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.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Advent: All Creation is Groaning - Homily for December 4

Readings for Sunday, December 4 / 2nd Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 11:1-10  |  Psalm 72  |  Romans 15:4-9  |  Matthew 3:1-12

You may recall from last weekend I mentioned that the word Advent means literally "to come to" and it's this season in which the Church invites us to reflect upon the Lord Jesus coming to us, particularly in His coming at Christmas - the first time He came - and looking forward to the day that He will coming again - His glorious coming on the Last Day. And so, as we go through the Masses and prayers of this season, we hear it over and over again, the references to the coming of Jesus. It's important for us to reflect upon those things, and so for these remaining three weeks of the Advent season, we'd like to look at those "comings." 

Today we will reflect on Christmas - the first coming of the Lord, next weekend we will look at His coming in glory, and the weekend after that, we will look at the ways in which He comes to us in the meantime, the ways in which the Lord makes Himself presence and available to us on the days between Christmas, His coming 2000 years ago, and the glorious coming whenever it may be. And so to reflect upon the first coming of the Lord, that first Advent, the Nativity, the day when the Lord Jesus was born to the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

I want to begin by asking the simple question: Why does it matter? Again, if you remember that the purpose of these homilies going forward is to ask the basic questions, and so what does Christmas matter at all? Why is it that on Christmas we celebrate with even solemnity - the Church gets decorated that much more, we put lights everywhere, we have special music, special songs - all throughout our life, we experience this joy that is supposed to accompany the Christmas season, and not only for us who are here pretty regularly, but even for those who are not particularly close to Christ, there is something still about the Christmas season that speaks to them. It happens so much that it's regular in the Catholic faith that we know on Christmas and Easter, there are a large number of our brothers and sisters that come and show up for Mass - we call it the Christmas and Easter Catholics, it's a regular thing, we've named them. But there is this reality that there is a large group of people, who are not otherwise here, are drawn by the mystery and the celebration of Christmas. The question is - why? Why is it that the whole world rejoices in that time? The simple answer I would suggest to you, whether we know it or not, is reconciliation. 

Our first reading today from Isaiah, He speaks of the days that the Lord will come, the days when Christ would be made manifest, looking forward to His first coming - Isaiah, writing some 600 years prior to the birth of Jesus. And so he is looking forward to the day saying, ‘These are the things that will mark the arrival of the Savior …’ There will be a time of peace and a time of harmony, justice in the land, no longer will there be these greater divisions and separations. He goes even further saying that it's not just humanity that is affected, but even the animals, the strange and striking images that we seem of the wolf and the lamb lying next to each other, the calf and the lion being friends, and how the lion will eat hay on that day, a sign of the harmony and reconciliation of creations. I was reminded of the creation museum, a museum built by fundamentalist Protestants up in Kentucky. From their perspective, it's a completely Biblical account, non-scientific, of what creation would've looked like according to the scriptures and what the timeline would've looked like for the world. One of the things that I laughed at and intrigued by was they said that at the time of Noah's Ark they still had the dinosaurs, and so their claim was, that on the ark, they had the T-Rexes, and by the miracle of God, the T-Rex did not eat all the other animals for the course of 40 days and 40 nights. Rather, the T-Rex calmed it's nature and ate hay. I laughed - not really sure I'm buying the whole T-Rex eating hay thing - but ok. What they were getting at was they were trying to harmonize that creation was not supposed to against one another, but rather there is supposed to be this fundamental harmony - that the lion and the lamb should be able to be next to each other without harm. Such is not the case, but it was in the beginning. 

If we think back to Genesis, the first days of creation, we see that the Lord God created all things. He created the heavens, the earth, all the things of the earth, all the animals, and He created the human person - Adam and Eve - male and female He created them, and everything He created He say that it was good. He looks out and rejoices at these things. Adam and Eve were created in what the Church calls "Original Holiness" or "Original Justice"; there was no division or separation between God and creation. How many times have we come to prayer and been distracted by other things? How many times have we not gone to prayer because we had other things we needed to do, or felt we needed to do at least? How many times have we struggled with the will of God because what I seem to want and what God seems to want are two different things? That's not how it was supposed to be though. Genesis describes the relationship of humanity with God as purely perfect, that God walked with them in the Garden, not that God was walking with them two by two on legs, but it was a symbolic description that there was complete union; there was no separation. 

But that came to cease with the choice of sin. Adam and Eve, whenever they chose to eat of the tree of which they should not have eaten, everything changed. This is the point that I think is important for us - EVERYTHING CHANGED. A lot of times we focus on the person, that Adam and Eve were changed, but it wasn't just Adam and Eve, it was all of creation. Adam and Eve would recognize that immediately after they sin, they hide from each other. They see each other's nakedness and are ashamed. So it shows that two relationships have already been broken by sin: the relationship with other people and the relationship with myself. Whereas I used to have harmony in my nakedness, not there is discomfort and shame because of what they had done and they hide from each other. And not only from each other, but from God, because when God comes back to the Garden and makes Himself manifest, they hide in the bushes fearful of what God would says. So many divisions have happen just in that one event. 

But it doesn't stop there. The scriptures speak of the Lord God coming to Adam and saying that on account of you and your sin, the earth is cursed; because of you, you have to toil by the sweat of your brow to bring forth food and the earth will bring forth thorns and thistles. It used to be a harmonious of God and man, especially with the Earth, but now it’s divided. For those of you who don't like to go out and labor in the field and you get upset whenever you get thorns and thistles or your walking the yard and things get caught in your foot, you can thank one person, his name is Adam. All of creation is cursed. 

Because it's not just us - you and me - but it's the whole world - it's written into everything that exists that we are waiting for a Savior, we are longing for a Savior. We are longing to be reconciled and go back to the way it was supposed to be. St. Paul speaks of it explicitly in the eighth chapter of his Letter to the Romans. He says, "The whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now, and not only creation, but we ourselves, as we wait adoptions as sons, the redemption of our bodies." The whole creation is groaning, it's longing for reconciliation. Longing. The lion and the lamb, they don't know it, but they want to be reconciled. And that's what Christ comes to bring and that's why we celebrate Christmas with such joy. Whether a person knows it or not, whether a person believes in Jesus or follows Jesus, every human heart and everything that all creation knows in the depth of our being, that on December 25th something has happened. They may not explain it in such words - we may call it family tradition or whatever we want - but that something that speaks to the human heart and draws us to church on December 25th is a longing of our hearts for reconciliation. A longing to be healed - to go back to the way it was supposed to be in the beginning but is not now. It's not something we have to learn; it's written into our nature. We want reconciliation and we want it badly. That's why we celebrate the joy of Christmas because we recognize that Christ is coming and He has taken on our flesh. Christ has become and made Himself a bridge - the great divide between God and humanity - He made Himself a bridge as He stretched out His arms on the cross, for us to be united once more, to be reconciled with God but also with each other and with ourselves.

We know that this isn't completed yet because we still struggle with God, with others and with sin in ourselves. It's a process of allowing the Lord to reconcile us little by little, to heal us little by little. So we come week after week to experience Christ in the flesh once again here in the Eucharist. To allow Him to reconcile us sometimes where we aren't really aware there are divisions. That's my invitation to you this week - to reflect on where in your life and where in your heart you need reconciliation because every one of us does. Not a single one of us is perfectly reconciled with everyone and everything but there is always at least a little something. St. John the Baptist comes and says, "Prepare the way," clear all of the stuff, get ready for the Lord to come. Let's work on the reconciliation and all it to come in its fullness. 

What is your struggle today with yourself, with your own heart? The things that we struggle with in our sin - bring it to the Lord and pray for healing. Reconciliation with other people; most often it's somebody we love in our own family, our own flesh and blood. We know that happens because we love people so deeply and so we say things knowing that they love us so much and they will probably forgive us. But sometimes it doesn't happen. Allow reconciliation to take place - either to extend it or receive it. Not only with others but with the Lord too. To draw close to God. To know that sometimes our love draws a little cold that the divisions are there separating us and we allow ourselves to build up walls because - whatever it is - it keeps us away from Him. It's an invitation to prepare the way, to be reconciled. The Lord came 2000 years ago and we will celebrate it once again in just a few short weeks. 

Let us pray that the grace of the Lord will be with us today to help us begin and continue that reconciliation that He came to be able to affect within our hearts. Let us draw close to the heart of Jesus. Let us be reconciled. Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Papal Intentions for December 2016

Papal Intentions for December 2016

Universal Intention: That the scandal of child-soldiers may be eliminated the world over.
Mission Intention: That the peoples of Europe may rediscover the beauty, goodness, and truth of the Gospel which gives joy and hope to life.

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. 


Sunday, November 27, 2016

A New Beginning - Homily for November 27

Readings for Sunday, November 30 / 1st Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 2:1-5  |  Psalm 122  |  Romans 13:11-14  |  Matthew 24:37-44

Happy Advent! We not used to "Happy Advent" necessarily, but it is good that we are here and it is
good that it is Advent. 

"Advent" means "to come to" - In the whole course of the season we hear in the prayers of the Mass of that preparation of the Lord to come to us, as well as for us on the last day to come to Him. Each year we celebrate Advent, we start the new liturgical year, we begin that old familiar cycle as we go through the seasons. And it can seem as if we are kind of on a merry-go-round that we just keep going in circles over and over and over - doing the same prayers, the same rituals, we hear the same readings - and it can seem rather mundane. But rather than a simple merry-go-round, I invite you to think of our liturgical year and our celebration of the liturgy as basically a corkscrew for a good bottle of wine. Rather than simply going in circles, it digs deeper into the cork to go down and down. It goes in the same circle but always deeper. I pray that can be our experience of our relationship with the Lord Jesus - that as we go through the course of our years, each year we find we are a little bit deeper, a little bit closer to Christ than where we were at the same spot last year. It's an opportunity and invitation for us to continue to go deeper and deeper into the heart of God. 

In the Gospel, the Lord Jesus makes no bones about the fact that we ought to be prepared. He says that we must be prepared, "stay awake." In the days of Noah, people were not expecting a flood. There were out in the field, they were in the grain, taking care of things as normal. And out of nowhere, Noah (the fool) becomes a smart man. When no one was expecting anything, Noah is saved and they are washed away. In the same manner, the Lord Jesus says it will be when He comes again in glory. People will be at their normal work, will be out at the fields, be at the store, the house, at church, we'll be wherever, and one of us will be taken and the other will be left He says. It will catch us by surprise, so be prepared. 

But it's hard to be prepared for that, because for 2,000 years we've been here. For 2,000 years the Lord Jesus hasn't come back yet. For 2,000 generation after generation has lived thinking maybe we are the last ones and they were wrong. And because we have such a long track record of being wrong, thinking that maybe this is the time that the Lord Jesus is going to come back, it's easy for us to think that maybe it's next generation. And so we become comfortable. We stay “ok” to be where we are and don't really prepare. Because we've presumed for 2,000 years things have gone as normal. Surely it can't happen in our time now. It's been 2,000 years, what's special about our age. But the Lord says, "Prepare. Stay awake." Those words were spoken for every single generation. 

For the last couple of years my homilies, the focus and push of my homilies, has basically been to try and encourage you (but more often than not, me, because I preach to myself) to encourage us to love the Lord Jesus more deeply, whether it's in love of God, love of the Eucharist, love of the Liturgy, Our Lady, the saints, love of one another, love of virtue, and love of the things of our faith - the scriptures - in love of all of these things, ultimately to come and love Jesus more deeply. But there has been something on my heart that for a while now to make a little bit of a change. A little bit of a tweak in my celebration of the liturgy, particular in the preaching of the homily. And I've been kind of wrestling with it for several months now, but as I was praying with the scriptures in preparation for this homily, it seemed that all of that was confirmed by the Lord and said, "Just do it. Stop fighting. Quit overthinking it. Just do it." And it came from the words of Isaiah the prophet, "Come let us climb to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the Lord, that He might instruct us in His ways and may walk in His paths." Ultimately what I have been trying to do is encourage you to walk in the paths of the Lord. What the Lord Jesus, rather bluntly, showed me was "Brent, you need to also instruct them in the ways." Instruct them in the ways then we walk in the paths. And so what I would like to do is take my homilies and go back to the basics. Not to have every single week a separate homily on some random spiritual topic according to what the scripture says, but rather to have a sort of systematic series of addressing the essentials of our faith. The basics. Not to get caught up in all the big lofty things, which are good and holy and necessary for us, but just to start with the simple things of what it means to be a Christian, what it is to be Catholic, what is the gift of our faith. So many questions that are asked routinely, or at least pondered if not asked directly to the priests, I would like to respond to throughout the course of this year. One of the things I would also like to do in conjunction with that is most of my homilies are stand alone homilies; you come and this weekend you get one message and next weekend you get a different message; sometimes they connect, sometimes not. But I would like to do series of homilies beginning more or less next week, rather than just to come and get one dot here, one dot here and one dot here, but to have two, maybe three or four weeks at a time, where we will have a system where we will address one particular aspect of our life of faith in the Church so that we can go deeper. One thing that may actually happen is the homilies might be a little bit shorter, as I don't have to jam everything into one one single homily. But if I permit myself to stretch it over two, three, four weeks ... so I'm not promising you shorter homilies, but they could be a by-product. 

But all of that is essentially to say that I want to get back to the basics for you, but also for me. I recognize that my love for the Lord is not where it should be either. And as Isaiah simply says, let us go to the house of the Lord, so that He might instruct us in His ways. So I need to learn from my God for myself, and we need to learn from Him as well as He speaks with us, and then we may walk in His paths. 

Anyone who is married, I'm pretty sure you know a little bit more about your spouse today than on the day of your wedding. Hopefully you like them a little bit more now. For those of you with children, much the same. You knew them, but as they grow and develop you learn more and more about them. In any relationship, you come to know more about a particular person, and in doing so, hopefully we learn to love them more. I've experienced that in my experience of the priesthood just on a practical level, a personal level, getting to know so many of you in a more personal way by various means. But one of the ways it has struck me is in the confessional. I've heard a thousand times, and I know I've thought and presumed similar things myself ... "When I go to confession, surely the priest is going to know who I am, especially if face to face, and next time he sees me, he's going to be thinking of my sins. I know it. Next time I see him at the market, the ball field or wherever, he's going to be looking at me thinking 'Uhuh ... it's one of those sinners over there.'" And it's this presumption that the priest looks upon on us with our sins in mind. I'm guilty of it myself, even as a priest. But what I have discovered personally for myself, I've never heard it from another priest, but I presume much could be said the same, is that in the sacrament of Reconciliation, in Confession, there's something strange that happens. I can only gather that it is the grace of the Lord Jesus conforming my heart to be more like a good priest like a should be, and it's whenever you come in and sit before me - I know you and love you on that level for what I see in the normal world - but as you open your heart, I am able to love you not only in your goodness but also in your brokenness, to love more of you. And that's the thing that has struck me, as a priest I learn to love people more on account of their sins, not less. Not to be more judgmental, but to be more compassionate, to be more joyful in the presence of others. That's our desire for the Lord Jesus with this - to be able to come to the Lord and learn more about Him, learn about the richness of our faith, that in the course of it, our love might increase. I can stand up here all day and tell you to love Jesus, but if I don't give you any fuel for the fire, it doesn't really help. And too many times I feel I've been just standing here saying love Jesus, but haven't given fuel haven't helped you to love Jesus as you should. Nor have I given myself the same. So it's my intention for us to enter into this year as an opportunity for catechesis, formation - being formed and shaped by our faith. 

A couple of weeks ago or maybe last week, I mentioned the online program. I know a handful of you have already made use of it and I am delighted at that. But I really want to encourage each and everyone of you, if you have internet access at all, go to and check it out. I saw that because there are audio, books, videos, movie programs, Bible study, small groups, prayer groups, everything under the sun is there. But there are two special things that I think would be helpful for us immediately today: one of them is that they have a scripture reflection on the main page so that you can go and listen to reflections breaking open the word of God in the scriptures each week but they also have an Advent video program on reflections for the Advent season. I am mentioning that as a way of kind of holding myself accountable, that if I am saying I'm going to do it and telling you to do it, I have to actually do it. I've been wanting to do it, but need an extra push. So, I'm going to ask you to hold me accountable to make sure I'm actually keeping up with it myself. 

Again, we are called to enter into the season, to begin again. To look forward to the coming of the Lord Jesus, to look forward to the day where He comes to us at Christmas, on the Last Day as well as each day in the encounter of our Christian life. I encourage myself and each of you with the words of Isaiah, "O house of Jacob, [Church of God,] come let us walk in the light of the Lord." Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

My King - Homily for November 20

Readings for Sunday, November 20 / Solemnity of Christ the King: 2 Samuel 5:1-3  |  Psalm 122  |  Colossians 1:12-20  |  Luke 23:35-43

“Trump is not my president.” Anybody heard that in the last week or so? It's an interesting response - a rejection of the President-elect, but it doesn't change the fact that come January he will in fact be the President of the United States. It does change the disposition of one's heart so there is a sense of an unwillingness to hear his words and to presume on good - to have an open heart to see what happens. It's a true statement in a sense, but even more true is that Jesus Christ is King of the universe. Maybe four years from now, or eight years from now, one can truly say Donald Trump is not the president, he's not my president - and say it in truth because he will be replaced by someone else. But there will never be a time or a place where one can say Jesus Christ is not the King. Never. For all of history, Christ reigns. 

Yesterday I had the privilege of going to Zion Travelers Baptist Church to be able to assist with a double funeral of Clayton Guidry and Christopher Armister. And in preparation for that, obviously not being a Catholic ceremony, we were trying to get our ducks in a row - myself and the other pastor - to try and see who was doing what and in what order. And so we were talking on the phone a couple days prior, and after we had sorted out some of the details regarding the service, we just started talking about being ministers of the Gospel. We began to talk about some of those things and one thing Rev. Tircuit said struck me; it’s something that I think applies to us this weekend. He said, "You know Father, our job isn't, nor are we able to, drag people into Heaven. We can't tie a rope to them and drag them behind us kicking and screaming just to get them to the pearly gates. Our job is basically we go, we proclaim the good news of Jesus, and if they accept it, good, and if not, it's not our fault." It was that recognition of the personal reality that indeed, just as one needs to accept the president as their president and have an openness to him, even more so it's the same with Christ - to have an openness to Christ, an openness to hearing His voice, seeking His choice for us. What is the will of God for me? To be willing to follow it. To have Him speak on my behalf. To have Him make decision for me. Are we willing to let Christ be that kind of King? Where we step back and let Him rule not just a portion of our lives, not just Sunday morning during the 9:30 am - 10:30 am slot, or the time in prayer throughout the day that we have those little spots here in there, but to rule every single moment, every single second, to let Jesus Christ be our King. 

The Old Testament says, "I set before you today two choices, two paths: life and death. Choose life." Choose life. Choose Christ. Choose eternity. Choose heaven. Anything you want to say - that's all the same. They are the same reality. To place ourselves in the care of Christ our God - that's the end point. 

As we come to this last Sunday in the liturgical year, we come with an opportunity to start fresh. Today is the last day of the Year of Mercy, but it doesn't have to be the end of the time of mercy, in fact, God's mercy is endless. So every day, we have the privilege of celebrating the mercy of God. Next weekend we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent, the new liturgical year, and it's an opportunity for us to start again. Just the same as we like to make our New Year's resolutions for January 1 - and usually fall off by January 2 - but with God, we can do even greater things. With God we can come and begin in Advent, to commit ourselves once more to allowing Christ to be truly our King, to let Him reign in hearts, but also in our daily lives. It's an opportunity, again, to start fresh, to recommit. And so if you haven't been attending Sunday Mass regularly, been a little spotty here and there, commit again today, right now, to coming every Sunday. Or if you've been coming to daily Mass every now and then, but have been slacking off on it, commit again today to be here with the Lord. If you have permitted yourself a time of prayer but sometimes other things take a little more importance and the prayer falls to the back seat, commit again today to letting Christ be first. If there are times in the course of our day that we don't really allow mercy to shine through in our hearts, commit again today to being a person of mercy. All of these things are invitations for us - graces that the Lord holds out and says, "Come. Come to Me." He says it directly in the Gospel, "Come to Me all you who are burdened and I will give You rest. My yoke is sweet and My burden is light." Come to me. Join yourself to Me. To the extent that we join our self to Jesus Christ things become easier, even if they become harder. Even if the weight of the cross becomes a little more heavy on our shoulders, it also becomes lighter in a sense because we bear it in union with Christ. Who among us would choose a king whose throne looked like a cross? And yet, that's what the Lord calls us to, to let Him lead us in ways that sometimes seem foolish, in ways that seem worthy of mockery to those around us. To give everything to Christ, and to the extent that we do it, He does the work for us. I need not worry of taking care of things myself, as Christ would on it on my behalf. My King will lead me, and that's good. 

At the end of the liturgical year on Christ the King Sunday, there is a prayer of consecration to the heart of Jesus that the Church has given us as an indulgenced prayer. Again it's a prayer of consecration of ourselves in our world to the Most Sacred Heart of the Lord and to prayer that our hearts will become like His. Indeed that's always the invitation, to let our hearts, representing our whole person, be placed within His. His heart that burns for others, that burns with love for us, and longs to receive us into heaven. He can't drag us either, as much as He would like to I'm sure. So it's for us to place ourselves in His care. To place our heart in His heart, that we might love like He loves. And so we offer this prayer, and again the Church offers a plenary indulgence to those that offer this prayer on this feast. It's a wonderful grace to offer this prayer. And so I offer it with you and on your behalf and encourage you to allow the words that are spoken to truly resonate within your hearts. 
Most sweet Jesus, Redeemer of the human race, look down upon us humbly prostrate before you. We are yours, and yours we wish to be; but to be more surely united with you, behold each one of us freely consecrates himself today to your Most Sacred Heart. Many indeed have never known you; many, too, despising your precepts, have rejected you. Have mercy on them all, most merciful Jesus, and draw them to your Sacred Heart.  
Be King, O Lord, not only of the faithful who have never forsaken you, but also of the prodigal children who have abandoned you; grant that they may quickly return to their Father's house, lest they die of wretchedness and hunger.  
Be King of those who are deceived by erroneous opinions, or whom discord keeps aloof, and call them back to the harbor of truth and the unity of faith, so that soon there may be but one flock and one Shepherd.  
Grant, O Lord, to your Church assurance of freedom and immunity from harm; give tranquility of order to all nations; make the earth resound from pole to pole with one cry: Praise to the divine Heart that wrought our salvation; to it be glory and honor for ever. Amen.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Prophetic Word - Homily for November 13

The election is over ... thanks be to God! And I have to say, it was a bit disheartening to go and vote this past Tuesday, to go into the little poll booth and look down a rather lengthy list of presidential candidates and to see not one who really embodied a full Catholic approach. Not to find one, single person on the list that I could really put my trust into really leading our country in accordance with the ways that Christ teaches us through our faith. And thinking about that and praying with that throughout the course of the day and then sense, it continues to remind me that we're not made to be here, we're made to be elsewhere - in Heaven. It's the reminder that we try and make Earth what it's not supposed to be.

In response to so many of the political ads and such, it was interesting to see various people's responses as I was watching them on Facebook. Facebook is the wonderful thing to be able to see people's true opinions, quite often, and it was funny to see people's responses to the two primary candidates - Hillary and Donald - to be able to see the two of them and that nachos or tacos were more often preferred as an option to either the other presidential candidates on other fake ballots. But the one that caught me most of all, that got a chuckle out of me but also spoke to the same reality, is one of them had a fake political sign that said "Big meteor from the sky 2016!" They were essentially saying that it would be better for a meteor to fall from the sky and end it all, then to have our political candidates leading us, which is a rather dramatic statement. But it's something that actually jives really well with the scriptures this weekend because that statement, as well as what the Lord Jesus speaks to us, is essentially the same - that this world will end and we need to stop trying to make it what it isn't. 

In the Gospel, we have the disciples looking and marveling at the temple. The temple is said to be one of the most beautiful things that anyone had ever seen - it was one of the Great Wonders of the World. People would see it and just be in awe. The beautiful whitewashed stones and the jewels, adornments and decoration - that whenever you saw the temple far of, it glistened and radiated with sunlight. A beautiful thing to behold. And the disciples are marveling at it, and rightly so, rejoicing in the beauty of this building. And in the midst of that, the Lord Jesus says that all this you see, all this beauty, all this goodness, everything you are marveling at - there will come a day when not one stone will be on top of the other. It rattles, as so often Jesus does. It shakes them and they wonder, "Lord ... When? Why? What are the signs? How can we know?" And He gives a prophetic response. He tells them that there will be some who come and claim to be "myself" claim to be Jesus, that they will claim to be Christs, Saviors ... If you follow me I can make everything better; If you follow me, everything will be well. "Do not follow them," He says. He says there will be wars and insurrections, famines and plagues, earthquakes and sights in the sky - these will be signs that it will come soon. And then last, the temple will fall. But before all these things, they will persecute you. They will lead you before governors and kings, lead you into prisoners - your brothers and your sisters, fathers and mothers, your friends - they will lead you before them, they will renounce you because of My name and some of you will die. Frightening words. Quite a bit more to chew on then the disciples desired as they were simply marveling at the beauty of this building. And yet it is the word of Christ coming to them to warn them of what was coming - a prophetic message. And indeed it came to pass. 

Immediately following the death of Christ, we know the disciples began to endure much persecution. Ten of the eleven, other than Judas, were martyred for the faith. John died in exile. After the time of Jesus, there were some major events around the world; there were earthquakes and storms, events in the skies, wars and insurrections. And in the year 70 A.D., the Roman army came into Jerusalem and crushed the temple - destroyed it - pulled every stone off of the other one, just as Jesus had said. Everything He said came to pass, in exactly the manner He described it. But it would be wrong for us to think that the Lord Jesus was describing one particular event and it's already happened, so we don't need to worry anymore. Because what happens whenever the prophets speaks - and Jesus is a prophet, the greatest of the prophets - they prophesy almost in two ways: 1) an immediate manner and 2) something farther off in the distance that God alone knows, but they have a glimpse of. 

So often in the Old Testament, the Old Testament prophets would prophesy about one who would come and save the people, and so often it would be that there would be an immediate person - a new king would be raised up, a new prophet, new judge, would come and help the people of God. And they would be saved from their current crisis, but all of those ultimately pointed toward the coming of the Christ Himself, Jesus. In much the same way, Christ speaks to this temple. He says they will come and will destroy it, there will be persecutions of the people, there will be wars and insurrections, one who claim to be the Christ, there will be so many sights in the sky and then the temple will fall. 

We don't have to look around too far to find much of the same scenario is still taking place 2000 years later. There is still persecution of the Church, as I mentioned last weekend. Persecution of the members of Christ, abandoned by their brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, and friends. And some of them die. There is still some who come and say, "If you put your trust in me, I can make it all better." If you click the right button in the voting poll booth, all will be saved, all will be good again. Secular Christs who invite us to trust in them rather than our Lord. Ones who come and we recognize, point out, in the world around us that there are earthquakes and storms and sights in the sky. All of this is simply to point out the fact that we are still waiting for another temple to fall, and it's the temple of this world as we understand it. This world that we live in today, again, it will end, and the day of judgment will come. Malachi prophesied. So we listen to that call, and we have to respond the same way as the disciples did in those first days. Of course, we never know when the end will come. It could be ten minutes from now. It could be ten thousand years from now. Our response right now for every single one of us should be exactly the same regardless. How do we respond? How do we respond to the reality that the Lord will come again in glory at some point? 

The Lord Jesus gives us a hint at the answer. He says don't prepare your defense ahead of time, but trust Me that I will give you the words. A lot of times whenever we hear the end of the world is going to come soon, I am always intrigued by the ones who start gathering cans, as if gathering cans of green beans is going to save anything when the end of the world comes. A lot of times that is our approach, whether physically or spiritually speaking. We try to store up our goods, so that when the Lord comes, we already have everything planned out. I got it fixed Lord, don't worry! I've got my system down. Rather, He invites us to a radical trust. Not to pre-plan for the last day, but to trust that He will lead us whenever it comes - if it comes in our lifetime. 

I want to invite you to a few specific things - how to prepare: 

1) Go to confession! I've said it a thousand times, but so often I still sit in the confessional and pray. I pray my breviary, I pray my rosary, my Divine Mercy chaplet and various other prayers. And I pray, hoping that someday, I won't have time to pray in the confessional because I'll be hearing confessions. Go to confession. It is THE BEST way to prepare for the Lord. It cleanses all of our sins. What better way to prepare?

2) Charity - Love the person in front of you - whoever it is - love them. Love them as if they were Christ Jesus themselves. So many of the lives of the saints, they show us that we can love the other as Christ - they show us how to do it. There are various saint who would go and serve in the hospitals. There was one in particular, I forget his name, but he would go from bed to bed asking for forgiveness for his sins from the people he was serving. Some of them weren't even Christian and he was begging them as if they were Christ, to show him mercy, because he loved them so much, he treated them as Christ. So much the same for us. In the world where there is an opportunity every ten seconds, to find a lack of charity, impatience with others, judgmental-ism, and so much worse - to love the other as if they were Christ because indeed, in a sense, they are. Whatever you do to the least of these, You do to me. And who knows who the least among us is. 

3) Pray daily and to pray intensely. A lot of times we content ourselves to offer up just our road prayers, the memorized prayers - Our Fathers', Hail Mary's, Glory Be's, etc. - which are good and holy, and we should pray them. But we can't content ourselves to pray only them. We must have a living relationship with Christ, so that when He comes, He knows us and we know Him. He knows the sound of our voice and we know the sound of His. To spend that time regularly in prayer, certainly at Mass, but even in your own homes, places that you find yourself through the course of the day. To speak to the Lord - there. There doesn't have to happen exclusively in the chapel - to find ourselves with the Lord often and to know that He is with us. 

Confession. Charity. Prayer. It's the basic elements to prepare our hearts. 

As we come to reflect upon the end of times, and reflect upon the Lord Jesus coming again in glory, we know too that there is one who comes with an army who does not want us to draw close to Christ - Satan. He wants to pull us away from the Lord, wants to pull us even the smallest bits away from the grace of Christ. St. Peter describes in the scriptures as "prowling around like a roaring lion waiting for someone to devour." A roaring lion waiting to pounce upon us and consume our soul. And so we renounce him and rebuke him. Today we choose Christ. 

So I want to invite you to pray with me the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, a prayer composed by Pope Leo XIII a little over a century ago. It's a prayer that calls upon St. Michael whose name means "Who is Like God." It's a mockery of Satan. Satan who thinks himself like God, and St. Michael comes and says, "Who is like God? Not you." So we call upon St. Michael to be with us as we go forth in battle today. To be able to allow our hearts to be filled with the charity and love of Christ which comes forth from the Holy Eucharist. And to be able to go forth and to love Christ as He loves us.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What Can I Do? - Homily for November 6

This weekend's set of readings begins with readings from the second book of Maccabees which is a
noteworthy book for us. It's one of the latest written, was only about 150 years before the life of Christ whereas some of the other books date back to more than 1000 years before the life of Christ. And so it shows to us how the Jewish faith had experienced some growth, change and development as well as cultural experiences. We see what was taking place was a persecution - the people were being persecuted on account of their faith. What the seven brothers show us today, in the abbreviated account of their martyrdom, is that if we hold to our faith, it will cost us something. These were the martyrs of the Old Testament, but the same is said of the martyrs of the New Testament - that if we hold fast to Jesus Christ, it will cost us. 

Jose was a young boy - you may have heard his story before as I have preached about it. He was one who wasn't really alive in his faith, just like most of the boys in his town. They had a town priest and from time to time they would pick on him, throw things at him, make jokes - wasn't very serious about it. Jose began to experience a conversion of his own heart and began to draw close to the priest as the priest began to take Jose under his wing to teach him the things of the faith. Jose was still a little far away from the Lord though, he didn't have that dramatic, living gift of faith, but he was getting there. The time began when the Church where Jose lived began to be persecuted. To be a priest in your clerics meant that you could be shot on the spot. If you celebrated Mass, you could be shot. If you attended Mass, you could be shot. There was no catechism, no sacraments, n -o faith in the public forum according to the law of the land. A number of people began to rebel against this, desiring to live, express and practice their faith. Jose was among their number. As he began to understand the importance of faith and what the lack of it meant for him and his people. He joined a group of "rebels" - Catholics who wanted to remain Catholic and live their faith, to have the freedom to practice it in the public square. Jose was ultimately captured and tortured. The soles of his feet were cut off, and he was marched across town ... to a grave that was dug. It had all the dirt and the hole ready to go, and at the head of the grave were his parents and his godfather. And they said, "Jose, all you have to do is deny Jesus. You don't even have to mean it, you just have to say it. Just deny Jesus and you can go home. This will end, the suffering will stop, you can go be with your parents, your godfather, your family and your friends again." And Jose looked at them, and then his executors, and said "Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King!" and he was killed on the spot. With his last bit of energy, in the dirt on the ground ahead of him, he drew a small cross as a testament to his faith. Jose was 14 years old when he died, and it was less than 100 years ago in Mexico. Not in a land far, far away in a time long, long ago. A lot of times we think that the martyrs of the Church were way back, but as Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis have also proclaimed and try to draw our attention to is that in the last 100 years, the Church has seen more people martyred for the faith the previous 1800 years combined. To be a Christian and cling to Jesus Christ is to know that it will cost us something. 

For many people today it costs blood. We pray not that it will be the same for us. But even if it doesn't cost us blood, it costs us something else. The story of Jose is one that I love, I'm fascinated by the gift of faith that was bestowed upon that man especially at such a tender age. but what strikes me even more is the reading from Maccabees this weekend. Jose had a dramatic experience; it was something that he had to deny Jesus, verbally at least. Even if he didn't believe it in his heart, he had to verbally say, "I renounce Jesus." That's a big thing for a Christian. What the Maccabee brothers experienced was something much smaller. It was the desire of God that the Jewish people not partake of pork, and the only thing that was asked of them, seven brother martyrs in front of their mother (whom they saved for last to watch them all die - shows you the wickedness of it all); all they had to do was eat a little pork. They didn't have to renounce their God. They didn't have to worship other gods. They just had to eat a little bit of pork. And it got me thinking as I was praying with that vision, that understanding of just how much they were willing to go just to uphold the smallest of laws of their faith. 

Who among us on a Good Friday - one of the two days of the year that the Church invites us to fast or abstain from meat - who of us when presented with a gun to our head and a steak in front of us would not take a bite. Think about it. Who among us? I'd be willing to pick up a fork and a knife and start cutting. There's always confession, right? But seriously. We laugh, but that's exactly what the Maccabean brothers did, and their mother .... We get the abbreviated form of the story. There was seven brothers and all seven of them all said something. And you would think the mother would say, "Just eat the pork!" But instead the mother said, "Honor us. Lay down your life." Imagine watching all seven of your children die, and you encouraging them on account of faith, for pork. How seriously do we take our faith these days? How quickly we are willing to fall away and abandon anything and everything that our faith teaches us to say a little hair on our hide. How quick we can be to cast off Jesus even in the small ways for the sake of a little comfort. 

I would like to think that whenever the big times come that I could persevere and follow Jesus - that if someone came to me, put that gun to my head and said choose Christ or Jesus, I would like to be able to say that I would choose Jesus. But I'm not really sure, and the reason I'm not sure is because in the last several months, I think I've made 7 a.m. Mass at the Church on time once. Once. Seven o'clock Mass. I prefer the comfort of my bed and a few more minutes of sleep than to get up for the love of Christ, for His people and be at Mass on time. And that's my job, it's my vocation ... I literally laid down on the cathedral floor for that - to offer Mass. I can sit in front of the TV and watch the World Series until midnight and be perfectly in tune, but you put me in front of the Blessed Sacrament after 9 p.m. and I'm gone in three minutes. Where is my love for Jesus? Am I willing to suffer for Him? Am I willing to be inconvenienced for Him? And are you? It's the simple things: to have another drinks or not, to have a little more food or not. Sunday Mass .. meh. Holy days of obligation ... the Lord understands, I'm busy. I have things going on. And those are big things. What about the little things? The course of prayer throughout our day, to be with Jesus Christ even for a few moments of prayer, and how often I, myself, am busy about the other things than about the things of the Lord. It's easier to play on the computer or play with a cat than it is to visit with Christ. 

There is a little sign above my desk that I put there on purpose that I try to remember, but too often I forget. It's a quote from Sirach that says, "When you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials." It's the reminder that when I come to serve Jesus, it's supposed to cost me something; it's supposed to be uncomfortable. It's supposed to be difficult sometimes; it's supposed to feel like a cross because it means we are in union with Jesus. Jesus taking on flesh wasn't a pleasant thing for Him - it was a cross, it was humiliation, suffering, sorrow, ultimately was pain, rejection and loneliness at the last hour, and He did it for love of us. The question is: What can I do for love for Him? And what can you?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Papal Intentions for November 2016

Papal Intentions for November 2016

Universal Intention: That the countries which take in a great number of displaced persons and refugees may find support for their efforts which show solidarity.
Mission Intention: That within parishes, priests and lay people may collaborate in service to the community without giving in to the temptation of discouragement.

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. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Three Ways - Homily for October 9

The second reading today is St. Paul's letter to Timothy and he is writing about the sufferings he is
baring and how he is even in chains for the love of Christ and for the good of the Gospel as he goes forth to spread the good news of salvation in the world. It's a common thing for him to do - indeed in the lives of the saints as indicated throughout the centuries that it's a good thing for us to reflect on the ways in which we suffer with the Lord, to reflect upon on own sufferings, to reflect upon the sufferings of Christ. In light of that, it came to me of another account of one who was praying with the idea of sufferings - St. Faustina Kowalska. St. Faustina is the great apostle of Divine Mercy. If you pray the Divine Mercy chaplet or if you've ever heard of the Divine Mercy, it came through her. The Lord Jesus appeared to her and gave her the good news to be able to spread His mercy to the world. St. Faustina was one who received a special grace of receiving visions from Christ. The Lord came and gave her a unique experience - not just meditating on the mysteries of the sufferings of Jesus - but experiencing them herself: to experience what it was to be scourged, to experience the crown of thorns, to experience the pain and sorrow of His heart of being rejected by His disciples as they all fled except for John. She experienced these things in a unique way. She knew the sufferings of Jesus, and she tried to unite herself to them. One day she was in the chapel and the Lord came and gave her a different experience of sufferings. And He showed her a multiple of a people, a great number of people; three groups. He looked at her and said, "Do you see these people?" She said, "Yes." And He described them to her, "See the first group. They are simply holding their cross. The second, they have their cross on their shoulder. They are walking, but dragging their cross behind them reluctantly. The third group - see that they are nailed to their cross." She gazed out and saw these things, and the Lord said to her: to the extent to which you unite yourself to my suffering (to the extent to which you nail yourself to the cross, to allow yourself to die) to that extent you will also be with Me in glory. To the extent that you suffer with me, to that extent you will receive glory. That's essentially what St. Paul also says in the scripture today, that if we die with Christ we will live with Him, and if we persevere, we will reign with Him. If we allow ourselves to be united to Christ in His suffering, in imitation of His obedience to the Father, we will share in His glory.

That story came to mind because we essentially see those three groups of people, those three responses to the will of God, in the scriptures today. Two of those we see embodied in the person of Naaman. The ones holding their crosses are the ones who recognize the cross; they see the cross, they know the plan of God, and yet they say, "No." They recognize the cross, but refuse to follow. That was Naaman. We saw in past days (it's not in full text here today) that Naaman was one who was very hard of heart. He was one who was inflicted with an illness. It was common for one to go from place to place to place to find who might be the best healer so that you might be healed. Evidently Naaman had tried a number of places, and yet they were not effective. And so he goes to Elisha, the great prophet of Israel and successor to Elijah, because he knows Elisha is a man of great power, a man of God. Naaman comes to Elisha and says, "I want to be healed. What do I do?" Elisha say, "Go dip yourself seven times in the river." And Naaman comments that there is nicer water where he is from, and that he has seen more healings over there - that seems a rather small thing to do, rather simple, just to dunk himself in the water seven times. "No. I'm not doing that. That's too simple. God doesn't work that way, God wouldn't heal that way. It has to be something much bigger." And he starts to walk away. He sees his cross and says no. Naaman begins to leave, but one of his servants comes up to him and tells him to stop. The servants says, "If He had asked you to do something great and big, something difficult, you would've easily done it because you would've thought that was the will of God for you. But He's asking you to do something so simple. Just to go to the river and wash in it seven times. You've come all this way, all this time, all this effort, all this money, resources for us all to come here with you. Why not just go try?" And Naaman has a moment of conversion and says ok. He goes, plunges seven times in the water (that's where we pick up today) and he is healed. He goes back to Elisha because he realizes who God is, that God doesn't work in exactly the manner he desires, but he is willing to follow the Lord as the Lord desires. To do God's will, rather than to hold the cross, look at it and say no. But rather to climb upon the cross and allow himself and his will to be crucified, that the will of the Father might be made manifest.

It's interesting that he comes back to Elisha and he wants to give a gift, some type of monetary gift or donation to show his gratitude. A lot of times we see that - we receive a blessing from God and we want to do something in return. Elisha says, "No that's not why I'm here. I don't want anything." But we see an interesting response on Naaman's part who says that if Elisha won't take the gift than to at least let him take two mule loads of dirt back home. To us that seems an odd request, but for them it was quite sensible and a profound expression of faith. In the days of Elisha the prophet, there was an understanding that gods were localized, that there was a god of this place, and that place, and the god that place. Wherever you were that's where your god was, that's who your god was. When Naaman realizes he was healed, that's why he says, "Now I believe that there are no other gods, but the God of Israel [the God of this place]." All the others are fake. This One is real, and it's this One that I want to be with, it's this God. But he also knows that he wants to go back home where he's from, so he needs this God, of this land. He wants to take two mule loads worth of dirt, so that the God of Israel might come with him as he brings a part of Israel back home and that he could build an altar on that dirt, and there offer sacrifices to that God. He is essentially saying, "I've been healed and I want to do anything and everything to be united to this God because I know this One has power." A great testament of faith.

We see a similar testament in the Gospel as we have the ten lepers. Again, one of them is cleansed and comes back and throws himself at the feet of Jesus, much like Naaman did with Elisha, thanking God for such a profound blessings. Again, he too realizes the way in which God has worked, that the will of God has been made manifest. He climbs up onto the cross to rejoice and follow the Lord, whatever may be the cost.

These are two great examples, but the problem is that group of the nine. The nine should trouble us a bit. The nine who receive healing from Jesus Himself. They too receive that simple penance of go wash in the water, except it's go show yourself to the priest - an easy thing. They don't expect God to work in that way, but they kind of humor Him in a sense. And when they are healed, they don't come back. And that group is the middle group that was describe to St. Faustina - the one's who pick up their cross, but still try to go their own way, they drag it grudgingly because they don't really want to follow the will of God, but they will if they have to. That's them - the nine. The ones who go offer, and they recognize the will of God. They go with it a bit, but they still try to make it their own path, still try to make the cross their own, not simply to climb upon it and allow the Father's will to be perfectly completed.

My brothers and sisters, the nine is the easy way, and the nine is us. We are the nine. A lot of times we can be the one who is reluctant and completely hard-hearted to God, and a lot of times we can be the one that's completely open to God and everything He desires of us perfectly. But majority of the time, we are the nine. We are the ones who accept the will of God, but we still want it our way. "I'll do your will Father, but let me tell you how it should be done, when it should be done, and what manner it should be done. I'll do Your will Lord. I'll allow myself to suffering a bit, but I'm not going to the extent at which You desire. I'll do your will, but I'm not going all the way." It's a reluctance of our hearts. Second best when it comes to it.

The scary thing is - the devil loves second best. He loves it. We don't talk about the devil enough these days, unfortunately. Maybe I should. But the devil is real, and the scriptures say that he is prowling about like a roaring lion waiting for someone to devour. He's looking after each of us, every moment of the day, he and the other demons of the earth, prowling around trying to find ways to lead us from Christ. They are not so foolish as to come and put the thought in our mind to completely reject Jesus or completely reject His will. They are not foolish enough to think that we would fall for that because usually we see it for what it is, that it's clearly not God, clearly something that's turning me away from Christ, no. When we see a firm rejection of Christ, we usually recognize it for what it is. The devil knows that. Rather choose that path and be completely rejected, the devil encourages us to choose second best. Whatever he can do to get us a little bit closer to himself and a little bit farther from Christ. Anything that he can do to gain us a little less grace than we would have, to love Christ a little less than we could have, to be able to follow the Lord a little less closely and to be more concerned with my will than I would have been otherwise. That's what the devil loves, and it's our job not to make the devil happy. It's our job to reject his lies, because he's a lie and a deceiver. So often, he points out things to us a if they were good, but it's only because he knows they are the second best, and it's his hope to draw us away form the Lord.

Christ calls us, and He calls us to perfect obedience. To allow ourselves to truly be crucified, and not simply to grudgingly carry our cross, dragging it behind us. He calls us to much more because He wants us to have His glory. Remember, if we die with Him, we will live with Him, and if we persevere, we will reign with Him. To the extent that we allow our sufferings to be united to Him in this life, to the extent that we are obedient to the Father in imitation of Him, to that same extent we will share in His glory. That's a big thing - to allow ourselves to rejoice in the glory of God the Father for eternity. It's the good that Christ calls us to.

There are many things that we could reflect upon on how we respond to the will of God. We could look at how we bear our own crosses, our own sufferings. We could look at the ways in which we desire healing, much like the ones in the Gospels. We could look at the ways in which we struggle with the will of God in various other courses of our life. But I want to invite you to reflect upon three ways in which God calls us to Himself. They are rather simple, and yet I think they are the foundation of our entire life of faith. How obedient are we to the Father's will in the manner of these three things: confession, Mass and daily prayer.

I've often said, and preached a number of times about it, that for us to have growth in the spiritual life, for us to have a life of faith that's actually nourishing and productive, producing fruits of the Holy Spirit, we must go to confession monthly, Mass weekly, and prayer daily. You want growth? There is your system. The Church sets the bar rather low for us because She knows it's difficult for us sometimes, because we do struggle with carrying the cross - nine out of the ten lepers struggled with it. The Church recognizes and sets the bar low for us, but encourages us to go higher. We are required to go to confession once a year. But who among us would rather go an entire year of harming relationships only to have to say, "I'm sorry" once and it covers everything? Do we not rather whenever we hurt someone we love, go back and apologize rather quickly? Do we not rather go back and ask forgiveness for our faults, rather than wait for 2, 10, 12 months later when it doesn't really hit us as much? To go to Reconciliation regularly is a wonderful grace to allow us to encounter the mercy and healing of Christ, to heal the relationship which is so often wounded by our sins though we can be unaware of it.

The Church calls us to go to Mass once a week. We are obligated once a week on Sundays to attend Holy Mass as well as on the Holy Days of Obligation, so it's about 57 times a year. This year you get off easy because a couple of Holy Days are on Sunday, so I think we are down to 55 days, 55 hours, that God calls us to be at Mass. 55 hours. Who among us has worked more than 55 hours in the past week? Think about the time you put in just in a workweek or the time you spend just on your children or grandchildren. Think about those relationships and how important they are for you. God calls us for 57 hours roughly, a very small amount. He would love more, certainly. But for us to be able to recognize that. Even if that's the best we can do, because work obligations sometimes prevent us from getting to daily Mass and such, but if that's the best we can do - it's to squeeze every drop of the joy, grace and peace that we can out of this Mass. To enter into it as fully as we can, and to rejoice in the celebration of Mass, this encounter with Christ in the altar.

Lastly, daily prayer. Daily prayer is really the key to all of this because we can go to confession frequently, we can go to Mass weekly, but if we don't have that encounter with prayer, our relationship with Christ really will not grow. Because basically it becomes simply a means of becoming a checklist conversation. Our novena prayers, where you pray the same thing every week, on Thursdays we pray a novena to the Mother of Perpetual Help, it's good, it's holy, it's beautiful. But if our relationship with the Lord is based off a script, there's an issue. If our relationship with Christ is based of someone else's words or prayer, rather than my own encounter with Him, allowing my heart to speak to Him and His heart to speak to me, than it's not really a relationship. It's a book, a story we read about. It's not a relationship with Christ.

How faithful are we in obedience to the Father? Confession, Mass, daily prayer. He sets the bar low because He wants us to come, but as soon as we commit, He invites us to come higher, to go more, to go farther, because He loves us. Because He wants us to share in His glory. He wants to have us experience His peace, ultimately just like the ones in the scriptures, because He wants to heal our aching hearts.

Let us pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit in this Mass, the Holy Spirit who is already residing in our hearts by virtue of Baptism, that He might come and be stirred up once again. As the Lord Jesus comes to us in the gift of the Eucharist, we might be able to have those blessed gifts come and conform our hearts, soften our hearts convert our hearts once more today, to be able to seek the will of the Father and to do it with joy.