Sunday Homily, June 29, 2014 — The Feast of Saints Peter and Paul

christ-with-saints-peter-and-paul

The Bishop was visiting groups of kids preparing for their Confirmation. At the first stop, he visited with the children and concluded his visit by giving them a pop quiz. He asked them, “What is a pectoral cross?”

None of the kids knew the answer. The confirmation director was terribly embarrassed, and he didn’t want his friend at the next stop to suffer the same embarrassment, so he called ahead of the Bishop and warned him of the pop quiz so he could prepare his kids.

Sure enough, the Bishop ended his visit with another pop quiz. This time, hoping to make it a little easier for the kids, he asked: “What is a deacon.”

Every hand in the room shot up. He pointed to one girl in the front row and invited her to give her answer. She proudly stood up and proclaimed, “A deacon is a large, heavy cross that hangs around the neck of the bishop!”

 

So, what is a deacon, really? Bishops and priests were all once deacons. They were transitional deacons, which means they were ordained deacons as part of their formation for the priesthood. And from the priesthood, some few are called to be bishops – to possess the fullness of Holy Orders and to be a successor to the Apostles. There are also Permanent Deacons, which is what I am. I will always remain a deacon.

Deacons are called to a threefold ministry: they are called to proclaim the Word of the Lord both by their lives and in Mass, which is why you’ll see deacons reading the Gospel at Mass; they are called to service at the altar, which is why you will see deacons participating in some roles while the priests lead us in the celebration of Mass; and they are called to a ministry of charity, which means deacons work on behalf of the bishop at an assigned task, which is usually to help the poor and the marginalized.

A deacon also keeps his day job; he is expected to be in the world, but not of the world. That means, he keeps on working for a living to support himself and his family; he is not paid by the parish for the work he does as a deacon.

A deacon gets to baptize, can witness marriages, and is sometimes allowed to preach the homily on Sundays. A deacon is also very fortunate in that when he gets asked a really hard question, he can respond: “Gee, that’s a tough one. We’ll have to ask Father.”

I am very happy to have been assigned to serve in my home parish here at Our Lady of Lourdes. The formation process lasted almost five years; it was a very rewarding and enriching process, but I am glad now that it is over because now the real work can begin: putting into practice what I learned in formation and serving the Bishop, our parish, and our community as a Permanent Deacon.

 

Today is the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. Peter is – as Christ teaches – the rock upon which His Church is built; every pope is the successor of Peter. Paul was the apostle to the gentiles. He carried God’s word out into the world, making converts and building churches throughout the Mediterranean.

Peter sometimes doesn’t get quite the respect I think he deserves. I kind of wince when I hear someone comment that Peter didn’t always get it as if that made Peter a little goofy. You’ve probably heard that, too. There goes Peter. Again.

The fact is, the apostles and the followers of Christ were dealing with something never before encountered in human experience. They were encountering God in the person of Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary. If you encounter something that is totally new to human experience, it’s okay to not completely understand what you are encountering. This is especially true if what you encounter is as much of the supernatural order as it is of the natural order.

“But who do you say that I am?” Asks the Lord; Simon Peter gives the lone response. Notice that everyone was able to give an answer to who others said Jesus was. And all the answers were perhaps surprising – prophets who were deceased – Jeremiah, Elijah, even John the Baptist. Surprising, but not outside the realm of human experience. If Elisha could ask for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, then could Jesus conceivable be in some way the prophet, also?

Only Peter stepped forward with the answer – and the right answer – but the supernatural answer, and the answer entirely outside the realm of human experience: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. This gives me chills. What a powerful insight Peter has been given, and Christ recognizes that fact. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”

If you ever hear anyone make the sadly uninformed but all-too-common claim that they think Jesus was a good man, but that He never claimed to be God, this is one of several passages from the Gospel you can use to show that person how wrong he is. Jesus was either God, as He claimed, or else he was a liar.

I assure you: He was not a liar. The One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church continues today as it has for two millennia. The Church is shepherded by the Pope, the successor to Peter, and by the bishops, the successors to the Apostles. When I was ordained, I was ordained by our Bishop Finn, who in his turn was ordained by a bishop, who in his turn was ordained by a bishop, and so on all the way back to the time of Christ. The Church has seen empires come and go and still she continues.

It is sustained by Our Lord and guided by the Holy Spirit. If this were not true, it could not endure. Nothing human is eternal, but Christ’s Church is until He comes again. The gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.

From the Desk of Deacon Richard. . .

June 29, 2014

Dear Parish Family,

I don’t suppose it is possible to calculate how much we owe to a fisherman and to a tentmaker. Saint Peter began life as a fisherman and Saint Paul was a tentmaker by trade. Yet the Lord had other plans for each of them. Each man left the trade to which he had been born to follow the Lord; each man contributed in his own way to what we have today as the Holy Scripture — the very word of the Lord; and each man was martyred for his belief in and love of Jesus Christ.

It is a good day for each one of us to ask: What is Jesus calling me to do?

The Lord calls all of us; he calls us to different tasks. Some are called to matrimony, but not all. Some are called to celibacy. Some are called to religious life. Some are called to the sacred priesthood. He calls us to live different witnesses by our lives, and sometimes even by our deaths. He calls some of us to martyrdom.

When I reflect on the lives of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, I marvel at what the Lord was able to accomplish through them. I marvel at each one’s ability to respond to the grace that God gave them and to follow Our Lord. Though we may not fully realize what God intends for us in our lives, we should all pray for the ability to respond in faith and trust to the grace that God gives us to accomplish His will in our lives. We should strive always to imitate the witness of Saints Peter and Paul, no matter where that may take us in life.

Peace,
Dcn. Richard

Homily for June 27, 2014

Friday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel, we read of the healing of a leper. This follows right after the Sermon on the Mount. This Sermon is one long teaching of our Lord that we have encountered one segment at a time over the last several weeks. Yesterday, we heard Christ’s words reminding us that we have to hear His teaching and act on it. We also encountered the statement that the people were amazing because He taught as one with authority, and not as one of the Scribes.

Imagine what amazement they must have felt when they saw Him cleanse the leper! What faith the leper had to declare if you wish, you can heal me.

And Christ did it. There must have been rumors and stories among the people of the miracles Christ had performed, but here we see Christ performing not only a great miracle, but a great act of mercy. Surely none of the Scribes had ever done that.

But even so, that was not the end of the story. Our Lord told the man He had just healed to go and offer the gift prescribed by Moses. Even though Christ was the fulfillment of the Law and the totality of our salvation, even so He admonished the man to tell no one, but to obey the decrees of the Mosaic Law as proof for the priests in the temple.

Let us pray that we may always recognize the goodness of the Lord as it is active in our own lives, and see it for what it is: evidence of Our Lord’s unwavering love for us and of his desire to heal us and make us well.

Homily for June 26, 2014

Thursday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

In The Gospel reading today, which comes at the end of Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, Our Lord tells us that it is not enough to merely hear His words. We must hear and act: “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man,” the Lord says, while “everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool.”

The words of Christ call for action. Our Lord calls us to act – and to act on His behalf. To do things worthy of our Christian dignity. It isn’t enough to just do something; we have to do the right something. We are – all of us – subject to authority. Christ puts it quite plainly: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

How do we know the will of the Father in heaven? Through prayer, of course. Through frequent visits to the Adoration Chapel. Through frequent reception of the Sacraments. Through spending time with Holy Scriptures, prayerfully reading the Word of the Lord. Through our interactions with others, and with our Church. There are myriad ways the Lord speaks to us. We have only to listen carefully and attentively and to be open to what He tells us.

It doesn’t matter what we might accomplish. Our accomplishments do not earn us a place in heaven. Prophesy… drive out demons… do mighty deeds – if we do these things but do not know the Lord, we have done nothing. We are nothing. And we will hear those words that every person should dread: Depart from me, you evildoers. I never knew you.

Let us all pray that we may come to know the will of our Father in heaven, and that our deeds may be the result of an honest and genuine relationship with God, so that when the storms of life come our house does not collapse, and so that on the day of our judgment, we may be found worthy of the promises of Christ.

Homily for June 25, 2014

Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

“Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles,” Christ asks His disciples. I grew up on a farm in Tennessee where we raised and trained horses. If there is a point in the universe most conducive to growing thistles, that point may well be Fayetteville, Tennessee. Every summer about this time, the thistles would spring up and soon look like they were taking over. A thistle is, basically, an eight-or-so-foot-tall dandelion in a suit of spiked amour. They grow just as fast, spread just as rapidly, and are even harder to get rid of than a dandelion. And, unlike dandelions, the young leaves do not taste good in salads. Many things can – and have – been said of the thistle. Most of those things are not repeatable here. But of one thing I can assure you: they do not grow figs.

Our Lord is warning us of false prophets: those who would lead us astray… take us farther away from Christ instead of closer to Him.  He is warning us of those “who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves.” People who misrepresent the Scriptures and our holy Tradition… these are the wolves against which Christ warns us. We have them in abundance today; they can be found on television channels, on websites, and in comboxes. These are the people who twist the teachings of the Lord to fit their own end.

Of course, as Catholics we should look first to authentically Catholic teachers. We should also look second to authentically Catholic teachers. The Catholic Tradition begins with Christ. It comes to us through the Apostles and across the long span of years by being handed down to the bishops, each of whom is a successor to the Apostles. It is guarded by the Holy Spirit. It is shepherded by the Pope, the successor to Peter. It begins with God and contains all that we need to know regarding our own salvation.

People will sometimes ask me if I have read this book or that book by a prominent Protestant pastor, and what I think of it. I haven’t. There are about ten million really good Catholic books. I’m not even halfway through the list yet. I cannot bring myself to look outside my beloved Catholic tradition; there are too many wolves prowling out there who would love to lead me astray from the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I prefer to remain with the true Shepherds of God’s Holy People; I prefer to remain firmly within the Catholic tradition, where the good trees bear good fruit.

Homily for June 24, 2014

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time

The golden rule. The ethic of reciprocity. Do to others what you want done to you. It is an idea that has been around for a very long time. There is evidence it existed in Egypt almost 2000 years before Christ. It was known in Assyria. It even appears in China in ancient Confucianism. The fact that it does not originate here in the words of Our Lord should not come as a shock. A good idea is a good idea, and the Christian faith is above all a reasonable faith. The teachings of Holy Mother Church are based on faith and reason, because we worship a very reasonable God and a very reasonable Lord and Savior.

God reveals Himself to us so that we may know Him. Even the mysteries – those parts of belief that are beyond our human minds and can be known only with the mind of God – even those, the Lord invites us to ponder. He invites us to use the intellect that He gave us to come to the deepest and most sure understanding that we can.

Christ tells us to seek to enter through the narrow gate. If we think about that in a reasonable manner, it becomes clear why He should tell us that. We know very much about what the Church calls the Four Last Things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. We all will see three of them. We all die, and when we die we are judged. Then we proceed to heaven or hell. As a quick side note, I am not ignoring or forgetting the Church’s teaching on Purgatory. Of course I believe in the existence of Purgatory, and of course I am glad it exists. But no one goes to Purgatory for eternity, and no one who makes it to Purgatory goes to hell. Heaven and hell are the two ultimate eternal destinations.

Knowing this, and knowing that we have 70 or 80 years, give or take, here in this life, it makes perfect sense to try to enter through the narrow gate. If we aim for Purgatory and miss, there is no other safety net; the eternal result is separation from God. But if we aim for sainthood – if we aim for heaven and miss – well, there’s still purgatory.

It is not reasonable to gamble with eternal damnation. No reasonable person would do that. Only a person lacking in both faith and reason would make such a gamble. This is why Our Lord calls us to seek the narrow gate. He wants us to spend eternity with Him. He genuinely longs for that, just as we should long for it. Reason tells us that any other path than the one that leads to God is a foolish path to follow, indeed.

Homily for June 23, 2014

Monday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time — Lectionary: 371

Stop judging. This seems to be a favorite passage from the Bible. Even folks who don’t apparently know any other Scripture at all are not slow in quoting this passage. But does Christ really call us to make no moral judgments whatsoever? Is this really a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card that allows anyone to get away with anything, and everyone else should be too afraid to say anything at all about their actions for fear of their own judgment? It seems to be used as such in today’s world. So much of Christ’s teaching and of Holy Scripture is devoted to showing us how to make right judgments that conform to the will of God… it certainly seems strange that in one sentence, Our Lord would abrogate all of that teaching.

Of course, there is a difference between judging an action and judging a person. We are all destined for judgment. Our Lord is the perfect judge… the just and merciful judge. To him alone belongs the role of passing judgment on a soul.

Still, all of us have to make judgments every day… not on people but on actions. We have to judge for ourselves if a given action is just: if it will bring us closer to Our Lord, or lead us away from him. We have to decide if we should do a given thing or avoid it… if we should act in a certain way, or not act in that way. But does that mean we can also advise other people on what actions they should or should not undertake?

In this same passage, Christ teaches us to “remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.” He’s not telling us to never judge actions, but to put our own house in order before we presume to reorder someone else’s. If we remove the wooden beam from our own eye – if we repent of our sins and amend our lives – we move closer to Christ, and are then able to act from a position of love instead of one of hypocrisy… one of genuine assistance and not of wrong judgment.

Rash judgment is always to be avoided. We should strive always to see the best in others, and yet when we see a person whom we love straying from the path that leads to their authentic good, we should call them to return to the right path… to return to Christ. Let us pray that such actions will always be taken from a position of love, and not judgment.

From the Desk of Deacon Richard – June 22, 2014

Dear Parish Family,

Whoever eats this Bread will live forever! Today is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ — Corpus Christi. Today we celebrate in a very special way that core tenet of our faith: that when we receive Holy Communion we in fact receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. We receive God.
This is a claim that would be ludicrous if it rested on human authority for its truth. But as we see in today’s Gospel, this claim does not depend on human authority. Jesus Christ, the only Son of God and the second person of the Blessed Trinity, teaches us that the statement is true. Christ said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”

This is a magnificent gift; it is a gift that none of us merits, and yet God gives it to us. But it is a gift that comes at a price, as we are called to become what we consume. Through the reception of Holy Communion, we receive the grace that we need to carry Christ with us into the world and to transform the world in His holy image.

Peace,
Dcn. Richard

Prayers of the Faithful – June 22, 2014

  • For the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, that she may unite all people of good will in one communion of truth and charity, let us pray to the Lord.
  • For our leaders in local, state, and national government, that a firm dedication to the common good and a special focus on the needs of the poor and marginalized may guide them in their work, let us pray to the Lord.
  • For the sojourner and stranger among us, that we may see in each other the presence of Christ, let us pray to the Lord.
  • For our soldiers and sailors in the armed forces, that all may return home in safety, let us pray to the Lord.
  • For vocations to the priesthood, permanent diaconate, and to religious life, let us pray to the Lord.
  • And for a respect for all human persons from conception until a natural death, and for an increased awareness of the dignity of the human person, created in the likeness and image of God, let us pray to the Lord.