October 28th, 2012
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s Gospel honors a beggar, a blind beggar named Bartimeus. The name is Hebrew for “Son of Timeus,” and Timeus means “Honorable One” in Greek. But the blind Bartimeus didn’t seem very honorable when Jesus came upon him. He was sitting in the dirt, on the outskirts of Jericho, an old desert town, 850 feet below sea level, 3500 feet below the Holy City of Jerusalem. In the Old Testament, it was a city of sin that Yahweh ordered the Jews to destroy under Joshua’s command.
There sits Bartimeus, trapped in the city of sin, like so many street people today, trapped in the slums of Los Angeles, or Calcutta, or Buenos Aires. His physical blindness points to man’s spiritual blindness; his financial poverty points to our spiritual poverty. Consider how far this good man has fallen: once the “Son of the Honorable One;” now a blind, stinking, helpless parasite. In humble and honest moments, we admit that each of us is a beggar before the throne of grace. As with Bartimeus, not one of us can solve our own most basic problems. We are blind; we are helpless. We must beg for God’s help. Sure, I can make money and buy my way out of certain problems, but I can’t solve my own fundamental loneliness, my brokenness, my desperate need for constant love. I have to ask, I have to beg for that. In the words of St. Augustine, “I am a burden to myself. … Lord, have mercy on me! See, I do not hide my wounds. When I shall cleave to you with all my being, no more will there be pain and toil for me. My life will be life indeed.”
How hard it is to beg
Jesus is passing by, and Bartimeus cries out, embarrassing and irritating the disciples. He cries out what each of us must not be ashamed to cry out: “Have Pity on Me! I need your help!” How hard it is to beg; how hard it is to call upon another’s pity, to admit our helplessness.
I was forced to beg once. A 27-year-old seminarian, I had just finished a three month Spanish course in Mexico. At the airport, the agent said I needed to pay $12 airport fee. I had two dollars left. “You’d better find the money,” she said with a sneer, “or you won’t get on your plane. Why don’t you beg from your rich fellow Americans?” I backed away from the counter unsteadily. After ten minutes I got the courage, the humility, to approach an American lady in the check-in line. “I’m sorry, but I need 12 dollars to pay the airport tax. I have no money—could you help me?” The American lady looked terribly embarrassed and began to say she couldn’t help me. But a Mexican lady next to her looked at me kindly, and gave me a $20 bill. And so I was able to fly home from Mexico, and stand before you now…. I’ll never forget how hard it was to ask a stranger for help.
Bartimeus lifts his face to Jesus and begs for help. He simply cannot meet his own basic needs. Neither can we. Bartimeus cries out loudly the very Greek words we utter at every Mass: Kyrie, Eleison—Lord, have mercy. “Son of David, have pity on me!” Have mercy on me. The apostles tell him to be quiet. But the Blind Bartimeus keeps begging, keeps praying: Elei-me. Kyrie, Elei-me! “Help me, Lord!”
The Response of Faith
Jesus stops. “Call him.” Everyone is a little shocked. They hustle the blind man to Jesus. “What do you want?” Jesus asks. Of course Jesus knows what Bartimeus wants. He knows what each of us wants. We want to see the face of one who loves us. But we have to say it, we have to ask for it, we have to express our faith in God in order to be capable of receiving grace. Pope Benedict writes in the letter Porta fidei, opening the Year of Faith: “Profession of faith is an act both personal and communitarian.” We must exercise “the act by which we choose to entrust ourselves fully to God…[in the words of St. Paul] Man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved” (Rom 10:10)….
Bartimeus’ very act of begging God’s mercy was an act of faith. And Jesus says, “Your faith has saved you.” He is healed; he is saved. In fact, Bartimeus saw with his soul before he saw with his eyes. Seeing is not believing--believing is seeing. And Bartimeus “followed Jesus along the way.” He didn’t just believe with his heart; he responded with his body.
He have entered the third week of the Year of Faith. Jesus Christ is the Way, the only Way. Most are not following Him. They neither see nor believe. Let our faith—the public expression of our faith—be a witness to all the world. There is only one name, under heaven and upon earth, given to men by which we are to be saved. We must believe in our hearts, and profess with our lips, if we are to be worthy of the name Christian. We turn to the first Christian, Our Blessed Mother, who believed before she could see, and so came to see the fullness of God’s glory. Let us pray to her that we may be men and women of faith, crying out ceaselessly to her Son: Kyrie Eleison!
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From the Chaplain's Laptop: Small Cities
The Popes have expressed concern over the inexorable trend to urbanization since the Industrial Revolution. I seem to remember one of them writing that cites above 50,000 people become dehumanizing.
The original Union Oil headquarters,
now the California Oil Museum, Santa Paula
I was born in New York City, no doubt to the sounds of honking cars
and droning barges on the East River. For the last thirty years I’ve lived in cities such as New York, Rome, and San Francisco, as well as smaller cities between 80,000 and 300,000 people. A month ago I moved to a “city” of 30,000 people: Santa Paula, California. It is as close to Mayberry as anything I've seen. Police cars rarely roam her quiet streets, and when seen the officers within seem to benignly survey the peaceful order of their community.
The other day I went to the hospital. The receptionist smiled at me—a genuine smile. The intake nurse took time to understand my problem and filled in part of my forms for me. The phlebotomist talked to me about her mother, just diagnosed with Alzheimers. She was afraid to face caring for her mother, but asked my prayers and blessing. “I know
that God does not give us anything we can’t handle,” she sighed. The cook at the cafeteria served up generous helpings of hash browns and bacon, calling me “honey.” A rib-sticking breakfast, enjoyed in the company of happily babbling nurses on mid-morning break, cost me the princely sum of $2.55.
I asked one of my new Santa Paula friends: Do you ever go into Los Angeles? “As little as possible,” he chuckled.
I think the Popes are right about the advantage of smaller human communities. To live in a city is exciting, of course, but cities simply can’t provide the full range of human needs. We were born in a garden, and redeemed in a garden. A city too big for individual gardens, for the time and space that human persons need to open up and blossom, is not very
good for humans. At least not for me.
Homily: On the Armor of God and on our Impossible DebtExtraordinary Form Homily Oct 21, 2012
21st Sunday after Pentecost
Taking up the Arms of GodEphesians 6:10-17 Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.
We are in our third week of the Year of Faith. St. Paul’s Epistle today declares that we do not contend with the powers of this earth, but with the powers of the air, with the ruler of darkness. We fight against the World, the Flesh, and the Devil, but it the last of these that we often forget, for like the air he is generally invisible. We are acutely aware of worldly power, and the upcoming national election postures itself as simply a contest between two men. But the battle is more than with the World. We are painfully aware of the powers and weaknesses of the flesh, and daily we battle our own lusts, impulses, and compulsions. But the struggle is more than with the Flesh. We fight Satan, day in and day out, though we seldom reckon the magnitude of his influence.
St. Paul clearly defines it for us: “our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness…”
We must engage the powers of this present darkness both defensively and offensively. Defensively
, we resist in the “evil day” by girding our loins with the belt of truth, by strapping on the breastplate of justice, and maneuvering the shield of faith. Our faith must be without gap, consistent, and whole, if it is to defend us against the thrusts of the Evil One. Offensively
, we shod ourselves with the gospel of peace so as to engage the enemy quickly, and we take into our hands the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God. No political means, no human means, can win the present contest. We must vote our faith, and we must struggle to overcome carnal vices with brilliant virtues, but ultimately our contest is fought between the powers of the air. We can only prevail by taking on Christ’s armor, his weapons, for the battle is his.An impossible debt Matt 18: 23-35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.
The Gospel teaches us a similar lesson about our absolute dependence on God’s power. Let’s try to understand the story: a man owes 10,000 talents—it’s an astronomical figure, in today’s currency, about four billion dollars. It was a debt simply impossible to pay off. This is what the first servant owes his master, and the master forgives the entire debt. We owe God a debt that can never be paid. But he cancels it, with a wave of his hand in blessing. That servant then bumps into a fellow servant who owes 100 denarii—about $5000 in today’s currency. If someone owed you $5000, you would want to get it back, and that kind of debt can be paid back with time and patience. But the first servant will “hear none of it.” He wants his money back immediately. So what does God do to the unrelenting first servant? He throws him in jail, until he would pay off his entire debt—which he never will. He is consigned to an eternal hell, because he did not forgive his brother “from his heart.”
If we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us, and we all have debts to him we can never pay back. The only way to get to heaven is to humbly receive his gift—the cancelation of our entire debt, which makes us forever beholden to him. Then we must likewise cancel the tiny debts others owe us. This means forgiving, from the heart, an ex-husband, an employer who did us great harm, an employee who cheated us, etc.
In this year of faith, let us imitate the Woman of Faith, who received the Incarnate Word, and in her turn gave all that she had back to God. She gave back all that she had—can we not give back at least a part of what we have been given?
From the Chaplain’s Laptop: A Missed ChanceOctober 18, 2012
Thursdays are my day off, and last Thursday I was sitting on a beach with a pile of books. The sun went down and I was left in the dark without a reading light. So I began to wonder if I could pull up a live-stream of the vice-presidential debate on my phone. After some fiddling, I pulled it up, just in time to hear the moderator lob the bomb at our two Catholic candidates. Please tell me, she said, “what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion.” This was the big moment, the Catholic moment. The question afforded Paul Ryan, a faithful Catholic, the opportunity to broadcast clarity on the abortion issue to an unprecedented degree. Everyone was listening. And so he began: “My faith informs me in everything I do.”
I groaned and shifted my chair on the beach. He had fallen into the trap that Raddatz so casually tossed before him. She wanted him to speak about abortion as a religious issue rather than a scientific issue, and he did just that. Granted, Congressman Ryan mentioned “science and reason,” but he did not drive the point home. Abortion is not a religious issue. It is a human rights issue, a civil rights
issue, based on scientific fact. A human fetus is human, and genetically distinct from his or her mother. Vice-president Biden, in his turn, of course, affirmed the falsehood of abortion as merely a matter of religious opinion.
In the days following the debate, I waited for someone to point out Ryan’s missed opportunity. On Monday, the redoubtable George Weigel did it, at National Review Online.
He imagines Ryan answering the question “what role does religion play in your own personal views on abortion?” in one word: “None
.” Weigel imagines Ryan going on to explain: “When I say ‘none,’ I’m speaking about abortion, as I assume you were, as a public-policy issue. My opposition to the abortion license that Roe v. Wade
created is based on science and reason. Biology and embryology teach us that the product of human conception is a human being — nothing more, but certainly nothing less. No scientifically literate person denies that; it’s a fact, not an opinion.” Weigel’s full commentary deserves a wide reading.
We missed a golden opportunity to point out an obvious fact, to point out the elephant in America’s living room: the human fetus is a living human person with inalienable rights. Those rights are egregiously violated 4,000 times a day in our country.
Homily: Only One Good
October 14th, 2012
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Only One Good
Our Scriptures today point us to the One Good, which is God. The rich young man in today’s gospel calls Jesus “good,” and Jesus playfully replies, “why do you call me good?” Our culture pretends that there are as many goods as there are vendors to sell them, and to be happy, we must own these goods. But there is only one Good. I walked into Lowes the other day to buy a beach chair. The store was stuffed to the rafters with good things, all with discreet price tags. A euphoria blew through me. I have a credit card, and any one of these good things can be mine. Each will make me happy. This was the feeling, the quite American feeling, that enveloped me as I strolled into Lowe’s the other day. I have been well trained to seek happiness in what the American economy can provide.
The Rich Young Man
A rich young man runs up. He throws himself before Jesus, barring his way with an urgency: “Good Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus plays a little game with him—“why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” And Jesus lists God’s commandments. He knows the young man has practiced these well since his childhood. But: even keeping the law of God is not enough. Jesus looks at this young man, for whom he will die on the cross, with love. “You are lacking in one thing…” You hardly know God, because your wealth prevents you. Your many good things bar you from the One Good. Get rid of it all if you wish to enter into life. And the young man went away sad. His face fell. His goods could not make him happy, and he knew it, but he was not ready to trust God.
Camels and needles’ eyes
Jesus then looks at his disciples, with a stern love, and he says the same thing: “Children, how hard it is for wealthy people to get to heaven.” He says it again, because the disciples, believers in the prosperity gospel like all Jews of the time, are shocked. He says it a third time—harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle… This exceedingly astonished them: “then who can be saved?” Everyone depends on wealth. No man can live only by fresh air and the love of God. Yes, Jesus says, for you it is impossible. You can never wean yourselves from your attachments. But I can. For God all things are possible. Let me do it for you!
A Year of Faith
Brethren, on Thursday we entered a Year of Faith. We, who enjoy the goods of the earth to a degree unprecedented in human history. We, who have grown up delighting in the shiny packages our market offers rather than delighting in the things of God. We Americans, who check the stock market several times a day on our iPhones, who surrender immense governmental powers to a man because he promises us only one thing: to preserve our standard of living. We play lip service to faith, but really, Americans believe in the dollar above all. People with our kind of wealth do not need God. And yet, some wealthy people have been able to get through the needle’s eye. Solomon, for one, as recounted in the first reading. How did he get past his wealth? “I prayed, I pleaded, and the spirit came to me.” I deemed riches nothing in comparison … gold is a little sand, silver so much mire. Beyond health and comeliness I loved her. He pleaded with the urgency of the rich young man for true wisdom. We must pray for this kind of faith.
A Time of National Decision
In the presidential debates this month, I've noticed that we can’t seem to get past the economy. The candidates throw out fantastic and complex numbers. But who will speak about God? Who will say that America’s wealth cannot save her? Who will declare that this election is a battle for America’s soul, not her investment accounts? Who will say “in God we trust?” Who but us, Catholics, who have the fullness of Gospel truth? In this Year of Faith, in this season of national decision, Catholics must again play a crucial role in the battle for America’s soul. We can’t simply go along with the party line. We must testify to the Way, the Life, and the Truth, the supreme Good for our country.
Let us pray, as always, through the woman of faith, Our Blessed Mother. Let us pray the rosary for our country in these next few weeks, that at least all Christian Americans may vote according to their faith in the only good man, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Homily: The City of God and the City of Man
Extraordinary Form Homily, October 7th, 2012
19th Sunday after Pentecost
A tale of two cities
Dickens’ great novel about revolutionary Paris and London tells the tale of Two Cities. So our Lord in today’s Gospel tells the tale of two cities: the City of God and the City of Man. You belong to one, or you belong to the other. The Kingdom of heaven is like a King who invited many guests to his Son’s wedding feast. He slaughtered his oxen and fatlings and dressed the great table for his guests, so earnestly does he desire each guest’s salvation. He prepares his table at every Mass, but many guests do not come. They treat the king’s invitation with contempt, and murder his messengers.
Do you know the largest religious group in this country? It is not Catholics, for Catholics attend Mass every Sunday and submit themselves to the apostles’ teaching. The largest religious group in our country is not Catholics, but non-practicing Catholics, for 75% of those who claim membership in the Catholic Church neither attend Mass faithfully nor believe in all the Church’s teachings. They do not come to the Wedding Feast, and they ridicule the Pope and his faithful bishops. What is this mysterious malice, that not only ignores the King’s invitation, but that drives the invited guests to a fury of intolerance?
So the King destroys those murderers and burns their city, the City of Man. The King affords apostates no quarter, and for us, neither is there any third way. Either we enter the City of God, and take our place at the wedding feast of the Lamb, or we obtusely remain in the City of Man to await our certain destruction. But one man did try a third way. He entered the City of God in shabby clothing. St. Gregory the Great writes of this passage: “The marriage is the wedding of Christ and his Church, and the garment is the virtue of charity: a person who goes into the feast without a wedding garment is someone who believes in the Church but does not have charity.”
How terrible to come before God with dirty, stinking, rotten clothing! We observe a dress code in our college chapel. It is a sign that we do not come before the Lord without clothing ourselves, as best we can, with the virtues that God himself provides. God provides grace, but we must put it on, as St. Paul says in the Epistle: “Put on the new man … put away lying … let not the sun set on your anger … steal no more….”
Year of Faith
God intensely desires our happiness, now and forever. He prepares the nuptial feast of his Son, at which we receive the very self-offering of our bridegroom. With his own hand he feeds each of us with himself. Yet how many Catholics believe this? How many, rather, manifest the obstinate malice that ridicules their own Mother, the Church? They have lost the virtue of faith. Faith must be received from another, certainly, but we must develop and practice the faith we receive. Pope Benedict opens a Year of Faith this week, on Thursday, October 11, the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The “Door of Faith is always open for us,” writes the Pontiff. “To enter that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime.” But “in large swathes of society, a profound crisis of faith has affected many people.” How will you, college students and college tutors, practice this Year of Faith? The Pope recommends, above all, studying and teaching the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I will say more on the Year of Faith in the coming weeks.
The Holy Rosary
Today is also October 7th, the Feast of the Holy Rosary. On this day in 1571, 70,000 Christian men came up against the seemingly invincible Ottoman Navy. Each Christian held a rosary in his hand, and so the ensuing victory brought about a new devotion to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. We too must bear the rosary into our battles. The City of Man wars incessantly against the City of God, and the battle lines cross directly through each human heart. What will save us from the furious secularism of our time, intent with mysterious malice to humble and subjugate the Church of Christ? You and I must pray the rosary, in the words of Blessed John Paul II, “my favorite prayer. A marvelous prayer! Marvelous in its simplicity and its depth.” Nothing bad can touch the family that regularly prays the rosary with devotion. It is one of the great anthems of the City of God, of which, we beseech God and His Holy Mother, we many always be faithful and true citizens.