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 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.

The Jesus Prayer (And Other Short Prayers)

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The Jesus Prayer is: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Other prayer phrases that can be prayed like the Jesus Prayer:

  • Acclaim the King, the Lord.
  • According to Thy will, O Lord, let it be done to me.
  • All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.
  • Alleluia
  • Be faithful until death, says the Lord, and I will give you the crown of life.
  • Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
  • Be watchful and ready: you know not when the Son of Man is coming.
  • Be watchful, pray constantly, that you may be worthy to stand before the Son of Man.
  • Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.
  • Blessed are you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth; you have revealed to little ones the mysteries of the kingdom.
  • Blessed are You, O Lord! Teach me Your statutes.
  • Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord: glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on earth.
  • Blessed is the man who walks in justice and speaks what is true.
  • Christ the Lord was tempted and suffered for us. Come, let us adore him.
  • Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.
  • Give joy to your servant, Lord, for to you I lift up my soul.
  • Give rest O Lord to the soul of Thy servant (name).
  • Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
  • Glory to Thee, our God; glory to Thee.
  • God be merciful to me, a sinner.
  • God mounts his throne to shouts of joy.
  • God’s love is everlasting.
  • Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy.
  • Hear us, Lord, and save us.
  • Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us.
  • Holy Guardian Angel, pray to God for me.
  • I am the light of the world, says the Lord; whoever follows me will have the light of life.
  • I am the way, the truth, and the life, says the Lord; no one comes to the Father, except through me.
  • I call you my friends, says the Lord, for I have made known to you all that the Father has told me.
  • I will bless the Lord at all times.

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  • I will praise your name forever, my king and my God.
  • If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
  • Let all the earth cry out to God with joy, alleluia.
  • Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
  • Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.
  • Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
  • Lord, show us your mercy and love.
  • Lord, today we have seen your glory.
  • Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.
  • Most Holy Theotokos, save us!
  • My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
  • My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord; I know them, and they follow me.
  • My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
  • Lord, deprive me not of Your heavenly blessings.
  • Lord, deprive me not of Your Kingdom.
  • Lord, fill my heart with life eternal.
  • Lord, grant me good thoughts.
  • Lord, grant me modesty, chastity, and obedience.
  • Lord, grant me patience, courage, and meekness.
  • Lord, grant me to grow in faith, hope, and charity.
  • Lord, my God, You will illumine my darkness.
  • Open our hearts, O Lord, to listen to the words of your Son.
  • Praise the Lord for he is good.
  • Remember, O Lord, your faithfulness and love.
  • Saint (Name), pray to God for me.
  • Sing to the Lord a new song.
  • Speak, Lord, your servant is listening; you have the words of everlasting life.
  • Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
  • The Lord is kind and merciful.
  • The Lord is my light and my salvation.
  • The Lord is near to all who call on him.
  • The Word of God became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
  • The Word of God became flesh and made his dwelling among us. To those who accepted him, he gave power to become children of God.
  • This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.
  • To you, O Lord, I lift my soul.
  • We are his people: the sheep of his flock.
  • We praise you, O God, for all your works are wonderful.
  • Whoever loves me will keep my word, says the Lord, and my Father will love him and we will come to him.
  • With the Lord there is mercy, and fullness of redemption.
  • Your word, O Lord, is truth; consecrate us in the truth.
  • Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.

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From the Desk of Deacon Richard….

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Dear Parish Family:

In this Sunday’s Gospel reading, we hear Our Lord say, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.”

For three years, Christ travelled and taught. He preached throughout the Holy Land. The Gospels record some of what Christ said and taught, but do they record all of it? Clearly they do not. In his Gospel, the Beloved Disciple tells us that if all of the things Christ said and did were written down, all of the books in the world could not contain it. Does this mean that there are teachings of Christ that are lost to us?

God forbid! In the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, we enjoy the many fruits of Sacred Scripture. But we also enjoy Sacred Tradition; we know there are many teachings of Our Lord that are passed on to us through tradition, just as they were passed on to everyone in the early Church before the New Testament took written form. In fact, all of the writings of the New Testament come out of Sacred Tradition, so in a very real way our venerable Tradition in the Catholic Church is larger than Sacred Scripture because it contains all of Scripture and more as well.

The joy of being a Catholic is being in communion with the one Church that enjoys the fullness of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. Nothing is left out or laid aside. We have everything that God intends for us to have.

Peace,
Dcn. Richard

The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

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“And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), and thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed'” (Luke 2:33-35)

Today is a good day to reflect on Mary and to pray for the grace to be obedient to God. Mary, though the mother of God Incarnate, was still the very model of humility and obedience to God.

Merciful God,
Through the intercession of
The Blessed Virgin Mary,
Give me the grace to follow
Mary’s example of faith and obedience
So that I may grow close to You
Through Our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who lives and reigns with You
And the Holy Spirit.

Amen.