Homily for Sunday, May 31, 2015 – Holy Trinity Sunday

The Holy Trinity

The Holy Trinity

In today’s Gospel reading, we hear Christ giving His apostles the Great Commission: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Did you know this has only recently been called the Great Commission? The first known usage of the term was in the 1600s, but the term did not enter popular use until only 200 or so years ago. Still, it is a commission: the apostles are being sent forth on behalf of Our Lord. And it is great: in a very definite way, it gives us a foretaste of the triumphant return of Our Lord.

The Eleven — for that is the number that remained after the tragic failure of Judas Iscariot — are given an insight by Christ into His divine power and authority. We — you and I — know today that Christ holds universal power and authority. We know that is true because we were taught that and we believe it. We were not present when Christ gave the Eleven this Great Commission; we know it because Christ gave the Eleven this Great Commission.

Christ’s commission did not end with the Eleven. It continues even today. It continues in apostolic succession and so is properly directed by the successors to the Apostles: the bishops. However, every one of us has a role to play in it. Because we believe, we are called to action fitting our belief. Therefore, we are called by Christ to play our own part in the Great Commission that He gave.

Great-Commission

Before we can know what we are to do, we must first be clear on the nature of the task Our Lord gives us… which is slightly different than the task He gives the apostles. Our Lord begins by stating the basis for Him sending the apostles forth, and that basis is divine authority. All power in heaven and earth has been given to Him; therefore, He has the authority to assign duties. If He holds all power, then it is certainly within His power to send the apostles out to accomplish the Great Commission.

Since Christ holds all power, He sends the apostle out to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Baptism is the gateway to discipleship and baptism is properly done in a Trinitarian formula.

So, then… does that mean once we’re baptized that we’re disciples? Not exactly. Baptism is only the gateway, and Christ’s commission doesn’t end there. He also instructs the Apostles to teach the new disciples to observe all that Christ has commanded and taught.

So… does that mean if we follow the rules, we’re good disciples? Again… not exactly. Discipleship isn’t merely following the rules… although the rules are good to follow. Discipleship isn’t merely studying Scripture… although it certainly can be spiritually profitable to study God’s Word. Discipleship isn’t merely going to Mass on Sunday… although a disciple would never miss Mass without grave reason.

So, what does it mean to be a good disciple? I asked my friend Merriam Webster what a disciple is, and he told me “one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another,” which kind of made me laugh because it doesn’t sound quite right. He also said apostle is a synonym of disciple, which really made me laugh.

So what really is a disciple? The apostles were sent out to make us into disciples… so what are we supposed to be?

The meaning of disciple is Greek to me… quite literally. The word comes to us from Greek and means an apprentice of a master. We, as disciples of Christ, are studying by observing the Master – Our Lord Jesus Christ – so that we can become more and more like Him as time progresses… so that we, too, may approach mastery. A true disciple doesn’t do anything so crude or crass as to merely accept the doctrines of another and help spread them; a true disciple immerses himself and is formed by the way of the Master, daily becoming more and more like Him.

We are disciples not because we accept teachings; we are disciples because we live the faith we have been taught. We are disciples not because we spread doctrines; we are disciples because we seek to become like God.

This is a bold statement. This is a perilous undertaking. History is full of accounts of dictators and madmen who sought to become like God. The difference between them and us is not the goal, but in the understanding of the goal. They seek God to become like God for the love of power. We seek God to become like God the power of love.

All power and authority has been given to Christ. We don’t need to seek it. It is in good hands. It is safe and is precisely where it belongs… with the master and He will do with it as it is fitting to do. What we seek is the Person of Christ… the authentically human and authentically divine person. We seek to become like Him, not only for what we will receive but also for what we can give.

“And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Christ doesn’t leave His apprentices alone. He is with us and He leads us. We could hardly be expected to get very far in our quest to become like Him if He was not available to us to serve as guide and model.

He is with us in so many ways: in the Eucharist; in the Word proclaimed at Mass; in the faces of all of the other disciples who follow Him; in the Sacraments; in the work of the priests and bishops; in His saints; in His Blessed Mother. We encounter Him in prayer, in the Mass, in Holy Scripture, in giving and in receiving. We should always be discovering new and different ways to grow in authentic Christian discipleship – to become better apprentices of the Master and to daily grow in our Catholic faith.

Let us pray always for the grace to be true disciples of Christ by living an authentically Catholic faith.

disciples

Homily for Wednesday, May 27, 2015

We have come to the end of the Easter season and have entered that long span of Ordinary Time that will take us all the way to the Season of Advent. Today’s Gospel should remind us, though, that the thought of Our Lord’s crucifixion and His resurrection should never be far from us. And in a certain way, it is something we both anticipate and remember.

Christ’s incarnation, earthly ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension are all historical facts. They are events that happened at a specific time and at a specific place. They are completely natural events, but they are not merely natural events, for there is also a supernatural element to them. Clearly, whenever you deal with God Himself, there is – by definition – a supernatural element at work.

right-hand-pf-the-fatherAnd so we remember the events of that specific time and place and we thank God for the possibility of our own salvation, which we anticipate and which is possible only because of Christ and His salvific work.

The Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord is the central point of Creation. All of history points to it, and all of history flows from it. And not just history, but all of reality, too. We are never far removed from it. James and John did not understand this when they asked to sit at the right and the left of Christ; they did not understand exactly for what they were asking.

How often are all of us guilty of the same sort of sin? We want, but we don’t know exactly what it is that we are asking. Give me, Lord, a little more. Give me, My God, the better part.

If we truly wanted the better part, our prayer would be this: Make me, Lord, your slave. Make me, Lord, the servant of all.

Christ Crucified is the center of reality; the central point of time and space – the salvific work of Our Lord is the beginning and the end of what is real. If we want to be a part of what is real, then our lives must be a reflection of this reality and we must serve others as Christ served us, ready to give even our lives if that is what God asks of us.

Let us pray always for the grace to ask God to make us servants of all and to lead us ever closer to that center of all that is real: Christ Crucified.

Homily for Wednesday, May 20, 2014

Your word is truth.
As you sent me into the world,
so I sent them into the world.
And I consecrate myself for them,
so that they also may be consecrated in truth.

What does it mean to be hated by the world? Christ tells us that we who seek Him and who seek to be like Him are hated by the world and the reason He gives is this: we do not belong to the world any more than Our Lord belongs to the world.

Christ asks the Father that we be consecrated in truth. God’s Word is Truth. And so we are hated by the world because we are called to the Truth, and truth is not the friend of the world. It takes only the briefest of surveys of the ills of our world to understand how far the world is removed from the truth: there is rampant, seemingly unending war. Starvation. Abortion. Euthanasia. Promiscuity and perversion. Contraception. All of these are born of violence and selfishness – and the world seeks desperately to normalize them.

But you and I are called to something different. We are called to the truth and we receive our call from the source of all Truth: God Himself. If we are comfortable in the world, it is time to re-examine our lives, because if we become comfortable we have strayed from the Truth.

And we aren’t allowed to seek comfort in hiding from the world, either. We are sent into the world just as Christ was sent into the world. We are given a mission and sent forth, and there are two possible outcomes: the world will transform us and make us like it, or else the world will hate us because we are trying to transform it to be what it should be… what it was always meant to be.

Ultimately, the world won’t be fully transformed until the end of time… until Christ comes again. But, that’s okay. We know how things end and we know, ultimately, all things will be set right by Our Lord. It’s not a contest of good versus evil; it’s a mission in which good is sent forth to confront evil – and each one of us are missionaries. We are called and we are sent: if we can’t change the world, then we simply do good where we are. We change lives, starting always with our own. We open windows to God’s love because that is what missionaries do. We invite others in and we share with them the mission we have ourselves received.

Let us pray always for the grace to be hated by the world, because being hated by the world is a gift. If the whole world rejects the Truth, the truth does not stop being true. The world embraces countless lies. Let us instead embrace Our Lord, the fountain of truth, and embrace His Holy Word, by which all truth is known. And let us thank God always for calling us to the difficult and uncomfortable path – let us thank God for letting us glimpse the joy of truth and then sending us for a time into the realm misery and sorrow – for if we were less than we are we could be comfortable in the world and ignorant of the Truth, and perhaps never come to know the fullness of truth that we will see in the world to come.

Homily for Sunday May 10, 2015 – the Sixth Sunday of Easter (Mother’s Day)

This I command you: love one another. These are the words of Christ. They could just as easily have been said by my momma. It’s nice that Mother’s Day falls on a day when the Gospel speaks so eloquently about love. Our own mothers should be the very first source of love that we encounter in the world. While, sadly, this is not universally the case, nevertheless it is what God intends. And none of us would be here at all if not for our mothers.

My Momma

My Momma

One could certainly make the theological statement that God’s love for us is greater than that even of our mother. This is true, because God’s love for us is perfect, while our mother’s love — at least on this side of the Beatific Vision — remains imperfect and because God loved us before the moment of our conception. In a theological sense, this is indisputable. In a practical sense, it is also very much the case that we know of God’s love for us only through revelation and by comparison to the love shown to us by our parents and by others who have been very close to us.

Christ commands us to love one another as He has loved us. He then says that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends, and this is exactly what He does. Christ’s death on the cross is the perfect sacrifice — the giving of the spotless Lamb — in atonement for our sins. Our flaws, our failures, and our shortcomings are healed in the sacrifice of Christ; Our Lord gives His life for the salvation of ours and through His death opens to us the Kingdom of God.

That in itself is overwhelming. It is a perfect example of love. But it is not all of the story. Christ our King doesn’t say He lays down His life for His subjects; He says He lays it down for His friends. And we are His friends if we do what He commands, and this is His command: love one another.

A slave does what he is told. He doesn’t question what the master is doing; he simply does what he is commanded to do without much thought necessary of why. The “why” is entirely upon his master’s shoulders. If a slave is asked why, his answer can be, “because that is what I was commanded and I had no choice.” You can be a slave to Satan and say, “the devil made me do it.” You can be a slave to money. You can be a slave to power. You can even, sadly, be a slave to fashion.

Christ, though, is taking that relationship — and, frankly, that comfort — out of the equation. How can I call slavery a comfort? Well, if you are a slave to God and only have to worry about doing what He tells you — you only have to worry about following the letter of the Law — that is a comfort. You follow the rules and you have done well. You obey the Commandments as a slave, and you have it made.

iconChrist says, “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” Our Lord is elevating us to a position of power. It is no longer enough to simply obey the letter of the Law given to Moses. We must now obey the Spirit of the Law, and that is terrifying because it is open to interpretation. And not every interpretation is valid.

Fortunately, though, Christ does not set us adrift. We are given the Church as our guide and the Church itself is guided by the Holy Spirit. The Church — precisely because it is the Bride of Christ and is guided by the Holy Spirit — is the only authoritative interpreter there is. It is up to each one of us to make sure our own individual interpretations of what is good, and moral, and Scriptural are in line with what Holy Mother Church teaches us.

Why? Well, because Christ has told us — the whole of the Church — everything He has heard from the Father. For any one individual, it is not possible to hold that totality of knowledge in mind at one time. But it is possible for the Church to do that, because the Church thinks with the mind of Christ. When we focus too much on one element of Christ’s teaching, we can neglect the other elements. We can wander away from the whole and make an idol of a part.

When we wander too far afield, the Church calls us back to the fullness of truth. Love and discernment are both guardrails – and there are many – between which we should find ourselves if we want to remain in the fullness of truth. There is a tension — and there must always be a tension — pulling us between the various extremes: those that tell us love and don’t judge and those that tell us discern and don’t be fooled. Love without discernment can become merely license. Discernment in the absence of love can lead to hard-heartedness. Anyone who does not constantly feel that tension is either a saint or else asleep.

Christ chose us. We do the work of Christ in the world; that is what we are appointed to do. At the end of our life we will be judged on how well we loved. If our work bears fruit that remains, we have loved very well. If it does not, we have failed to love as we ought.

keep-calm-and-love-one-another-6At the end of today’s Gospel reading, Christ says again, “This I command you: love one another.” It is possible to love someone and not agree with them. I suppose it is even possible to love someone and not find them very likable.

Christ doesn’t command us to get along with everyone. He doesn’t even command us to be nice. He commands us to love. Let me again use the example of my mother: she didn’t stop loving me even when she was mad at me. Even when she was telling me I was being a bonehead and to stop being stupid, she still loved me.

If she had simply been nice and pretended not to see the mistakes I was making, I probably wouldn’t have survived my teenage years. If she had been afraid to tell me when I was being an idiot, I probably would still be one. Was she always right? No. (Sorry, mom.) Was she always interested in what was best for me because of her love for me? Of course she was.

We have a lot to learn from mothers. Let us pray always for the grace to love as we ought to love — to obey the command Christ gave us — and to be worthy of being called a true friend of Christ. Let us pray that we may always live so that our thoughts and actions show clearly we have a genuine concern for the good of others and are willing to work for the welfare of all people.

From the Desk of Deacon Richard…

May 10, 2015

princess_bride_minister_5-31_mWhen I was in formation, one of the things we had to do was write and give practice homilies. We would give them from a podium in a classroom; our fellow candidates for the diaconate acted as the congregation and then critiqued each practice homily afterwards.

One time, we were given a random Sunday — mine just happened to be June 16 — and I went to work on the homily, incorporating all three readings and the psalm… tying everything together and making what I thought was an excellent theological point. I spent hours on it, carefully considering each word. I must have practiced giving it a dozen times. I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted to create a homily such that no one could possibly find even the slightest deficiency to critique.

The time finally came and I gave my practice homily. It went smoothly and I was relieved to have it done. When I was finished, the formation director invited the other candidates to begin the critique. There was a pause. Then the pause grew longer. I thought maybe I had accomplished my goal.

Then a hand went up. The person announced that they had noticed that Sunday, June 16, that year was Father’s Day, and they were disappointed I hadn’t mentioned it. It was February. I wasn’t thinking anything about Father’s Day, focused as I was on the liturgical text for the day. The formation director agreed that he had noticed it, too.

That was the only critique, and I promised myself right then and there to never make that mistake again.

Bacon_Cheese_Burger

Today is May 10. As I am sure everyone is aware, May is National Hamburger Month. That means we are one-third of the way through this very special month. There are many ways to celebrate National Hamburger Month. The most obvious is to take someone special out for a hamburger. You might even think about taking your mom out for a hamburger… after all, moms are pretty special, too. They really ought to have their own month. Or at least a day.

Just an idea.

Peace,
Dcn. Richard

Homily for Wednesday, May 6, 2015

In today’s Gospel, we hear Christ himself calling us to ongoing conversion. “Remain in me, as I remain in you,” Our Lord instructs us.

We know that Christ is constant. He will never abandon us or leave us. His love for us is without end and without fail. That is the model He gives us – that is the way we are to remain in Him because that is the way He remains in us.

We, however, existing in our fallen state, are not constant as we should be. We are very changeable – and this isn’t by itself an entirely bad thing. We can change for the better just like we can change for the worse. In fact, we should be working to make sure we are changing for the better, for this is the constant conversion to which Christ calls us. When we remain in Him, we can accomplish great things. However, without Him, we can accomplish nothing. We can only wander from point to point, never even really sure if what we do is good or bad for without the standard by which good is ultimately measured – Christ Himself – the question of good and bad becomes entirely relative and without meaning.

I saw a picture of a billboard that had been placed by an atheist group calling people to “Be Good for Goodness’ Sake.” However, even a passing moment’s reflection tells us that this statement only has meaning if we understand Goodness to be Christ Himself – certainly not what the billboard’s creators had in mind – for unless we measure our own goodness by the ultimate measure of Goodness, the call to be good for its own sake is nothing more than another example of the relativistic nonsense that overwhelms our world today.

Be good for the sake of Christ – remain in Him as He remains in you. This requires ongoing conversion – ongoing pruning, to use the image Christ presents in his parable of the vine and the branches. Let us pray always for the strength to remain in Christ and that His Word will dwell in our hearts and minds, for this is the path to true discipleship… to true glory, for our own glory can only be found in relationship to God’s glory, and Christ tells us clearly that when we become His disciples and bear much fruit, by that God is glorified.

From the Desk of Deacon Richard… May 3, 2015

fatima-maryIf I told you there was a genuinely Catholic program that exists for the sole purpose (or maybe I should say soul purpose) of helping you live an authentically Catholic life and so become the best version of yourself, would you be interested? If I told you there was a holy priest whose goal was to help as many souls as possible find their way to sainthood, would you want to be among those called?

Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that three things were necessary for the salvation of man: “to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do.” This is the simple beginning of the road to sainthood. People tend to overcomplicate things: the path is narrow; it might not be easy… but it is not complex. It involves overcoming base desires and embracing the spiritual disciplines that guide us on the path to salvation.

Pray. That is the most important. Pray always. It is through prayer that we become closer to God, and that is how we become holy. A perfect Mass is perfect prayer; Mass brings us to God as it brings God to us. God desires our salvation; we must desire it also. God is working for our salvation; it should come as little surprise that we must work for it, also.

The goal of Operation Morningstar is the salvation of souls through helping people live authentically Catholic lives. Do you want to be among those called?

Peace,
Dcn. Richard