Sunday, November 30, 2014

Time to Stay Home

Readings for Sunday, November 30/ 1st Sunday of Advent:
Isaiah 63:16-17, 19; 64:2-7
Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:33-37

It was sure nice to not have to worry about whether LSU would pull out a win this weekend. As I was thinking about that and praying with the readings for this weekend I was reminded of the time when I was around 12 or 13 years old I guess. My mom and stepdad decided they could trust me to stay at the house by myself while they went to go watch the Tigers play. So before they left, mom laid down the ground rules: don’t go swimming, don’t go anywhere, and don’t invite anyone over but Stephen, my best friend who she figured she could trust me to be around. I agreed and they left for the game. Shortly after they left, I looked at my watch and figured I’d have a good 5 hours until they got back. So, I did what most young men that age would have done: I called up Stephen and told him to bring his swimsuit over. We went swimming for a bit and afterward decided to hop on our bikes and ride around for a bit. We were cruising all around his neighborhood when we rode by his house and his mom was in the front yard waving us down. As we got close she called out and said, “Brent! Your mom said you need to go home!” I very slowly peddled my bike back to the house, knowing good and well what was waiting for me.

The obvious thing is that I figured I had plenty of time to do what I wanted, clean up the evidence of my disobedience, and be in the clear. Not for a minute did I think something might bring my parents home earlier than I had figured. And that is the point the Lord is speaking to us as we gather to begin this Advent season: that we must be prepared at all times for His coming, not caught off guard. You don’t have to know anything about the Lord or the Scriptures in order to get that idea from the Gospel passage we just heard. In the span of a few sentences the Lord tells us: “Be watchful! Be alert! Watch, therefore! You know not the hour! Watch!” In various ways He drives home the point of preparedness for His coming.

In reflecting on that aspect of the Lord coming, it struck me how often we pray for that very thing to happen. Every time we pray the Our Father we pray “Thy kingdom come” partly in expectation of the Lord’s return in glory. We say it every Mass, it’s used in nearly every ritual of the Church, we include it in most of our rosaries and chaplets, and when we get put on the spot to pray a spontaneous public prayer there is no safer bet than mumbling something and concluding with “Our Father” and having everyone join in. We pray it often, but I was thinking to myself what I would do if I prayed “Thy kingdom come” and it actually happened? The prophet Isaiah uses vivid imagery to describe this point: “return for the sake of your servants…rend the heavens and come down”. What if in the midst of my prayer the skies opened up and I beheld the Lord in His glory? Am I ready for that? Am I prepared for that? Are you prepared for that?

Be watchful. Be alert. Watch.

I think there are, here, two important things to note. First, the continuous waiting for the Lord’s return isn’t just sitting in prayer all day looking holy for when He comes. It’s about living every moment of our lives with a purity of heart that proves we’re ready. If I had stayed at home when my parents left for the game, I could have watched tv, played video games, played guitar, read a book, or any number of things, I would have still been ready. And that is the invitation from the Lord: to content ourselves in whatever we do with a mindset that Christ may come at any moment.

The second things worth noting is that the preparation isn’t one of fear or anxiety. Fear and undue anxiety are from the evil one. The waiting we are called to live is one of joy, much like a little child who excitedly runs to greet a parent at the door when they return home from a trip or a long day at work with arms outstretched saying “Mommy! Daddy!” Eager, hopefully expectancy. Watching. Waiting. Alert.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

HWP: Widows

This week we celebrate the feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary (today in the Extraordinary Form calendar, Monday in the Ordinary Form calendar), a beautiful soul who lost her spouse and sought consolation in the Lord, who alone can fill our hearts. For this reason she is a patroness of widows and a powerful intercessor. In this month of November I have been particularly aware of the many widows and widowers in my own particular community and throughout the world, how much they are in need of the Lord's presence and grace, and how we are called to journey with them in their trials. With that in mind, I bring two prayers to the HWP this week!
A Prayer of Widows/Widowers 
Lord Jesus Christ, during your earthly life You showed compassion on those who had lost a loved one. Turn your compassionate eyes on me in my sorrow over the loss of my life's partner. Take him/her into your heavenly kingdom as a reward for his/her earthly service. Help me to cope with my loss by relying on You even more than before. Teach me to adapt to the new conditions of my life and to continue doing your will as I see it. Enable me to avoid withdrawing from life and make me give myself to others more readily, so that I may continue to live in your grace and to do the tasks that You have laid out for me.  
St. Elizabeth of Hungary, pray for me. Amen.

  - AND -
A Prayer for Widows

Most loving God, you know the pain and sorrow of death; mercifully hear our prayer for those who mourn the death of their beloved. The nights are lonely and the days are too long. Comfort them and bring an end to the days of tears. Bless them and bring an end to their days of sorrow. Renew them with the joy of life and bring to an end their days of mourning. Let the bond of love which you have for your people be the foundation of their hope that love never ends and that precious moments with our beloved are forever held dear in our hearts. Amen.

Monday, November 17, 2014

No Homily Today

This weekend I had the joy of spending the weekend with 23 couples preparing for the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony at our Catholic Engaged Encounter weekend, as well as two married couples who lead the weekend. It is always refreshing to be able to spend that time with so many excited couples and with the married couples who provide such great witnesses of married life and love. It provides much time for reflection on my own vocation in light of the married vocation and leaves me encouraged and renewed in my priestly calling. That being said, the homily this weekend was specific to the couples and retreat, so I will not be posting it online. If you'd like a little something to read, you might check out The Sacred Page, which usually has some great reflections on the readings. Have a blessed (and cold) week everyone!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

HWP: Ut unum sint

Today is the feast of St. Josaphat, bishop and martyr. He was a man of great faith and fortitude and felt called by God to work to heal the wounds of division between the eastern and western churches. This noble work was so effective that he became known as the 'thief of souls' and soon found himself target by enemies of unity, ultimately leading to his martyrdom. Centuries later the division still exists and we need prayer more now than ever to heal that division and so make ourselves a better witness to the world around us. With that in mind we pray...

Let us pray. O Lord Jesus Christ, who saidst unto Thine Apostles: Peace I leave you, My peace I give to you; regard not our sins, but the faith of Thy Church, and grant unto her that peace and unity which are agreeable to Thy Will; Who livest and reignest ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Soul Cleansing

Cleansing the Temple
Readings for Sunday, November 9/ Dedication of St. John Lateran:
Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12
Psalm 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9
1 Corinthians 3:9-11, 16-17
John 2:13-22

Today we celebrate the feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran, one of the four Major Basilicas in Rome. The title of the feast can be a bit misleading because there is no saint named ‘John Lateran’. Rather, the church derives it’s name from its consecration to St. John the Evangelist and St. John the Baptist and its location on the Lateran Hill in Rome. It can seem odd that the celebration of the dedication of a church in Rome would take precedence over the Sunday celebration of Mass throughout the world and yet that's the case. This is because St. John Lateran is the Popes cathedral. Most of us would think that St. Peter's would be the Holy Father’s main church, but St. Peter's only became the residence of the Holy Father a few hundred years ago. Before then, dating back to the 4th-century, St. John's was the central place for the Pope and for this reason it is given the title ‘Mother of all churches in the city and the world’. This bold, yet beautiful, title helps us understand why it is celebrated universally and with such solemnity: because it is the main reminder of God’s love for us in giving us the Church herself, from which flows all grace and spiritual life.

We see this concept of a ‘mother church’ in the first reading from Ezekiel, who saw the Temple with the water flowing from its side out to the world. That vision of life-giving water shows us plants that bear fruit times a year and draw all living creatures to find refreshment in it. That life-giving water is also a cleansing water, as we see that the river flows into the Arabah, making the saltwater fresh. This sign shows us that rather than being changed by the world, the water changes that which it touches. This water is symbolic of the grace of Christ in the church, spoken of by the Lord in various places but especially in John 3. A couple of weeks ago I preached about the Church as the Bride of Christ and we heard it referenced again today in the opening Collect. And what happens when a bride and groom get married? The two become one and from there on out, as the saying goes, ‘what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is yours.’ The same is true of Christ and the Church. In joining Himself to her as a spouse, the Lord gives to the Church the gift of His infinite grace to be able to spread it throughout the whole world.

It is this mystery of grace going out to the whole world that we celebrate also in this scandalous teaching of Jesus on the resurrection of the Temple. When Jesus says He would raise the Temple in three day, the hearers of that word would rightly be shocked because they had been laboring for 46 years already and weren’t done yet! And, yet, we are told that He wasn’t really talking about the Temple around them at all, but rather about the TRUE Temple – His Body. This is significant because for the Jewish people the Temple was the place to encounter God. They had synagogues to listen to God’s Word all over Israel but there was only one Temple – and it was there that sacrifice was offered and there that the Holy of Holies was, the place where God dwelt among the Israelites. And with Jesus saying He was the true Temple, He was saying in no uncertain terms ‘Do you want to see God? Here I Am.’

Here is where the mysteries tie together. The Church is often described as the Mystical Body of Christ because, according to St. Paul’s teachings, we are made members of the Body of Christ in our baptism. We are joined to His Body; it’s like having and addition to your house – except the Body of Christ has simply been rejoicing in billions of additions over the course of 2000 years. And if Christ is the Temple, the place where the Holy Spirit dwells in truth, then as we are brought into the Body of Christ, the same becomes true of us. This is why St. Paul can rightly say that we are Temples of the Holy Spirit. And if the Temple of the Jerusalem needed to be cleansed to better honor God, the same can be said of us. The cleansing of Temple happened in days of Jesus, but it is intended to continue daily in our own hearts.

This week being National Vocations Awareness Week, I’ve been thinking about my own experience of discernment and I recalled a trip I once took to Nashville, TN. A group of about 20-30 seminarians from Notre Dame in New Orleans went to visit the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. We visited with them for the day, having meals, prayer, and recreation time with them. At one point the seminarians sat down with the group of recently professed sisters and it was suggested that we each give a minute-long clip of our vocation story, and so we went. It was incredible to hear how God has worked in so many different ways and to hear where people were coming from all arriving in the same place. One of the seminarians started laughing at the end and said, “Did anyone notice the pattern?” We all looked, intrigued. He pointed out that almost every sister described her calling in terms of love – they were wooed by God, they were embraced by His Love, they found the joy of being a bride of Christ, and the like. On the opposite end, the guys all spoke in physical, often violent, terms – we were all hit with a divine 2x4, slapped upside the head, tossed into the muck of life, etc. Maybe that’s a commentary on the hard-headedness of men, but that’s another homily! But it struck me because all of us need to have the temple of our heart cleansed, but that can happen in different ways. We can give God the stuff of sin that lies within our hearts and have a gentle, loving encounter with the Lord that builds us up. Or…we can cling to our sin and let God whack us with that divine 2x4 and give up our sin then. The choice is ours, but the end will be the same.

That said, the obvious invitation now is to open the door for the grace of God to pour in and cleanse the temple of our hearts. What is that one thing you need to stop? That one sin you keep struggling with, that temptation you keep having, that mindset that seems impossible to change? I presume most of us know exactly what that thing is right now – we usually know our biggest sins without much reflection – and so the next step is to let God have it. When the offertory comes up, place you sin in the basket. Let’s let God have it and let the waters of God’s grace flow into our hearts to bring life and freshness where saltwater once rested. Let’s take this opportunity and invite the Lord to come cleanse us that we might be worthy dwelling places of the Lord, and one day be welcomed into the glory of the sanctuary of Heaven.  

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

HWP: Prayer of Thanksgiving

If you read my Sunday homily from this past week, you'll have noted that our mission chapel was broken into and robbed this past week. Over the weekend many prayers were offered for a good resolution to the situation and yesterday it came: the detective informed us that the person responsible had been apprehended and our missing items had all been recovered. As soon as I'm done typing this I'll be heading our to pick it all up. How's that for prayers answered! So, with that in mind, I offer this week's Half-Way Prayer of the Week...

A Prayer of Thanksgiving for Prayers Answered
O God, I offer praise and thanksgiving for favors granted and prayers, answered especially those obtained through the intercession of (N.,), who have faithfully and generously brought my petitions before You. Help me continually to see the workings of your grace and blessing in my life and strive always to live by the example of your Son, Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the saints of heaven, especially those for whose intercession I have prayed. 
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Praying for Diarrhea

Readings for Sunday, November 2/ All Souls' Day:
Wisdom 3:1-9
Psalm 23:1-6
Romans 5:5-11
John 6:37-40

When I arrived back in July I began writing in the bulletin a little section called “Fun Facts with Fr. Brent.” I’m not sure how fun you think they are, but I enjoy writing them and I hope you enjoy reading them. This Thursday we printed the bulletins with this week’s ‘fun fact’ about indulgences and I used an example to try to illustrate my point: a child tossing a ball in the yard, when it accidentally breaks through a window. The point was made to show that forgiveness can take place, but that reparation must be made – the window must be fixed. I didn’t realize how strongly that imagery would strike me until Friday morning at around 1030, when Retta (our secretary) called me and said “Father, someone broke into [our mission chapel] St. Vincent’s.”

I got in the car and rode to up the chapel to find: a broken window. It turns out that someone, or multiple someones, threw something through the back window and helped themselves to the paschal candle stand, monstrance, some Mass vessels, and the candle money. After moving all of that they apparently were thirsty so they took the case of altar wine and – for no good reason – kicked the side door open to leave. The thing that hurt me the most, though, was the fact that when they threw the object through the back glass to get in, it also broke through our beautiful stained glass of Mother of Perpetual Help. In the several hours that I was here with the deputy, detective, and those helping to get things back in order, I often sat on the front pew staring at the window reflecting on my own words: we can forgive but something must be done – a window must be fixed.

I’m going to be honest and say that it’s hard to forgive. I’m trying to forgive them; I hope to be able to completely and perfectly and wish that I was holy enough to be able to do so right now. But it hurts. In the midst of that reflection I remembered a story of a monastery across the Atlantic somewhere that had a similar situation happen to them. Their church was broken into, vandalized, and robbed. Their response was what you would expect from monks: prayer. But what made the headlines was what they prayed for. They prayed that the persons responsible would have such a severe case of diarrhea that they would repent of their sin, bring everything back, and live as witnesses of the power of God. Now, I didn’t include that petition in our Prayers of the Faithful this week, but if I get a consensus from the community we might add it in the weeks to come.

In the midst of all of that commotion I was reflecting on just how much our world has lost a sense of sin and its consequences. The deputy was in shock that someone would have the guts to rob a church; I was too. And yet, that’s what our world is going to. We – all of us – can easily fall into thinking ‘Oh, that’s not a sin’ or ‘it doesn’t hurt anyone’ or ‘it’s not that bad’ or ‘God is good and forgiving’. In the midst of all of these and others such thoughts we forget the fact that sin has consequences. Just like actions in the world has legal repercussions, so too in the life of faith. But the thing is that sin doesn’t just break windows, which are easily fixed. Sin breaks relationships that are very difficult to rebuild. Almost every day I encounter people with broken relationships: siblings who no longer speak to each other, spouses sleeping in separate rooms, different friends who you know not to invite to the same gathering because it would be like lighting a match in a room full of gas fumes. Broken relationships are very difficult to heal and our relationship with the Lord isn’t all that different. Unlike our earthly relatoniships, God is always ready to take us back and forgive us infinitely. We can go 1001 times to the confessional and 1001 times God will speak those blessed words “I absolve you from your sins…” God is faithful to us and will always forgive, but there is still a ‘window’ that needs to be fixed, a relationship that needs healing. We have to show God that we want that relationship to be built up and we do it by praying more, by doing acts of charity, by offering little mortifications or sufferings to let God know that we mean what we say when we say ‘I’m sorry.’

The unfortunate part is that we don’t usually get just how destructive our sins are to our relationship with God. I’m quite sure the burglar didn’t intend to break the stained glass window when they broke through the back window of the Church, and yet they did and now we have to pay a serious price to fix it. And though we might not intend to do such damage in our relationship with God, sometimes we break something more serious than we realize in the moment and we have some extra work to do to heal the relationship. That’s the reason I hope the Lord lets me live a good long while. I’m only 30 years old but it’s impressive how much I can mess things up; I seriously think I should get a trophy sometimes for the accomplishments I’ve made in damaging my relationship with God. That’s why I pray regularly that the Lord would give me another 30 years to try to make up for what I’ve done, to help me come into a right relationship with Him again. But you know what – that might now happen. And here is where God shows us once more the infinite love and mercy that lies within Him.

Angels 'quenching the flames of purification' from prayers of the Mass
None of us will die perfect at the end of our life. I doubt any of us will be able to walk up to the pearly gates and say “Yep, I’ve got no sins and nothing to make up for from past faults.” We all will pass with a bit more healing needing to take place in our hearts. But God in His mercy provides a process for that: purgatory. We don’t often hear about purgatory these days and when we do it’s not always accepted quickly, but in truth it is a gift from God that we are undeserving to receive. It would be easy for God to sit at the seat of judgment and condemn every person that wasn’t absolutely perfect and ready for eternal perfect union with the Blessed Trinity. It would be easy to say “Well, you had your chance, sorry” and turn us away. But He doesn’t. Rather, He looks into our heart and judges us. If we are judged ‘worthy’ to enter Heaven eventually, then our soul is purged of those things that had separated us from God. Like Wisdom spoke in our first reading: the souls of the just are as gold purified in a furnace. Regardless of the description given to it, it is a place where our souls are prepared, our relationship toward the Father healed and perfect. When it is ready to behold God’s face, then it will take place and eternity will be our final stop.

Sin has consequences in our relationship with God, purgatory is the place where that relationship is healed, and it is reasonable to believe that some of our loved ones might still be there. And so we pray. That’s why we’re here today to celebrate All Souls’ Day – it is a day to come and pray for those who have died and aren’t yet in heaven, that the Lord would bring them there. Just as we can pray for one another, we can pray for them and God moves. Think about it, by the power of the prayer of us gathered here in this place, by the end of Mass there might well be in heaven souls who before we started Mass were in purgatory! Think about it! That’s why we’re here - to pray. So I encourage you not to miss the opportunity. Pray for all faithful souls in general, but pray for those you know by name as well. As we take the collection and bring up the offertory, pray for them to the Lord: those who have died this past year, those written in our book of remembrance, those resting in our cemetery and mausoleum, those resting elsewhere. Pray for them to receive the gift of glory today, knowing that they are praying for us to one day receive the same.