I woke up this Thanksgiving morning listening to the only surviving classical music station here in Los Angeles. The radio announcer played a good selection of “Thanksgiving” music and he wished all his listeners a day of thankfulness. Now, the question arises: to whom are we giving thanks? The poor radio announcer, no doubt hamstrung by secular station policies, could not say exactly to whom we are giving thanks on this day, but the music said it for him. He played Handel’s Thanks Be To Thee
, which in the composer’s original language is “Dank Sei Dir, Herr
” (“Herr” in German is, as you all know, “the Lord”). We used to sing this in seminary choir: “Thanks be to Thee! Thanks be to Thee! Thou hast led forth, with mighty hand, Thy people Israel, safe through the sea.”
America was founded by pilgrims, that is, deeply religious people seeking God, who undertook a perilous sea voyage to reach, at last, Plymouth harbor. Well could they sing Handel’s words, thanking God that he “hast led thy people, safe through the sea.”
Whom do we thank on Thanksgiving? Whom could
we thank? We could thank our parents, our neighbors, our employers, our government, and our churches. These people deserve and to some degree need our thanks, but there must be a greater benefactor than just ourselves behind all human benevolence. Abraham Lincoln, in his 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation
, had no doubt whom to thank. “The year that is drawing to its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come,
others have been added….” Even in Lincoln’s day, people were forgetting God, “from whom all blessings flow.” It was good of the president, nay, it was necessary
for our president, and exactly proper
to his office, to remind the American people that it is God, not man, who blesses us. “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked these great things,” he continues. “They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”
If we have no one to thank other than ourselves on this day, then Thanksgiving becomes meaningless. Let us hope that our president, our priests, our parents, and our co-workers wish us a Happy Thanksgiving, directing our gratitude to the Most High God above all. Happy Thanksgiving!
In 2008 Archbishop Charles Chaput, then of Denver, now of Philadelphia, wrote a little book entitled Render Unto Caesar. He was alluding, of course, to Jesus’ prescription that we render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, and to God that which belongs to God. The Archbishop asks: What belongs to Caesar? This belongs to Caesar: Respect for his office, respect for the civil law, obedience to proper authority, and service to the common good—he didn’t mention paying taxes specifically, but that’s what comes immediately to mind. “It’s a rather modest list,” Archbishop Chaput notes. He then asks, what belongs to God? Everything else, he says, including our work, our homes and families, our hearts, bodies and souls, and our first loyalties. We serve Caesar best by not confusing him with God, by rendering witness to something greater than Caesar not simply as loyal citizens but also as faithful ones. As the Year of Faith draws to a conclusion this week, we might reflect on what it means to be a loyal and faithful American.
“We are citizens of heaven first,” Archbishop Chaput writes. “But just as God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, so the glory and the irony of the Christian life is this: the more truly we love God, the more truly we serve the world.” Catholics should not be less involved in politics, but more; not less visible but more visible as Catholics
in the public square. We have both a mandate from Our Lord to work in and through politics for the Common Good, and a divinely-revealed magisterium with 3000 years of Judeo-Christian experience to guide us. The entire Western system of democracy, law, economics has developed from Christian principles, and has been adopted by the entire world. Who best can guide politics to the Common Good than Catholics guided by Christian principles? “The Catholic Church,” concludes Archbishop Chaput, “cannot stay, has never stayed, and never will stay out of politics…. Living our Catholic faith without excuses and apologies, and advancing them in the public square, are the best expressions of patriotism we can give to the nation.”
I say this because Christ’s two parables in the Gospel today depict not just the keeping, but the dissemination
of the Gospel: first, a man sows mustard seed in a field. The seed grows into a large tree, and the birds of the air (peoples of every class, tongue, and nation) come to dwell in its branches. The Church is a kind of spreading tree, uniquely suited to serving the Common Good, affording shelter to all who ask. But one must propagate
that seed, as we must propagate the gospel in the political order. In the second parable, a woman kneads yeast into three measures of flour—that’s about fifty pounds
. Have you ever kneaded even one pound of flour? I used to knead dough with my mother, with rather sore wrists, forearms, and shoulders afterwards. We finally got Mom a bread machine one Christmas…. Imagine fifty pounds of flour! Kneading God’s word into our culture, persistently and patiently, is long and hard work, and the particular job of the laity, once you’ve all been “kneaded” by us clerics from the pulpit (!).The Coming Wrath
St. Paul loves the Thessalonians in the Epistle, because they put in this work of evangelization. “We thank God for your unceasing
work of faith and labor of love…receiving the word in great affliction; from you the word of God sounded forth from Macedonia to Achaia, in “every place” your faith gone forth, your faith in Jesus, who delivers us from the “coming wrath.”
Last week, Hawaii became the 15th state to legalize so-called “gay marriage.” The wrath is surely coming—the chaos and retribution that will inevitably result from our rejection of marriage and family life. It happened to the Romans when they gave up on marriage, and it will happen to us. Like the early Church, we must labor, perhaps go to prison, and even die, in order to propagate the saving Word of Life. It seems obvious, as American culture collapses, one state after another, that today’s American Catholics compare rather poorly with First Century Catholics. As Archbishop Chaput emphasized in his 2008 book, the times demand not less but more overt political involvement by faithful Catholics, providing that which only faith can provide for our nation. Let us turn to Our Lady, the first evangelist, both for inspiration and intercession. One simple bit of evangelizing you can do this time of year is to go to buy a hundred Madonna and Child stamps from the US Postal Service (before it goes bankrupt), and put them on all your letters—including the electric bill! We have every right, we have every duty, to keep Christ, and his Holy Mother, not only in Christmas, but in every aspect of the public square.
A “scholar of the law”—in other words, a lawyer—asks Jesus a tricky question: “Of the ten great commandments of Moses, and of all the 613 commandments found in the Torah, which is the greatest?” he asks. Which is the one God is really serious about? Which is the commandment I really cannot break if I want to get to heaven?
And Jesus takes his question seriously: “This is the One,” he replies: “Love God.” Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. Love God with everything you’ve got, from the heart. St. Augustine famously said, “Love God, and do what you will.”
But, Jesus continues, “There is a Second Commandment. You, my dear scholar of the law, didn’t ask for it, but you need it as much as you need the First Commandment.” And that second commandment is this: love your neighbor as yourself. “Neighbor” comes from the German nachbar, meaning, “he who is near you.” The guy next to you at that moment. Could be on a bus, could be in class, could be at home in the living room. Whoever is right there, at that moment: he’s your neighbor, and he’s the one you’ve got to love. You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your “neighbors”—they mostly just show up, and often enough, at rather inconvenient times.
Jesus thinks we need this second commandment; in fact, he insists on it, even though the lawyer only asked for one commandment. I wonder why? Perhaps because, well, how do we know if we are actually keeping the First Commandment? God after all is a hidden God, a God of silence. If I don’t love him, he doesn’t throw a fit. If I don’t visit him at Mass or say my morning prayers, he doesn’t frown at me. But, if I neglect to call my mother on Sunday, she might mention it during our next phone call. If I give my roommate the silent treatment, he will reproach me sooner or later (in fact, I don’t have a roommate, but I speak hypothetically). If I don’t pay my electric bill, someone will let me know. Loving our neighbor can be measured. Neighbors keep us accountable, because how I love my neighbor is how I love God (“whatever you do to the ‘least’ of my brethren,” Jesus said—you know, the ones who always get picked last for basketball teams—“you do to me”). Show kindness to that nerd at school, and you show kindness to me. Love your wife when she’s screaming at you, and you love me, Jesus says.
One Law; Three People to Love
So we have two commandments, two people to whom we must show loving kindness: God, and the guy next door. But there’s a third person, and Jesus names that person too: yourself. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But how much do I love myself? A person who treats others badly might observe that he is loving others as he loves himself. He just doesn’t love himself very much. Each of us, after all, is God’s son or daughter, and we are commanded to love each person God has made, including that person who lives inside my own skin.
So, we have three to love: God, neighbor, and self, in that order. Some people, especially those who have had rough childhoods, may need to learn to love themselves before they can love others, but it is certain that love of God comes before everything and everyone. We fulfill that First Commandment first and foremost by praying. “Love consists in this,” wrote St. John in his first letter: “Not that we have loved God, but that he first loved us.” Love of God is essentially receiving his love, not fighting it—receiving it like a little baby receives milk from his mother’s breast, or like a little girl lets herself be scooped up into her daddy’s lap. And that happens in prayer, in silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, or in our room with the iPod turned off, or even on a freeway stuck in traffic, listening, and loving Him back.
This is how Our Lady received God, when the angel came to her. She listened, and she asked a few questions, and she surrendered her whole heart, her whole soul, her whole mind to God’s perfect will. “Let it be done to me according to your word,” she said. Easier said than done, but not impossible for anybody. So let’s follow Our Lady, and give ourselves to God, as he gives himself to us.
The Lord’s Prayer
Blessed John Paul II wrote these words to the Church as she embarked on the Third Millennium: “Dear brothers and sisters, our Christian communities must become genuine "schools" of prayer, where the meeting with Christ is expressed … in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until the heart truly "falls in love".” Thomas Aquinas College, no less than any other Christian community, must be a genuine school of prayer. In our classes we read Aristotle and St. Thomas, Euclid and Shakespeare, but always with our final end in mind: union with the Triune God through authentic prayer. This school is indeed a school of prayer, with its chapel at the head and center of campus, and the curriculum truly culminating in the one thing necessary: knowledge of God.
There is no more authentic prayer than the Lord’s Prayer, given us today in the Gospel. The disciples watched Jesus praying one day, and they realized that up to that moment, they had never really prayed. When he returns from his prayer, they implore him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” And so the Lord gives us his own prayer to his Heavenly Father: “Our Father, who art in heaven….” We pray it six times in each rosary, and to prepare ourselves for Holy Communion at every Mass. The Catechism calls this prayer the “the summary of the whole Gospel,” the “fundamental Christian prayer.” In the words of St. Augustine: “Run through all the words of the holy prayers in Scripture, and I do not think that you will find anything in them that is not contained and included in the Lord’s Prayer.” If we learned no other prayer in all our Christian lives, if even we taught our children no other prayer but this one, if a pagan in missionary lands discovered only this prayer, it would be enough. It is the only formal prayer that all Christians can agree on.
Bargaining with God
Let us realize what prayer is: when we pray, we do not talk to God so much as he talks to us. As Fr. Barron observed in his Sunday homily this week, we do not pray to change God’s mind; we pray to change our mind—to align our minds and wills with His. Consider Abraham in the first reading. It seems like he is bargaining with God, which is what many attempt to do in prayer. Deftly but respectfully, our Father in Faith negotiates God down from fifty to ten: “if I find ten good men in Sodom, I will not destroy the city.” (As it turned out, God only found four just people in Sodom, and he gave them a free pass out before he destroyed the city.)
Is Abraham negotiating with God? He is certainly persevering in petitionary prayer to save his kinsmen. But what Abraham actually does is persevere in prayer until his understanding aligns with God’s will. The city must be destroyed, even if good men will suffer, because sin has consequences. (Our own cities too are suffering destruction from sexual perversions, as the breakdown of family and social order result from promiscuity.) Abraham comes to understand this, but he also comes to understand how God wills the salvation of every soul. In prayer, Abraham comes to know and love the mind and will of God. We too learn to know God’s will only in and through disciplined, regular prayer. If we have a problem in our life, or with God’s will for us, only in prayer can we find peace. We may need to spend many hours before the tabernacle to learn to love God’s will, but learn to love Him we will, if we persevere in prayer.
With Jesus, Surrender to the Father
The Lord’s Prayer expresses this “Abrahamic faith” perfectly. First of all, Jesus instructs us to address God both as “Our Father” (immanent) and “in heaven” (transcendent). God is my father, understanding my fragility, but God is also the eternal and omnipotent El Shaddai, ruling the cosmos in perfect justice. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray that His kingdom come, not ours—His will, not ours. We pray that we can come to love His will, in every circumstance. When I pray the Lord’s Prayer, I join the Son of God in surrendering my will, my intellect, all that I have and possess, to my Father in Heaven, who alone can bring me to heaven.
So, with Jesus in prayer before his Father, with Our Lady “keeping all these things in the silence of her heart,” let us also put aside distractions and keep silence, listening for God’s still voice. In every time of prayer, following the Church’s own liturgy, let us pray the Our Father, not to change God’s mind, but to change our mind, that it may conform to the mind of God.
Seeing Beyond the Veil
Jesus climbs Mount Tabor to pray, and while he was praying, He is transfigured before Peter, James, and John. These three glimpse Christ’s true nature in order to be prepared for the scandal of the Crucifixion. “This is my beloved Son,” a voice resounds from within the cloud. This is my Son, blazing forth the radiance of a billion stars.
Our story begins with Father Abraham, though, in the First Reading from Genesis 15. The Lord God directs Abram’s eyes to the night sky: “Count the stars, if you can.” Let’s turn our attention to the night sky for a moment too. On a clear night here at Thomas Aquinas College, you can see hundreds of stars and a few planets, and perhaps the smoky edges of our own galaxy. If you know where to look, you might see the dull smudge of the Andromeda galaxy, 2.5 million light years distant (that’s 10,000 million trillion miles—the Lord owns a lot of real estate). Astrophysicists estimate the Milky Way contains 300 to 400 billion stars. Andromeda has over one trillion stars, each with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of planets and exoplanets. Both galaxies belong to the Local Group of about 50 galaxies, which belongs to a cluster, which makes up filament patterns of superclusters. We can see, with Father Abraham and a little help from the Hubble telescope, at least 100 billion galaxies in the night sky. Hubble took a picture of the night sky the size of your thumb held at arm’s length and found 10,000 galaxies in that small dark spot. If every star were a grain of sand, the box to contain all the observable stars in the universe would have to be two miles high and two miles wide and stretch from New York to Atlanta.
Why did the Lord God ask Father Abraham to look up into the night sky? To show him how many children he would have? Not really: God wanted Abram to glimpse some inkling of his glory. It is I who made all these stars, and I keep them perfectly tuned every day. I and no other, but it is I who am talking with you now. I love you, and I will send my son to die for you. I make a covenant with you and your children, a covenant of love. Father Abraham could hardly believe it. He was transformed by the realization of God’s providence.
I can’t go further without mentioning St. Paul’s affection for the flock entrusted to him in the second reading. “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord.” See how God’s servant Paul radiates God’s tender affection for us too.
Now back to the Transfiguration. After six days, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a steep mountain. While he was praying, his face blazed like the sun and his clothes shone white as light. He spoke with the glorified figures of Moses and Elijah, the greatest men of the Old Testament, representing the Law and the Prophets. Jesus reveals himself in complete majesty, he who commands the sun, Creator of the stars of night. His brightness manifests a quality of glorified bodies, “who will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt 13:43). No wonder St. Peter wants to stay on that mountain—he has been granted the beatific vision. It is a transformative experience, meant to strengthen the Apostles’ faith. But faith comes more through hearing than through seeing. And so the Father’s voice commands them to “Listen” to his beloved Son. The Father has said all He need and can say, and all we need to hear, in his Son. But how many are listening?
Some have not seen what we have seen, because they refuse to listen and refuse to believe. They do not see anything beautiful in the Holy Mass or in the Church. They do not see the Father’s providential love in the waters of the sea or the lilies of the field or the stars of the night sky. They do not see the image of God in the human person, and so they destroy people—even babies—without a thought, because they have not listened. The Father’s voice begs us, commands us: Listen! In this Year of Faith, let us make certain that we are listening to God’s beloved Son as He speaks through the Church. Having heard His voice and seen His face, may we manifest the radiant and beautiful face of God to every other person by loving them with Christian affection. May Our Lady, the Star of the New Evangelization, show us how to see Christ in others, and to magnify his glory among them.
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!
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?
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.