Homily for Sunday, October 25, 2015

10/25/2015

Never despair of God’s mercy! God’s love knows no bounds. He does not seek to punish us; He does not desire our destruction. He does not cast us away from Him or curse us.

In today’s first reading, we hear the great prophet Jeremiah calling out to the people of Israel, who are exiled from their land and are captive in Babylon. At first glance, it might seem that God has indeed cast away the Israelites. We hear Jeremiah telling them that the Lord will gather the remnant and bring them back to the Promised Land.

Many think that the Babylonian Exile was punishment for Israel’s disobedience and idolatry. I disagree with this view. It seems much more a case of an event – even a tragic event – being allowed to happen not because it was a punitive action but because it was a medicinal correction. God sought not to punish, but to cure.

Idolatry and disobedience had, indeed, taken hold of much of Israel. It was a sickness that had to be removed for the good of the whole body, less the entire body of Israel die from it. Is a doctor who removes a diseased organ cruel?

Of course not! He is very merciful in the way that God is merciful. If one were in the business of second-guessing God – a business I do not recommend – one might ask why the disease wasn’t removed sooner. The answer – both in terms of salvation history as seen in the people of Israel during their exile and in terms of our own personal salvation – is very much the same.

God desires our salvation, and He gives us what we need to respond to His grace so that our salvation may be realized. However, He does not force that upon us. We are still free and we should act responsibly. The perfect love of God presupposes that we will use our capacity for wisdom and reflection to make good choices and that we will exercise our free will to select that which is best for our own good. This is true for us as individuals and it is true for us as a parish community, as a civil community, and as a national community… just as it was true for ancient Israel as a people.

For us today, in a very real and concrete way, this means we have both God-given rights and God-given responsibilities. We have the right to exercise our free will and we have the responsibility to do so in a manner that follows from a wise and careful understanding of what our authentic good is, both personally and within a community. In other words, since God lets us make choices we are obligated to make the best choices possible. We must do the good and reject the evil. What’s more, we must do that for ourselves and to the maximum degree that is possible within our individual circumstance, we must do it for the communities in which we find ourselves.

The first and most important community in which we find ourselves is the family. Some families are healthy; some less so. The healthiest families are those in which every member is doing his or her best to advance the family… to make being a part of that family a pleasure and not a burden.

In the family, everyone has a choice: they can be satisfied with the status quo. They can keep doing what they’ve always done and they can keep getting what they’ve always gotten. This might be a good thing if the family is healthy and ideal. If not, then it might not be a good thing.

Of course, a person also has the ability to choose to do nothing to make the family better. A person could even actively choose to try to make someone else in the family miserable. In these cases, the health of the family is likely to suffer and everyone will be worse off, including and especially the person who chooses to not seek the best way.

Ideally, a person chooses to seek ways to improve the family for everyone. None of us, I expect, live in a perfect family. There is always room for improvement, and so we should all be working to the best of our individual abilities to improve our families. Yes; the father of the family has more responsibilities for this than the youngest baby, but everyone has rights and responsibilities to the family community – even the youngest members. Even if they are an infant capable of doing nothing other than being taken care of, that in itself is an action proper to their state. It gives other family members the opportunity to demonstrate their love and their own maturity when they care for that infant. Besides, in time that infant will likely grow to maturity and have a family of his or her own; their time will come.

God’s love for us is such that we are equipped with the tools we need to make our communities – our worlds – a better place. God doesn’t send us out poorly prepared and ill equipped to do what we need to do. He sends us out with His grace and His love; He gives us a perfect model in Christ. He sets us on the path and calls us to walk it, and He gives us the grace we need to do so. We are blessed abundantly.

Just as we are called to work for the good of our family community, so are we called to work for the good of the other communities in which we find ourselves: our parish community, our city community, our state and our national communities. Even the world is, in its own way, a community in which we find ourselves. Are each of us called to change the world, to make it a better place? Yes, though the way in which we do that varies widely depending on our state in life. Not all of us can be the President of the United States or the Secretary General of the United Nations. But all of us can carry the Gospel to all of the places we go, and in so doing help fulfill the commandment to spread the Good News to all peoples and lands.

We should look for ways to make all of our worlds — all of our communities —better than they have been before, because this is the response God’s love demands. When we pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we should not let these be empty words. We should be actively working to bring about that reality in all of the places we find ourselves, because that is an honest reflection of God’s love and a wise response in love to what God gives us.

Let us always pray for wisdom and discernment so that we can see the many, many ways in which we are called to make our communities a better place where the love of God and the fellowship of man is apparent to all. Let us always remember that the world is not transformed so much by the action of a few who are mighty, but by the vast multitude seeking the good of all in their individual lives and circumstances.

Homily for Wednesday, October 14, 2015

“You, O man, are without excuse, every one of you who passes judgment. For by the standard by which you judge another you condemn yourself.” These words come from Paul’s letter to the Romans, and they very closely echo Our Savior’s own words in the beginning of the seventh chapter of the Gospel of Matthew: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”

These are, I do not doubt, some of the most favorite passages in the Bible among those who need to seriously rethink their life choices but are stubbornly refusing to do so. Am I judging? No; I’m stating a fact.

“Don’t judge me, man. It’s not very Christian.” Sounds both whiney and judgmental, doesn’t it?

Does Our Lord really command us not to use prudence? Does Our Lord really command that we look the other way when we see bad behavior? Christ in fact said that He did not come to judge the world, this is true. He also said immediately following that statement that there is one who will judge.

The simple fact is, we are all judged. The Four Last Things are these: death, judgment, heaven and hell. You will see three of them. Whether the third one is heaven or it is hell depends on the grace of God and on the judgments you make.

Our Lord commands that we condemn no one, and indeed we should not. We lack the perfect wisdom and perfect justice of God; we are in no way equipped to condemn a person. However, we are blessed with sufficient wisdom and justice to judge actions… to make prudential decisions as to whether a given action is right or it is wrong. And we certainly have the ability to set a standard to which those who want to be a part of society must adhere or risk being rejected by that society.

The Lord’s command not to judge is not a pass for bad behavior. Those who would make it such are the very people warned that by their stubbornness and impenitent hearts are storing up wrath for themselves on the day of judgment. Do not condemn your brothers and sisters, for we all are sinners. But do not allow their souls to be lost, either, by looking the other way and pretending not to see bad behavior.

Homily for Sunday, September 13, 2015 – the 24th in Ordinary Time

September 13, 2015

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?”

There are those who want to divide faith and works; there are those who want to claim that we are saved by faith alone. But, is this claim Biblical? Is this claim based on the firm foundation of Holy Scripture?

The very fact that this is addressed so directly in the Bible is evidence that this is not a new claim. If it had not been an issue in Biblical times, it would not have made it into the Biblical narrative. And so we all should ask, can a person be saved by faith alone?

James doesn’t seem to think so, and so we would do well to pay careful heed to what this author of Scripture has written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

James follows his first question with a second: Can that faith save him?

It would be nice if the answer to that question was a simple, “Yes.” But the next question James asks of his readers makes it clear that the answer is not so simple: “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?”

What good is it? Absolutely none at all. Absolutely none. To merely wish someone well, or even to have a genuine concern for their well-being if you do nothing to help them is no good whatsoever. No real love of Jesus allows room for denying someone with a genuine need when you have the means to help.

And James tells us so when he writes, “So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

Faith without works is dead. We are not saved by faith alone. We are saved by Christ alone. We are saved by Christ, and Him crucified for our sins. Faith doesn’t get us into heaven. Jesus does. We are able to attain heaven only because Jesus loves us and we love Him in return. And the love of Christ compels us to good works in His Holy Name.

No amount of faith can compel God to allow us into heaven. It is impossible to have faith enough to make God beholding to us.

Now, to be certain, it is equally impossible to merit heaven through our works. It doesn’t matter how much of a social justice crusader a person is — it doesn’t matter if a person seeks to right every wrong and eliminate every injustice — no one earns his way into heaven. That is simply not possible.

We are not saved by faith. We are not saved by works. We are saved by Jesus Christ, and in Jesus Christ faith and works are united into one reality to which each one of us is called.

True faith demands the love of Christ and the love of Christ demands good works. If we lack works, we lack love… and no amount of faith can fill that void. If we lack faith, we lack Christ… and no amount of good works can fill that void.

There was a photograph that made the social media rounds recently that showed a billboard paid for by an atheist group that claimed you don’t have to believe in God to be good. It encouraged people to “be good for goodness’ sake.” And I suppose they are right, as far as it goes. You don’t have to believe in God to do good. Even a blind pig gets an acorn once in a while.

But — and this is very important — without a firm belief in God you can do good all day long, and there will still be an emptiness at the core of your being. This is unavoidable. We’re human, and as such we are made in the likeness and image of God. We long for God. We can deny that; we can avoid it. We can try to mask that need with drugs or diversions. We can chase after endless false gods. But in the end, all of that will disappoint. Without a true love of God, there is an emptiness in us that cannot be filled.

The Catechism tells us that, “Faith is both a theological virtue given by God as grace, and an obligation which flows from the first commandment of God.” Faith is both a gift from God and a human act. However, faith does not originate in us; it originates from God and from us responding to His call. Works also come from responding to His call. The two are inseparable.

James makes this clear when he writes, “Indeed someone might say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.”

You can’t have one without the other. Faith without works is like trying to hold red. You can’t. You can certainly hold a red object, but it is impossible to have a handful of red.

On the other hand, good works without true faith become a quagmire of relativism and misguided intention. Certainly, no human being is equipped to be the ultimate arbiter of what is right and what is wrong… what is bad and what is good. The wrong belief that we are somehow capable of that is at the core of Original Sin… and yet in our hubris it is a mistake we keep on making. Without God as the ultimate authority, humans are quite capable of calling evil good and good evil. We see that all the time in the world around us.

Finally — let’s be completely honest —good works can (and should!) sometimes take us out of our comfort zone. It can be downright frightening to work on behalf of the poor, the marginalized, the sick, the refugee, those suffering from mental illness, those suffering from addiction, and others in true need. There is a reason they are pushed to the margins, and that reason is they scare people. It is very human to fear what we do not understand, and yet faith calls us to the realization that those on the margin of society are really very much like us: children of God made in His image, just like us. They simply have needs that we do not have, and once we see them with the eyes of faith, we are very capable of helping them to meet those needs.

If true faith was easy, everyone would be doing it. Let us all pray for ample opportunities to demonstrate our faith by our works and to meet those in need, with hands and hearts open in friendship to our brothers and sisters.

Homily for Sunday, August 23, 2015 – the 21st in Ordinary Time

multiplication-of-loaves-and-fishes-c-osseman

In today’s Gospel, we come to the climax of the Bread of Life discourse. Last Sunday, we heard Jesus tell the crowd, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”

There are many ways to eat. If one were invited to eat cucumber and watercress sandwiches with the Queen of England at teatime, one would eat in a radically different way than if one had not eaten in three days and was dropped off at Arthur Bryants with a pocketful of twenties. In the first case, you would be more concerned with how to hold your pinkie. In the second case, you would be more concerned with not biting it off.

The word Christ uses for “eat” is tr?g?. In ancient Greek, it meant to gnaw or to devour. It was used in reference to how wild animals eat. He was stressing to His listeners that He wasn’t speaking in merely spiritual terms, but was in fact linking the spiritual with the flesh. You get your face in there and you eat Christ’s flesh and you drink His blood, or you are not alive.

And so we come to today’s reading. It is little surprise when considered in terms of the world that His listeners would respond, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” This is a very human response. We would be shocked if they had responded, “Grab your knives, boys. It looks like Jesus is on the menu.”

In our preaching for the last three weeks as we have heard the Bread of Life discourse, Father and I have both stressed the reality of the Eucharist as the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. And today’s reading is the crux of it. The disciples rejects His teaching because it is too hard for them to bear; Jesus does not chase after them. He does not reassure them. He does not try to explain His teaching in easier terms to keep them. He lets them leave.

His response to them is one that links the Spirit and the flesh: “It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.” Flesh is made and remade; it replaces itself, and it can be replaced by God in its perfected form at our resurrection from the dead, just as it was in Christ when He rose from the dead. It is the spirit that is eternal. It is the spirit that is unchanging in the physical realm, because it has no being in the physical realm. It is, in its nature, spiritual, and that is the source of our life. We transcend mere biology and are creatures of flesh and blood and spirit and life – I would even go so far as to say soul and divinity, for we certainly possess both as gifts from God. Certainly, we are not God; we do not possess the totality of divinity, but we have the spark of it given to us by God. We are the union of both because we are made in the image of God, and it is for this reason that we can receive both from Christ in the Eucharist.

The skeptic here might say, “If that is true – if it’s really that simple – why didn’t Christ just explain that to them?”

The answer is simple. The disciples who heard Christ speak did not have a crisis of understanding of the nature of the Eucharist. That is a problem we have today. Our Lord had not instituted the Eucharist yet. That would happen at the Last Supper. In the Bread of Life discourse, Jesus is laying the groundwork for a much deeper understanding. He doesn’t expect that His disciples will have that understanding yet. It is a hard teaching, but Christ helps us through it. He gives us the eyes to see and the heart to understand, if only we open our eyes and soften our hearts to the teaching of Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

Christ lets His disciples leave not because they have a crisis of understanding, but because they have a crisis of faith. He tells them point blank what they must believe, and they are unwilling to believe it. Tr?g? on that the next time you’re tempted to say, “Sure – I’m a Catholic, but I disagree with the Church on <fill-in-the-blank>.”

As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him. They lack faith and they abandon the truth. Probably, some went on to become Gnostics, the Jehovah’s Witnesses of the ancient world. Heresy is always easier than orthodoxy because you get to make it up to suit your own desires.

Many disciples leave and Our Lord goes to His apostles. You can imagine His voice heavy with pain… with disappointment… with loss. He has just seen many of His followers abandon Him because they cannot believe. He says to His apostles, “Do you also want to leave?”

Simon Peter is often teased today by those who say he usually “didn’t get it.” He is, sadly, sometimes made out to be something of a clown stumbling his way through Holy Scripture. I disagree. The response Simon Peter makes to Our Lord are the words of a man who profoundly gets it. They are the words of a man of deep faith, one with the courage to say to God, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

These are the words of a deep and abiding faith. These are the words of a man who can weather hard teachings in faith because he understands that there is another side to the hard teachings and he knows that in God, all is at work for our good. Our Lord would never give us a hard teaching because He wants to watch us suffer. He gives us a hard teaching because He wants us to be better than we were before… because He wants us to be the creatures He made us to be: creatures of flesh and spirit… creatures of body, blood, soul, and – yes – the spark of divinity.

And how does He accomplish this? By letting us become what we consume in the Holy Eucharist.

The teachings of Holy Mother Church are not random. They do not drop out of a void. All of them come from God and all are meant for our good. And they all should be accepted in faith. Every single one of us – every person who ever was or who ever will be – has the choice: he can accept the truth, live the truth, and let the truth transform him… or he can turn his back and walk away, attempting to remake the truth in his own image. Ultimately, of course, he ends up far from the truth, alone and adrift.

But even then, there is still hope. Even Simon Peter had his own crisis of faith when Christ was taken before the Sanhedrin. But Peter realized he was fleeing from the truth, and he returned to Christ and begged forgiveness for his error. There is always a path back.

Let us pray always for the courage to respond in faith and not from doubt. Let us pray for the grace to make our faith strong and for the wisdom to see the errors behind our doubts. But most of all, let us pray for the eyes to see the Truth to which we are called and to realize that the only way to the Truth is through Jesus Christ Himself, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Homily for Wednesday, August 19, 2015

What does God owe us? Today’s Gospel reading speaks very much to that question. Does God owe those who love Him longer more than those who come to Him late? Do deacons get a bigger halo than your average layperson?

Clearly not. One might argue that it’s not fair that those who worked an entire day for the landowner got paid the same amount as those who worked only a few hours. In the words of my dear father, a truly wise and patient man – and words that I heard on numerous occasions as I was growing up, I might add, “Not fair? What idiot told you life is fair?”

The truth is, God owes us nothing. We are the ones who owe God, and we owe Him everything. Considering the size of our debt, He really asks very little of us. Our job here on earth is to know God, to love God and to serve God. Our goal – the goal He calls us to – is to be with Him forever in heaven. That is the goal for everyone.

If one person works his entire life toward that goal… if he dedicates his every moment toward becoming a saint, and God accepts him into heaven at the end of his life, there is cause for rejoicing. If another person thinks very little about God throughout most of his life, but toward the end comes to God, repents of his former ways, and at the end of his life earns the reward of heaven, there is also cause for rejoicing. In both cases, the reward is equal. In both cases, the cause for rejoicing is equal. It would be unjust of the first person to think that he was in some way cheated – they have both been given the same reward, the only reward, and the reward that is offered to all not as something that is our due, but as something that should be our life’s goal.

Nevertheless, though the reward is the same, be the first person. If you make knowing God, loving God, and serving God central to your life, you will have no cause for disappointment later… no cause for shame for a misspent life and missed opportunities. No cause for sadness at the realization of what might have been. The joy of knowing and loving God and dedicating your life to His service is a reward in its own right, because it is the path that leads to peace and wisdom in this life and the beatific vision in the next.

Homily for Sunday, 2 August 2015 – 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

woman-at-the-well

Consider the Woman at the Well. We read about her in the Gospel of John, two chapters before today’s reading. She encounters Christ privately, as an individual. Our Lord tells her of the living water come down from heaven, and that if she drinks this water she will never thirst. The woman says to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Today, Christ tells a crowd of people about the Bread of Heaven, given by the Father. He tells them, “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

This crowd, meeting Christ publicly as a group, responds very much like the Woman at the Well. They ask of Our Lord, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Then Christ makes a statement very much like the earlier statement made to the Woman at the Well. He tells them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

How is this possible? Because Jesus Christ is God. There have been many misunderstandings of Christ’s divinity throughout the ages. The most common one today is the false belief that Jesus was a good man and a good teacher, but that He was not really God. Some even go so far as to state that Jesus never claimed to be God, but that was added to the narrative later.

Clearly, those understandings are wrong. There are two possibilities: Jesus is who he claimed to be, God incarnate, or else Jesus lied to us. I, for one, will not and cannot accept that Jesus lied about anything, most especially not about His nature or His role as our savior. It is not in the nature of the divine to lie.

So, we have the Woman at the Well meeting God singly and a crowd meeting God collectively. Both the individual and the group want the same thing: to be given what Christ has to offer, to have their spiritual needs met, to be shown the path to eternal life and to be given the aid needed to follow that path. And so the people of the Bible have the same needs and wants as we have today, both as individuals and collectively as a group.

And, so how do we have these needs met? By mighty deeds? By bringing about the Kingdom of God on earth?

No. We come to Jesus, for Our Lord Himself says that whoever, “comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

And how do we come to Jesus? We encounter Him in His Word, in Holy Scripture. We encounter Him in His Church — the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. We encounter Him in those around us, who, like ourselves, were made in the likeness and image of God and who through the dignity of their Christian baptism are made sons and daughters of God by adoption. We encounter Him in the Mass, and most especially in the Holy Eucharist.

The Holy Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is not metaphor; this is reality. I had my belief in the True Presence challenged one time by someone who thought that if I truly believed in transubstantiation – that the bread and wine becomes the Body and Blood of Christ – that I would be unable to approach the consecrated host, much less consume it. That if I thought the Eucharist was really an encounter with God, I would be able to do nothing other than throw myself down before Him and tremble.

And this would be a reasonable argument, except it completely misunderstands both my nature and God’s. This argument assumes I come by force of will and take God. This assumption is false. It also assumes God does not desire our salvation. This assumption is also false.

The truth is I come sinful and sorrowful to receive Our Lord and desire to be made well. God, who desires my salvation, lifts me to Him and grants me the dignity to receive Him. I am truly not worthy to receive Him, but He needs only to say the word and I will be healed. It is not I who initiates Communion; I do not reach into heaven and take God. It is God who initiates Communion by coming down from heaven, searching for me. And searching for you. And searching for every man, woman, and child on this planet. We need only to come to Him, and we will never hunger. We need only to believe in Him, and we will never thirst.

This is also why we have perpetual Eucharistic Adoration here at Lourdes. The real question isn’t how can you approach God for communion; the real question is this: how can you stand not to be in His presence? Sure — the act of believing in Him can be done anywhere and at all times and it should be! But the act of coming to Him involves getting up and going to Him.

We, as Catholics, are required to attend Mass every week. To purposefully and intentionally miss Mass is a mortal sin. More importantly, though, we — as Catholics desiring salvation and eternal union with God — should desire to come to Mass every week so that we can encounter Our Lord in His Word and in the Holy Eucharist.

Shouldn’t we, for the same reason, all be spending at least an hour each week in Adoration? If we truly desire to spend eternity with God, would it not be wise to start with an hour a week now?

The Holy Eucharist is Christ present Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. What greater gift could there possibly be from God, who desires our salvation? We need only to believe and to come to Him. We need only to answer His call, which is made in love and made with the desire for our salvation. We can come to Him collectively, which we do when we come to Mass and we can come to him singly, as we do in Adoration. We should be coming to Him both ways; the Bible, which is our guide in faith, tells us of fruitful encounters with Him by both individuals and groups… both formally and informally. Let us pray always for the gift of faith, so that we may hear His call, believe, and come to Him.

Eucharistic-Adoration

Homily for Wednesday, July 29, 2015 – Feast of St. Martha

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Today is the Feast of St. Martha, a memorial on the Church’s calendar, and the day we commemorate Martha, the sister of Mary and of Lazarus, and who is remembered for being a bit of a worry-wart. The Bible tells us that when Christ visited their home, Martha busied herself with cooking, and serving, and doing all of the things that a person has to do when hosting a party. Mary, on the other hand, sat and listened to Jesus. Martha, understandably, was a smidge put out and thought that her sister should be helping with the housework. However, when she appealed to Jesus in hopes that He would send Mary to help, she was told “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Harold_Copping_Jesus_at_the_home_of_Martha_and_Mary_400This seems like a good time to remind that at Our Lady of Lourdes, we are learning to get over ourselves.

Yes; Martha was anxious and worried about many things. But that is not all of her story. She was also a woman of profound faith and insight. When her brother Lazarus died, understood that if Jesus had been there, He could have healed her brother. She tells this to Jesus, and He tells her that her brother will rise. Then she speaks words of profound insight: “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” This is a statement of faith; it is one that would not have been as universally accepted then as it is now. There were sects of Judaism that did not believe in life after death.

Recognizing her faith, Christ tells her something amazing: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and anyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

I am the resurrection and the life, Church of St Lazarus, Bethany

Then Christ asks her simply if she believes Him, and she says, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”

We should all pray for the faith of Martha, who believed in the Christ and was rewarded for her faith. We should all pray for the grace to see Our Lord as He truly is: the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who came into the world for our salvation.

Mary-Martha-Lazarus

Homily for the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene

July 22, 2015

Appearance of Jesus Christ to Mary of Magdala  by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov, 1860

After Christ is crucified and laid in the tomb, Mary Magdalene goes in search of Him. She finds Our Lord’s body is not in the tomb, and so she does what any good Catholic would do in this situation – she goes to the Church and asks. Peter and John – the leader of the Church and the apostle with the deepest theological insight – are not able to help her, and she returns to the empty tomb.

At the tomb as she is weeping for her lost Lord, she encounters two angels – emissaries of heaven itself. Even these cannot console her; her one concern is that they have taken her Lord and she cannot find Him.

Then Jesus Himself comes to her, but at first she does not recognize Him. She thinks He is a man charged with maintaining the grounds; she offers to take away Christ’s body, even though she has no real plan for what she will do after that. Not that it matters; the only thing that matters to her is Our Lord’s body, and that it be given the respect it deserves.

Finally, at Christ’s call, she recognizes Him. She is called; she rejoices; she is given a mission and sent. This is the Christian life in its entirety. This is what happens to each and every one of us. We long for the Lord, but we do not know where to find Him. Until we do find Him, nothing on earth or in heaven can console us or take His place. Once we do find Him, we have cause to rejoice.

But rejoicing is not enough; there is a step beyond that, and in that step we take up the mission our God gives us and we go forth, carrying His message and helping others to find Him. Let us pray always for the grace to find Jesus and to let Him be active in our lives, so that we may go forth proclaiming, like the Magdalene, that we have found the Lord and are sharing His gospel message.

Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 12, 2015

In today’s Gospel, Jesus sends His disciples forth on a mission; they go with nothing but a walking stick and they go to preach repentance. They carry no money; they carry no food or provisions. They don’t even take a change of clothes.

Now, I ask you: If I were to come to your house and ask food, lodging, and laundry service and what you get in return is being told you need to change your ways and come closer to Jesus, would you welcome me? Some would. Some would not. The message of repentance is sometimes not an easy one to hear.

It’s not an easy one to deliver, either. We all want to be liked; I’m no exception. If I tell you to repent… to change your ways… well, you might decide you don’t want to hear that. You might become angry at me for telling you that. Sometimes a message is a hard one to hear and accept, and it is easy to blame the messenger. It takes nothing on the part of the one casting the blame beyond an easy mustering of indignation and an overdeveloped love of self. On the other hand, it takes real humility and wisdom to hear a hard message – one that maybe hits uncomfortably close to home – and if not welcome that message, at least give it consideration and perhaps allow it to work a change for the good in your life.

I have kept my mouth largely shut, at least in the public sphere, over the last several weeks, but I have listened very carefully as a debate has raged in our nation over a recent Supreme Court decision. I imagine you probably know the one I mean. Now, however, I would like to take a few minutes to remind all of us what Holy Mother Church teaches regarding marriage.

Catechism_210x318The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us a very clear, simple definition of what marriage is: “MARRIAGE: A covenant or partnership of life between a man and woman, which is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children. When validly contracted between two baptized people, marriage is a sacrament.”

The important points here are these four: first, marriage is sacramental. Second, the purpose of marriage is twofold: the good of the spouses and the procreation and raising of children. Third, marriage is a lifelong commitment. And fourth, marriage is between a man and a woman. Our society has challenged and, to one degree or another, rejected every one of these four points. Acceptance of divorce as a means to dissolve marriage rejects the notion of a lifelong commitment. Legal recognition of invalidly contracted unions rejects the sacramentality of marriage. Acceptance of cohabitation rejects the well-being of the spouses as an end of marriage. Acceptance of contraception and abortion rejects the procreation and raising of children as an end of marriage. And, of course, the recent Supreme Court decision and the acceptance of that decision by the public-at-large rejects the fact that true marriage is between a man and a woman. Rejection of a truth does not make that truth any less true; it simply makes the one doing the rejecting wrong.

Canon-lawThe Church’s Code of Canon Law, the set of rules and canons by which our Catholic Church is governed, states in canon 1055, paragraphs 1 and 2 that, “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized. For this reason, a valid matrimonial contract cannot exist between the baptized without it being by that fact a sacrament.”

Notice that the Code restates (although in slightly more technical language) everything that the Catechism teaches, but it stresses even more the sacramentality of marriage. It goes so far as to state that if a marriage is valid, it is by its nature sacramental. Invalid marriages are not truly marriages, and a marriage is invalid if it does not meet the criteria presented in both the Catechism and the Code.

Now, it would be a mistake at this point to conclude that the Catholic Church has its understanding of marriage and civil society has its understanding of marriage and that the root of the problem is nothing more than using the same word to refer to two vastly different institutions. Listen to what the Church’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World adds to the Church’s teaching on marriage: “The intimate partnership of married life and love has been established by the Creator and qualified by His laws, and is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent. Hence by that human act whereby spouses mutually bestow and accept each other a relationship arises which by divine will and in the eyes of society too is a lasting one. For the good of the spouses and their off-springs as well as of society, the existence of the sacred bond no longer depends on human decisions alone. For, God Himself is the author of matrimony, endowed as it is with various benefits and purposes. All of these have a very decisive bearing on the continuation of the human race, on the personal development and eternal destiny of the individual members of a family, and on the dignity, stability, peace and prosperity of the family itself and of human society as a whole.”

matrimony

In this, the Church is going beyond the ends and purpose of marriage as they relate to the individual man and woman and emphasizing the importance of marriage to our society as a whole. Marriage is not the result of humans willing it; marriage is entirely the domain of God. Proper marriage brings dignity, stability, and peace not just to the married couple but to society as a whole. On the other hand, perversions of God’s plan for matrimony damage the dignity, stability, and peace not just of those in the invalid marriage but of society as a whole.

The family is the foundation of society. Strong families result in a strong society. Marriage is the foundation of the family. The family can only be strong and in its turn, society can only be strong when the society’s understanding of marriage is strong. There are many, many factors today eroding our society’s understanding of what makes a strong marriage: cohabitation, contraception, abortion, divorce and remarriage, and, of course, so-called marriages between anyone but one man and one woman. Every one of these contributes to the problem. Every one of these erodes the family and damages society.

The path we are on as a society is not a healthy one, and this should be a concern to each one of us who claims the role of follower of Christ. We are not called to be right all of the time; we are called to uphold in love the Church’s teaching and to work in charity for what is right. By doing that, we work for our own good and that of our neighbor.

There is one last very important point I want to absolutely stress: Maybe you have close friends who are divorced and remarried. Maybe you have a child who uses contraception. Maybe you know someone who is hurting from an abortion who has confided in you. Maybe you or your children cohabitated before marriage or continue to do so. I, myself, have a very dear friend whose marriage is now recognized as legal in the state in which she lives where only a few weeks ago it was not. What do we do about these people?

We love them, of course. Nothing more. Certainly nothing less. People are not the problem. People are the solution. Attitudes are the problem. Acceptance of wrong behavior is as damaging as the wrong behavior itself because both allow the wrong behavior to flourish. In the weeks leading up to the wedding of a very dear friend of mine, Katei and I were discussing the fact that we though he was rushing into things. That he was not ready for the commitment he was making. That the marriage would end sadly. One of our nieces, then in her early 20s, overheard us and commented in all earnesty, “Well, at least it’s only his first marriage.”

Changing wrong attitudes and changing wrong understandings is a work of charity and it cannot be approached successfully in any other way. Let us pray always for the grace to love all people and to realize that no person’s sins are unforgivable and that no person’s sins are worse than our own, for this is the wisdom and humility that we will all need if we want to draw others to the fullness of Truth, Christ Himself, as we also recognize our own need for repentance and ongoing conversion of heart and life.