Homily for Sunday, 19 January 2020

He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is com­ing after me who ranks ahead of me because he exist­ed before me.’

We all know that Jesus Christ is ful­ly God and ful­ly man. We know that; the Church teach­es it and we believe it to be true. It is fact, beyond ques­tion and with­out doubt. Christ is the Son of God, the Sec­ond Per­son of the Holy Trin­i­ty. It is through Him that we are saved, and our sins are for­giv­en. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; with­out Him, no one is saved.

Today, though, I want to focus pri­mar­i­ly on Jesus Christ, the man… the son of Mary and known to many of His con­tem­po­raries as a carpenter’s son. I want to focus less on the Christ who raised the dead, made the blind see, and made lame men walk and more on the man Jesus, who trav­eled through­out the Holy Land with His dis­ci­ples, liv­ing the Word He preached.

Now, some­one might object that Christ can­not be divid­ed into His com­po­nent parts, and cer­tain­ly that would be true. Such is not my goal. My goal is to ask and hope­ful­ly answer a very sim­ple ques­tion: What does it mean to be a man?

How can a male per­son become a man… become the ide­al man… become the man he is meant to be? Who is more man­ly, Chester­ton or Chuck Nor­ris? Who is clos­er to the ide­al of man­hood, Ram­bo or the Holy Father?

Since this is a homi­ly and not a film review, you’ve prob­a­bly guessed the answer already. But, why is that the case? It’s very sim­ply: cat­e­chism 101. We are cre­at­ed to know God, to love God, and to serve God in this life and to be with Him for­ev­er in heav­en. And how do the males of our species attain this? By becom­ing the ide­al man – a catholic man. And what does the word “catholic” mean? It means uni­ver­sal.

We become ide­al men by becom­ing uni­ver­sal men. And who is the exem­plar of uni­ver­sal man­hood? We know, of course, the answer… it’s Jesus Christ.

A boy becomes the man he will be by imi­ta­tion. He sees the behav­ior of men he respects, and he mod­els that behav­ior. It could be his father or grand­fa­ther, uncles, teach­ers, scout lead­ers… men sit­ting in the pews at church. This isn’t a process that has to end with child­hood. We learn behav­ior from the com­mu­ni­ties of which we are a part. If you spend your time in a seedy bar, you will learn seedy behav­ior. If you spend your time with crim­i­nals, you will learn to com­mit crimes. If you spend your time with sin­ners, your heart will turn to sin.

But if you spend your time with saints, you will learn to be a saint. So, we men should all spend all our time at church, because that’s where you find the saints, right? Hmm… Per­haps…. But per­haps not. If only it were that sim­ple.

Man­hood comes with a warn­ing, and the warn­ing is twofold. First, men: guard your behav­ior, because oth­ers are watch­ing you. They are not watch­ing to judge you. They are watch­ing to learn from you. Be absolute­ly cer­tain that the exam­ple you give them by they way you live your life is a wor­thy mod­el to give. Your sal­va­tion depends on it, and so does the sal­va­tion of your sons, your nephews, even men who are new to a com­mu­ni­ty of which you are a part. Nev­er get­ting a sec­ond chance to make a first impres­sion pales in com­par­i­son to repeat­ed­ly mak­ing the wrong impres­sion. We lead and we teach less by our words and more by our exam­ple and we owe it to those who watch us to be worth watch­ing.

Sec­ond, men: guard your hearts and guard your minds. Be care­ful what you set them on, and make sure what you do set them on is wor­thy of the King­dom of Heav­en. Life isn’t a rehearsal; it isn’t a prac­tice run. You get one shot to become the man you are meant to be. Make cer­tain that man is one who Our Lord will wel­come into His King­dom at the end of your life, because if you don’t you have utter­ly failed as a man.

Gen­tle­men, I’ll dou­ble down on that one: work out your own sal­va­tion with fear and trem­bling or face the fact that you have utter­ly failed to become a man. Male souls in hell are a mere mock­ery of man­hood; you are des­tined for so much more.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the ide­al man – the per­fect man – the uni­ver­sal man, and he was meek and hum­ble of heart. But at the same time, he stood up for what is right, refus­ing to let the mon­ey­chang­ers in the Tem­ple go unchal­lenged. He is a man of per­fect patience; He wants what is best for oth­ers, and He helps them real­ize that. And, of course, He is a man of great courage and prin­ci­ple. He lived and He died for what He knew to be true so that you and I could come to believe.

Gen­tle­men, that is the man that you and I are called to be. For our eter­nal good and for the good of those we love, we can afford to be noth­ing less. So, walk with Our Lord and walk with those who love Him; become like Him, and teach oth­ers to do the same.

There are some who say our world has gone ter­ri­ble astray. I don’t know if that’s true, but I know if it is then it is your fault and it is my fault, because that is what we were will­ing to set­tle for. I also know that if it’s going to get bet­ter, it’s you and it’s me who are going to make it bet­ter, because we will accept noth­ing less. We lift our­selves up and we lift up our sons, our broth­ers, and – some­times – even our fathers, because that is what a man does… a real man… a uni­ver­sal man. And, gen­tle­men, that is pre­cise­ly what we are des­tined to be.

Homily for The Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

And Mary kept all these things, reflect­ing on them in her heart.

What does it mean to be the moth­er of God? How do you become the Moth­er of God? What does that even mean?

Let’s start with what we mean when we say, “the Moth­er of God.” Mary, a girl prob­a­bly from Tzip­pori, near Nazareth, was born in the first cen­tu­ry BC and was a Galilean Jew. She was the daugh­ter of Joachim and Anne. She was betrothed to Joseph but before they lived togeth­er – as a vir­gin – she con­ceived by the pow­er of the Holy Spir­it and, in Beth­le­hem, gave birth to Jesus, the Son of God and the Third Per­son of the Holy Trin­i­ty. Jesus if ful­ly God and ful­ly man.

As Jesus is God, Mary – His moth­er – is the Moth­er of God, the Theotokos, the most mer­i­to­ri­ous saint and a woman unique­ly select­ed for the role of Moth­er of God since before time began. When we say Mary is the Moth­er of God, we affirm Mary’s moth­er­hood of Jesus and Our Lord’s sta­tus as ful­ly God. To deny either is heresy, so don’t do that, Mary is the Moth­er of God.

And how did Mary become the Moth­er of God? It’s not like that’s a job that shows up in the news­pa­per. No, she was select­ed by God and her­self immac­u­late­ly con­ceived through the mer­it of Jesus Christ to pre­pare the way for Christ: to pre­pare the per­fect taber­na­cle to hold Our Lord before His birth at Beth­le­hem. But beyond select­ed, she agreed; that’s very impor­tant. She agreed know­ing that there could and would be con­se­quences.

What if Joseph didn’t accept that the child was from God? What if she was stoned to death for being an unwed moth­er? What if she was reject­ed and dri­ven away from her home? The list of what-if’s goes on and on. But Mary didn’t do a cost-ben­e­fit study. She didn’t make a list of pros and cons. She didn’t even hes­i­tate as long as it has tak­en me to describe this brief out­line of what she had to fear if she agreed.

She agreed. And why? Because she trust­ed in God. Mary believed in God’s good­ness and she trust­ed in His prov­i­dence. God asked; she agreed, because that is what you do when you have the right rela­tion­ship with God. You fol­low what he has planned for you.

And that, real­ly, is a very impor­tant les­son we can learn from Mary: God calls all of us to fol­low the path He has laid out for us. We should all strive to be like Mary and fol­low that path with­out hes­i­ta­tion, with­out stop­ping to weigh the pros and the cons, and – most impor­tant­ly – with­out fear. God has a plan for each an every one of us, and that plan is what is absolute­ly best for us. No one of us can come up with a bet­ter plan than what God has already made. I promise you that.

And how do we know what God is call­ing us to? Well, we could wait for the Archangel Gabriel to show up and tell us direct­ly. But that could be a long wait. Besides, you don’t real­ly want an Archangel show­ing up at your house and pro­claim­ing God’s mes­sage to you direct­ly; that’s ter­ri­fy­ing. I don’t care what you may have seen in the movies or on tv, scrip­ture makes clear that encoun­ters with the angel­ic are fright­en­ing.

A far less fright­en­ing way is this: lis­ten. If that doesn’t work, then lis­ten bet­ter. Put away the phone, turn off the tele­vi­sion and the radio, park the car. Skip the Chiefs’ game. Sur­round your­self with qui­et and with still­ness. Take time – take as long as it takes – and real­ly, real­ly lis­ten. Put your­self in the pres­ence of God and be ready to hear Him.

Lis­ten­ing can start with prayer, and it should. Let me give you an exam­ple: in the months before I was ordained a dea­con, I was won­der­ing how to be the best dea­con I could be. Not the best dea­con in the world; just the best I could be. I knew God was call­ing me to the dia­conate, but I didn’t real­ly know what came next… what would hap­pen after my nose hit the mar­ble and the bish­op ordained me.

So I was sit­ting here in the church in ado­ra­tion before the Blessed Sacra­ment and I asked sim­ply this: “God, how can I be the best dea­con I can be?”

Then I stopped talk­ing. I didn’t offer sug­ges­tions. I didn’t think about what oth­er dea­cons do. I didn’t pon­der the pos­si­bil­i­ties. I shut up, and I wait­ed. And that time I didn’t have to wait long, though that is not always the case. God gave me an answer, just as clear­ly as if it had been deliv­ered by an Archangel. It wasn’t the answer I expect­ed; it wasn’t an answer I under­stood imme­di­ate­ly. Like Mary, I had to keep God’s answer in my heart and pon­der it, strug­gling with it until I under­stood what God was telling me. And I am still in a process of com­ing to under­stand.

And what did God tell me? That’s not the impor­tant part here; this isn’t about me. The answer I received is not the answer you will receive any more than the ques­tion I asked is the ques­tion you will ask. The vital thing is to ask, and to be ready to hear the answer. And, like Mary, to say ‘Yes’ to God, who desires only good things for us.

We all have a call­ing and a mis­sion. Mary was called to be the Moth­er of God. I am called to a min­istry of ser­vice. Per­haps you know what you are called to; per­haps you are still dis­cern­ing. Regard­less, it is good to check in – even if you do know – and to take time with God and to just ask, and to be ready to wait and lis­ten for the answer… to be ready to be giv­en the next step, the next mis­sion, the next goal, the next assign­ment.

Final­ly, devel­op a rela­tion­ship with Mary. Pray with her. Ask her to inter­cede for you, to help you become a mod­el of Chris­t­ian virtue: of puri­ty, chasti­ty, and obe­di­ence. Ask her to show you how to trust in the Lord not just as far as feels safe, but total­ly… to trust in God not as far as soci­ety approves, but com­plete­ly. Be wild. Be a rad­i­cal: just like Mary.