A Triduum for the Three Parts of the Church
All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day make a sort of autumn Triduum. As the dying leaves fall to earth, as the daylight fades, as the wind turns colder, the Church helps her children make sense of the inevitable and confusing fact of death. Each of us will grow older, grow feebler, and die, what the poet Homer 3000 years ago called “hateful old age” and “miserable death.” In the last words of Ecclesiastes: “the silver cord is snapped, the golden bowl is broken, the pitcher is shattered at the spring, the pulley is broken at the well, the dust returns to the earth as it once was, and the life breath returns to God who gave it.” The autumn triduum of October 31, November 1, and November 2 point to a truth deeper than death: the life breath will return to God, who gave it. “For in him,” Jesus declared, “all things are alive.” The saints are those who live and die in Him.
Those of us who still live on this side of the grave must realize that we are only the tip of the iceberg. The Church consists of three parts, of which we are only the smallest. We make up the Church Militant, those in daily combat against the destructive powers of the world, the flesh, and the devil. But above us, below us, and all around us a great multitude fills the air, invisible to us, but more real than anything on earth. The saints in heaven (the Church Triumphant), and the holy souls in purgatory (the Church Suffering), have entered into real life, and we are shadows compared to them. We are the ghosts; they are the living--substantially alive in Christ Jesus. “After this,” St. John writes in our first reading, “I saw a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” We believe in the other two worlds, and we depend on the strength of their intercession, even as we intercede for the souls in purgatory.
Destined for Purity
And yet earthly death saddens and frightens us. Death is dirty and putrid and loathsome. We avoid it like the plague and scrub our hands after touching a corpse. But, in fact, the carnal impurity of death is only a consequence and manifestation of spiritual impurity. Before sin, there was no death, and after sin, there will be no death.
“Who are these” asks St. John, “wearing white?” The angel replies: “These are the ones who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” We hope that one day we will be so washed, that the sadness of sin will never again touch us. “Everyone who has this hope based on Him,” writes St. Paul in the Epistle, “makes himself pure, as He is pure.” “We are God’s children now,” he continues. “What we shall be has not yet been revealed.” Jesus directs us to this purity in the eight beatitudes: poverty of spirit, meekness, thirst for righteousness, and cleanness of heart. Only the pure of heart can see God, and can see him in other people. The pornography epidemic, for example, ruins human relationships, especially marriages, because one addicted to pornography can no longer see God or his image in other people. Holiness is first and foremost purity of heart, so as to see God in every person and in every circumstance. One day, in heaven, we will be absolutely pure, absolutely holy, absolutely content.
Saved in and for Community
God reveals himself in the people around us, and God saves us with the people around us. We are the Church Militant, but we are saved with and through the Church Suffering and the Church Triumphant. We are One Church, and no one is saved in isolation. “There is no isolation in heaven,” writes Pope Benedict, and the Communion of Saints begins on earth, to be perfected in heaven. St. John’s vision of heaven in the Apocalypse is “a great multitude,” crying out with one voice: “blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be to our God forever and ever.” “We are God’s children,” writes St. Paul, all members of his family. We have a Father in heaven, and we have a Mother in heaven. As we think on the fact that we all must undergo our own death alone, and the hope that God will sweep us up into the glorious multitude of saints, we put ourselves into our Holy Mother’s arms. She will lead us over the waters of earthly death and bring us at last to her Son and his kingdom, where we will live with the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit, and all of those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, forever and ever. Amen.
The last 24 hours
This time tomorrow the Church and the world will have no Pope. At this Mass tomorrow we will not hear the name “Papa Nostro Benedicto” in the canon. And for this we have come to this chapel to offer Mass for our beloved Pontiff during his last 24 hours as our papa.
We give thanks for his service to the Church: as a young priest in the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising, as a professor of theology at various Catholic universities, as a peritus at the Second Vatican Council, as prefect for the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for 23 years, and of course since 2005 as Vicar of Christ on earth.
A man of hope
Pope Benedict is a man of hope. In his second encyclical, on Hope, he writes that “the distinguishing mark of Christians is the fact that they have a future… the dark door … of the future has been thrown open. … it is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have the final say, but reason, will, love—a Person.” In perhaps his most influential book, Introduction to Christianity, written in 1968 and studied by thousands of seminarians since then, he describes how Hope has overwhelmed death, man’s final despair. A Christian goes to the realm of the dead only to find Someone has been there before him, and is waiting for him. “Christ strode through the gate of our final loneliness; in his passion he went down into the abyss of our abandonment. Where no voice can reach us any longer, there is he.” Benedict does not renounce the papacy in despair, but with great hope in the future.
A man of realism
And yet Joseph Ratzinger is nothing if not a realist. Cardinal Ratzinger offered Mass at the Angelicum while I was a student there. One of my classmates chose not to attend, because he thought Ratzinger was too liberal! But I remember his careful, measured speech, his calm and balanced realism. Cardinal Ratzinger was almost the only Roman prelate not taken in by falsehoods and false expectations within the Church, such as the Legionaries of Christ affair. He perceived, perhaps more than any prelate, the parts of the Church whose scandals have now become public. There is certainly more to come, and Pope Benedict is under no illusion that one Pope can clean out these Augean stables. “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God,” he said three weeks ago, “I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering.”
Benedict knows, more than perhaps any man in the Church today, that the “Son of man will be handed over, mocked, scourged, and crucified.” He remembers that Christ’s own apostles, James and even the Beloved Apostle John, were compromised by ambition: “Let us sit, one at your right and one at your left, when you come into your kingdom.” But man of hope that he is, he knows that these two apostles will drink the chalice of sacrifice. They will learn to love as Christ loves. His first and greatest encyclical quotes that very Apostle John, Deus Caritas Est. “It is in contemplating the pierced side of Christ that our definition of love must begin,” he writes.
And so our beloved Pontiff goes into seclusion within 24 hours, to contemplate the pierced side of Christ, his open heart, pouring blood and water over his Bride, the Church, that she may be presented to his Father without spot or stain.
Let us pray for this man, old and worn out, seemingly beaten by his enemies, who renounces the papacy within a few hours. He does so in great hope, as he said upon announcing his resignation. “There are times when the burden of need and our own limitations might tempt us to become discouraged,” he wrote in Deus Caritas est. But then God’s love “frees us from the presumption of thinking that we alone are personally responsible for building a better world.” “And now,” he wrote in his resignation statement, “let us entrust the holy church to the care of our supreme pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the cardinal fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new supreme pontiff.”
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.
Sept 9, 2012, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
A wise old priest told me as a seminarian once that the opposite of love is not hatred, but fear. It is through fear of the Jewish people, for example, that Pharaoh, or for that matter Hitler, tried to destroy them. Fear drives much of contemporary behavior as well. When I was a child they taught me to fear the Bomb—the Hydrogen Bomb, that is, and the Soviets who had plenty of them. Nuclear bombs themselves were developed out of fear. Today, among the many fears on everyone’s minds, “climate change” and terrorism. We fear each other—anyone on this bus might pull a gun on the rest of us; anyone on this plane might be a terrorist. Many people complained that over-the-top security at the Olympics and at political conventions cast a pall of restrictive apprehension over the normally enthusiastic crowds. How has fear so tightened its grip on contemporary society? I think it must be that as Christianity wanes in the West, a culture of fear and self-defensiveness replaces it. If there is no God, then there is no Father, and our trust in providence collapses. It’s every man for himself, since no one is looking after us all.
John Paul II began his pontificate with a clarion call to put aside fear. He stepped out onto the balcony of St. Peter’s in October 1978 to speak these words to the world: “Do not be afraid to open the doors—even to fling them wide—to Christ!” Open them, not to just anyone, but to God. You can trust God, and in trusting God, you can begin to trust each other. John Paul truly echoed the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel: “be opened.” Jesus speaks this command in his native Aramaic--Ephphatha! How beautiful to hear the very word that Jesus’ divine lips uttered, in the language his mother taught him. Ephaphatha. And so he thus fulfils the prophecy of Isaiah, from our first reading: “Say to the those whose hearts are frightened: … fear not! Here is your God… He comes to save you… the tongue of the mute will sing.” The Messiah brings perfect love, which casts out fear, and opens minds and hearts.
Who was this man whom Jesus healed? He came from the Decapolis, a pagan region bordering Israel. He was probably not Jewish, and so his deafness is not only physical but spiritual as well. None of the people of that region had ever heard the loving words of God in Scripture.
And that describes many people today. They have never heard Jesus speak. Secularism—I mean our public educational system, our political system, our entertainment and news industries—do not let us hear the Word of God. Our young people have been taught from Kindergarten that God is a myth and religion is infantile superstition.
Come apart from the crowd: Silence
How does Jesus break through the man’s deafness? First, he takes him off by himself, away from the noise of the crowd, where he can speak to him alone. Only then are his ears opened, in the silence. The devil uses noise to keep us deaf to God’s word. He shouts God down. We must not let him do that. We must cultivate silence in our lives. Make space for silence in your life, or you will never hear God’s voice. “In the silence of the heart God speaks,” Mother Teresa was fond of saying. How much time do we let the TV, the computer, the cellphone, blare out at us, shouting down God’s voice? If you have children, guide them in the ways of silence. Silence the TV, the computer, the cellphone, so that they can begin to hear the voice of God. Hearing God’s reassuring voice, you will lose your fears. Only the Word of God can heal the many fears of mankind.
We turn to the Woman wrapped in Silence, Our Lady. We can and must learn from her how to be silent. When Joseph found out she was with child, she did not say a word. She let the Angel tell him what happened. She watched her Son grow in silence, and when he spoke, she kept his words in her heart. Our Lady of Silence, pray for us!
Homily: God's Grace is Enough
We all complain from time to time. Some people are professional moaners, and others keep life’s disappointments largely to themselves, but we all gripe and wine. Gripenheimers and Winebuckets, all of us. Even St. Paul complained, as he does in today’s second reading. “Three times” he begged the Lord to remove his “thorn in the flesh,” but the Lord did not remove it. And so what did the great St. Paul do? He stopped complaining. He embraced his limitations, in the name of Christ.
Thorn in the Flesh
Let’s look more closely at Paul’s famous “thorn in the flesh.” He describes it also as an “angel of Satan to beat me.” It wasn’t just a toothache, but a chronic, painful debilitation. Perhaps it was a problem with his feet or knees, particularly difficult for one who spent his life walking around the Mediterranean region. Maybe it was persistent sexual thoughts. Or perhaps his bad eyes. Or maybe a persistent interpersonal weakness—he was disposed to lose his temper. Maybe it was a tumor, or psoriasis, or insomnia, or alcoholism, or migraines.
“Three times” Paul asked God to heal him—that means, in Biblical language, he asked God over and over for relief. But what did Paul do when God didn’t heal him? He took a deep breath, pulled himself up straight, and said: “God’s grace is enough for me.”
A great error of our time is to imagine that we can somehow, with enough technology or psychology, eliminate all suffering from life. So if you have a physical problem, just keep trying new meds until the pain is covered over. The pharmaceutical companies will love you! If you have an emotional problem, just jump from one relationship to another until something works. And see a therapist while you’re at it! And if all else fails, there’s always whisky.
But St. Paul tells us today, flat out: God’s grace is enough for us. Yes, we have to try to reduce pain in our lives within reasonable means. I don’t mean we shouldn’t take Advil, or get surgery when we need it. But if we find ourselves obsessed with avoiding pain, when we simply can’t accept the experience of suffering in our lives, then we miss life’s deeper meanings. Because some beautiful things only come through suffering, self-denial, and humble submission to what we cannot control. Pain is necessary for growth. “Growing pains.” In our fallen state, since we suffer from the disorder of Original Sin, we only learn perfection through the school of hard knocks. “But what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger….”
Strength in weakness
Suffering purifies our illusions of self-reliance. We learn to really trust God when we suffer. Suffering melts our icy hearts and opens them to others who suffer: it develops humility and compassion. “Compassion” in Latin means to “suffer with,” and we cannot know another person in their pain unless we too have suffered with them. A woman philosopher (Alice von Hildebrand) once told an auditorium full of priests: “You men labor under the distinct disadvantage of never having had a baby. When a child is pushing a woman’s body apart, trying to get out, she knows beyond doubt that she is not in control of her life. She gives herself over to Providence.” So we shouldn’t waste our energy obsessing over our sufferings and weaknesses. It is better to say, with St. Paul, that “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships and constraints, for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, then am I strong.” Yes, dear brothers and sisters: it is hard to suffer, to be hemmed in by life, to sustain insult with a peaceful demeanor. But we must know that … God’s grace is enough. It is enough!
Mother Teresa would often say, “I am nobody, and I have nothing.” This is really the state of things. We are nobody outside of God’s grace, and nothing we have is ours. It all belongs to Him.
Our Lady, of course, is the most beautiful example of human weakness and poverty. She was nobody and owned nothing, at the mercy of the men and the political machinery around her. “My spirit rejoices in God my savior, because he has looked upon the lowliness of his servant.” She gave herself up to God, and found herself in Him. Let us pray to her to do the same.
Homily: The Ascension
The Fortieth Day
The Feast of the Ascension should be celebrated on Ascension Thursday, but because most Catholics would not attend Mass on a weekday, the Bishops have transferred it to the following Sunday. Personally, I think this is a bad idea, because most Catholics don’t go to Mass even on Sundays, and lowering the standards only affirms our infidelity. The Bishops of England, to their credit, have restored Ascension to its rightful place on Thursday, and I have no doubt that, in five or ten years, the Bishops of the United States will do the same (they have already done so in the East Coast dioceses).
In any case, 40 days after he rose from the dead, as Luke writes in our first reading, Jesus as “lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.” I can remember the Ascencion Thursdays of my boyhood, when Mom would take all of us kids out of school and drive us into the mountains for a family picnic. Jesus was very present to us on those Ascension Thursday picnics. We could not see him, but we knew he was there. Doing away with Ascension Thursday not only does away with those family picnics, but also does away with the Church’s first novena, the nine days of prayer for the Holy Spirit between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost. “Stay in Jerusalem,” the Lord told the apostles, “and wait for the promise of the Father … you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses…” So the apostles spent those nine days between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost in Jerusalem with Jesus’ mother, praying and waiting for the Holy Spirit. We are in that time right now, between Ascension and Pentecost, which we celebrate next Sunday. And boy do we need the Holy Spirit now. So pray that He comes to us, that we may be his witnesses. The world needs faithful Catholics today more than ever—without us, it will go over the edge.
He does not leave us
Did Jesus leave us on Ascension Thursday? St. Luke tells us in Acts that he was “lifted up” and St. Mark says he was “taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God.” As I said, during our family picnics in the mountains, I felt Jesus very close to us, even though we couldn’t see him. Do you have to see someone to know they are with you? A little girl sleeps alone in her room, but knows that Mommy and Daddy are in the house, and so she is not afraid. If she is home alone, she is afraid, because she knows they are not there. Just knowing they are there is enough. Jesus promised us that he would not abandon us, that he would be “with us all days, yea, even unto the end of time.” And St. Luke tells us that, after Jesus was “taken up,” the apostles returned to Jerusalem with “great joy.” Only their certain knowledge of His abiding presence could explain their great joy. No, Jesus did not leave us when he returned to heaven. In fact, he took us with him, making us his own body. We are the Body of Christ. We are his witnesses: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus lives and rules in His Church, today. He lives in each disciple who even attempts to witness to Him.
We have a job to do. A beautiful and exciting job, for we have been sent by God to bring his love and truth to the world. The world is dying, is shriveling up, is collapsing for want of love and truth. You see how unhappy, how desperate, even how violent many are. We can’t sustain our marriages, we can’t live without drugs, we can’t bear life, and it is because we do not have God. Only we, God’s disciples, can bring Him to all the lonely people. “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every Creature,” Jesus told them. “Whoever believes will be saved…” Do you want to save those you love? Bring them to Jesus. This is your job. He has sent you to be his witness, and He will work with you: “the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word thorough accompanying signs.”
We can’t witness to Christ without the Holy Spirit. Even the most excited teen in our youth program lasts only a year or two if he or she is not sustained by the Holy Spirit—the Sacraments, the Word, the Community. The same is true of any adult—how many have I seen just give up on Jesus when they meet opposition. But I’ve seen just as many remain faithful despite terrible trials—only through the Holy Spirit. So pray for the Holy Spirit as we prepare for Pentecost next Sunday, that, like Our Lady, we may bring others to the Love of Christ, to the Kingdom of Heaven.
My scooter with pear blossoms in front of the
rectory--a fine day for riding!
Three weeks ago I gave a Lenten mission at St. Patrick’s parish in Ripon. It was at the height of the almond blossoms—indeed, it was the very weekend of the Ripon Almond Blossom Festival. For five days I drove to the parish of my good friend, Fr. Peter —through magical tunnels of pinkish-white blossoms, with blooming branches arching above me on both sides of the narrow country roads.
For the next two weeks our Valley was awash in blossoms of every type—almond, pear, apple, peach, plum, and nectarine. The weather that accompanies our blossoms is up and down—warmly inviting breezes one day, and sharply cold winds the next. The weather is Lenten Weather—high highs and low lows. We embark on these 40 days in search of God, who dwells within us. We fast and pray and give alms so as to find God in the still secret places of our souls. Fasting is difficult (remember take lots of deep breaths) and dedicated prayer will take significant bites out of our schedules. We have to rearrange significant areas of our daily routines—we have to surrender some comfortable habits for a greater good—if we are to get even a glimpse of Christ’s loving presence within our hearts. Just about now, halfway through Lent, we feel like we are running out of steam.
In this often trying pilgrimage of Lent, I thank God for the blossoms. They shine with hope. Their freshly fluttering innocence manifests God’s promise to “make all things new.” Reading the newspaper every morning seems like watching a train wreck in slow motion, or the gradual but inexorable collapse of a noble edifice. It seems like whole sections of our culture are caving in every few weeks—how can we regain what the aggressive forces of secularism are destroying week by week? And yet, just a drive in the country at blossom time restores my spirits. As discouraging as things become, God will always bring about a Springtime of blossoms and sunshine. Let’s enjoy this magnificent Springtime God has given us, and move briskly through our Lenten pilgrimage!
Homily: "If you die with me, you will rise with me"
Lent: dust to dust
How is your lent going? We are five days into this most holy season, a retreat time of purity, sacrifice, and joy. I am preaching all of Fr. Peter’s English Masses this weekend to introduce myself as your Lenten Mission director, and to encourage you to attend the mission, which will be at 7pm Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of the coming week.
I hope many of you were able to kick off Lent with a good Ash Wednesday. At my parish of St. Joseph’s in Modesto, the crowds were immense. In my 12 years as pastor, I’ve never seen crowds that big or lines so long. Everyone was there: rich and poor, Mexicans and Anglos, teens and seniors, even democrats and republicans. It reminded me of Ash Wednesdays in New York City, where I attended seminary. We would spend all day at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, giving out ashes. Everyone came for ashes: the cabbies and the power brokers, office gals in smart business suits wearing their running shoes for the trot over from Broadway, news anchors and opera stars from Times Square, street cleaners and Wall Street financiers, homeless folk and Park Avenue elite. All were shoulder to shoulder in line, patiently waiting to get a smudge of ashes under the great gothic arches of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This is the day when princes and paupers alike confess the universal truth: I am not perfect, I will die someday, and I need God’s help.
It’s ironic, really. As religion is more than ever ridiculed, as God is increasingly mocked in public life—even as our government seeks to shut down religion in America, the crowds at Mass are bigger than ever. Why is this? Because we know that sin is killing us: our marriages, our families, our culture. Deep down we know this, and we seek refuge in the simple truth of Ash Wednesday: “If you die with me, you will rise with me.”
In the first reading, a flood wipes out the whole mess. Only Noah and his family are saved from death in those raging waters. The Flood was not God’s punishment for sin, but the consequences of our sin. And yet, even so, God said never again. How would he save us from our own sin? By sending his own son, the Savior. And in today’s Gospel, this savior enters the wilderness of our sin and its consequences, a zone of death, to fight for us. It is a wilderness full of beasts and angels, the best and the worst of our human race. It is planet earth, laid waste by broken families, violent streets, blasphemous language, drugs and alcohol, infidelities and brutality of every sort, but also graced with the lives of saints like John Paul II and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Jesus goes into the desert to rescue the beasts and make them into angels.
Noah’s built an ark, under God’s direction: a mighty ship that would save his family from the dark waters. The ark is a life raft, prefiguring the Church herself. Anyone inside this Ark, the Church, is safe, but anyone outside will drown. Jesus is the captain of this Ark, and the Ark is Our Lady. She is the great Ark of the Covenant who bears Christ within her. She guides us to Christ, and He guides us to the Father.
Our Parish Mission next week will focus on Our Lady, Ark of the Covenant, and Jesus, the divine presence in that Ark. He is always within her. The closer we draw to Mary, the closer we draw to Jesus inside of her. There is no authentic devotion or life in Christ that ignores or disowns his mother, Mary.
I have been giving retreats to Mother Teresa’s sisters around the world for most of my priesthood. My three talks will be from those I give to the sisters, adapted for the parish. The first will tells the story of Mother Teresa’s life and her significance in the 20th Century. We will discover her devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Holy Rosary. The second will be the first two mysteries of the rosary, the Annunciation and the Visitation. And the third talk will be on the Great Sign of Revelation 12: the Ark of the Covenant, which shows us the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I will tell some stories from my work with her in 1997 and my friends’ experiences with her. We will show a little bit of her life on a video.
I hope you can come. It will be each evening at 7pm. I will preach in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, and do benediction at the end. There is wonderful grace in simply coming to a mission, because it is God’s will that we do this during Lent. Confessions will follow each talk. Each evening is self-contained, so even if you can’t make all three, I encourage you to come to one or two. But for those who make all three, I will grant a plenary indulgence.
Let us pray to Our Lady now in the words of Mother Teresa:
Mary, Mother of Jesus, give me your heart,
so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate,
so full of love and humility,
that I may be able to receive Jesus in the Bread of Life,
love Him as you loved Him,
and serve Him in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor.
Homily: Spiritual Paralysis
In today’s Gospel, the man was paralyzed, helpless. He could not move. He was completely dependent on others. Have you ever been laid up, and had to gratefully depend on the care of your friends? We learn to love each other so much more deeply when we surrender ourselves to another’s care, or surrender ourselves to caring for another. Illness can be a beautiful means of receiving divine love.
The man was paralyzed, and his friends brought him to Jesus. They couldn’t get through crowds around the door, so they climbed up on the roof, broke a hole in it, and lowered him down with ropes. “When Jesus saw their faith”—not only “his” faith, but the faith of the man’s friends, he said to the paralytic: “My child, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus goes straight to the root problem: the man’s sins. His real problem was not physical paralysis, but the spiritual paralysis that binds all men and women.
Last night the musician Tony Melendez gave a concert here in Modesto. He was born without arms, but he plays the guitar with his toes and sings so beautifully. Tony radiates joy, despite or even perhaps because of his disability. A man does not need perfect physical health to be happy. That is a lie of the “supermodel culture.” In fact, physical gifts can lead to great sadness—poor Whitney Houston, for example. She began singing Gospel music in her church choir, but the world twisted her gifts, seduced her, and led her to a bitter end. A growing spiritual paralysis eventually killed her.
Jesus reconciled the man
Jesus goes straight to the heart of the matter. “My Child, your sins are forgiven.” This is the only word we need to hear to be truly happy: that whatever we’ve done or not done in our lives, God is greater than our failures. He will reconcile us if we trust him. This is the “word” that Jesus was preaching—“many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, and he preached the word to them.” This is the word that draws out the human heart, and draws immense crowds. This is real healthcare.
True Health Care
A word about the healthcare debate between the Church and the current presidential administration. (Please take a bulletin home, because it includes an important insert from our Bishops on this issue.) The most vital healthcare Americans need is not contraception or access to all sorts of pharmaceuticals. The real healthcare we need is for our souls, because America is sick at its soul.
A secular government is promising all sorts of Band-Aids for our national paralysis—limitless access to sexual intercourse, countless free drugs and pharmaceuticals, and a towering debt to pay for it all. But only Jesus addresses the real problem: we lack God’s grace. We must turn to a power higher than the government.
The HHS mandate in question is not really about contraception, although the administration wants to frame it in those terms. The Mandate is really about an executive branch of government that seeks utter control even over our consciences. It cannot tolerate a power higher than itself. It wants to erase any faith-based activity from the public square; it wants to restrict the people’s faith to private churches. The Mandate would drive Catholic hospitals and universities—indeed, any conscience-based activity—out of business. It is an old problem, but we are facing it anew.
Our national paralysis is becoming obvious. A stubborn economic paralysis depresses America; political gridlock frustrates collaboration among rival parties. The battle is not about healthcare or about the economy or about politics. The battle is over America’s soul. We have turned our backs on God. Are we willing to turn back to a power higher than the government, or do we somehow hope that the congress, the presidential administration, and the courts can solve our conflicts? We are truly a conflicted nation at this time, and it is causing a persistent paralysis of our national energies.
Lent begins this Wednesday, Ash Wednesday. The word “Lent” means springtime in Old English, and every springtime is a new beginning. We enter into Lent with true hope: that God will help us conquer our addictions and overcome our paralysis. The first reading from Isaiah speaks this hope: “Remember not the things of the past—see, I am doing something new!” God gives us another day, another chance, another Lent. We can regain our innocence; we can recover the joy of our youth. Make a plan for Lent now: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Give yourself to Jesus this Lent through resolute acts of love and sacrifice. And put it all into the immaculate hands of our Blessed Mother.
Jesus healed people, and only the Church can heal and protect the dignity of every human person in our nation. We cannot look to the Government to heal our cultural ills. Our nation needs the Church as much or more than it needs the government. After all, America was founded by pilgrims feeling government oppression, to establish a country where citizens could practice their faith free of government control. They made this the very first amendment of our bill of rights.
400,000 (mostly young) people marched through Washington a few weeks ago. 40,000 (mostly young) people marched through San Francisco a few weeks ago, again to witness to the sanctity of every human life. A young lady who had been at World Youth Day in Madrid last year told me that the Walk for Life had that same joyful, hopeful spirit. These massive gatherings of the world’s youth are not at all like the angry, destructive “Occupy” crowds. Pro-life youth seek to build, not tear down. Young people, especially Catholic young people, beautifully testify to the joy of living the virtue of hope. And so the Prolife Movement is characterized by youthful hope and joy.
The Culture of Death, driven by “old” men and women who have turned from God and so lost their hope, seeks to strangle youthful joy. It seeks to convince young people, especially, that life is essentially irrational and random, and we cannot hope to ever reach the truth about anything. The Pope has called this the “Dictatorship of Relativism,” which proclaims that there is no such thing as truth.
Death’s Culture forces its darkness into our children’s lives through the media, university and school curricula, and even through state law. For example, did you know that California law prohibits a 12-year-old girl’s parents from knowing that she is pregnant and seeking an abortion? The law, in other words, does not support a parent’s right to protect his or her own daughter from sexual abuse and the trauma of abortion. But a girl’s parents are her best hope to protect her youthful freedom and joy in a culture that encourages predators. It is simply irrational to deny a girl this fundamental right to her parents’ support.
A grassroots campaign to change that law, called the Parental Notification Initiative, is in the works. On a Sunday to come, you will have a chance to sign a petition to get this initiative on the November ballot.