People lined up to receive
Christmas baskets, (12/2011).
Don’t be a pushover! More and more people are pushing Catholics, especially committed Catholics, harder and harder. Part of this is more aggressive attitudes in society across the board, but we Catholics are singled out for harsher treatment than most. It is time to push back—charitably but firmly. It is time to confidently but patiently respond to anti-Catholic bigotry and simple misinformation.
For example, when our Bishops resisted the Obama Administration’s mandate to purchase contraception and abortion drugs, news stories falsely represented them as seeking to deny contraception to all Americans. No one was too concerned about correcting this flagrant misrepresentation as political cartoons lampooned them for something they never said. Catholic priests are singled out for sensationalized media stories if there is even a suspicion of wrongdoing, while journalists are silent about other, far graver scandals. In a recent letter to the Modesto Bee, a man described “Roman Catholics” as “religious fundamentalists … whose archaic view of the world must be mollified in the 2012 election.” It didn’t used to be acceptable to make bigoted statements against Catholics without any factual evidence. A growing number of public voices demonize Catholics, blaming us for things like “overpopulation” and global poverty and social discrimination. In fact, the Catholic Church operates more hospitals, schools and aid organizations on a global scale even than the U.S. government.
It is time to push back, but to do so effectively, we must do two things. First, we must know our faith and the issues that touch it. Catholics are notoriously ignorant of the Catholic faith. We have our Catechism of the Catholic Church, and now is the time to study it, if you haven't already. Second, we need to pray, because no good can come of anything unless it is guided by the Holy Spirit. Pray for charity and wisdom on how and when to respond to anti-Catholic bigotry.
It is not charitable to remain silent when ignorance attacks the Catholic Church. The Church is our best hope for a peaceful, ordered society.
Homily: The Ascension
The Fortieth Day
The Feast of the Ascension should be celebrated on Ascension Thursday, but because most Catholics would not attend Mass on a weekday, the Bishops have transferred it to the following Sunday. Personally, I think this is a bad idea, because most Catholics don’t go to Mass even on Sundays, and lowering the standards only affirms our infidelity. The Bishops of England, to their credit, have restored Ascension to its rightful place on Thursday, and I have no doubt that, in five or ten years, the Bishops of the United States will do the same (they have already done so in the East Coast dioceses).
In any case, 40 days after he rose from the dead, as Luke writes in our first reading, Jesus as “lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.” I can remember the Ascencion Thursdays of my boyhood, when Mom would take all of us kids out of school and drive us into the mountains for a family picnic. Jesus was very present to us on those Ascension Thursday picnics. We could not see him, but we knew he was there. Doing away with Ascension Thursday not only does away with those family picnics, but also does away with the Church’s first novena, the nine days of prayer for the Holy Spirit between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost. “Stay in Jerusalem,” the Lord told the apostles, “and wait for the promise of the Father … you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses…” So the apostles spent those nine days between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost in Jerusalem with Jesus’ mother, praying and waiting for the Holy Spirit. We are in that time right now, between Ascension and Pentecost, which we celebrate next Sunday. And boy do we need the Holy Spirit now. So pray that He comes to us, that we may be his witnesses. The world needs faithful Catholics today more than ever—without us, it will go over the edge.
He does not leave us
Did Jesus leave us on Ascension Thursday? St. Luke tells us in Acts that he was “lifted up” and St. Mark says he was “taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God.” As I said, during our family picnics in the mountains, I felt Jesus very close to us, even though we couldn’t see him. Do you have to see someone to know they are with you? A little girl sleeps alone in her room, but knows that Mommy and Daddy are in the house, and so she is not afraid. If she is home alone, she is afraid, because she knows they are not there. Just knowing they are there is enough. Jesus promised us that he would not abandon us, that he would be “with us all days, yea, even unto the end of time.” And St. Luke tells us that, after Jesus was “taken up,” the apostles returned to Jerusalem with “great joy.” Only their certain knowledge of His abiding presence could explain their great joy. No, Jesus did not leave us when he returned to heaven. In fact, he took us with him, making us his own body. We are the Body of Christ. We are his witnesses: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus lives and rules in His Church, today. He lives in each disciple who even attempts to witness to Him.
We have a job to do. A beautiful and exciting job, for we have been sent by God to bring his love and truth to the world. The world is dying, is shriveling up, is collapsing for want of love and truth. You see how unhappy, how desperate, even how violent many are. We can’t sustain our marriages, we can’t live without drugs, we can’t bear life, and it is because we do not have God. Only we, God’s disciples, can bring Him to all the lonely people. “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every Creature,” Jesus told them. “Whoever believes will be saved…” Do you want to save those you love? Bring them to Jesus. This is your job. He has sent you to be his witness, and He will work with you: “the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word thorough accompanying signs.”
We can’t witness to Christ without the Holy Spirit. Even the most excited teen in our youth program lasts only a year or two if he or she is not sustained by the Holy Spirit—the Sacraments, the Word, the Community. The same is true of any adult—how many have I seen just give up on Jesus when they meet opposition. But I’ve seen just as many remain faithful despite terrible trials—only through the Holy Spirit. So pray for the Holy Spirit as we prepare for Pentecost next Sunday, that, like Our Lady, we may bring others to the Love of Christ, to the Kingdom of Heaven.
On May 8, North Carolina defined marriage as between one man and one woman. On May 9, our President “evolved” on this issue and affirmed his support for so-called same-sex “marriage.” Let’s be quite clear: for Christians, there is no such thing as marriage between anything other than one man and one woman. Jesus defines marriage repeatedly in the Bible (for example, in Matthew 19:5: “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”). President Obama affiliates with the Church of Christ, which is confused on this issue. Vice President Joseph Biden, who affiliates with the Catholic Church, but explicitly rejects the teaching of his own Church, is confused as well.
Let us not be confused. Let us be intelligent and informed. If we are Christian, if we accept the Bible, then we can never pretend that homosexual activity is harmless. It can only debilitate those who engage in it, and debilitate society. Those who suffer from same-sex attraction are good people, deserving of our love and respect. If they give in to destructive tendencies, they should be helped to develop good habits and overcome bad impulses. All of us suffer from destructive impulses of one kind or another, and we need to support each other for the good.
Cardinal Dolan, president of the Bishops’ Conference, stated that President Obama’s support for same sex “marriage” was a sad day for America. It is sad because our leaders have decided that America no longer needs Christian principles. Pope Benedict wrote in January of this year that “policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself.” Throughout history, non-Christian cultures have accepted unnatural sexual arrangements (although none to my knowledge have ever called it “marriage”). Our great Republic grew strong precisely because it built a society in accord with the Natural Law and Christian principles. Natural families, naturally-born children, and spouses that work hard to be faithful and loving make us all strong. Are we willing to fight for marriage itself?
Homily: A Mother's Love
The Bishop is in Love
First, allow me to tell you a joke Fr. Benny told me yesterday, as Fr. Tony had told it to him the day before. It has something to do with Mother’s Day and the Blessed Mother.
Once upon a time a young priest preached at the Bishop’s Mass. Afterwards, the Bishop said to him: “you need to begin your homilies with a story—wake people up, get their attention. Come to my Mass next Sunday and I’ll show you.” So the next Sunday the Bishop begins his homily like this: “I have something to tell all of you: I’m in love with a beautiful woman.” He pauses for effect, and then continues: “Her name is the Blessed Virgin Mary.” So the young priest goes back to his parish and gets up to preach the following Sunday, but catches sight of the Bishop himself standing in the back. He gets nervous, but launches into his homily anyway. “The Bishop is in love with a married woman,” he blurts out, “but I can’t remember her name.”
Mary, our Mother
Her name is Mary, the Blessed Virgin Mary, wife of St. Joseph and mother of God, and we are so joyful to be in the middle of the Month of May, Mary’s Month. This Sunday is not only Mother’s Day (Happy Mother’s Day to our beautiful mothers) but also the Feast Day of Our Lady of Fatima. On May 13, 1917, she appeared to the three shepherd children in a field outside of Fatima, Portugal, to bring peace to a world still gripped in the Great War. Mother’s Day is in May because May is the month of the Blessed Mother. The best gift you can give your mother today is to pray a rosary for her, or even better, with her. I’m going to do that by phone with my mother later today.
They say there is no love like a mother’s love. A mother loves her child simply because the child is. There is no question of the child earning his mother’s love. He can do nothing for his mother, or even acknowledge her love. A mother’s love for her child is absolutely unconditional.
Jesus points to the source of all love in today’s Gospel: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.” God the Father begets his Son, eternally pouring out his divine love into Him. The Son does not “earn” his Father’s love—he simply is the Father’s love. But the Son then gives his Father’s love to another—to us. “I love you as the Father loves me.”
If we are good sons and daughters of our mothers, who loved us unconditionally simply because we were born, we give our mother’s love to another. If we are good disciples of Jesus Christ, who loves us with his Father’s unconditional love, we give Jesus’ love to another.
Love’s Two Stages
Because love has two dimensions, two stages. First, we receive love. St. John puts it like this: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us.” We have no love that is not first received; any love I give was previously given to me from another (my mother, my father, my friends, etc). And the first source of all love in the world is God. So: stage one is to receive love from God.
But love must move to stage two, or it is incomplete and will die. Stage two is to give that love to another, to pass it on. If we just sit on the love given us, it dies. So Jesus says, remain in my love by keeping my commandments. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” This I command you, Jesus says: love one another. Love is not a feeling (no one can command feelings—they are beyond our control). But he can and does command an act of our wills, a decision to love. Everyone possesses the capacity to make this decision to love. This is the basic stewardship principle: everything given to us is meant to be shared. That is particularly true of love. Love received is not complete or effective if I don’t give it away.
A Mother’s Love
I can’t earn love, but I can give it away. What does this authentic love look like? Well, look at a mother. She gives her blood during a pregnancy. She gives her milk after the child is born. She gives her sleep for the first two years; she gives immense amounts of her time and her sweat and her attention to her child. And in giving, she receives, perhaps not immediately, but she receives love. It comes not always from the child, but always from God. Authentic love does not look much like what you see on television. It looks a lot more like what you see in your mother, and hopefully your father too.
Which is why we love our mothers. You have taught us to love. You have given us the love you received from God, and have taught us to share it with another by your very sharing it with us. May we honor you, our mothers, by giving the love you have given us, even until it hurts. May we honor our Blessed Mother, who first received Love Incarnate, Jesus Christ, and then gave Him to us all.
Happy Mother’s Day! A friend of mine occasionally slips me a couple of bucks after Sunday Mass and says “Call Your Mother.” I have to be on my toes so that I can respond with something like “I called her two days ago!” I’m sure I have not called my mother enough, so I appreciate the reminders.
Fortunately, Mom and Dad have six of us children; imagine if she only had four or two — how many fewer phone calls she would receive! Children are our greatest national treasure, and mothers provide that treasure. But they need the help of fathers…
Motherhood is perhaps the very first act of Stewardship, whereby a person receives a gift and returns it to the giver. To Adam, God gave his most beautiful and precious gift, the woman Eve. Adam is overwhelmed with the gift (“bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!”). Adam gave himself to his wife, who in her turn gave herself to Adam. In time, Eve gave something even more than herself to Adam — she gave a child to the world (notice that we say “she gave birth to a child” rather than just she “had” a child). But Eve faltered — she jealously kept a part of her womanhood to herself, where it died. But the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom we honor in this month of May, held nothing back.
When I was a teenager, my mother and I used to sit in the garden after dinner and talk about life. There were two chairs by the tomato plants, facing the Blue Mountain Ridge, over which the sun would set in brilliant patterns of deep golds, cool magentas and flaming reds. I would tell her about my day in school, and she would help me interpret it. She would tell me that I was good and would always be God’s son. She had given birth to me, and in those sunset talks, she gave me more: she gave me an identity, a knowledge of myself reflected in my mother’s eyes. Thanks, Mom!
Recently, and with great joy, I read Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei (“Door of Faith”). It is not a long document, and we will print parts of it on our “Pope Page” (page 6) beginning today. Benedict wrote it last October to prepare the Church for the Year of Faith, which will begin October 2012.
We scarcely can imagine, the Pope writes, the inestimable treasure that is our Faith. Life without it would be hardly bearable. So much of our peacefully-ordered culture owes its prosperity to the Faith of our Fathers. Consider President Washington’s words in 1789: “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.” Our Founders’ humble faith in a Power greater than themselves enabled them to build a prosperous America. Our prosperity recedes, however, as our Faith recedes. Movies, TV programs, political speeches — all manner of public discourse, arts and entertainment — used to speak openly about God. Compare yesterday’s movies such as the Sound of Music and the Ten Commandments with today’s movies that ignore or mock faith in God. The Pope, while pointing out how much society has lost its faith, urges us to celebrate the Gift of Faith, and to recover it: “The ‘door of faith’ (Acts 14:27) is always open for us…. To enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime.”
How will we celebrate this Year of Faith at St. Joseph’s? We begin by learning our faith better, because no one can believe what he does not know. Most Catholics know very little, perhaps not even the essentials, of Catholic doctrine. We must learn our faith more clearly and then teach it to others, especially to our own children. “In order to arrive at a systematic knowledge of the content of the faith,” writes Pope Benedict, “all can find in the Catechism of the Catholic Church a precious and indispensable tool.” We will celebrate this Year of Faith by studying our Catechism, like good boys and girls. I welcome you to our Catechism 101 Course, which begins June 18, and continues the third Monday of every month (see page 3).