experience great conversion. Right before my senior year of high school I began to feel a calling to ‘something more’ in the Church. It took me a year to realize it might be priesthood and two more years to work up the courage to actually pursue that path. By that time I was already in my second year at LSU. I transferred to the seminary in Covington and complete my undergrad work in two years and graduated. Then I took a year off to think about become a monk, because what better place for a simple little introvert that in a quiet monastery where I could read and pray and serve in a hidden capacity, right? Well, I went and had a great time, but things changed when I returned home.

One day I went to my parish and asked the pastor if he could hear my confession and he was gracious enough to do so. We talked for a little bit about my discernment and he sent me off on my way. Later on in prayer I realized that what my pastor had done for me was what I had desired in my heart along: to be able to be in the midst of a community in order to know people and journey with them as they walk toward the Lord. His example gave me clarity and I returned to the seminary that summer and four years later was ordained a priest.

Doing Communion Visits during mission in Nicaragua
I tell you that story about my pastor because it is what I (and, really, the Church) envision as the role of the pastor in a community. I don’t know if you might have heard about Pope Francis’ homily last year at the Chrism Mass, but he said something that has helped me to think more concretely about that desire of my heart. He said to a group of priests that a shepherd must smell like his sheep. And that is exactly what I’m here to do. Not smell like a sheep of course, but to be here in the midst of you, to journey alongside you, and together to walk toward the Lord Jesus. Now, if any of you has sheep, I’d be happy to visit with you and smell like an actual sheep afterward too. The point is that if I as the shepherd in the community do not spend time in the midst of you, how will I get to know you? How can I know what are your needs, desires, struggles, and joys? It is not the task of the parish priest to stay cooped up in the rectory and read, write and reflect all day. While those things are good and necessary, my first obligation is to care for the flock entrusted to me: to care for each of you. On the flipside of the coin, if you don’t know me, what reason do you have to trust me, listen to me, or follow me as a spiritual shepherd? I want to be with you to get to know you personally and let you get to know me as well. That will happen some here at church, but I’d like to visit with you at your home, to share meals with you, to hunt, fish, or anything else with you. I don’t know how to do most of the latter, but I’m willing to do anything once as long as it’s not a sin!

The simple point in the midst of this all is that I want to get to know you and have you know me so that together we can walk toward the Lord Jesus who bids us come. Because that’s the reason we’re here. The whole Gospel and the whole Bible in general can be summed up in the three simple words Jesus speaks to us today, “Come to me.” Our whole life is about coming to Jesus over and over and over again. It’s about trying our best to recognize and to live the truth that Jesus really is the center of everything. Often we’ll think of our lives like a pie – a chunk of our time for work, a chunk for family, a chunk for this and that activity – but our relationship with Jesus isn’t supposed to be a piece of the larger pie, it’s the crust that hold all the rest together. This is my ultimate goal for each and every one of us, myself included: to come to a place in our lives where we have a deep, unshakable conviction in our hearts that without a daily, personal, intimate relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we are dead. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life and today he bids us come to Him and find peace. All of us. Nobody is an exception because all of us are weary, all of us have burdens we’re carrying through this life, and all of us want peace. Come. Place yourself in His hands and He places Himself in yours at Holy Communion. Come to Jesus.

In a time of transition there are always little tweaks and changes and you can see a few of them already with the vestments, altar cross, and chanting. There are particular reasons for each of those things, which I will explain in subsequent homilies, and the main reason is always to give another opportunity, another way, to encounter Jesus Christ and to walk away changed because that’s what it’s all about. So as we begin to walk together toward the Lord Jesus, let us call upon the protection of our heavenly patrons to watch over us and keep us safe: St. Ann, pray for us. St. Vincent de Paul, pray for us. Amen.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

HWP: Consecration to the Precious Blood

During the month of July, Mother Church offers to us the devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus. With that in mind, our Half-Way Prayer this week using the:

Consecration to the Precious Blood of Jesus
O Jesus, fairest of the children of men, Thou Whom I see crushed beneath the weight of my sins, covered with wounds, Thy hands and feet pierced with nails, Thy side opened with a lance, I adore Thee and recognize Thee as my Lord and my God and as my beloved Redeemer. Pierced with grief at sight of the Blood flowing from Thy wounds for the redemption of souls, I feel irresistibly urged to consecrate myself to the worship of this regenerating Blood and, by an exemplary life, to atone for all the profanations of this Divine Blood and for those which It still receives daily in the veins of Thy Sacred Body present mystically on the altar.

By this consecration which I beg Thee to accept, O my Savior, I desire to spend my whole life in proving to Thee my gratitude and my love by paying frequent homage to Thy Precious Blood and by propagating this devotion as far as is in my power. I desire every pulsation of my heart to be a renewal of this consecration, a constantly repeated act of love for this redeeming Blood, a perpetual offering of Its merits in behalf of sinners and all the souls dear to me, and a hymn of unceasing praise in union with that of the Saints and all the blessed in Heaven: "To the Lamb Who redeemed us in His Blood, be honor and glory and benediction forever."
O Mary, mother of the Divine Redeemer, obtain for me the grace of adoring fervently throughout my life the Blood of thy Divine Son and of singing forever Its mercies in Heaven. Amen.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Papal Intentions for July 2014

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. 

Papal Intentions for July 2014

Universal Intention: That sports may always be occasions of human fraternity and growth.

Mission Intention: That the Holy Spirit may support the work of the laity who proclaim the Gospel in the poorest countries.