Homily for November 30, 2014 – The First Sunday of Advent

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark:

advent-wreath-one-candle-seton-bulletin1Jesus said to his disciples:
“Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come.
It is like a man traveling abroad.
He leaves home and places his servants in charge,
each with his own work,
and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.
Watch, therefore;
you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,
whether in the evening, or at midnight,
or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”

I have always been afraid of being caught unprepared. When I was in high school, I had a recurring dream – nightmare, really – that I would come in to class one morning and find out there was a test that day. Everyone else knew about it; everyone else had studied for it; everyone else was ready for it. I never got the memo. I would wake up in a panic, absolutely certain that there was a major exam and I was not ready.

In college, I had the same sort of dream… but it had changed. Instead of not being ready for a test, suddenly it was the end of the semester and I realized I had a class I had forgotten all about. I had signed up for it, but then forgotten that I did and I had never once been to class. Never once completed an assignment. I had completely forgotten it until it was time to take the final, then I remembered it just in time to discover that I couldn’t even find the classroom.

Next came grad school, and the nightmares continued. I was working on my Master of Sacred Theology degree and – sure enough – I’d have nightmares that I came to class and found out there was an unexpected test. But this time I was ready for it! I studied every night. I read everything on the required reading lists and most everything on the suggested reading list. There was no way I was not ready for anything they could throw at me… or so I thought… until the professor handed out the test and it was in Koine Greek.

After that, it was off to the seminary. Guess what. Same sort of dream. There was a project I was supposed to have complete and I didn’t. Everyone else had his done. I hadn’t even started. You would think a monk would have a little bit of sympathy, but not in my dream world. Nope. Not only was there no sympathy, but Brother Cyprian laughed at me. If any of you know Brother Cyprian, you know why that is so terrifying.

Before a man is ordained, Canon Law states that he must have an individual meeting with the bishop who will ordain him. The night before my canonical meeting, I dreamed I got to the Catholic Center and my entire class was there, all seated at desks. I sat down at the last desk and, just as I did, the classroom door opened and in came Deacon Ralph in his Master of Ceremonies vestments, swinging an incense censer. The Bishop was behind him, wearing his most formal and ornate vestments and his bishop’s miter, walking with his crozier, and handing out Number 2 pencils for the final exam I’d never been told about.

“Be watchful! Be alert!” Our Lord tells us. “You do not know when the time will come.” We know that Our Lord will return; we do not know when. Our Lord wants us to be prepared for His return. He may not come for another thousand years. He might return in the next minute.

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Do we live as if Christ may come in the next minute? Does our nation conduct its affairs in a manner that would reflect credit upon it if Christ were to return today? Or would we be more likely to cry out with Isaiah: “Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people, all our good deeds are like polluted rags; we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind. There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt.”

Ouch. Our good deeds are like polluted rags. Our guilt carries us away. Maybe the reason that passage hurts is because it hits so close to home. Is Isaiah describing our nation, which more and more turns its back on God? Will we be delivered up to our guilt?

You might say to me, Deacon, that’s other people… but it’s not me. I would never abandon God. I would never turn away from Jesus.  Good. But is there more that can be done? And you might say to me, Deacon – what more can I do? I pray every day. I go to Mass every Sunday. I give money to charity and to support the parish. The country is so big and Washington is so far away. Besides, congress and the president would never listen to me. There’s just no more that I can do.

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And that is true… as far as it goes. But it is not the whole story. This nation is big. Very big. But it’s built on states, and they aren’t nearly as big. And the states are made up of counties. And the counties are made up of communities. And the communities are made up of families. So you could fairly say that the entire nation is based on the family, and if there is something wrong in the nation then there is something wrong in the family. And all of us can work to improve the family.

How? Paul gives us a very good insight in the second reading, an epistle as much to us as was to the Corinthians: “in him you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

What is a spiritual gift? Prophecy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Giving, Leadership, Mercy, Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith, Healing, Miracles, Prophecy, Discernment… and the list goes on. We aren’t given these gifts to lord them over others and to never use them. We aren’t given these gifts to impress others; we are given these gifts to serve others and to bring others to Christ.

In and through Our Savior, God will keep us firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the Lord is our Father. As Isaiah writes, “we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.”

And so let us all work hard, or even harder. Let us all thank God daily for the many graces and blessings He gives us. Let us work for the good of each other, and for the good of all families. It is these small acts that when taken all together will transform our nation and our world.

Most of all, let cry out to God with the psalmist, “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” Let us pray that we are never separated from the love of God, who loves us and desires that each and every one of us watch for Him to come and to live as if that will happen this very day.

Jesus teaches us “you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”

We may not know the hour of the Lord’s coming, but we do know that we are closer to it today than we were yesterday. And we know that it will surely come. We know that we must be prepared, always and in every way. And so we watch, we work, and we pray. For we do not want Christ to find us sleeping when He comes.

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Homily for the Last Friday in Ordinary Time

FigTree

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke.

Jesus told his disciples a parable.
“Consider the fig tree and all the other trees.
When their buds burst open,
you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near;
in the same way, when you see these things happening,
know that the Kingdom of God is near.
Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away
until all these things have taken place.
Heaven and earth will pass away,
but my words will not pass away.”

Our Lord gives us an important lesson in today’s Gospel, but the reading today only gives us half the story. Christ says, “when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near” and without looking at the passages of the Bible just before where today’s reading starts, you might conclude that He is talking about the blooming of fig trees being the sign before the coming of the Lord.

However, if we look back just a few verses, Christ speaks of “signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.” Our Lords tells us that “People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” and that only then will they “see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”

Roaring of the sea. Signs in the sun. That’s a bit more of an attention-getter than a blooming fig tree. But still, Jesus tells us that “when you see these things happening, know that the Kingdom of God is near.”

Anyone who has ever seen a really good storm either at the beach or out at sea has seen the roaring of the sea.  The Miracle of the Sun was seen by as many as 100,000 people. Are we to expect to see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory?

We certainly know that He will come. The early Church expected Him at any moment. Two-thousand years of Christian history has taught us to take more of a long view of Christ’s return.

Of this we can be certain, though: Heaven and earth will pass away. But Our Lord’s words will never pass away. Christ teaches us what we need to know for our own good. We were made to know God, to love God, to serve God, and to be with Him forever in heaven. We were made to have our names written in the Book of Life.

Let us work and pray daily that when Our Lord comes, He will find all of us worthy to be with Him forever in heaven.

From the Desk of Deacon Richard — the First Sunday of Advent, 2014

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Dear Parish Family:

In the ancient Church, there was a minister whose job it was to stand outside during Mass and watch the skies. That way, should Jesus happen to return while the Mass was being celebrated inside, that minister could go and alert the folks at Mass that the Lord had returned. No doubt our ancestors in faith had in mind the words that we hear from Mark’s Gospel today, “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.’”

We don’t know when Our Lord will return, but we know very well that He will return. Christ’s words are directed toward us as certainly as they were directed toward the first Christians, and so we, too, must be watchful and alert in our own way: through a life of prayer and through frequent participation in the Sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation.

A question that I frequently ask myself is this: “If Jesus came here right now and found me doing what I am doing, would it meet with His approval?”

The answer to this question should always be “Yes.” To live otherwise is to put our souls in jeopardy.

Peace,
Dcn. Richard

The Protoevangelium of James

The Birth of Mary the Holy Mother of God, and Very Glorious Mother of Jesus Christ

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1. IN THE RECORDS OF THE TWELVE TRIBES OF ISRAEL was Joachim, a man rich exceedingly; and he brought his offerings double, saying: There shall be of my superabundance to all the people, and there shall be the offering for my forgiveness to the Lord for a propitiation for me. For the great day of the Lord was at hand, and the sons of Israel were bringing their offerings. And there stood over against him Rubim, saying: It is not meet for thee first to bring thine offerings, because thou hast not made seed in Israel. And Joachim was exceedingly grieved, and went away to the registers of the twelve tribes of the people, saying: I shall see the registers of the twelve tribes of Israel, as to whether I alone have not made seed in Israel. And he searched, and found that all the righteous had raised up seed in Israel. And he called to mind the patriach Abraham, that in the last day God gave him a son Isaac. And Joachim was exceedingly grieved, and did not come into the presence of his wife; but he retired to the desert, and there pitched his tent, and fasted forty days and forty nights, saying in himself: I will not go down either for food or for drink until the Lord my God shall look upon me, and prayer shall be my food and drink.

2. And his wife Anna mourned in two mournings, and lamented in two lamentations, saying: I shall bewail my widowhood; I shall bewail my childlessness. And the great day of the Lord was at hand; and Judith her maid-servant said: How long dost thou humiliate thy soul? Behold, the great day of the Lord is at hand, and it is unlawful for thee to mourn. But take this head-band, which the woman that made it gave to me; for it is not proper that I should wear it, because I am a maid-servant, and it has a royal appearance. And Anna said: Depart from me; for I have not done such things, and the Lord has brought me very low. I fear that some wicked person has given it to thee, and thou hast come to make me a sharer in thy sin. And Judith said: Why should I curse thee, seeing that the Lord hath shut thy womb, so as not to give thee fruit in Israel? And Anna was grieved exceedingly, and put off her garments of mourning, and cleaned her head, and put on her wedding garments, and about the ninth hour went down to the garden to walk. And she saw a laurel, and sat under it, and prayed to the Lord, saying: O God of our fathers, bless me and hear my prayer, as Thou didst bless the womb of Sarah, and didst give her a son Isaac.

3. And gazing towards the heaven, she saw a sparrow’s nest in the laurel, and made a lamentation in herself, saying: Alas! who begot me? and what womb produced me? because I have become a curse in the presence of the sons of Israel, and I have been reproached, and they have driven me in derision out of the temple of the Lord. Alas! to what have I been likened? I am not like the fowls of the heaven, because even the fowls of the heaven are productive before Thee, O Lord. Alas! to what have I been likened? I am not like the beasts of the earth, because even the beasts of the earth are productive before Thee, O Lord. Alas! to what have I been likened? I am not like these waters, because even these waters are productive before Thee, O Lord. Alas! to what have I been likened? I am not like this earth, because even the earth bringeth forth its fruits in season, and blesseth Thee, O Lord.

4. And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood by, saying: Anna, Anna, the Lord hath heard thy prayer, and thou shalt conceive, and shall bring forth; and thy seed shall be spoken of in all the world. And Anna said: As the Lord my God liveth, if I beget either male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God; and it shall minister to Him in holy things all the days of its life. And, behold, two angels came, saying to her: Behold, Joachim thy husband is coming with his flocks. For an angel of the Lord went down to him, saying: Joachim, Joachim, the Lord God hath heard thy prayer Go down hence; for, behold, thy wife Anna shall conceive. And Joachim went down and called his shepherds, saying: Bring me hither ten she-lambs without spot or blemish, and they shall be for the Lord my God; and bring me twelve tender calves, and they shall be for the priests and the elders; and a hundred goats for all the people. And, behold, Joachim came with his flocks; and Anna stood by the gate, and saw Joachim coming, and she ran anti hung upon his neck, saying: Now I know that the Lord God hath blessed me exceedingly; for, behold the widow no longer a widow, and I the childless shall conceive. And Joachim rested the first day in his house.

5. And on the following day he brought his offerings, saying in himself: If the Lord God has been rendered gracious to me, the plate on the priest’s forehead will make it manifest to me. And Joachim brought his offerings, and observed attentively the priest’s plate when he went up to the altar of the Lord, and he saw no sin in himself. And Joachim said: Now I know that the Lord has been gracious unto me, and has remitted all my sins. And he went down from the temple of the Lord justified, and departed to his own house. And her months were fulfilled, and in the ninth month Anna brought forth. And she said to the midwife: What have I brought forth? and she said: A girl. And said Anna: My soul has been magnified this day. And she laid her down. And the days having been fulfilled, Anna was purified, and gave the breast to the child, and called her name Mary.

6. And the child grew strong day by day; and when she was six months old, her mother set her on the ground to try whether she could stand, and she walked seven steps and came into her bosom; and she snatched her up, saying: As the Lord my God liveth, thou shall not walk on this earth until I bring thee into the temple of the Lord. And she made a sanctuary in her bed-chamber, and allowed nothing common or unclean to pass through her. And she called the undefiled daughters of the Hebrews, and they led her astray. And when she was a year old, Joachim made a great feast, and invited the priests, and the scribes, and the elders, and all the people of Israel. And Joachim brought the child to the priests; and they blessed her, saying: O God of our fathers, bless this child, and give her an everlasting name to be named in all generations. And all the people said: So be it, so be it, amen. And he brought her to the chief priests; and they blessed her, saying: O God most high, look upon this child, and bless her with the utmost blessing, which shall be for ever. And her mother snatched her up, and took her into the sanctuary of her bed-chamber, and gave her the breast. And Anna made a song to the Lord God, saying: I will sing a song to the Lord my God, for He hath looked upon me, and hath taken away the reproach of mine enemies; and the Lord hath given the the fruit of His righteousness, singular in its kind, and richly endowed before Him. Who will tell the sons of Rubim that Anna gives suck? Hear, hear, ye twelve tribes of Israel, that Anna gives suck. And she laid her to rest in the bed-chamber of her sanctuary, and went out and ministered unto them. And when the supper was ended, they went down rejoicing, and glorifying the God of Israel.

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7. And her months were added to the child. And the child was two years old, and Joachim said: Let us take her up to the temple of the Lord, that we may pay the vow that we have vowed, lest perchance the Lord send to us, and our offering be not received. And Anna said: Let us wait for the third year, in order that the child may not seek for father or mother. And Joachim said: So let us wait. And the child was three years old, and Joachim said: Invite the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them stand with the lamps burning, that the child may not turn back, and her heart be captivated from the temple of the Lord. And they did so until they went up into the temple of the Lord. And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: The Lord has magnified thy name in all generations. In thee, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel. And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her.

8. And her parents went down marvelling, and praising the Lord God, because the child had not turned back. And Mary was in the temple of the Lord as if she were a dove that dwelt there, and she received food from the hand of an angel. And when she was twelve years old there was held a council of the priests, saying: Behold, Mary has reached the age of twelve years in the temple of the Lord. What then shall we do with her, test perchance she defile the sanctuary of the Lord? And they said to the high priest: Thou standest by the altar of the Lord; go in, and pray concerning her; and whatever the Lord shall manifest unto thee, that also will we do. And the high priest went in, taking the robe with the twelve bells into the holy of holies; and he prayed concerning her. And behold an angel of the Lord stood by him, saying unto him: Zacharias, Zacharias, go out and assemble the widowers of the people, and let them bring each his rod; and to whomsoever the Lord shall show a sign, his wife shall she be. And the heralds went out through all the circuit of Judaea, and the trumpet of the Lord sounded, and all ran.

9. And Joseph, throwing away his axe, went out to meet them; and when they had assembled, they went away to the high priest, taking with them their rods. And he, taking the rods of all of them, entered into the temple, and prayed; and having ended his prayer, he took the rods and came out, and gave them to them: but there was no sign in them, and Joseph took his rod last; and, behold, a dove came out of the rod, and flew upon Joseph’s head. And the priest said to Joseph, Thou hast been chosen by lot to take into thy keeping the virgin of the Lord. But Joseph refused, saying: I have children, and I am an old man, and she is a young girl. I am afraid lest I become a laughing-stock to the sons of Israel. And the priest said to Joseph: Fear the Lord thy God, and remember what the Lord did to Dathan, and Abiram, and Korah; how the earth opened, and they were swallowed up on account of their contradiction. And now fear, O Joseph, lest the same things happen in thy house. And Joseph was afraid, and took her into his keeping. And Joseph said to Mary: Behold, I have received thee from the temple of the Lord; and now I leave thee in my house, and go away to build my buildings, and I shall come to thee. The Lord will protect thee.

10. And there was a council of the priests, saying: Let us make a veil for the temple of the Lord. And the priest said: Call to me the undefiled virgins of the family of David. And the officers went away, and sought, and found seven virgins. And the priest remembered the child Mary, that she was of the family of David, and undefiled before God. And the officers went away and brought her. And they brought them into the temple of the Lord. And the priest said: Choose for me by lot who shall spin the gold, and the white, and the fine linen, and the silk, and the blue, and the scarlet, and the true purple. And the true purple and the scarlet fell to the lot of Mary, and she took them, and went away to her house. And at that time Zacharias was dumb, and Samuel was in his place until the time that Zacharias spake. And Mary took the scarlet, and span it.

11. And she took the pitcher, and went out to fill it with water. And, behold, a voice saying: Hail, thou who hast received grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women! And she looked round, on the right hand and on the left, to see whence this voice came. And she went away, trembling, to her house, and put down the pitcher; and taking the purple, she sat down on her seat, and drew it out. And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood before her, saying: Fear not, Mary; for thou hast found grace before the Lord of all, and thou shalt conceive, according to His word. And she hearing, reasoned with herself, saying: Shall I conceive by the Lord, the living God? and shall I bring forth as every woman brings forth? And the angel of the Lord said: Not so, Mary; for the power of the Lord shall overshadow thee: wherefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of the Most High. And thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins. And Mary said: Behold, the servant of the Lord before His face: let it be unto me according to thy word.

12. And she made the purple and the scarlet, and took them to the priest. And the priest blessed her, and said: Mary, the Lord God hath magnified thy name, and thou shall be blessed in all the generations of the earth. And Mary, with great joy, went away to Elizabeth her kinswoman, and knocked at the door. And when Elizabeth heard her, she threw away the scarlet, and ran to the door, and opened it; and seeing Mary, she blessed her, and said: Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? for, behold, that which is in me leaped and blessed thee. But Mary had forgotten the mysteries of which the archangel Gabriel had spoken, and gazed up into heaven, and said: Who am I, O Lord, that all the generations of the earth should bless me? And she remained three months with Elizabeth; and day by day she grew bigger. And Mary being afraid, went away to her own house, and hid herself from the sons of Israel. And she was sixteen years old when these mysteries happened.

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13. And she was in her sixth month; and, behold, Joseph came back from his building, and, entering into his house, he discovered that she was big with child. And he smote his face, and threw himself on the ground upon the sackcloth, and wept bitterly, saying: With what face shall I look upon the Lord my God? and what prayer shall I make about this maiden? because I received her a virgin out of the temple of the Lord, and I have not watched over her. Who is it that has hunted me down? Who has done this evil thing in my house, and defiled the virgin? Has not the history of Adam been repeated in me? For just as Adam was in the hour of his singing praise, and the serpent came, and found Eve alone, and completely deceived her, so it has happened to me also. And Joseph stood up from the sackcloth, and called Mary, and said to her: O thou who hast been cared for by God, why hast thou done this and forgotten the Lord thy God? Why hast thou brought low thy soul, thou that wast brought up in the holy of holies, and that didst receive food from the hand of an angel? And she wept bitterly, saying: I am innocent, and have known no man. And Joseph said to her: Whence then is that which is in thy womb? And she said: As the Lord my God liveth, I do not know whence it is to me.

14. And Joseph was greatly afraid, and retired from her, and considered what he should do in regard to her. And Joseph said: If I conceal her sin, I find myself fighting against the law of the Lord; and if I expose her to the sons of Israel, I am afraid lest that which is in her be from an angel, and I shall be found giving up innocent blood to the doom of death. What then shall I do with her? I will put her away from me secretly. And night came upon him; and, behold, an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream, saying: Be not afraid for this maiden, for that which is in her is of the Holy Spirit; and she will bring forth a Son, and thou shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. And Joseph arose from sleep, and glorified the God of Israel, who had given him this grace; and he kept her.

15. And Annas the scribe came to him, and said: Why hast thou not appeared in our assembly? And Joseph said to him: Because I was weary from my journey, and rested the first day. And he turned, and saw that Mary was with child. And he ran away to the priest? and said to him: Joseph, whom thou didst vouch for, has committed a grievous crime. And the priest said: How so? And he said: He has defiled the virgin whom he received out of the temple of the Lord, and has married her by stealth, and has not revealed it to the sons of Israel. And the priest answering, said: Has Joseph done this? Then said Annas the scribe: Send officers, and thou wilt find the virgin with child. And the officers went away, and found it as he had said; and they brought her along with Joseph to the tribunal. And the priest said: Mary, why hast thou done this? and why hast thou brought thy soul low, and forgotten the Lord thy God? Thou that wast reared in the holy of holies, and that didst receive food from the hand of an angel, and didst hear the hymns, and didst dance before Him, why hast thou done this? And she wept bitterly, saying: As the Lord my God liveth, I am pure before Him, and know not a man. And the priest said to Joseph: Why hast thou done this? And Joseph said: As the Lord liveth, I am pure concerning her. Then said the priest: Bear not false witness, but speak the truth. Thou hast married her by stealth, and hast not revealed it to the sons of Israel, and hast not bowed thy head under the strong hand, that thy seed might be blessed. And Joseph was silent.

16. And the priest said: Give up the virgin whom thou didst receive out of the temple of the Lord. And Joseph burst into tears. And the priest said: I will give you to drink of the water of the ordeal of the Lord, and He shall make manifest your sins in your eyes. And the priest took the water, and gave Joseph to drink and sent him away to the hill-country; and he returned unhurt. And he gave to Mary also to drink, and sent her away to the hill-country; and she returned unhurt. And all the people wondered that sin did not appear in them. And the priest said: If the Lord God has not made manifest your sins, neither do I judge you. And he sent them away. And Joseph took Mary, and went away to his own house, rejoicing and glorifying the God of Israel.

17. And there was an order from the Emperor Augustus, that all in Bethlehem of Judaea should be enrolled. And Joseph said: I shall enrol my sons, but what shall I do with this maiden? How shall I enrol her? As my wife? I am ashamed. As my daughter then? But all the sons of Israel know that she is not my daughter. The day of the Lord shall itself bring it to pass as the Lord will. And he saddled the ass, and set her upon it; and his son led it, and Joseph followed. And when they had come within three miles, Joseph turned and saw her sorrowful; and he said to himself: Likely that which is in her distresses her. And again Joseph turned and saw her laughing. And he said to her: Mary, how is it that I see in thy face at one time laughter, at another sorrow? And Mary said to Joseph: Because I see two peoples with my eyes; the one weeping and lamenting, and the other rejoicing and exulting. And they came into the middle of the road, and Mary said to him: Take me down from off the ass, for that which is in me presses to come forth. And he took her down from off the ass, and said to her: Whither shall I lead thee, and cover thy disgrace? for the place is desert.

18. And he found a cave there, and led her into it; and leaving his two sons beside her, he went out to seek a midwife in the district of Bethlehem. And I Joseph was walking, and was not walking; and I looked up into the sky, and saw the sky astonished; and I looked up to the pole of the heavens, and saw it standing, and the birds of the air keeping still. And I looked down upon the earth, and saw a trough lying, and work-people reclining: and their hands were in the trough. And those that were eating did not eat, and those that were rising did not carry it up, and those that were conveying anything to their mouths did not convey it; but the faces of all were looking upwards. And I saw the sheep walking, and the sheep stood still; and the shepherd raised his hand to strike them, and his hand remained up. And I looked upon the current of the river, and I saw the mouths of the kids resting on the water and not drinking, and all things in a moment were driven from their course.

19. And I saw a woman coming down from the hill-country, and she said to me: O man, whither art thou going? And I said: I am seeking an Hebrew midwife. And she answered and said unto me: Art thou of Israel? And I said to her: Yes. And she said: And who is it that is bringing forth in the cave? And I said: A woman betrothed to me. And she said to me: Is she not thy wife? And I said to her: It is Mary that was reared in the temple of the Lord, and I obtained her by lot as my wife. And yet she is not my wife, but has conceived of the Holy Spirit. And the midwife said to him: Is this true? And Joseph said to her: Come and see. And the midwife went away with him. And they stood in the place of the cave, and behold a luminous cloud overshadowed the cave. And the midwife said: My soul has been magnified this day, because mine eyes have seen strange things — because salvation has been brought forth to Israel. And immediately the cloud disappeared out of the cave, and a great light shone in the cave, so that the eyes could not bear it. And in a little that light gradually decreased, until the infant appeared, and went and took the breast from His mother Mary. And the midwife cried out, and said: This is a great day to me, because I have seen this strange sight. And the midwife went forth out of the cave, and Salome met her. And she said to her: Salome, Salome, I have a strange sight to relate to thee: a virgin has brought forth — a thing which her nature admits not of. Then said Salome: As the Lord my God liveth, unless I thrust in my finger, and search the parts, I will not believe that a virgin has brought forth.

20. And the midwife went in, and said to Mary: Show thyself; for no small controversy has arisen about thee. And Salome put in her finger, and cried out, and said: Woe is me for mine iniquity and mine unbelief, because I have tempted the living God; and, behold, my hand is dropping off as if burned with fire. And she bent her knees before the Lord, saying: O God of my fathers, remember that I am the seed of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob; do not make a show of me to the sons of Israel, but restore me to the poor; for Thou knowest, O Lord, that in Thy name I have performed my services, and that I have received my reward at Thy hand. And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood by her, saying to her: Salome, Salome, the Lord hath heard thee. Put thy hand to the infant, and carry it, and thou wilt have safety and joy. And Salome went and carried it, saying: I will worship Him, because a great King has been born to Israel. And, behold, Salome was immediately cured, and she went forth out of the cave justified. And behold a voice saying: Salome, Salome, tell not the strange things thou hast seen, until the child has come into Jerusalem.

21. And, behold, Joseph was ready to go into Judaea. And there was a great commotion in Bethlehem of Judaea, for Magi came, saying: Where is he that is born king of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and have come to worship him. And when Herod heard, he was much disturbed, and sent officers to the Magi. And he sent for the priests, and examined them, saying: How is it written about the Christ? where is He to be born? And they said: In Bethlehem of Judaea, for so it is written. And he sent them away. And he examined the Magi, saying to them: What sign have you seen in reference to the king that has been born? And the Magi said: We have seen a star of great size shining among these stars, and obscuring their light, so that the stars did not appear; and we thus knew that a king has been born to Israel, and we have come to worship him. And Herod said: Go and seek him; and if you find him, let me know, in order that I also may go and worship him. And the Magi went out. And, behold, the star which they had seen in the east went before them until they came to the cave, and it stood over the top of the cave. And the Magi saw the infant with His mother Mary; and they brought forth from their bag gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by the angel not to go into Judaea, they went into their own country by another road.

22. And when Herod knew that he had been mocked by the Magi, in a rage he sent murderers, saying to them: Slay the children from two years old and under. And Mary, having heard that the children were being killed, was afraid, and took the infant and swaddled Him, and put Him into an ox-stall. And Elizabeth, having heard that they were searching for John, took him and went up into the hill-country, and kept looking where to conceal him. And there was no place of concealment. And Elizabeth, groaning with a loud voice, says: O mountain of God, receive mother and child. And immediately the mountain was cleft, and received her. And a light shone about them, for an angel of the Lord was with them, watching over them.

23. And Herod searched for John, and sent officers to Zacharias, saying: Where hast thou hid thy son? And he, answering, said to them: I am the servant of God in holy things, and I sit constantly in the temple of the Lord: I do not know where my son is. And the officers went away, and reported all these things to Herod. And Herod was enraged, and said: His son is destined to be king over Israel. And he sent to him again, saying: Tell the truth; where is thy son? for thou knowest that thy life is in my hand. And Zacharias said: I am God’s martyr, if thou sheddest my blood; for the Lord will receive my spirit, because thou sheddest innocent blood at the vestibule of the temple of the Lord. And Zacharias was murdered about daybreak. And the sons of Israel did not know that he had been murdered.

24. But at the hour of the salutation the priests went away, and Zacharias did not come forth to meet them with a blessing, according to his custom. And the priests stood waiting for Zacharias to salute him at the prayer, and to glorify the Most High. And he still delaying, they were all afraid. But one of them ventured to go in, and he saw clotted blood beside the altar; and he heard a voice saying: Zacharias has been murdered, and his blood shall not be wiped up until his avenger come. And hearing this saying, he was afraid, and went out and told it to the priests. And they ventured in, and saw what had happened; and the fretwork of the temple made a wailing noise, and they rent their clothes from the top even to the bottom. And they found not his body, but they found his blood turned into stone. And they were afraid, and went out and reported to the people that Zacharias had been murdered. And all the tribes of the people heard, and mourned, and lamented for him three days and three nights. And after the three days, the priests consulted as to whom they should put in his place; and the lot fell upon Simeon. For it was he who had been warned by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death until he should see the Christ in the flesh.

And I James that wrote this history in Jerusalem, a commotion having arisen when Herod died, withdrew myself to the wilderness until the commotion in Jerusalem ceased, glorifying the Lord God, who had given me the gift and the wisdom to write this history. And grace shall be with them that fear our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory to ages of ages. Amen.

The Fullness of Life

heaven_and_hell_sign

Miss Mary Mack-Mack-Mack,
All dressed in black-black-black,
With silver buttons-buttons-buttons
All down her back-back-back.

She asked her mother-mother-mother
For fifteen cents-cents-cents
To see the elephants-elephants-elephants
All jump the fence-fence-fence.

They jumped so high-high-high
They touched the sky-sky-sky
And never came back-back-back
‘Till the Fourth of July-I-I.

What do we know about Miss Mary Mack? First of all, she dressed all in black and silver buttons. She must be one of those “Goth chicks.” I think they’re cool. We can assume she was fairly young or, at the very least, not gainfully employed because she had to ask her mother for the fifteen cents required to buy her ticket to see the jumping elephant show.

We can also safely conclude that she had unrealistic expectations. She honestly believe that, for only fifteen cents, she would see an elephant – an animal with a curb weight of about six tons – leap over a fence, which we can presume was about four feet high. Scientifically speaking, it is not possible for a six-ton elephant to make a four-foot vertical leap, running start or not.

We don’t know where she got this spectacular notion. Probably someone somewhere told her about the fantastic leaping elephant show and, despite all common sense and reason to doubt its existence, she believed it. She so believed it that she set out on the task of acquiring the fifteen cents needed for admission.

Once she had the fifteen cents firmly in hand, she headed off to the elephant jump. She bought her ticket and, sure enough, the elephants jumped the fence. Not only did they jump the fence, in fact, but the show exceeded every expectation that she had. Those elephants jumped so high that they touched the sky. Their leap journey took days to complete. We don’t really know how many days since the date of initial launch is not recorded, but it must be a period of days or even weeks because their return is commemorated as a date in the future and not a span of time measured in minutes or even hours.

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When you die, you don’t simply cease to exist. You go on to a whole new existence. That’s a pretty fantastic claim. It runs contrary to what would be the safe conclusion based on observation of what happens to the body after death.

I didn’t make this “afterlife” thing up myself. I heard about it from someone else. That person described to me what I would have to do in this life to get my ticket to not only see but also be a party to a fantastic show in the next life. They told me what I could expect, but also explained that no effort to describe what comes next could possibly explain the reality of it; there are simply not words adequate in this world to explain the next.

Okay. By a show of hands, how many people want to go to Heaven when you die? Spend eternity surrounded by the love of God and in the company of the saints… be reunited with lost loved ones… behold the beatific vision… If you think Heaven is a pretty good idea and that’s where you’d like to end up, then raise your hand. (By the way…. This is not a trick question. There’s only one other option here, so unless you’re waiting for that one this would be a good time to raise your hand!”)

Now, how many people think maybe they’d like to give Hell a try? How many think maybe this whole Hell thing is underrated… plenty of free parking… no chilly winters… probably know a few people there, anyway… How many people want to go to hell when you die – raise your hands.

When you die, there are two places you can spend eternity: Heaven and Hell. Heaven is good. Hell is bad. Smart people want to go to heaven when they die. It looks like we’ve got a room full of smart people; I think my work here is about ninety percent finished.

You want to go to Heaven when you die; that’s great. Heaven is everlasting joy and Hell is everlasting suffering. You’d have to have some sort of mental disease to actually want to go to Hell. You’re on the right path. But!

But. You knew there would be a “but,” didn’t you? You know they say the Devil’s in the details…

You want to go to Heaven, but what have you done lately to make that possible?

There are those who believe that it really doesn’t matter what they do. They think that no matter what, God will take them into Heaven when they die. They think that once they utter the statement that Jesus is their personal Lord and Savior, then they are assured of salvation no matter what they do next. I’m sorry if I’m about to disappoint anyone, but, folks, it’s really not that easy.

There are also those who believe that they can do just about anything they like and repent later. God will forgive; that’s His job. They are only half right; God will forgive the repentant soul. One who truly repents of his sin is assured of forgiveness. God loves us. But, I’m personally a little bit suspicious of deathbed conversions. I’m not saying that it isn’t possible, I just am not completely convinced that it is. I don’t think you can slide into Heaven just under the wire on a technicality because I do not believe that you can lie to God. You can’t live a life of sin and then fool God into believing anything else at the last minute.

So. You want to go to Heaven, but what have you done lately to make that possible?

A perfectly good answer is this: “I enrolled in RCIA.”  This is a very commendable action. I’m not telling you that being here tonight will earn you a place in Heaven, nor am I telling you that you in fact can merit heaven. However, the path to salvation like the path to any destination is made up of individual steps; where you end up depends on the steps you take.

In the encyclical Spe Salvi, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI wrote “The Kingdom of God is a gift, and precisely because of this, it is great and beautiful, and constitutes the response to our hope. And we cannot—to use the classical expression— ‘merit’ Heaven through our works. Heaven is always more than we could merit, just as being loved is never something ‘merited,’ but always a gift. However, even when we are fully aware that Heaven far exceeds what we can merit, it will always be true that our behavior is not indifferent before God and therefore is not indifferent for the unfolding of history.”

So, the Pope is teaching that Heaven is more than we deserve, yet God gives it as a gift. Still, our actions matter.

His Holiness goes on to say that “We can open ourselves and the world and allow God to enter: we can open ourselves to truth, to love, to what is good. This is what the saints did, those who, as ‘God’s fellow workers,’ contributed to the world’s salvation. We can free our life and the world from the poisons and contaminations that could destroy the present and the future. We can uncover the sources of creation and keep them unsullied, and in this way we can make a right use of creation, which comes to us as a gift, according to its intrinsic requirements and ultimate purpose. This makes sense even if outwardly we achieve nothing or seem powerless in the face of overwhelming hostile forces. So on the one hand, our actions engender hope for us and for others; but at the same time, it is the great hope based upon God’s promises that gives us courage and directs our action in good times and bad.”

Benedict is teaching that we can open ourselves to what is good. We can free ourselves from the poisons and contaminations that destroy. We can encounter what is good and not work to pervert it; we can share what is good with the world. We can work to advance God’s kingdom in the world; to return good for evil; to offer forgiveness for wrongs committed against us.

If we got what we truly deserved, then our final end would not be pleasant. Man is a fallen creature laboring under the yoke of sin. But, still, God loves us. The closing of Bishop Robert Finn’s pastoral letter entitled Blessed are the Pure in Heart stated: “If you remember just one sentence from this letter let it be this: Never despair of God’s mercy.”

If you truly desire to see Heaven, then your life and your actions – your very being – will reflect that desire. If you truly desire to see Heaven, then you will truly desire to be a servant of God. There are many, many ways to serve God. We only have one Pope, the Vicar of Christ, but all of us can serve God in our own way. In the Catholic Church, a vicar is a representative of an ecclesiastical authority. From this standpoint, we can all be vicars of Christ. The Anglican Archbishop of Capetown Desmond Tutu once said: “Do your little bit of good where you are. It is these acts, taken together, that overwhelm the world.”

If God loves us so much, then why would He send anyone to Hell?

That is not an unreasonable question. There are only two places to spend eternity: Heaven and Hell. If you don’t go to Heaven, then the other choice is do not pass Go, do not collect two-hundred dollars. Go straight to Hell. Suffer for all eternity in misery and damnation. But, if God loves us, why would He do that to anyone?

God could have created us as some sort of automaton, going through the motions of life but truly only following a script. In that way, everyone could have gone to Heaven no matter what; if you were only playing the part you had been assigned and had no choice about that assignment, then it would be downright mean spirited to send anyone to Hell. But God loves us more than that. We are free; we possess a freedom given by God that cannot be taken away by any human agent. We are always free to search for our Maker and our proper end, to know what we ought to desire and to work to do what we ought to. This is our basic freedom that makes us human beings.

If we act in a truly free and human way we will move toward God; we will be judged and still found wanting – remember, you cannot merit Heaven – but God in His divine mercy and love will tip the balance in our favor. We will go to Heaven. If, however, we live as a slave to sin and unbridled passions, if we act in an inhuman way, if we move away from God then God will allow us to make those choices and in His justice will allow us to suffer the consequences of the choices we make. God does not send anyone to Hell, but He does love us enough not to take away our basic human freedom; if a person chooses to reject God, then God allows that choice to be made.

A young man once asked Jesus: “teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” That is a loaded question. The young man probably wasn’t trying to trick Jesus with his question; in his heart, he meant it honestly and Jesus saw that and gave the young man an honest answer. But the question implies two things that Jesus would not acknowledge. The first is that there is a single act that can be performed that will get you into Heaven – the young man asked what ‘deed,’ what specific thing – he had to do. The question also implies that there is anything that can be done that will make a man merit heaven; there isn’t.

Jesus answered the young man not by saying “accept me as your personal Lord and Savior and you’re a shoe in.” Our Savior did not tell the young man to just go and do the best he could and he would make it. He told the young man to obey the Commandments.

The young man asked which? (The Jews of that time had a complex religious law derived from Mosaic law. There were many, many commandments.) Jesus told him God’s commandments “You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness. Honor your father and mother, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The Gospel does not record that Jesus mentioned the Commandments regarding the love of God. This is not because those are not important, but at the time of Christ to a young Jewish man who was seeking the kingdom of Heaven, they were so fundamental that they didn’t need to be mentioned. They were as basic as breathing.

The young man said that he does all of those things. The Commandments Christ names all involve action: not killing, not committing adultery, not lying and slandering, caring for aging parents and loving one’s neighbor. But the young man sensed – rightly so – that those things simply are not enough. He asked what else he needed to do.

Our Lord answered that he should sell what he owned, give the proceeds to the poor and follow Him. If that seems extreme… good. It is. The young man was asking what he could do to earn Heaven and you can’t earn Heaven. The price of Heaven is more than a human can bear without the help of God. The young man went away sad; the disciples had a little bit clearer grasp of what was going on than the young man did. They asked Christ “who then can be saved?”

For men it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.

Salvation comes from God alone. If you truly want to see Heaven – and we all do truly want that, it is in our nature to want it – then you will answer God’s call. You will do everything you can and work hard to do good and avoid evil. But because no one can pay his way into Heaven, Jesus helps us. As the Son of God, a man without sin, perfect and blameless in the Eye of God, the most authentically human being since mankind’s fall from grace, Jesus accepted death on the cross. He did this not for Himself, but for me… and for you… and for every other human being who ever was or who ever will be. He did this to make up the difference that we cannot make up ourselves. He did this so that we can see Heaven.

When our Blessed Savior cries out from the cross “My God, my God, why have your forsaken Me?” His question is not because he lacks information, but to find out if you and I are paying attention. When you read that passage, the answer is: “For me… because I could not bear the weight of it myself.”

That is true love. That is the love that God has for every one of us.

So, how do we get there from here? Step one is die. Don’t rush into this; God gave us life for a reason, and that reason is not so that we can hurry through it and make it to Heaven. That’s selfish. God wants us to be better than selfish. We are the stewards of our lives, not the arbiters.

Step two is the Particular Judgment. This is when we come before the Lord without excuse and without deception and are judged on the basis of our life.

  • If we die in a state of grave sin – in the rejection of God – then we will go to Hell.
  • If we die in a state of grace, free from all grave sin and without attachment to venial sin, then we will go immediately to Heaven.
  • For most of us, there is a third path. If we die and are not in a state of grave sin but still have attachments to venial sins then we go to a place where we are purged of those attachments to venial sins. Catholics call that place purgatory.

The first question is, obviously, what is a grave sin and what is a venial sin? That is a topic unto itself and is one we will be covering later. For now, let’s just say that grave sins are those sins that sever our bond of love with God – things like cold-blooded murder, adultery, idolatry – the things that no right-minded person would ever want to do because you know so intrinsically that they are wrong. Venial sins are those things that are wrong but do not constitute a complete rejection of God – taking a slice of pizza and picking pepperoni off of the remaining slices and adding it to your slice, driving aggressively, being rude or condescending to others, and so on.

Nothing imperfect can come before the Lord. If we sometimes eat too much or are maybe a little too proud of our appearance, then those are things that must be purified so that we can enter Heaven. This is done by way of Purgatory.

Purgatory is not Hell Lite – same great flames, only one-third the agony. If you go to Purgatory, be glad. You will go through there and on to Heaven; no one in Purgatory goes on to Hell. Sometimes Heaven takes a little more refinement, but Hell is right away.

The question of how long one remains in Purgatory is not one that can be answered. It’s not because we do not know; in fact, we do. It’s because time is for the living. After death, you are outside of time. A thousand years are as a day. Asking how long one is in Purgatory is like asking how yellow is rectangle. You’re talking about two completely separate concepts. A person is in Purgatory for precisely as long as he needs to be; no longer, no shorter. Instantaneous and a million years are concepts for the living… until properly purified and ready are concepts for eternity.

Purgatory is also proof of God’s love for us. God cannot deny His nature. His nature is perfection; if we want to share in that nature in the beatific vision, then we, too, must be perfect. God knows that this is not possible on our own – we cannot merit Heaven. However, He does not want us to go to Hell. So, God, in his divine mercy, gave us Purgatory. Through Purgatory our souls may be made clean and we become able to come before the Lord. Purgatory is not a punishment for God’s naughty children who weren’t quite bad enough to warrant Hell but weren’t all that good, either. Purgatory is a divine gift given in love for all men and women.

The end of time. The Final Judgment. The Second Coming. Most people believe at least at some level that they will live to see the end of days; that the Final Judgment will come in their lifetime. The graveyards are full of people who were wrong on that one. But at some point the end will come, and it will not be pretty. The Bible makes clear that the end times are a time of tribulation.

What do we know about the End Times? Well, if you can believe the bumper stickers, we know there will be at least one brown 1973 Ford Pinto that will be unmanned. Beyond that, we frankly don’t know a lot. The Bible speaks in very general terms of what we can expect. The Church herself has few teachings on what the end of the world will be like. There are a lot of wild theories about what will happen and more than one person who has declared certainty that he or she will be magically raptured away before it happens.

I’m not sure how to respond to that other than by saying, “Well… good luck with that, then. Let me know how it works out for you.”

We know not the hour or the day, either of our own death or of the Final Judgment. We should live every day as if we will be judged just then.

Compare particular judgment, the Final Judgment, and purgatory to other concepts key to a Christian worldview, say morality or marriage. Morality is easy to talk about. Marriage is even easier to talk about. With both of those topics, I could make a very convincing argument for why they are a good idea based solely on logic. You don’t have to believe in God to think the Ten Commandments are a pretty smart move. Even atheists get married… they just don’t understand why. Both marriage and morality are a good idea here and now… in this life.

The Fullness of Life, though – Heaven, Hell and Purgatory – they are much harder. I can think of no reasonable external, observable event that indicates there is life after death. The belief that death is simply one more step in the process of coming to know God is a matter of faith and faith alone. Everything that we know about Heaven, Hell and Purgatory is based on the Bible and the teachings of Holy Mother Church. Acceptance of the authority of the Church, of Bible as the Word of God, and the belief that God would not lie to us are made entirely on faith.

What if the atheists are right? What if there is no God? If that is the case, then one day you will die. There will be nothing else. The light at the end of the tunnel is nothing more than the failing of your optic nerve. You’ll be stuck in the ground and your brain will rot away. With it will rot everything that made you a person. An individual. Unique in all the world and time. On a more personal and immediate note, you will also have completely wasted your Wednesday night tonight.

But everyone was brought here tonight by a separate path. Every person in this room is unique. In the world and in time. Every one of us has hopes and dreams; goals; pastimes and hobbies; loves, likes, and even hates. We also all have faith. Some of those hopes and dreams we share. We are fortunate to share our faith. We are also fortunate to share our faith with two-thousand years of Catholics who came before us, many of whom have moved on to what comes next.

Each person is unique. There can never be another Saint Francis. He already exists. He was created by the Lord and put in his mother’s womb. He lived; he died; he went to God. He is in Heaven now. The world had St. Peter, St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, St. John, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Ann, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and all the saints. They cannot be reborn into the world anew; they are with God now.

Each person is unique and has one shot at life. There is no dress rehearsal; this is it. Some people don’t do so well. Some people are downright nasty. When Adolf Hitler died, he had some pretty tough questions to answer.

A lot of people kind of muddle through life. They think faith and religion and all that churchy stuff are pretty good ideas, but the day-to-day details always get in the way: the job, the mortgage, the boat, the next vacation. They show up at church just like clockwork… for Christmas and Easter; they kick a few bucks into the plate when it comes around, mostly out of guilt, not asking why the plate comes around. They tell themselves that one day they will try harder. They hope they will go to heaven someday. I certainly will not tell you that they won’t, but I cannot promise you that they will.

Some people do really well in this life. Maybe they don’t have the boat or the vacation home. Maybe they don’t have the fame. Maybe they die without their name being a household term. But they don’t die thinking, “I wish I’d spent a little less time worrying about other people and a little more focusing on Ol’ Number One.” They don’t die thinking “If I had just let another man go hungry, I might have actually been able to see Paris in the spring.”

For those of us here tonight, we probably don’t have to so much be afraid of living a life of evil as we do living a life of mediocrity. Of doing just enough to get by. Nothing more. Muddle through… one foot in front of the other. Eyes down. Shoulders hunched. Marching toward our inescapable end.

Faith offers more. Faith offers us the opportunity to walk through life with our heads held high, our backs straight and our eyes fixed firmly on Christ. Faith offers us the opportunity to live as servants of God, not as slaves to the trappings of the material world. Faith offers us the opportunity to walk proudly toward the reward that awaits those who live according to the Word of the Lord instead of the whims of the world. Faith allows us to live in cooperation with God’s abundant grace. Amen, Amen I say to you, the greatest commandment is this: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. The second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “At the evening of life, we will be judged on our love.”

And so I ask you this: what kind of lover will you be?

Homily for November 9, 2014 — the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

Façade of the Lateran Basilica.

Façade of the Lateran Basilica.

Today is the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica. What, one could fairly ask, is a Lateran Basilica and why do we celebrate it?

A basilica is a specific type of church building; the word itself comes from a Greek term that means “royal house.” There are 1580 minor basilicas in the world and 325 in the Americas. There are 69 basilicas in the United States. My academic preparation before ordination to the Permanent Diaconate was done at Conception Seminary College and Conception Abbey in the northern part of our diocese. Conception Abbey is home to the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, which is an incredibly beautiful building and is the heart of both the monastery and the college.

When a church is designated a basilica, it is because of its antiquity, dignity, historical value, architectural and artistic worth, or significance as a center of worship; it is also accorded special ecclesiastical privileges and enjoys a special bond of communion with the Holy Father.

A basilica will have within its space a silk canopy of red and yellow stripes — the traditional papal colors. It will also have a tintinnabulum, which is a bell mounted on a pole. Both of these are carried in procession on special occasions. Minor basilica also enjoy the right to display the crossed keys — the papal symbol — on its banners, furnishing, and seal.

There are four major basilicas in the world, all in Rome. The major basilicas are: St. John Lateran, St. Peter, St. Paul Outside the Walls, and St. Mary Major. These are papal basilicas.

St. John Lateran Basilica, the dedication of which we celebrate today, is the cathedral of Rome. It is the Pope’s cathedral and as such is the mother church of all Christendom and is the first among churches throughout the world. It was dedicated by Pope Sylvester on this day in the year 324. That means for one-thousand, six-hundred, and ninety years the Lateran Basilica has served Holy Mother Church.

"Sacrosancta Lateranensis ecclesia omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput" ("Most Holy Lateran Church, of all the churches in the city and the world, the mother and head.") Inscription on the façade of the Basilica of St. John Lateran (Rome).

“Sacrosancta Lateranensis ecclesia omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput” (“Most Holy Lateran Church, of all the churches in the city and the world, the mother and head.”) Inscription on the façade of the Basilica of St. John Lateran (Rome).

That’s what a basilica is in general and what the Lateran Basilica is specifically. That is the easy part of the question to answer. The second half of the question — why do we celebrate it? — is slightly harder to answer. To answer that, we have to consider not only what the nature of a church is, but what our own nature is.

In today’s Gospel reading, we encounter Christ making a whip to drive people from the Temple and flipping the tables of merchants who were making the Temple a house of commerce. “He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, ‘Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.’”

Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, by El Greco

Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, by El Greco

This was enough to cause the disciples to remember the words of Scripture: Zeal for your house will consume me. Christ was passionate about the Temple.

In the first reading, we hear a beautiful description from Ezekiel about water flowing from the Temple. An angel tells the prophet, ““This water flows into the eastern district down upon the Arabah, and empties into the sea, the salt waters, which it makes fresh. Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live, and there shall be abundant fish, for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh. Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow; their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail. Every month they shall bear fresh fruit, for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary. Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine.”

The Temple is where the Israelite encountered God. It was the house of God. In this respect, it is very much like our church today. This church is the House of God. Christ is present Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Tabernacle. We receive Him in the Holy Eucharist. This is where we come to encounter God.

Our diocesan cathedral is the mother of all churches in our diocese, and St. John Lateran — the cathedral of the Holy Father — is the mother of all churches in the world. That, in itself, is enough to celebrate it. But let’s take it one step farther.

The Papal cathedra is located in the apse of the Lateran Basilica . The decorations are in cosmatesque style.

The Papal cathedra is located in the apse of the Lateran Basilica . The decorations are in cosmatesque style.

In today’s second reading, Paul writes “Brothers and Sisters: You are God’s building.” You are God’s building. Full stop. Does this mean that God should be inside of me and that others should encounter God Almighty the Eternal Ruler of the Universe when they encounter me? Yes. If I am living the life I am called to live, then yes. Absolutely. This does not mean that I am God, but rather that God dwells within me and within you and within all of the faithful not because of our own merit, but because we have encountered Him in the Church and in the waters of baptism. Just as the prophet saw water flowing from the Temple and renewing the world, so, too, do the waters of baptism flow forth from the Church and renew us, making us the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit and preparing us to renew the world.

“Do you not know that you are the temple of God,” Paul writes, “and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.”

The world may call us consumers, or workers, or voters, but the world is not the final authority. God tells us that we are His Temple, and therefore are holy. The Lateran Basilica is a mirror and a reminder to us; this is true of all churches.

A church should be beautiful and richly decorated because it is the House of the Lord and God deserves the best; it should also be beautiful and richly decorated because it serves as the constant reminder that the life to which we are called is one of great beauty. The beauty of the physical church building reminds us of our Christian dignity and that we are called to the things of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Some would argue that the Church has no business possessing beautiful buildings with priceless murals, fine art, expensive statuary, and rich stained glass. They would argue that those things should be sold and the money used to buy provisions for the poor. Judas once made a very similar argument. The world would be far worse for it.

And so today we celebrate the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica and in a certain way we celebrate all churches throughout the world. These are the houses in which God dwells and in which we encounter our Lord and our God. These are the houses that transform us and are a reflection of us.

Brothers and Sisters: we are God’s building. Because of this, we are called to live a life worthy of our Christian dignity. We are called to live a life of beauty and holiness such that we see our lives mirrored daily by the wonderful art and grand architecture of the finest churches.

The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Conception Abbey, Northwest Missouri.

The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Conception Abbey, Northwest Missouri.