Monday, April 3, 2017

Papal Intentions for April 2017

Papal Intention for April 2017

Pope's Prayer Intention - Young People: That young people may respond generously to their vocations and seriously consider offering themselves to God in the priesthood or consecrated life.

Urgent Intention - Landslide Victims: Victims of the landslide in Colombia and peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Venezuela, and Paraguay.

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. 

Lent: How to go to Confession - Homily for April 2

Readings for Sunday, April 2 / 5th Sunday of Lent: Ezekiel 37:12-14  |  Psalm 130  |  Romans 8:8-11  |  John 11:1-45

Sometimes it's the lack of comfort with the words and structure of Confession that the devil uses to keep us away from the Sacrament. So let's hit the nuts and bolts on how to celebrate the Sacrament. Then put it into practice.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Lent: The Plan - Homily for March 12

Readings for Sunday, March 12 / 2nd Sunday of Lent: Genesis 12:1-4  |  Psalm 33  |  2 Timothy 1:8-10  |  Matthew 17:1-9

God has a plan for you today. It involves your holiness and some hardship. Bear your share of the hardship in the Gospel and spread the joy of knowing Jesus Christ to all whom you meet.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Lent: The Grappin - Homily for March 5

Beginning this weekend, I will be posting my Sunday homilies in audio-only format on account of the extra time it takes to type, format, and post the text version. I apologize if this causes some inconvenience for you, but I trust you understand. I will continue to post the audio portion here along with links to the readings as normal. Thank you, as always, and know of my prayers for each of you. Please pray for me too.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Papal Intentions for March 2017

Papal Intention for March 2017

That persecuted Christians may be supported by the prayers and material help of the whole Church.

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. Amen.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Pre-Lent: Almsgiving - Homily for February 26

Readings for Sunday, February 26 / 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Isaiah 49:14-15  |  Psalm 62  |  1 Corinthians 4:1-5  |  Matthew 6:24-34

Ash Wednesday, just a few days away, we come to the end of the Lenten homily series, the pre-Lent. And so we have reflected in recent weeks on the aspect of fasting, reflected on prayer, and today we come to that invitation the Lord God gives to us of alms-giving, to continue to correct our hearts to show to show generosity, but even more so to instill within us trust in our God. 

At the college seminary, things were pretty easy as far as a life of discernment and prayer, relatively speaking, it wasn't too stressful because priesthood was still somewhere else, it was still far in the distance, it was a good at-least four years away at most. And so there was not a lot of pressure, but when I moved to the theology seminary in New Orleans, there was a whole different ball game. You would walk out the door and the guy next to you is already wearing a Roman collar and you referred to him as deacon. It is a different reality as it puts a whole lot more stress on the actual discernment of one's possible vocation to the priesthood. There was a lot more focus on the life of prayer and trying to trust in the Lord that He would in fact give me everything that I needed. And one of the things that helped me more times than I can even count was the statue of Our Lady over the entry way of the seminary itself. As you came in the front door through the parking lot, there was a statue of Our Lady, and at her feet a simple phrase, two words, "Deus Providebit", "God will provide." And over and over again as I walked into the seminary so many times, to look up and read those words, it was a consolation to me "God will provide." It was a reminder that my God loves me and if I actually believe the things that are said about Him, I ought to trust that He will provide for my needs, and not to be consumed with worrying about so many things, but rather simply to trust and do my best each day to follow after Him. Deus Providebit, God will provide." 

It's that sense that the Lord invites us to give alms. Really ultimately to trust in Him, that He will provide for us. Alms-giving comes in a variety of ways, but ultimately it's a recognition that it's something given to us that we are called to give to others. In our seminary course, we had a course on the spiritual life, and there was one reality that they described, the way of God's grace that comes to us, that has continued to resonate within my heart. And it's something that comes in very practical days through the course of the days, and grace was described in two separate ways. The Latin phrasing for one, gratia gratum faciens, which is grace that makes one graced, so it is grace that does something in the individual. And gratia gratis data, grace which is to be freely given. And so it was this recognition that God's grace that comes to us has one of two purposes: either it changes me or it's given to me to help change someone else. On a practical level, it comes out as things such as in the midst of my day when I am struggling with being impatient over something or I want something to happen faster, or I'm stuck in traffic, frustrated with any number of things, I can pray one of those little "arrow prayers" as they say it, those prayers that pierce the heavens and go to the heart of God, and I can simply say, "Lord, help me." And in that moment, God can hear my prayer and grant me the race to be patient in the particular moment, and if I am open to receiving the grace, it can change my heart. And in that particular place, I can become more patient - grace that makes me graced - something that changes my heart. But as we know, there are a number of gifts that are given to us not for me, but for others. Before my ordination to the diaconate, I spend a number of days praying various novenas to different saints and I was praying for certain spiritual gifts that I knew I would need if I was to be able to perform my ministry as a deacon and as a priest in any way, shape or form. I noticed a lot of deficiencies in myself and one of those was in public speaking and in preaching. And so, I prayed for the grace to preach. I don't know if you believe that I have the gift of preaching or not, but I think I do simply on account of the fact that when I was leading community prayer, I knew every single guy, we lived all in the same house, there weren't knew faces or anything else, and all I had to do was simply read out of a book and my hands would be shaking the whole time because I was so nervous. At my first Mass, I forgot the words of the sign of the Cross because my human nature was so freaked out about being in front of people. And so I knew if I was to do anything other than be a mumbling fool in the pulpit, that I would need God's grace. And so I prayed, and I believe it was received. 

But it's not for me. I don't stand up here and preach for myself. I preach to myself quite often, but I don't preach for myself. Rather, I preach that others might be able to hear, that the Gospel might be able to be spread and have some actual transforming power in the midst of our world. It's a grace that comes and is given to me simply, and only, to be given away, that others might be able to receive freely of the gift of God. And that's almsgiving - it's the way in which God gives to us some special gift, He makes us stewards as our second reading refers to today, and He invites us to be generous stewards of our gifts. Every single one of us has received a whole variety of gifts from the Lord our God. They come in different ways. They kind of break out into the three general categories of generosity with our time, generosity with our treasure/finances/world means, and generosity with our talents - the things we are good with essential. So God invites us to make use of these things to whatever extent we are able, to be able to continue to build up the Body of Christ because they are given to us for others, not for ourselves. Again, certainly that doesn't mean that every penny that we take in we have to give away and we just have to trust that someone will pay our light bill and someone else will pay our house note and someone else will pay the car note and insurance - obviously that's not the way it works. But it's not to make the things of this world our God. That's what the Lord speaks of in the Gospel - you can't serve God and mammon; mammon being possessions, things. Rather, we have to trust in the providence of God for us, that our God loves us, He knows what we need, and He will grant it to us. And so He invites us, with the gifts He bestows, to be generous. It's easy for us to say no when asked to be generous with our time. Most of us are pretty busy these days, whether it's things at work, at home, things we are doing with the church, whether it's kids, grandkids or other family obligations that takes us here, there and everywhere and it seems like we don't have a minute to stop, and Father asks us to stay a few minutes after Mass, which I'm going to ask y'all today, to stay a few minutes after Mass. And it's easy for us to go, "I got so many things," and to not give our time. Or to know we have other opportunities to grow in our faith or opportunities to serve someone else, not just in the church but in a larger community, and sometimes we can become stingy with out time, which try to hoard it all to our self, not to be able to give it up. We try to store it up for ourselves - the gift of our time. 

The Lord also bestows upon us many treasures, the things of the world. He gives us many gifts and they can be use for incredibly good things, but sometimes we place our security in the things of the world. I think that if my checking account is big enough, I don't have to worry about anything because I don't have to take care of myself. And as soon as I think I can take care of myself, the Lord usually quickly, and boldly, such is not the case. Remember the man in the Gospel, who having an abundance harvest. He looks out and says, "My barn isn't big enough to hold all this, so I'm going to tear down my barn and build an even bigger one." It doesn't work out for him because he tries to hoard it for himself, take for himself, which was not rightly his. Rather the Lord bestow it upon him, to bestow it in generosity to others. So also our talents, the things that we are good at. A lot of times we think that when we can't do anything for the church because we think we can't read in front of people, we can't do whatever we think we are supposed to be doing to be good Christians. But every single one of us has gifts that can build up the Christian community. If there is something you're good at, I can almost guarantee there is a way the Church can utilize that for the good of the community..To be willing to put ourselves at the service of God and the Church, yes but also in our community. But sometimes we can shrink back and say, you know someone else is better than me in that particular aspect, so I'm not going to do that. But we can tie our talents with our time, and go you know I really could do that, but I just don't have time these days, and then we shrink back. Again, it's not to be able to give wholly even to the detriment of our self, but rather to give generosity when we are able to because it teaches us to trust. 

The temptation often times is to control things for ourselves. We get it from our first parents. Adam and Eve, when Eve looked upon the fruit in the garden, she noticed there was three things about it, and one of them was that it was pleasing to the eyes and it was good. She wanted it for herself, and rather than trusting the Lord God would give her what was good and holy, she took it and she tried to keep it for herself. A similar is what the Lord experienced when we was tempted after his 40 days of fasting in the desert; of how the devil came to Him and took Him up the mountain to show Him all the kingdoms of the world, and he says, "All these things, I can give to you. I can give you the souls that you have come to die for, Jesus. All you have to do is bow down before me." And Jesus has the opportunity to take every soul for Himself right on the spot, and the emphasis is to take it. To be able to take rather than to receive. By being obedient to the Father, He now reigns glorious as the King of all the heavens and the earth, and all those souls that could have rightly been taken, have now been given, and even more. Our Lord God provides for us in the same. To the extent that we desire to take something, we will fall short. The desire that we are generosity in our giving and allow the Lord to provide for us, we will always be surprised because our Lord is never outdone in generosity. If we give one, the Lord gives a hundredfold He says, in this world and in the next. What a gift, to know of the love of our God. 

And so when those fears come into our heart in the course of our days and whatever way the Lord is inviting us in generosity, in so many ways we can do exactly as is said in the Gospel. We worry, we worry about tomorrow, we worry about what our food, our drink clothes, what about this, what about that, what if what if what if .... And we worry ourselves, and there is so much concern, and at the root of it all, is because I'm trying to provide for me rather than to let the Lord provide. And so when those moments of fear, reservation and concern come into or hearts, we don't only listen to the words of the Lord spoken to us the prophet Isaiah today. The Lord God says, "Can a mother forget her infant? Be without tenderness for the child of her womb." As crazy as that would seem to us, as if a mother can simply bare a child and forgot that it every happened, she would bore a child in her womb for nine full months and gave birth with joy. As crazy as that seems, the Lord God continues, "Even should she forget, I will never forgot you." I will never forget you. The Lord God knows your needs, He knows your longings, He knows everything. It's simply an invitation to come and to trust. 

Deus Providebit, God will provide. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Pre-Lent: Prayer - Homily for February 19

In the Holy Scriptures, the Lord God speaks to us, and the words of Jesus tell us that where a man's treasure is there also his heart will be. We know that anyone who has ever fallen in love, maybe someone who has ever born a child, and been able to hold that child - maybe a grandchild in their arms for the first time - the know the great joy the have in the other person. They don't have to consciously think about the other person, they just naturally do. One doesn't forget their child, one doesn't forget their beloved. And through the course of the day, they certainly come to mind in pleasant thoughts, and the desire or longing to be able to see them once again. We could say a similar thing of lesser greatness - simply maybe a new hobby, a new found joy, or a new toy. It brings us joy and a desire to be able to see it, enjoy it once again, take part in it once more when we are separated from it. Indeed those things are good and holy - our activities and treasures of this earth, but the most important about us Christians is that we are not people whose treasure is mainly on earth, but our treasure is in heaven. Our treasure is not just a thing, it's a person, and it's the Lord God Himself. The Lord God who comes to us and desires to be with us. Who loves us so much, He even took on our flesh, so we have a great gift in our God. Where man's treasure is, so also his heart will be. 

As such, following the same analogy, there is this reality of the Lord, as we go through the course of our day, it should be such that shouldn't have to consciously think of God if He surely is our treasure. Rather, He should simply come to mind naturally, organically, through the course of our day and the longing to see Him once more, to be with Him, united with Him in a moment of intimacy. That intimacy is what we call prayer. 

We can speak a thousand things on the topic of prayer. Indeed we can fill this chapel ten times over with the number of books that have been printed on the topic of what is prayer, how to do prayer, methods of prayer, spiritualities and so forth. While we can complicate it in so many ways, prayer is actually very simple, and the ones who describe it most simply and beautifully and most directly are the saints of God in the Church. The saints have described prayer as a simple conversation with the Lord. They have described it also as union with our God. St. John Vianney, one of my favorite quotes he references, "Our time of prayer is an overflow of paradise and a foretaste of heaven." A brief moment where we can be united to our God. Ultimately, it's a meeting place of the Bride and the Bridegroom. The Bride, the Church, each individual member comes to the Bridegroom of God to be united and look forward to the heavenly marriage feast that awaits us. 

All of these simply speak to an intimacy - to be willing to open our hearts to the Lord in His generosity in opening His to us. The fact that we can pray should bring us to our knees immediately because the God of creation, the God who made all things, who gave every blessing that we have, it would be enough just to know that He exists, it would be enough to know things about Him. But He goes even farther by letting Himself be known in a personal relationship. heart speaking to heart in a sense. We don't deserve it by any means, but our Lord gives it, and what a blessing. 

St. Augustine described the relationship with God, this time of prayer as a stretching of our hearts. He said in one of his homilies, "Our hearts are too small. They must be stretched." Can you imagine if God came to us one day and we were carrying a sack. And the Lord God said, "I have something I need to give to you." Immediately we would do everything in our power to make sure we can receive what God desires to give. We would take our sack and empty it of the earthly wears we have, whatever the earthly things we posses, and we would take our sack and stretch it as much as possible so it can receive as much as possible, in hopes of receiving what God desires to give. And what God desires to give is Himself - the infinite God, and so our hearts must be infinitely stretched. We must be a people of prayer, continually having recourse to our God. Certainly in the course of our day, calling to mind our Lord, lifting up what they call "the arrows of holiness," the short, little, pious prayers that we pray that pierce the heavens and pierce the heart of God with love, an arrow of love. We must also be a people who spend time in prayer, daily. To make that an absolute necessity. No one among us can go without food, or drink or air, and even less so can we go without God in prayer. So we must prayer. To be able to have the life of God within us. 

While we can complicate again in so many ways, it ultimately comes down to three central points, three essential aspects of prayer.

The first essential aspect of prayer is faith. We must trust in our God. It can be a temptation sometimes to treat God as if He is a magician or a genie, where we go up and say the right prayer, do the right thing, and ta-dah we get what we want. Thankfully God is not like that because every single one of us would be spoiled brats. And beyond that, sometimes your prayer and my prayer might conflict. I would love the church never to get about 55 degrees, some of y'all would hate that. Whose prayer wins? Good question. Theological debate ensues. It's the reality that our God is a Good Father. He doesn't just give us whatever we want, He gives us what is right, true, good and holy. He is a Father who cares for us. The Lord Jesus says to us, "What father among you when his son asks for a fish, would hand him a snake instead?" No one. And if your earthly father is that good, how much more your heavenly Father. And so, we approach our Lord with trust. We approach God our Father with the recognition that even though sometimes our prayers are not answered as we would like, ti seems that there is silence on the other end, we must trust and have faith that our God hears us, and He walks with us. Most importantly, He loves us and will provide for us. 

The second aspect of a life of prayer is honesty. We must be honest with our Lord in prayer. Every single one of us has that place in our house that we know we can store junk. When you got things laying around the house, and you have someone who calls and asks if they can come over real quick you say yeah give me five minutes. And we take those five minutes, we run around the house like a crazy person, grab everything that's a mess, and we throw it into that closet or room and we shove the door. My house looks great, doesn't it? Just don't go in that room, right there. That room is a tornado. We do it with God to in our prayer. We go to prayer, and as we are going to the chapel, Church or Mass, wherever we are going to encounter our Lord in prayer - We think we have to stuff all that bad stuff, the frustrations on my heart, maybe there is anger, suffering, sadness, depression .. I'm going to put those in that room or closet really quick and I'm going to go to prayer and say, Lord look how great my house is. Everything is nice and orderly. We go kneel in prayer and we place our hands in a very pious little angel pose - "Lord thank you for all the wonderful blessings. Life is so amazing. Thank you. Glory be to the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit ..." While inside in the depth of our hearts in that trashy room, we are screaming for God. Screaming. We must be honest in prayer. Because if we go before God in prayer and we give Him what we think He wants, what we think He wants, we are not praying We are lying. The Lord God put the things in our hearts there for a purpose. If there is sadness in our heart, it's for a reason. It's because our heart longs for something or it needs something, God desires to give it to us, He desires to respond. If there is suffering in our heart, anger, frustration, confusion, joy, exhilaration - all of these things - everything of the human heart, God put it there and He wants us to talk to Him about it. Whatever the emotion of the heart - if you are angry, be angry with God. There is some things I've brought to the chapel and made sure no one was around and I spoke to God, and I'm pretty sure if anybody was there they would've blushed because that's where my heart was that day. We need honesty in our prayer with the Lord because if we are honest with God, it gives Him the opportunity to actually deal with the mess of our life, rather than trying to make it appear very nice. 

The third piece is persistence. And this is the hardest part because it's easy for us to go and to trust initially, it's easy for us to go and to be honest with our Lord, but sometimes when things don't go as we desire or as we expect, as we think it should be, as prayer is supposed to be - it's easy for us to give up. We go, in the middle of our prayer, if God doesn't respond like we want, or if ti's quiet on the other end, we just stop. And so often we stop right on the threshold of when God is about to move. We are just about there where God wants to do something and can do something, and we shut the door. We must persist in prayer, day in and day out, every single day, without fail. It should become so much a part of our routine that if we don't have time for prayer, we should be hungry for it. None of us goes through the course of a whole day without eating or without realizing at some point that we are hungry. At some point, your stomach gurgles a bit to let you know that it needs something. It should be the same with our souls. To know that through the course of our day that if we don't spend time with our Lord, something in us should ache a bit to remind us to go to Him.

We have faith, honesty and perseverance. In the midst of all these things, we can do so many things in prayer. Again, tens of thousands of books we can have recourse to. But the most important thing, in the end, if we are struggling, we don't know what to do, if we don't know what to say, tell that to the Lord. When the disciples were struggling with their own prayer, they looked around and seeing the the disciples of John the Baptist, "Lord, John's teaching his disciples to pray. Teach us. What do we do? What do we say? How do we respond?" And He gave them a simple prayer: the Our Father. Not that we simply prayer the Our Father and be done with it, that's all we need to do. He gives us a model, a method of trust imploring each of these things to come before our Lord. Ultimately, if all else fails, if we have no idea of where we are going and what we are doing, there is one simply prayer you need to pray and then rest with the Lord. And that prayer is simply, "Lord, teach me how to pray."

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Pre-Lent: Fasting - Homily for February 12

Readings for Sunday, February 12 / 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Sirach 15:15-20  |  Psalm 119  |  1 Corinthians 2:6-10  |  Matthew 5:17-37

If you choose, you can keep the commandments. So says our first reading for us today. If you choose ... Last weekend we reflected on that reality the Lord invites us to be who we are called to be, to be who He created us to be, to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. To choose to be salt, to choose to be light, to choose to follow the commandments. Indeed, ultimately most of our Christian life comes down to our choices. Adam and Eve faced the particular choice that determined the rest of creation. Having received all the goodness of God and so many blessings, Adam and Eve did the one thing they were not supposed to do - to eat of the tree instead of the garden - the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Lord God said, "If you eat of that tree, you will die." And certainly the day comes, as we know, and the devil comes to tempt them saying, "Did God really say that you will die? Surely you will not die. It can't be that bad." The devil speaks into their ear and they hear it, they hear the voice of the evil one, and he comes up and it resonates in their hearts. Adam and Eve choose to break the commandment of God, they choose not to keep the Lord's will, and in doing so, they choose for all of humanity to be broken by sin. Every human heart, except those of Jesus and Mary, have since that time be plagued by the same struggle. St. Paul would describe it as the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life - the triple concupiscence. It was this recognition of this desire to obtain the things that are pleasurable in this world, to be able to take that which is not properly ours and to be able to exalt ourselves. All three of those lusts of the heart, Adam and Eve fell to, and so do we. The Church in her wisdom, just like a good mother, knows exactly how to respond to us with the proper remedy, and the remedy we know is - as we hear from the Lenten season that we hear each year - is prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The lust of the flesh, the desire to experience the pleasures of this world, to that the Church responds and invites us to fast, to give up something from time to time, and so to gain something even greater. The lust of the eyes, that desire to amass things for ourselves, an implicit lack of trust in the Lord God who says He will provide for us, for that, the Church invites us to almsgiving. Rather than to take to receive, the Church invites us to be generous in giving. And lastly, the pride of life, the desire to exalt ourselves, the Church responds and acknowledges the remedy to that is prayer, where we rely upon our God for everything, even the breath that we take next, comes as a gift from our God. So, the Church invites us to reflect on these: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. 

Often times when it comes to the Lenten season, we pick one and we use that for our Lenten practice for the year - we're going to abstain from sweets or from cokes or whatever we choose that year. Or maybe we decide this year we are going to focus on prayer and spend a little more time in prayer. Or maybe we want to be a little more generous this year, we are going to put some food in the food basket to be able to give to the food pantry. Or we are going to do the Rice Bowl program, or some of these other ways in which we can express our generosity and give alms to others and to the Lord. And all of those are good things, but the Church in her wisdom invites us not to pick one, but indeed to pick all three and to practice something of each of them throughout the course of the Lenten season and through the year.

When I was in the seminary, a few friends of mine had gone and run and half marathon, and I wanted in on the fun. I decided to train with them for the next one, and so we began going out on weekly runs, going three, four, five times a week and jog around the city. Ultimately, the race day came, we ran our race chugging along, and about mile 11 I started to notice my right foot was really hurting. About mile 12, I was limping along. By mile 13 I could barely walk on it, and I knew something was wrong. Come to find out the next day, I went to the doctor and found out I had a stress fracture that I kept running on, and it kept getting more and more broken. The doctor said that part of my problem was my training, saying that if I wanted to do this more than once, if I wanted to be more than just a one and done runner, if I wanted to be able run half marathons and marathons until I'm 40 and beyond, I needed to not just run - I needed to bike and swim. Train like a triathletes because your body will become more adaptive that way. Certainly you will be strengthened in different ways, but your body reacts differently. If you only do the same thing over and over, you can actually become weaker, and that's why you broke your foot. 

The Church in her wisdom invites us to the same. Can we pick one and be fruitful? Yes. But it''s even more fruitful, and in fact easier, if we do three. To pick something of each and to give ourselves to that in the Lord. We reflect today on the first of those - the gift of fasting. 

What is fasting? If we are fasting to be able to lose weight, we are not fasting, we are dieting. If we are fasting because we don't have any food, we're not fasting, we're starving. If we are fasting because we were not hungry, and so we're going to skip the meal, we're not fasting, we're just not hungry. Those are not fasting. Those are things that happen to be circumstances of the day taken upon us. Rather fasting is to intentionally choose to give up something so that we might be able to gain something even greater. Not a slimmer waist line, but a stronger spirit - and that's the gift of fasting. The reality of fasting is that it unites us to Jesus Christ. Whether it's fasting from a particular meals or going on a stricter regiment of things or if it's simply to abstain from meat or something of the sort. To do those things unites us to the Cross, and the cross has power. 

Remember the story of how Jesus goes and gives the disciples the charge to go forth and to prepare the way. He sends them out two by two ahead of him. They go out and come back to him, marveling at the things that have happened through their hands and their prayers. "Lord, people were healed. The deaf can hear on account of us. We cast out demons. It was incredible! You should've seen it." And they marveled at the ways God was working through them, powerful ways. And yet there came a day in which they came upon an individual who was possessed by a demon, and they prayed, and prayed and prayed, and the demon would not leave the individual. In exasperation, they go to the Lord, "We've done everything you've said. We've done everything that we know how to do. We've prayed every prayer that we can to free him from the demon. What are we missing?" And the Lord Jesus said to them, "This kind is only cast out by prayer and fasting." Prayer and fasting. Because again, fasting unites us to the cross, and the cross is the sign of victory of Christ from which the demons flee. They fly from the cross because they hate it. To the extent that we unite ourselves to the cross of Jesus, to the extent that we forsake even for a short time - to go without a single meal for the love of Jesus, to go without meat for a day for the love of Jesus, to go abstain or fast from technology for a day for love of Jesus - whatever it is for the love of Jesus, if we do those things and unite ourselves to Christ (not just as a way to get things in this word, to lose weight or whatever) but to use them as spiritual tools to rely upon God. To the extent that our flesh struggles a bit, our spirit grows stronger. It's the invitation to grow strong in the Holy Spirit, to fight the temptations of the evil one and to have him flee from us. 

It can be tempting to not fast, to be able to abstain from those things we ought to abstain. And yet the Lord invites us to do so joyfully and boldly. St. Peter in his frustration in the scriptures (we can always rely on Peter for an honest answer) - as he is going through the journey of discipleship with Christ, he is seeing that he has given up everything. He left his family behind, he left his business, they didn't have job insurance, he wasn't banking on anything else, and he looks at the Lord one day and says, "What I gonna get? If I give up these things, what's the payoff? What's the end goal? How do I come out? Do I just lose?" And the Lord Jesus assures him that whoever gives up anything for the sake of the kingdom, for the sake of the spread of the Gospel, will have so a hundredfold in this life and the next. We will be repaid in a way even greater than we can understand. More than we could've asked or taken for ourselves, the Lord will grant us these things freely and joyfully. 

Two days a year the Church requires us to fast - on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Regrettably one of those days has become a day in which has become a tradition to have a crawfish boil. If your family tradition is to have a crawfish boil on Good Friday - STOP. Wait two more days and celebrate Easter because to have 5 or 10 lbs of crawfish and a six pack of beer is not fasting. That's feasting. If you consider that a fast, then we really need to talk about your food regiment. Two days a year the Church requires us to fast. An extra five or six days the Church requires us to abstain from meat by law during the Lenten season as a strict reality. But also, the Church invites us to a little bit more, indeed requires it of us. Some of you may recall a time when the Church said we were not permitted to eat any Friday of the year. Every Friday was a day of abstaining from meat. During the course of liturgical changes and various other changes in our Catholic faith in the 60's and 70's, it seems that that practice was tossed out the window. But the reality is that it still applies, it's still the law the Church advises to us. Although we may not hear about it very much, it's still something that is actually enforced. What took place rather than having a universal thing that says every Catholic across the globe must abstain from meat on Fridays, it was said to be left to the individual conference of bishops in the land that you live. For us, the United Sated Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) back in the 70's got together and discussed the topic, prayed about it and said on Fridays we are still going to encourage Catholics to abstain from meat - every Friday. But if the occasion arises to where they do eat meat for some reason, they should take up another penance in its place, to offer some other practice - maybe to pray the rosary that day, spend some time in prayer or offer a Divine Mercy Chaplet, do an extra act of service for someone else, a corporal or spiritual work of mercy. 

That's still the expectation of bishops for us - that we would live a life of penance. We don't have to be walking around in a sack cloth and ashes with frowny faces all the time, indeed the Lord says quite the opposite. It's an invitation to continually, not for a short time, but every year, every week to unite ourselves to the cross of Jesus and giving up something, fasting or abstaining. Ultimately we know that in the end, in the big picture, it will be absolutely worth it because we will be able to see that place which no eye sees, to hear that place which no ear has heard, and to understand - what St. Paul tells us - the idea which has never even entered the human heart of the richness God has in store for us. 

My brothers and sisters, heaven awaits and for that we fast. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Papal Intentions for February 2017

Papal Intention for February 2017

That all those who are afflicted, especially the poor, refugees, and marginalized, may find welcome and comfort in our communities.

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. Amen.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Building Blocks: Sacred Tradition - Homily for January 29

Readings for Sunday, January 29/ 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13  |  Psalm 146  |  1 Corinthians 1:26-31  |  Matthew 5:1-12

"Where is that in the Bible?" Have you ever heard that question before? Often it comes in response to a teaching of the Catholic faith when speaking with a brother or sister who isn't Catholic, but is from a Protestant denomination. They raise that question of things of the faith, "Where is that in the Bible?" The implicit belief or statement of what they are saying is that unless it's in the Bible, we shouldn't believe it. And yet, that's not exactly what we understand as Catholics. If fact, nowhere in the scripture does it say that only in this book are the things that are the teachings of God. Nowhere in the Bible does it say, "This is the only place where we find the teaching of the truth." Rather we find something that's quite the opposite. In St. Paul's letter to Timothy, he explicitly speaks of the Church as the defender and pillar of truth; not the scriptures, but the Church herself, the Body of Christ, the Living Membership of the Lord. It's thus that we, the Body of Christ, rely not exclusively on the scriptures, but with the scriptures as well as tradition - the living tradition passed down to us from Christ Jesus, to the apostles, to their disciples and down to our present day. It's that that we lean upon, and it's in that that we rejoice. 

If you remember, in the early Church there wasn't exactly a Bible that was passed out to all the Christian communities to say that this is the fullness of belief of the things that we are to teach, the things that we are to believe. Rather, they had the oral tradition. The disciples would go and pass on the things that were taught to them. The apostles, hearing all of the things that came from the lips of our Lord, seeing the things He had done, the ways in which He had prayed - they went forth and began to spread that in the Christian community. Only later did they write it down. It was mainly by the gift of the spoken word, the living tradition. 

How many times has it been said by new parents, "If only kids came with a manual, things would be a little bit easier." How many times has that desire been there in the midst of a screaming baby at night, you're trying to find some way to console the child, or in the same way teenagers as they are becoming young adults, trying to understand young people, even in the course later in life as children become adults - how do we respond to them as parents. All of these questions would be welcomed to have a manual that answered every single one of them, and yet we know that that's not always the case. Certainly, there are many books about babies, we can know the many do's and don'ts of raising children. But quite often what happens when a person is struggling with how to respond to something that is happening with their children, to a friend or someone else, rather than go to a book, they go to someone with the experience. We go to our own parents and say, "What do I do? How would I respond? How did you respond?" And more often than not, things that are not always written in books are given to us as advice, and often times they work. Not just a written tradition passed down, but a living one. Something that is given from generation to generation and is passed on, and is true. It's much the same with things of Christ in the Church. Of how indeed we do have the scriptures. There are the holy scriptures - the Word of God written for us to help us walk in the path of heaven. Remember too, that we have the living tradition, the family of God. 

In the Gospel of John, toward the conclusion, it said that if he wrote down all of the things the Lord Jesus said and did, there would not be enough books in all the world to contain them. So there is this recognition, necessarily so, the gift of faith that we live is not confined to books, but rather is a living gift, the gift of faith passed from one person to the next. Much in the same as Jesus; He didn't pass out papers saying, "Everybody read this paper and reflect on it." Rather He said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit... Blessed are those who thirst for righteousness... Blessed are the peacemakers..." Remember, too, the many accounts that our Lord Jesus would speak in parables and all of these various stories, but then He would go back with His disciples, His inner circle, they would ask more questions and He would give more answers. He would clarify things that often times were a little bit unclear, and we don't have every single one of those clarifications in the scripture, but we do have them passed down from one person to the next, generation to generation to generation. The living gift of our faith. 

As Catholics, we understand, believe and profess that there is nothing that the Catholic Church teaches that is contrary to the scriptures. Nothing. But there are things we believe that are not explicitly contained in the scriptures. We can dig a little and see implications there, but it doesn't have to be explicitly stated because we know they have been given to us from Christ; they are a part of our family story. 

On the March for Life the other day, on Friday, I was struck by a particular group of individuals who came out to protest. They didn't come to protest abortion. They didn't come to protest the protesters of the abortion. They came to protest the Catholic Church because they know that the Catholic Church is one of the most prominent voices in the right to life movement. And indeed, as we looked around, as we were marching ourselves, some 450 or so students and young adults from the Diocese of Baton Rouge, most of the signs around us were so-and-so Catholic Church or college. It was a very Catholic experience. As we were praying the rosary, we would look around and groups we didn't know would be praying with us. As we were singing the chaplet of Divine Mercy, so too there were many others around us that were praying along with us. It was intriguing because in the midst of that, there was one particular group who came to protest the Church. They had microphones to be able to yell at us over our prayers, and they had signs to let us know that the Pope is the anti-Christ, that all Catholics are going to hell, and we need to repent and believe in the Gospel. I was trying to listen to the individual who was preaching at us as we walked passed. One of the things he said caught my ear. He said, "Brothers and sisters, in 1952 the pope proclaimed Mary assumed into heaven. In 1952, the pope said Mary never died, and we know that St. Paul says the wages of sin is death, and no one is free from death. Therefore the Catholic Church is wrong, and all of you who are Catholic need to understand, repent and turn from the Church." I was marching at that point next to a brother priest, smiled and said to him, "Apparently he never read the document the pope wrote." Because firstly, the pope never said that Mary never died. He is just forcing that reading into it. The pope was very clear; he never said Mary didn't die. But also, there is this implicit belief that because we stated and clarified something in 1952, it doesn't mean that it wasn't true and it doesn't meant that the Church didn't believe it for the previous 1,952 years. 

It's a simple reality that never has it been claimed by any Christian Church, by any Catholic community, that they have the tomb of the Blessed Mother. Have you ever thought about that? We can go and point to all the tombs of the apostles. We can point to all the tombs of the saints. We can say they were here and here and here, we know where the Blessed Mother's house is in Ephesus, we can point to all kinds of things, but not one single soul has ever said in the history of the Church or the history of the world, that they have the tomb of the Blessed Mother, and they know where it is. From the first days of the Church, we believe and understood that Mary was assumed into heaven, body and soul. It took us 1,900 years to come to a full explanation and to be able to say definitively because, and only then, it came under attack. If you remember in the early Church the letters of St. Paul - when he was writing, he didn't come to give a catechism lesson. He didn't say, "Let me lay out the entirety of the Christian belief of our faith for you." Rather he said, "I notice in your community, you are struggling with this. Let me respond to that." None of the letters were meant to be a catechism lesson; they were responding to the needs of a particular church in their struggle. So too, it continues down to our day. A question of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother, ultimately led to the pope going, "I see that in our current day there has been a question, a struggle. Let me clarify. Here is what we believe and here's why." Is it in sacred scripture? No. Is it contrary to it? No. Is it something we believe from the beginning? Yes. And we can go down that with so many things that our Catholic Church teaches. Several of them revolve around Our Lady: the Immaculate Conception, her perpetual virginity and those sorts of things. But also they look to the things of the Eucharist, the sacraments of the Church, the life of faith, the life of prayer. Not always included in the scriptures explicitly, not contrary to them, but very much a part of our faith because we have believed it from the beginning. 

For 2,000 years, generation upon generation, has received the gift of faith, and every generation's duty is to receive it in its fullness and to pass it on to the next generation in its fullness. To fall short is a grave error on our part. So we receive and pass on. Those family remedies, those tales of things that seem odd and yet they work. Wonderful gifts of our faith. 

Often times, whenever we speak of tradition, it is seem as a bad thing. We cling to our human traditions, often times it is said. Us Catholics. And because we cling to our human traditions, we are at fault. But there is a different between human traditions and Sacred Tradition itself. Human traditions can change, and indeed they should, according to the need and the culture of the day. The fact that there is certain days where we fast or feast according to the liturgical calendar, the fact of the liturgical calendar itself, the manner in which we celebrate the sacred liturgy. Sometimes we get the new translation of the liturgy or a new part is added or something is taken away or changed. The fact there are so many other things through the course of the life of the Church, indeed those are human traditions, and as they come and go according to God's will, God be praised. If they served their purpose and they are done, fine, we move on. But Sacred Tradition itself, is non-negotiable. These are not things that come and go according to times and season, but rather are perennial teachings of the Church, from the start, form the hearts of our leaders, the hearts of the faithful. 

Something good, true and holy. Not to be set aside, but rather to be cherished because they come forth from the lips of Christ our God. And so we rejoice in this gift. We rejoice in the fact that for 2,000 years, we have had a continuous heritage and history, a family story connected to Jesus Christ. Not confined to a sacred word or text, but rather a part of a true family, one that knows the story and shares its story. So let's pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit, brothers and sisters, to pray that the Holy Spirit would help us to receive the gift of our faith, to receive it in its fullness, and to go forth from this place each and every weekend to share the gift of faith with others, that so too the next generation may rejoice in this gift that we share and pass it on there next.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Building Blocks: Where did the Bible come from? - Homily for January 22

Readings for Sunday, January 22: Isaiah 8:23-9:3  |  Psalm 27  |  1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17  |  Matthew 4:12-23

I'm heading out to the March for Life in Washington, D.C. in a few minutes, so this week is only the audio for the homily. Please pray for safety for all those attending the March and for the growth of a culture of life in our world. Our prayers will be with you too.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

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

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

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

And so, where did the Catholic Church come from?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 2, 2017

Papal Intention for January 2017

Papal Intention for January 2017

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

Prayer for the Pope

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

Our Father... Hail Mary...

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