Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The World's New Normal; or the Lord's New Normal? part 3

Until recently, most Catholics throughout the world had been missing Church. Now what did you think of when you read the word, "missing"? Did you think I was saying that most Catholics have not been to Church, or that most Catholics have felt sad about not being at Church? There are two different connotations of the word "missing". People missed Church (they were not in attendance) but how much did they miss Church (feel saddened that they were not able to be there)? I am sure that most everyone reading this post "missed" Mass quite a bit.

What else did you miss? Did you miss the community of the Church? We here in southern Missouri have had public Mass celebration available for a few weeks now. In this, we are still required to practice social distancing (which should be called anti-social distancing!). Things are looking ugly in many places, and though not as bad here, it is still tense; everyone is a bit nervous about what will happen in the near future to our nation and to our Church. Which, however, are you more concerned about? Are you more concerned about the coming disintegration of this falling nation, or about the potential persecution on the Church (which always seems to come along with societal break-down)?

Considering the new normal that we are moving into, we want to be sure, as I said before, that we are moving into our Lord's new normal and not just falling into line with the world's desire to create a new normal from its own selfish motivations. I said in a previous post that the Kingdom of God does not grow the way that the world thinks (we looked there at the "how" of Kingdom growth). Politics and physical institutions may be related to the growth of the Kingdom, but they are not the heart of the Kingdom. Now we need to consider another vital aspect of Kingdom growth: the "where".

If you are one of the many Catholics who comes to Mass but really does not connect with anyone else in the parish, then you are working against the primary place of "where" Jesus is working. Just because you are attending the Mass does not mean that you are truly engaged with the community of the parish. You can be in a crowded room and still be "alone". The people you worship God with should not be strangers. No, you do not need to be best friends with every member of your home parish, but if you have no friends there, something is not right. Scriptures tells us that a parish is a small "body of Christ" and that the parts of the body cannot ignore each other (1 Corinthians 12:14ff).

Where do we find the center of all spiritual growth? It is always in the Church. That does not mean that only the Church grows, but it does mean that everything else is merely a by-product of the growth of the Church. The Church is not exactly equated with the Kingdom; rather it is the "region" where the Kingdom is experienced most clearly. With this being the case, that should inform how we think of the Church. Do you think of the Church as one of your hobbies? I hope that is not the case. The Church is the center of the Catholic life. That is not a new idea, but it is not always lived out in the lives of Catholics today.

How are you involved with the community of your home parish? Where do you find your best friends? What do you think about first when you think about Church? Is it just that thing you do on Sundays, or is it the center of your life? I am not exaggerating with that last statement. Some think that only priests and religious should have the Church at the center of their lives, and that is not true. To be clear: I am not saying that the laity are supposed to be at the Church 23 hours and 59 minutes of every day, but how do you make your decisions through the week? Does the Church come last in your plans?

It is in the Church that we find the grace to keep us moving on the path to Heaven. It is the Church that tells us how to obey our Lord, and it is in the Church that we find others who are on the same path (who can help us on our journey). It is possible to make the Church an essential duty, but not a major portion of our lives. It would be comparable to one of those 24-hour allergy pills -- some people really need to take them, but they ignore it for the rest of the day. When Catholics make Church the center of their lives, they find that their lives begin to have greater peace, and challenges become easier to bear. Our Lord Jesus rules over all creation for the sake of the Church (Ephesians 1:15-23); let us love it as much as He does.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

When Economics Contradicts Our Spirituality

With the recent surges in Covid infections in the general area around southern Missouri where I live, people have been worried about another potential "lock-down". Of course, this comes after many people have noticed that the lock-downs were not as successful as the politicians claimed they would be. Yes, many are still saying that lock-downs work, but with all the lies, it is hard to trust anything they say anymore. In fact, I read recently that a number of places that did not have lock-downs did not have any noticeably higher rates of infections. What the lock-downs did accomplish, however, was to damage our already shaky economy (which is to be expected when our entire economic system in America is based on greed).

So now the debate ensues: are we concerned more about financial stability or our physical health? Quite a difficult choice to make, and I thank God that it is not my job to be a part of that discussion. However they choose to come down in that issue, I think that something is entirely being missed. Few of those in positions of authority outside the Church (and not too many inside the Church, it seems) are talking about the tension between financial/health issues on one side, and our spiritual stability on the other. They are not even talking about the "mental and emotional" state of our nation (which always has to do with spirituality). It is as though the spiritual realm does not even exist on their radar.

Yet, we all know it is there. Just look at the news as ask yourself what the spiritual state is of those who are rioting, burning down buildings, and destroying the symbols of our American heritage. That did not show up overnight. It was the result of years of indoctrination in the public school system and an overwhelming emphasis on self-esteem (or, as one of my parishioners said recently: "those people didn't get disciplined enough when they were young").

So then, our current state of strife and unrest is a result of what came before; and I am not necessarily referring to racism (though that may play a part in some situations and cannot be discounted). Much of our situation is the automatic consequence of the fear of global disease coupled together with forced lock-downs, and them compounded by decades of governmental moral failures. Add to that the fact that our colleges have been promoting socialism and immorality for generations (and most Catholics are still sending their children to them [please stop!]), and you have a perfect recipe for spiritual instability.

Numerous times I have heard Christian parents justify sending their children to "good schools" (by which they mean a school that can teach them how to make lots of money) so that they can "get an education and a good job". In these instances, the children's financial stability is being chosen over their spiritual stability because the education being given at these schools is often anti-Catholic and gravely immoral. It is possible to show a concern for both spiritual and financial issues by sending them to a genuinely devout Catholic school (as long as the priority of spirituality is maintained by all involved). Yet, clearly, many have not done this.

This spiritual instability is not just seen in the fact that Catholic children leave the faith, but when they do, they often head towards complete spiritual chaos. Furthermore, those Catholic children who do not leave the faith will often be so confused about what the faith is, that they are living like non-Catholics. Outside the Church, things are even worse as large numbers who call for change to our nation have no more clear idea of what that change should be other than "I want my stuff (and I do not want to have to work for it)".

So then, what do we do when the leadership of the nation is focused on economic and health issues and ignores spiritual issues? What do we do when the means to accomplish economic and physical security contradict with the requirements for spiritual security? Which will you choose? Which will you teach to your children? The decision is not a small one, and if you do not decide now and take a stand, the day may come when it is too late. Our leaders are going to make certain choices for our nation, but that does not mean that we have to follow them or agree with them. It does mean, however, that we still have the priorities God has given us, and we still must persevere in the faith.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Are You Ready?

It has been over a month since public Mass was again resumed here in southern Missouri. I have been watching how things are playing out, and it is interesting to watch. In these last few weeks there have been some people (it is hard to tell if the reports are exaggerated or not) who appear to have a specific desire to destroy anything made before they themselves were born. That is the way that anarchists and totalitarian dictators like to do things, and we have seen it before (that is assuming you actually know something about world history).

Whenever this type of chaos is promoted in a society, the Church is usually the first to get attacked. What will those attacks look like here in these United States? I cannot predict, but I can say that we have an idea if we just look at the past. Think, for example, of how the communists treated the Church in 1917 when the Blessed Virgin appeared at Fatima. During times like those (and we may be saying "times like these" here in America pretty soon) when there are people who attack the Church directly, what should be our response? We can either turn away from the Church and save our skin; or we can deepen our commitment to the Church.

Yet, we must ask the question: how easy is it to deepen our commitment in the time of persecution if our commitment is weak beforehand? The answer is: not very easy at all. Whenever a society begins to have internal strife like we are experiencing today, there is always something going on in Heaven. What I mean is, our Lord is doing a work down here on Earth, and He is likely including the heavenly host of angels in the effort. There is a war going on and we are at the center of it.

I hear, almost daily, more and more people talking about these events like they are a clear sign of the end of the world. Yes, many of these things are awful, but that does not mean necessarily that the world is about to end. A thousand years ago there were even more trials going on and people all over Europe thought for sure that the world was about to end. Obviously, it did not. Yet, that does not mean that they were wrong to ask the question. In fact, the very asking of the question will often encourage people to look more deeply into their hearts to ensure that they are right with the Lord.

Have you been doing any of that introspective self-examination lately? If not, it may be too late someday. The world does not have to end for things to get really bad. Whatever happens, God is going to dividing up the "sheep and goats" (and some of this has already begun to happen). Those whose hearts are not really committed to Christ and His Church are either going to trickle away, or they will leave in a "huff" because someone let them know that they have to repent of their sins. When this division occurs it sometimes just looks like typical disagreements, but God is purging His Church of those who refuse to follow Him.

Look at what St. Peter said right before the persecution under Nero Caesar (who murdered Peter):
For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17).
God always judges His own "household" before He turns to the world. This is because He loves us and wants us to be able to repent. St. Peter also said:
The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
So then, He gives us time to get our souls right, but that time is limited; He does not wait forever. So I encourage all of you: time to get your spiritual health taken care of. If you are struggling right now (with anything) do not let it wait until later to work on it. Now is the time; today is the day to put in the effort. The world may not end tomorrow, but we never know when God will call each of us to account.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Homily for Sixth Sunday of Easter, 2020

Someone once said to me that he did not want to be Catholic because the Church was too concerned with rules and laws, and that Jesus did not want us to worry about obeying rules, He just wanted us to love Him. The contradiction in that idea was not apparent to my friend (even after I tried to help him see it). It does not take long if you read the gospels to see that Jesus never supported that kind of lawlessness. Today, however, in the gospel reading, Jesus gives us one of the clearest statements of how love for God is always associated with obedience to His commands. Yes, there are some (like my friend above) who behave as though Jesus said something entirely different.

Many think that Jesus said to his disciples: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments (at least most of them; or at least the ones that are convenient; or maybe just a couple that you happen to like; well, tell you what, just do your best and I'll overlook the rest)." Is that what Jesus said? Our Lord did say the first part: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" but the last part in the parentheses, that was entirely made up (and we all know it). If we know this to be true, why do some live like they thought that the last part was what He really said?

We make excuses. That is the real reason, and we all know that just as well. We look at one of His commands and decide that we know better, or that it does not apply to us. That may be how we reason through it, but it is not right (and we all know that as well). There is no excuse, no doctrinal twisting, no turning a blind eye, that can change the fact that our Lord calls us to obey His commandments and says that if we do not, then we really do not love Him.

For those who know this and submit to it (even if they struggle with it), Jesus promises a great help. He knows that we are unable to obey Him on our own, and He says He will provide for us the very thing to help us to get through the struggle. It is as though our Lord said, "you have to obey Me, and if you are willing to do so, I will give you the means to do so: My Holy Spirit". Those who do not really want to obey will not take advantage of the Spirit and so, for them, the obedience is impossible. Yet, for those who are willing, the help of the Spirit is the means by which they can obey.

This means that the Holy Spirit of God is the very key to the faithful life. Did you obey God recently (I am sure you did), then you did it by the power of the Holy Spirit. Did you disobey God recently (admit it, you probably did), then you did it because you did not take advantage of the Helper that Jesus promised. He even said that the Spirit would be with us always (meaning especially in those times of temptation and trial) and that the world could not receive Him. The world does not accept the help of the Holy Spirit because the world does not want to obey God in the first place.

Finally, we must realize that the Holy Spirit is the very means by which we can make sure that our obedience stems from love for God and not merely from a sense of duty (which is good, but not a sufficiently holy obedience). This is why Christ says "if you love Me you will obey". Love and obedience go together hand in hand. They are two parts of one whole and for us to imagine that we can love God without obeying Him is a grave misunderstanding. Obedience without love is cold and superficial with no real commitment. Love without obedience is merely a sentimental feeling (and not true godly love). So, as our Lord said, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind; this is the first and greatest commandment". Let that always be our goal. In the Name ✠ of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Homily for Fifth Sunday of Easter, 2020

You have probably heard me tell this story before, but when I was about 6 years old one of my friends had a little brother who was the biggest pest we could imagine. He would often wear a t-shirt that said "here comes trouble". We felt that it was perfect, for we knew how true it was. Looking back, that little boy's "trouble" that he caused was nothing compared with some of the things that the world can send at us (especially lately!). If your biggest trouble is an annoying toddler, then you have it pretty easy. Think for a minute: what are you troubled by? What causes you to worry?

In the gospel, Jesus begins by telling us, "let not your hearts be troubled". Our Lord knows that this world will bring us trouble (cf. John 16:33), and He wants to help us overcome it so He gives us this reminder that we can (with His help) deal with what the world sends at us. So let me ask it again: what are you troubled by? We are getting closer to having Mass being public once again, but it will not likely be just like it used to be. In fact, it appears that we will be required to do things a bit differently in order to avoid spreading this plague among the parish community.

Does catching the virus "trouble" you? Are you worried about it? It can be fatal for some, so it appears that there is genuinely something to be troubled by. Yet, when Jesus said not to be "troubled" He was not referring primarily to plagues and diseases. The context of the gospel shows clearly that He was speaking about our eternal destiny. This does not mean that Christ does not care about our physical well being; of course not. Yet, they should not be equal concerns in our hearts. Physical health is important, but it does not directly impact whether we are right with God; that is an internal status.

In other words, He was concerned about how we deal with our spiritual condition. How much do you "trouble" about whether you are in a state of grace? Which are you more worried about? Your spiritual health, or your physical health? If we seek to have extra rules and directives to help keep us physically healthy, how much more should we seek to protect our spiritual health? The Church has rules for these things (remember the Precepts of the Church?). How many rules and guidelines does the Church have for the right reception of Holy Communion? What if we were to apply them to ourselves with the same rigidity that some are insisting on with "social distancing" rules?

Now to be clear: God does not want us to live in fear about our spiritual well being because He is able to take care of us (that is the point of the gospel!). That, however, does not mean that we are to ignore our spirituality and only spend time working on our physical health (for He can take care of that too!). Both are important, but which is the one that matters for eternity (1 Timothy 4:8)? When our gracious Lord tells us not to "be troubled" then we need to take that to heart -- fully and completely.

Do not let your hearts be troubled: not about your spiritual well being. Do not let your hearts be troubled: not by a virus either (even if it is deadly!). With Jesus as our Lord (Who can conquer anything and everything that worries us) we do not need to go through life fearful. When we come together again to participate in the Mass as a parish, let us each make sure that our greatest concern is that we are right with God and that we are working to glorify Him in all we do. With that as our goal, we have nothing to worry about. In the Name ✠ of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

The World's New Normal; or the Lord's New Normal? part 2

Speaking with an auto mechanic friend of mine, he expressed frustration. He said that he knew exactly what the car was doing wrong, but had no idea why it was doing it, and thus no idea how to fix it. He described to me the two or three usual methods of performing this repair job, and none of them had been successful (it was a very odd situation). I believe that he eventually figured it out, but until he knew exactly what was happening, he did not know how to do the repair. Car repair is not the only time that this kind of problem arises in our lives; we always need to know what is wrong before we can know how to fix it.

As we seek to examine that first detail of "how" to move forward towards a godly "new normal", we have to acknowledge that God's word comes first, and our own ideas can never be allowed to do so. In other words, in many of life's challenges, our Lord has already laid out a plan for how to deal with things, but we frequently ignore it and choose to follow our own (human) wisdom instead of God's (divine) wisdom. Step one in learning how to be faithful is admitting that God knows more than we do and then doing our best to act accordingly.

Therefore, if we are asking the question as to "how" we accomplish a new normal that accords with the Kingdom of Christ, we must first see the way that His Kingdom actually grows. Many times in Scripture we are told that the Kingdom of Christ is (at least for now) a spiritual Kingdom (predominantly). This means that the Kingdom of Christ does touch on the physical realm; it is just as much a law of Christ that we do not commit adultery as that we be reverent when in the presence of the Eucharist. The primary means, however, for the growth of the Kingdom of Christ in this world is spiritual.

The Kingdom grows through changing men's hearts first, and then afterwards it changes society's laws, for only when hearts have changed can societal norms and laws be fully effective. Therefore, we need to be very cautious when we are seeking to make "physical" changes to our surroundings, so that we ensure that we are not making those changes our first aim (not that we should not make those changes, but that they need to be kept in their proper place). To be specific: influencing the political realm is important, but it is not our first and most important work. If your membership in a political party is more important to you than your Church membership, then something is seriously wrong with your faith.

In fact, this necessary balance is so crucial to the work of the Kingdom of God, that we could say that the local society will develop rightly if the Kingdom of God is already growing. This is so because the Kingdom always impacts the institutions around it. Even societies that are heavily influenced by wickedness can be changed by just a few faithful within that society (think of God's willingness to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if there were "at least 10 faithful people in the city"). It might take some time, but the Kingdom of Christ always wins in the end.

As the world systems develop and change over time, the Church should be the primary influence on those systems. This is, obviously, not always the case, but it is the ideal that we are supposed to aim for. When the opposite happens, we are in trouble. Today, we find that many in the Catholic Church (both laity and clergy) are listening to the world and worldly wisdom (sometimes equated with "science") more than to the Word of God. Whenever this happens we will see people within the Church trying to abandon the past and change Church teaching (e.g. much of what is coming out of the German Bishops these days).

Politics and political theory should not be excluded from this. It is not a neutral practice that is allowed to go any direction the people desire. The Church has spoken about political theory in various places, and although she does not advocate one political system over others, there are a few practices that she has directly stated are evil (such as socialism!). Therefore, politicians and those involved in civil leadership should be looking to the Church and asking what is the right way to do their job, but that is not what is happening. The fault is not entirely with the politicians; it can also be found in the fact that many (even Catholics) are treating the political sphere as though it were the ultimate authority in society. NO; as in "N", "O". Not true; never was, never will be.

Once we begin to see clearly in our heart, soul, and mind, how God wants us to move toward holiness (in the spiritual realm first, and the physical realm as a direct consequence) then we will be able to move forward. As with my mechanic friend, if he used the wrong method to repair the car, he would not have gotten far. The Catholic Church as a whole is currently not doing well at growing in holiness, which implies we are not using the right methods. Do not ignore the physical realm, but also do not allow it to become the primary means of spreading the Kingdom of God.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Homily for Fourth Sunday of Easter, 2020

"Follow us on the web." "You have 2 new followers." "100 people are following this topic." You have probably seen statements like these (maybe even if you do not have internet access!). What does it mean to follow? If occasionally paying attention to a website equates to following, then we would have to admit that there is not much involved. Is that how Jesus used the term when He commanded us to follow Him? This "internet style" of following would equate to showing up in Church on Sunday but never actually engaging with the Mass, or reciting a prayer without any heart-felt commitment. We all know that is not what Jesus wants from us.

In today's gospel, we are told about Jesus' activity as our "Good Shepherd". The foundational truth here that we each need to recognize is that He says He calls us each "by name". This means that all who are baptized must acknowledge the call of God on their lives. He calls each one of us (not just the clergy, or a few laity who are more devout, but all), and tells us that we must serve Him, and Him alone. This might sound like I am overstating the obvious, but that is not the case. Just because someone is one of Jesus' sheep, does not guarantee that he will not listen to the enemy. When Jesus calls us each by name, He is saying, "you are my sheep, and if you want Me to protect you, you have to follow Me and no one else."

This entails, of course, that we do not listen to the "robbers and thieves" that He warns us about in the gospel reading. This is harder than it seems because the devil never speaks to us with 100% lies; he always sprinkles a bit of truth in with His lies so that we will more easily fall for it. It is often hard for us to discern just what we are being told by the world, and that is why God gave us the Church. Yes, it is true that not everyone in the Church agrees on everything, but the Church's official teachings do not change; ever. We can be confident of that one certainty (if a teaching appears to have changed, then either we have misunderstood it, or someone misinterpreted something).

Here is an easy test to check your spiritual "pulse" on this subject. Ask yourself right now: if Hollywood actors and actresses disagree with the Church, who will you believe? If your doctor disagrees with the Church, who will you believe? If astronomers disagree with the Church, who will you believe? If college professors disagree with the Church, who will you believe? If politicians disagree with the Church, who will you believe? The Good Shepherd tells us to "flee from the thieves and robbers" who want to lead us astray, and though not all of those listed above contradict what God has said through His Church, when they do contradict we must stand fast with God's truth and listen to Him alone.

We all have to admit that there are times in our lives when we do listen to others that we are not supposed to be listening to; when we give heed to the errors of the world and then fall into sinful behavior. Our Good Shepherd is loving and cares for us. He will not leave us to the wolves if we willingly return to Him and seek His help. He promises to save us if we will hold fast to our commitment to Him (regardless of what the world might do or say). Do not allow the world to bully you and pressure you into compromising your faith. They are the ones who came to "steal and kill and destroy". Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd is the One Who came to give you an abundant life; follow Him and Him alone. In the Name ✠ of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.