The Fourth Joyful Mystery
At Christmastime Holy Mother Church gives us all five Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. A few days before Christmas we hear the Gospel of the Annunciation, and then that of the Visitation, and of course on Christmas the Nativity Story, and in two weeks, on Holy Family Sunday, the story of the finding in the Temple. Today we hear the Fourth Joyful Mystery, the Presentation in the Temple. Of course I must remind all of you to pray the rosary every day, so as to fully rejoice in these joyful mysteries. Today let’s look a little more closely at the Fourth Joyful Mystery.
Joseph and Mary bring the baby Jesus to the Temple in obedience to the Law of Moses. They can’t afford a calf or a goat to redeem their Son, so they offer what they can afford, the offering allowed to poor people, two little pigeons. He who made the entire planet and sustains it in being at every moment was “redeemed” in his own Temple by two scrawny birds. Neither Joseph and Mary, nor the Lord Jesus Christ himself, were ashamed of their poverty. They knew they were sons of God, as St. Paul points out in the Epistle, heirs of God’s Kingdom. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, to ransom those under the law….you are no longer a slave but a son, and an heir…”
There is no shame in any kind of honest poverty since God took on the poverty of human flesh. Neither poverty of intellect, nor poverty of physical beauty, or poverty of money, or poverty of health or friends or social standing—no honest poverty is shameful. Shame is not found in either wealth or poverty, but in sin. We must recall always that we possess everything because we possess God, who has given himself to us. We need nothing more. “Take all that I have, O Lord. Grant me only your love and your grace,” prayed St. Ignatius, “that is sufficient for me.”
But back to our Story, the Fourth Joyful Mystery. Simeon, the old man in the temple, takes the baby in his arms (notice that Mary gives him the baby) and proclaims the Nunc Dimittis, prayed by all nuns and priests just before going to bed every night: “Now, O Lord, you may let your servant die in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation and your glory” he sings, gazing down at the baby.
The child’s father and mother, we read, were amazed at what he said about the baby, but Simeon goes on, and this is where today’s Gospel begins: “Behold, this child will be the rise and the fall of many in Israel, and you yourself a sword shall pierce.” A prophetess, Anna, also glorified God about the child to all who were awaiting redemption. These two prophets, Simeon and Anna, witnessed to Christ’s Lordship, joining the Magi and the Shepherds in testimony to Christ’s divinity.
Our Lady, witness in blood
Simeon, however, witnesses also to Mary, herself the greatest witness to Christ. Not only with words but by blood will she testify. Jesus will be a sign of contradiction, but Mary’s heart also a sword shall pierce. This piercing is a joyful mystery, because God permits her to share in his saving mission. Our Lady of Sorrows, prophesied here by Simeon, maintains deep in her wounded heart the joy of suffering with Jesus. So we too, must witness unto suffering, and unto death, if He allows us. A sword will undoubtedly run some of us through in years to come. Let us pray for the strength to witness to His Lordship, come what may. “By faith,” writes Pope Benedict, “across the centuries, men and women of all ages …have confessed the beauty of following the Lord Jesus wherever they were called to bear witness: in the family, in the workplace, in public life, in the exercise of the charisms and ministries to which they were called…. The Year of Faith will also be a good opportunity to intensify the witness of charity.” Let us pray through Our Lady to witness through charity to those with whom we live, those with whom we work, those with whom we share the freeways, that Jesus Christ is Lord!
First, I wish all of you a Blessed and Merry Christmas, and I thank you for attending the Midnight Mass, especially those brave enough to do so with little children in tow. During my boyhood in Pennsylvania, Mom and Dad would pile all six of us into the station wagon for Midnight Mass. We could see bright stars shining sharply in the cold black sky. We would crunch through ice and crusted snow to the church for a long Mass. Why, I complained, must we have Mass in the middle of the night? It’s too dark and cold! And my mother would explain that we go to Mass at Midnight because Jesus was born in the darkness, in the middle of the night. The Church celebrates Christmas Mass in the dark to underscore our liberation from darkness: we are no longer afraid of the dark. There is no darkness for men of faith because a child is given us, and we name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
True enough, the world is dark. The world without Christ is very dark. America celebrates Christmas this year with her flags at half-mast, watching the funerals of twenty schoolchildren, and wondering who will be next. Lurking in the backs of our minds is the fact that America kills thousands of children every day, with the support of the government and the approval of many Christian churches. The world is dark. Its movies are dark—I saw The Hobbit the other day and found it so much more dark and barbaric than Tolkien’s graceful tale of “there and back again.” So much of contemporary music, art, internet sites, news stories, clothing styles, and the rest of secular culture communicates gloom and desperation. We are a people addicted to anti-depressants, but it doesn’t permit us to evade the pervading fear and darkness.
No Longer Darkness
The world is dark, but God’s Kingdom is bright and beautiful. In the words of Isaiah, “To a people who walked in darkness, who dwelt in a land of gloom, a light has shown…. for a child is born to us.” The powers of this world fear and hate the child. They try to kill it, and they succeed in killing many children. But they cannot kill this Child.
St. Luke begins the Christmas story by acknowledging the powers of this world. “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled….” Caesar had the power to command the “whole world,” even the Mother of God and God himself in her womb. They went obediently to Bethlehem to register with the government. No woman about to give birth should bounce on a donkey for three days, sleeping in strange places, exposed to cold and danger. And in the cold and dark she had her child, a child who would banish cold and dark forever. Cold is not cold for us, and dark is not dark, because God Is With Us.
Caesar will fail us. Governments that ignore the Law of God bring only darkness and suffering to their people. Our government used to acknowledge a power higher than itself, and we pray that it will again someday. We pray that the leaders of our Church will also submit to the will of God in everything, refusing to make bargains with the powers of this world. But no matter how dark it gets out there, our blessed hope shines brightly in here, close to Jesus in the Blessed Eucharist. No worldly power, no abuse of worldly power, and no cultural decline, can extinguish this light. No Caesar and no Herod can kill this baby. We must stay close to Him, our only hope. We must stay as close to Him as did his Holy Mother, and St. Joseph, and the Holy Shepherds and Kings from the East. We must be saints like them, because outside of Jesus, it is cold, and dark, and hopeless.
We join the Blessed Mother at the manger tonight, not at all mindful of the dark and the cold. We pledge ourselves this night to stay beside them, and to never let go. We can be merry this Christmas, and of good cheer every day, because today is born our Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.
Today, the Third Sunday of Advent, we call “Gaudete Sunday,” so called from the first word of the Introit or Entrance Antiphon for the Mass, which is also the Second Reading:
Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete “Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say it, Rejoice!... the Lord is near” (Phil 4:4).
The priest and the altar clad themselves in rose colored vestments to indicate the joy of these last two weeks before Christmas. The Prophet Zephaniah commands us in much the same words as St. Paul, “Shout for Joy, O Daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel!”
Joy in the midst of school massacres
We celebrate Guadete Sunday two days after a particularly terrible school shooting. First a young man killed his mother at home; then he went to the school and slaughtered 20 little children at their desks, along with some teachers; finally, he killed himself. This shooting was so sad that no one could speak of it on Friday afternoon without briefly faltering, without spontaneous tears. Even President Obama seems to have shed some genuine tears.
“What should we do?”
How can we rejoice in a world where sadness and horror leer at us from every corner? Many children of Sandy Hook school will never be able to trust anyone again, bearing the unconscious fear of someone appearing off the street to destroy them. And yet: the apostle insists that we “have no anxiety at all. The peace of God will guard your hearts.” The Prophet directs us: “fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!”
In the face of irrational, chaotic evil, many simply reject the Gospel as a fairy tale. Some express anger at this “opiate of the people” and seek to tear out manger scenes from public places. In the face of human and demonic evil, how can we rejoice?
Let’s turn to the Gospel: John is baptizing at the Jordan River, and everyone asks him: What should we do? He tells the rich person to share his wealth, the tax collectors to charge only what is fair, and the soldiers to stop extorting money. In other words, there are some things we can and must do to receive the Gospel joy. The joy of freedom from fear and sadness is not free. It cost God his only begotten Son; it will cost us too. We cannot simply follow the impulses of the flesh and expect freedom and joy.
First we must pray. Those who take the trouble to pray regularly—who go to Mass and confession often, who study the Scriptures, who make serious retreats—these radiate a deep, consistent joy. They are free men and women. In addition to prayer, we must practice justice and charity, as John the Baptist told the soldiers and tax collectors. In our time, the greatest injustices are committed against children and the elderly. What must we do to overcome the Culture of Death in the United States of America?
First, we must confront the fact that we kill not twenty but thousands of children every day through legal abortion. We can hardly expect people not kill children when our government subsidizes it under another name. We can’t sell folks a culture of death and expect them not to kill. Second, we must clean up the entertainment industry: the movies, television, and video games we pump out drip with blood lust and disrespect for the human person. The games we give our children train them to destroy. Third, we must defend the Judeo-Christian principles of our nation. Government schools have tutored our children in atheism, and most parents make no objection. Forty public schools have been attacked since we threw God out of them. Each school echoed a cry of despair from someone who couldn’t face a world without God.
We can rejoice, even today, indeed, in all circumstances. Let us turn to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Cause of our Joy, and imitate her purity.
Joy of the Return
In another week most of us will return home for Christmas. How happy we are to come home to Mom and Dad, to our brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, to drive the old roads and return to our old room. So much of life is an exile from those we love, and few are the times of return.
Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe, writes from exile in Babylon in our first reading.
“The Chaldeans took Jerusalem and burned it with fire,” he writes tersely. But, one day, God will bring us home, Baruch assures us. As once He led his captive people out of Egyptian slavery, so will He lead a second Exodus out from this Babylonian captivity. “Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever….” For “God is leading Israel in joy, by the light of his glory, with his mercy and justice for company.”
We can picture the Jews in long caravans, returning to Jerusalem in 540 BC. They rebuilt the city, but it wasn’t long before foreign armies burned Jerusalem again, and many times after that. Jerusalem is still on fire—the earthly “city of peace” pounded by Hezbollah rockets and ripped apart by suicide bombers. We are still waiting for God’s promise of an Exodus out of our cities of blood and despair into his Land of rest and joy. When will he come to lead us home?
Advent: A penitential season: Prepare!
In Advent we recall the fact that He has already come, and He comes again every time we make the effort to follow him along The Way. It is the way of “penance,” of choosing His will over ours at every turn. Penance is not a dreary obligation, but the brisk decision to tighten our belts and set out upon the road that leads home. Advent is a penitential season, not as strict as Lent, but certainly a time for greater simplicity, prayer, and fasting. John the Baptist calls us to a “Baptism of repentance.” As we have loosened up on Advent penances over the years, we’ve lost much of the joy of the season. December 8, for example, is rarely a Holy Day of Obligation any more, and in skipping this Feast we miss out on the joy proper to Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception. The time before Christmas has become a hollow shell of what it once was, a secular holiday that celebrates it knows not what. God offers us perfect joy, but perfect joy on earth is wrapped in simplicity, prayer, and penance.
St. John the Baptist emerges from the desert, from his long Advent of prayer and fasting. “Prepare the way” for Him, he cries out. Every valley must be filled in, every mountain made low, every crooked way made straight, and rough ways smooth. No doubt, he refers to those rough ways in which we treat our family members during Christmas vacation. He must have in mind those mountains of pride we display in classroom discussions. Perhaps he knows our crooked ways of pretense and deceit, and the gaping valleys of our laziness? John the Baptist tells us to get the earthmovers out, the bulldozers, the caterpillars. Build my Messiah a temple, and a road, fit for his majesty, appropriate to your own dignity. This is the joyful penance and the bracing work of Advent.
Students’ Christmas Vacation: Some practical suggestions
Before you go home, I offer two practical suggestions. First, pray that you not get into the usual arguments with family members. You are different than when they last saw you, and misunderstandings often arise. Pray the rosary and commit yourself to acts of cheerful humility and understanding love. Second, make a written plan for prayer and study during your three weeks: when and where you will pray, and when and where you will study? This side of the grave, there is no such thing as an absolute vacation. We bring our work with us, and we never abandon the asceticism of true prayer.
In the rest of Advent, I recommend you pray one rosary every day. It’s the least penance we can do. Bring Our Lady with you on Christmas Vacation, and you will always have the joy and the affection of Christ Jesus. Since this will be the last Sunday Mass for many of you at TAC before vacation, I wish you all a blessed and merry Christmas.
Homily: Advent, a preparation for the Coming of Christ
Extraordinary Form Homily, December 2nd, 2012, 1st Sunday of Advent
Not a Christmas Carol
Luke 21: 25-33 “People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
On this first Sunday of Advent, the Catholic Church, which invented Christmas, seems to squarely oppose the merry festivities gracing our living rooms and public squares since Thanksgiving. Do the Church’s chosen Scriptures speak of warm Christmas joy today? They do not. They bleakly foretell chaos, unparalleled distress, nations in dismay and people even dying of fright. Why does the Church try to ruin our Christmas parties with these scenes of cataclysm and catastrophe?
Because the Catholic Church, which invented Christmas, also invented Advent. And Advent is a preparation not so much for Christmas Day, but for the great Day of the Lord’s Second Coming. He came once as a little babe. He will come again upon the clouds in power and glory to judge the nations. And every eye shall behold him, yea, even them that thrust him through.
Which ought we to do during Advent? Prepare for Christmas parties that recall his First Coming, or prepare as He told us for His Second Coming? Only those who don’t believe in his First Coming would neglect to prepare for his Second Coming. And so we should prepare for both, but more seriously for the Second Coming. Holy Mother Church has designed Advent in two stages. Stage One, until December 16, trains our thoughts on Christ’s Second Coming. Stage Two, from December 17-24, prepares us to celebrate with appropriate joy Christ’s First Coming, so that we might be ready for the Second.
A Penitential Season
Romans 13:11-14 “Brothers: you know it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now … Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
Advent is a penitential season: not as strict as Lent, to be sure, but certainly a time of greater simplicity and prayer. Indeed, it is the “hour to wake from sleep—our salvation is nearer now,” than Advent 2011. St. Paul urges us to, “conduct ourselves properly—not in drunkenness and promiscuity, rivalry or jealousy.” How many “Christmas parties” reduce themselves to promiscuous drinking parties, ending with jealousy and fighting? Advent is the time to “put on the Lord Jesus, making no provision for the desires of the flesh.”
Why does Jesus warn us about the end of the world in the first place? To frighten us? No, to protect us from the emptiness those feel who put their hope in what can never afford lasting joy. Jesus states unequivocally that Heaven and earth will pass away. Everything one can buy at a store, every earthly love and friendship, even our own bodies, will pass away. It will blow away as a bit of dust in the wind. The earth itself, and the sun, the entire galaxy and known universe, will eventually pass away. Only Christ and his Word will not pass away. The Church seeks to spare us the bitter pain of disappointment. Yes, this life is good, but it is not a lasting good. We all need a lasting good, a joy that nobody can take from us. If we keep hoping in things that continue to fail us, we end up forging a prison of disappointment and bitterness around our earthly lives. Advent frees us from that prison by fixing our hope on the only one who will never fail us.
Year of Faith
We enter Advent in this Year of Faith. During the last Year of Faith in 1967, the Church wrote a creed, the Credo of the People of God. I end with a line from that credo: “Christ ascended into heaven whence he will come again to judge the living and the dead, each according to his own merits. Those who have responded to the love and compassion of God will go into eternal life. Those who have refused them to the end will be consigned to the fire that is never extinguished.”
Brothers and sisters, our lives are a long Advent, a preparation for the Coming of Christ. He will come for us either on the day of our death, or on the last day of human history. Everything we do in this brief time on earth should be directed toward attaining eternal life, and avoiding that fire that is never extinguished. In every Advent, we turn to Our Lady. She holds out the baby Jesus to us. He grasps us in his tiny hands, and leads us unfailingly into eternal joy.
Homily: Receiving the Word in Great Affliction, with Joy from the Holy SpiritExtraordinary Form Second to Last Sunday of the Year
November 18th, 2012The most persecuted religion today “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit, so that you became a model for all the believers” (1 Thess 1:6).
St. Paul indicates in our first reading that he who “receives the word,” that is, he who believes, does so in great affliction, but also with joy from the Holy Spirit. In this fallen world, faith is always persecuted.
In 2010, Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone stated that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world today. Two weeks ago German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the same thing.
, for example, radical Hindu groups have been burning Christian churches and homes for the last ten years. In Nigeria
last month the Muslim group Boko Haram drove a truck packed with explosives into St. Rita’s church during Mass, killing eight. In Canada
, the Education Minister of Ontario declared October 10 that the province’s Catholic schools may not teach students that abortion is wrong. In 2005, a Pastor in Alberta
faced a jail sentence for publishing letters critical of homosexual conduct. In Sweden
, a Pentecostal pastor was sentenced to one month in prison for citing Biblical references that condemn homosexual acts. In Iraq
, 72 Christian churches have been attacked or bombed since June, 2004. In the USA
, the Church faces crippling penalties if it does not fund procedures that violate its conscience. In the recent words of Cardinal George, “This is the first time in the history of the United States that a presidential administration has purposely tried to interfere in the internal working of the Catholic Church, playing one group off against another for political gain.”A Mustard Seed and a Bit of Yeast
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed,”
And yet, Jesus promised Peter and all Christians that the jaws of death would not prevail against the Church. In the Gospel today, Jesus portrays the Kingdom of Heaven, which on earth is the Church he founded, both as a “mustard seed” and as a “bit of yeast.”
First, let us consider the Mustard Seed: it is so small as to be almost invisible to the unaided eye. In the year 33AD, practically no one in the Roman Empire noticed the routine execution of a Jewish criminal, with his mother standing by. But from this routine event poured forth an infinite volume of divine love. The Church welled forth from this crucifixion, and she flourished, watered by the blood of her martyrs. As difficult as it is to accept the results of the national election two weeks ago, I can guarantee you that it was providential. The adversity to come will water the growth of the Church. We can only hope that now it is our chance to be saints and martyrs. It is our turn to suffer for the sake of the Name. If the coming persecution would not be for our good and the greater glory of God, he would not have permitted it. So none of us should fret, or get depressed, and certainly no one should give into fear. God is ever with us.
Let us also consider the bit of yeast. Even tinier than a mustard seed, one microscopic spore of yeast will swell until it permeates an entire loaf of bread. So the Church expands until it fills the entire earth. Christ’s Church is indefectible.
No one can destroy it, and it will always triumph in the end.The Year of Faith
In this Year of Faith, we must have confidence in the Word of God which has been entrusted to us. We cannot be so short-sighted as to concede defeat to the present secularization. The Church will go one growing, despite any attempts to destroy her. We must keep the faith. We must live the faith. We must insist on the faith.
In the words of Cardinal George, secularism is on the “wrong side of history.” Secularism’s Culture of Death cannot sustain itself any more than atheistic communism could sustain itself. It will collapse, and then the world will turn back to the Church, to those of us who have kept the faith, who have lived the faith, who have insisted on the faith.
Let us turn to Our Lady, who kept her faith when all was lost, at the foot of the cross. She will stand by us, if we stand by the Cross. I want to conclude with a prayer to Our Holy Mother composed by Mother Teresa:
Mary, Mother of Jesus, give me your heart, so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate, so full of humility, that I may receive Jesus in the Bread of Life, love Him as you loved Him, and serve Him as you served Him. Amen.
Homily: Be Not Afraid
November 11th, 2012
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today we honor our military veterans who have defended our homeland’s sovereign freedom. An army protects her nation’s freedom from external tyranny. Political leaders protect a nation from internal tyranny. Today’s opening prayer reminds us that freedom is essentially the pursuit of God’s will: “Almighty and merciful God, … unhindered in mind and body alike, may we pursue in freedom of heart the things that are yours.” Freedom is the capacity to attain the “things that are Gods”—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Last week’s election focused on the things that are man’s (mostly the economy) and not the things that are God’s (respect for human life and freedom of religion, for example). Some of the leaders we elected, sadly, disregard human life, and so violate human liberty. It is an unhappy and tyrannous state that strips God’s natural law from the public square. We honor our veterans best by defending America from internal threats to her freedom, as they defend her from external tyrannies.
In the Gospel today, Jesus praises the indigent widow for giving her mite to the temple treasury. Tithing—giving ten percent of one’s increase—was obligatory for Jews in Christ’s time, but the widow gave not 10% but 100%. “She, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” The Church does not specify the Biblical ten percent, but the fifth Precept of the Church, as defined in Canon 222, states: “The Christian faithful are obliged to assist with the needs of the Church, so that the Church has what is necessary for divine worship, for apostolic works and words of charity.” The essential purpose of charitable giving, however, is not to fund a need; it is simply to give. The poor widow’s mite certainly did not fund much of the Temple’s expenses, and yet Jesus said that she had given more than the wealthiest benefactors. We don’t give to a need; we have a need to give. Sacrificial giving is absolutely essential for our sanctification, as an act of surrender to God’s providence. In giving from our substance, we proclaim God sovereign Lord and possessor of all we have. Consecrated religious make an absolute vow of poverty. Those of us in the world give a sacrificial percentage of our wealth as a sign of our absolute trust in God’s providence.
As a layman, I gave a portion of my income to the Church, but as a priest I figured I was exempt. Then I heard someone give a convicting talk on sacrificial giving. I decided to start giving 10% off the top, but the timing was bad—always is. I had just bought my first new car (I still have it today—runs like a top). It took me three years to save $17,000, but the car ended up costing $27,000. So I borrowed $10,000 from a friend and told him it would take two years to pay it back. Just after I started tithing to my parish, a series of strange windfalls came to me over the next two months—someone paid me back for a loan, I got a hefty tax rebate, the Bishop reimbursed me for expenses over some years without my asking, etc. In two months I was able to pay $10,000 back, even while tithing, whereas before tithing it took me almost two years to save that amount. Wow, I thought to myself. It really works! Actually, it doesn't always work like that. Little miracles like that happen just enough to open our eyes to God’s providence.
Money is important, but certainly not the most important, of God’s gifts. Faith, hope, and love, for example; our time, health and energy, personal talents, and friendships— these gifts are much more precious than financial wealth. And God asks us to return a portion of these gifts as well. It’s what Blessed John Paul II called the Law of the Gift: that we receive to the extent that we freely give. In St. Francis’ words, “it is in giving that we receive,” and in Fr. Robert Barron’s words, “abundance comes through the willing gift.” If you want more faith, give faith. Share it with others, and your faith will grow. If you want more joy, smile at others, share your joy, and God will fill you with true joy.
In fact, everything we have is God’s anyway, and sharing some of what we have convicts us of this truth. It detaches us from things so we can fulfill the two great commandments of last week’s gospel: to love God and neighbor. Returning a portion of our gifts is called stewardship. We are stewards, not owners, of everything we have. Giving part of it back to God convinces us of this over time. We learn to trust Him.
Be Not Afraid
But we are afraid to give—to give even the token 10%, let alone the 100% that we ultimately must give. God, and the man of God Elijah, urges us to be not afraid. In the first reading, the Prophet asks a poor widow for a bite to eat. She says that her son and she have only a morsel left, and then they will starve. Elijah then says to the widow: “Be not afraid.” Give it all to God, and you will see what wonders he will do for you. “And the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the cruse of oil run dry,” for the mother and son until the drought ended.
“Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid to give what God asks, and to smile as we give it. John Paul II thundered these words in his first papal homily, given at St. Peter’s, October 22, 1978. I watched it on YouTube last night. Let me translate it for you:
Non abbiate paura! Aprite, anzi, spalancate le porte a Cristo!
Do not be afraid! Open, even fling wide, the doors to Christ!
Alla sua salvatrice potestà aprite i confini degli Stati, i sistemi economici come quelli politici, i vasti campi di cultura, di civiltà, di sviluppo.
Open to his saving power national borders, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, of society, of development.
Non abbiate paura! Cristo sa “cosa è dentro l’uomo”. Solo lui lo sa!
Be not afraid! Christ knows what is in the heart of man. He alone knows!
Pope John Paul spoke these words as the borders of his homeland were closed to Christ. Perceptive people see our own national borders—our fields of culture, our political and economic systems—closing their doors to Christ. In this year of faith, we must not be afraid to give everything we have—not just 10% of our time, our abilities, our money—to the work of the Gospel.
Most of you are college students. You labor long hours to learn the eternal truths and principles undergirding western civilization. You will need these first principles to defend, recover, and preserve America’s basic freedoms. As our military veterans fought tyranny from without, you must fight tyranny from within. Many will become teachers, and businessmen, and political leaders. You must wage these battles in the fields of economic development, political leadership, higher education, and in the vast fields of culture and society. Do not be afraid to trust God as the poor widows of our Scriptures today. Do not be afraid to witness to God’s truth as did Blessed John Paul II. May God, and Our Lady, strengthen you in waging the battles for culture that are certain to require your service.
November 4th, 2012
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Every Sunday, the Gospel reflects and fulfils the Old Testament Reading. Moses, for example, prefigures Christ, and the Exodus prefigures Christ’s baptism in water and blood. In today’s Mass, the Gospel actually repeats the Old Testament reading verbatim. It is the famous Shema’ Israel, in Hebrew “Listen O Israel.” The Shema’ is the Hebrew Credo: There is only One God.
In our First Reading, Moses had finally arrived within sight of the Promised Land, and he prepares to die. He parks the entire Hebrew Nation on Mount Nebo, overlooking the Dead Sea and the hilltop fortress which would become Jerusalem. He repeats for them the Ten Commandments, urging them to keep faith, so that they will have a “long life.” In one sense, he means a long and prosperous life in Israel, but in a deeper sense, he points to a long life, an eternal life, in the “Land flowing with milk and honey,” which is heaven. But to get to this Land, Moses exhorts the people with a final word, the Shema’: “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is Our God, the Lord alone! You shall love the Lord, Your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” To this day, faithful Jews place a tiny scroll with these words on their foreheads when they pray, facing Jerusalem. They put little boxes (called Mezuzas) with this scroll on their doorposts, and touch them upon entering and departing their dwellings, as we do with holy water.
The First Commandment: God
1,400 years after that incident on Mt. Nebo, a scribe asks Jesus, the New Moses: “Which is the greatest of all the commandments?” By then, the Jews had not ten but 613 commandments, not counting many traditions and practices. The Catholic Church, by the way, has 1752 laws in our canonical code, and many more traditions and practices. Religion can get rather complicated!
The Scribe who approaches Jesus is no doubt a sincere man. He wants to know the one thing necessary for holiness. The interesting thing is that Jesus doesn’t give the Scribe only one commandment—he gives him two. Here’s the First (the Scribe knew it by heart anyway): Shema, O Israel, the Lord our God is Lord alone.”
If I were in a parish, I would preach my entire homily on this one line, and what it means for American Catholics on Tuesday. We elect the next president of the greatest nation on earth in two days, and on what basis will we elect him? On the basis of God’s Lordship? If Jesus is Lord, Christians in this country must vote for the man who will best respect His will. But I think most Christians will vote for the man who best respects the things of men, not of God, especially the American economy. If we vote for the economy, we will get a man who loves money, not God. And ultimately we will lose both our money and our God. Since this is not a parish, and I’m fairly sure you will all vote your faith, we move on. But be sure to vote on Tuesday, if you haven’t already (I mailed in my vote last week).
Shema, Israel! Jesus continues quoting Moses, to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and strength. We must love God with the whole human person: with our heart (our feelings, emotions, and affections); with our soul (in spirit and prayer); with our strength (our will). But then Jesus adds mind as well (with our intellect). Love of God encompasses every dimension of our human person. His Lordship is absolute—over the food we eat, the movies we watch, our friendships, our sexual sphere, even over our money.
The Second Commandment: Neighbor
Finally, notice that Jesus gives the Scribe not only the First Law, but the Second Law as well, a law that Moses did not mention. It is to love your neighbor as yourself. We cannot love our neighbor without first loving God, for that is the First Commandment. But we cannot not love God if we do not love every other person, even people with whom we are at enmity. “Every person is Christ,” as Mother Teresa would say. Simple, but not easy.
In the end, religion is not that complex. The Church gives us many laws to help us navigate our way to heaven. But in the end, “we go to God with empty hands,” in the words of St. Therese. In the end, God will ask us, as he asked Peter, “do you love me?” If you love me, you will feed my sheep.
November is the month of the end, the end of the liturgical year. It is the month when we consider our own end, and those who have already ended their earthly pilgrimage—the saints in heaven, the holy souls in purgatory. We begin this last month with Christ’s words ringing in our hearts, preparing us for heaven: Shema’, O Israel! The Lord is Our God, the Lord Alone! Love Him, with everything you have, and your neighbor as yourself, that you may have a long life in the Land the Lord your God shall give to you.
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!
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?