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.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

The World's New Normal; or God's New Normal?

The other day while driving to visit a parishioner, I had a driver pass me on a hill doing about 30 miles over the speed limit. It was clearly one of those people who should never be allowed behind the wheel again (I am sure you have seen them). The thought went through my mind quickly: "this is America, you have a right to be crazy--but you are not supposed to endanger other people's lives in the process." I spent the next few minutes pondering what the heart and mind of someone like that would be like. I have never (knowingly) spoken to someone with such careless and reckless selfishness, so I could do no more than guess.

We truly have become a remarkably selfish society. The problem (the really big problem!) is that Catholics do not seem to be immune to this great evil. We are supposed to be the "salt of the Earth" and keep these things from happening, and yet we seem to be helping this all to get worse. This sounds a lot like the numerous instances when Israel was punished in the Old Testament for not fulfilling her calling, and the New Testament tells the same story of some of the individual Churches as well (cf. Rev 3:14ff).

I said to someone the other day that I was looking forward to a return to normal. That was not actually true. What used to be "normal" (especially for Catholics today) is not what I want to return to. The selfishness that has so pervaded everything (not just politicians and actors, but everyone!), is not the "normal" that I want to return to. Sadly, most of those who are swimming in their own selfish behavior are unable to see just what they are doing. When we start getting past the "stay at home" orders, and the suspended Masses, and wearing surgical masks in public we need to be ready to accept a "new normal".

The "new normal" for the world appears like it will be fairly totalitarian (unless some of these politicians give up their lust for power). Regardless of what the world does, however, we need to be more faithful than we were before this plague came upon us. That means that we need a "new normal" that is distinctly and unashamedly Catholic. I am talking about a new normal that leaves behind the errors of the last half-century and returns to the roots of our faith.

Something has to change, or something is going to break. We cannot imagine that we can go on compromising our faith and that God is just going to ignore it and then make everything OK in the end. It seems like the modernist Catholics presume that we just need more modernism, and the traditionalists presume we just need more traditions. Although the traditionalists are far closer to the truth than the modernists (we do need to return to our historic Catholic faith--like that found in the Catechism of Trent), both are basically wrong.

It is not the outward actions that make us right with God (that was the error of the Pharisees 2000 years ago), but our inward hearts. The outward actions are what can help to guide our inward hearts to be right with the Lord (or, adversely, they can lead us away from God). If our outward actions humble us and exalt Christ Jesus, then they will be helping towards holiness (and the new modernist practices simply cannot do this).

The devil wants us to get caught up in the pursuit of anything other than the work of becoming a Saint. No matter what the details are, if he can accomplish this, then we become selfishly ineffective for the gospel. As Bishop Fulton Sheen one said:
The poor frustrated souls who are locked up inside their own minds keep their little egotistic heads too busy and their selfish hands and feet too idle.
Can you say "ouch"? If that statement does not come across like a smack in the face, then you missed it (and you should read it again). He wrote this half a century ago, and it has come true; not just for a few odd individuals, but for the majority of the world (even of the baptized).

If we merely keep doing things the same way we have been doing them, then we will be "locked up inside" our own minds, as the brilliant Bishop said. When that happens, all we can see is our own ideas and thoughts, and, consequently we become closed to the guidance and prompting of the Holy Ghost. As I said above, something has to change. If we do not turn away from the world, we will end up turning with the world (and that is not the narrow path that leads to Heaven).

Hence, what we need is a reassessment of our practices to ensure that they are actually guiding us toward greater holiness and usefulness in the Kingdom of Christ. Many of the presumed habits of the 20th century got us into this; continuing them is not going to get us out of this. In order to move in this "new normal" direction, we need to be able to answer a few basic questions. For example, we already know "who" "when" and "why". We are to work, right now, because it determines our eternal destiny. Yet, we have to dig deeper to ask a few other questions; like "how to grow?", "where do we grow?" and "what are we to grow?"

I hope I have sparked your interest in this subject. It needs to be examined with hearts that are open to the commandments of God and His truth. We each need to accept the call of the Lord on our lives, and be willing to suffer for His sake; anything less is not the faith that the Saints were willing to die for, but some counterfeit invented by the evil one. I want to return to this idea in subsequent posts (one for each question), so come back for more later...

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Homily for Third Sunday of Easter, 2020

My family likes to play a certain game where we quote something from a book or movie that we all know and see if the others can recognize it merely from the quote (remember the old t.v. show "Name that Tune"?). It can be frustrating when someone makes a reference but we cannot recognize it. They know something we do not and we have to dig deeply into our memory to figure it out. When the disciples on the road to Emmaus walked with Jesus, they did not recognize Him, but they did know that there was something special about Him because they asked Him not to leave.

Here we have another instance of those who knew Jesus before His death and resurrection seeing Him but not recognizing Him. What could possibly have kept them from recognizing Him this time? Last week the Apostles did not recognize Him because they were focused on their own desires and interests. This week is different though. The two disciples were somewhat overwhelmed by everything that had occurred (as they described to Jesus in the gospel reading). As St. Augustine once said about these disciples:
"They were so disturbed when they saw him hanging on the cross that they forgot his teaching, did not look for his resurrection, and failed to keep his promises in mind."
This is important for us to see because we often get overwhelmed by difficult things in our lives as well.

Yet, that is not the main thing that we should see in this gospel passage this Sunday. I want us to consider instead when it was that the disciples recognized Jesus. We are told it was "in the breaking of the bread". This is not an accident or a coincidence. Our Lord clearly wanted to use something to jar their memory, and He chose to use a normal part of life that made them think of His divine providence for them. We do not know if they recognized the "breaking of the bread" as a reminder of the Eucharist (since Jesus had only instituted the Eucharistic celebration a few days before His death) but for us today, what is more significant than God's provision for us in the Sacraments (and the breaking of bread obviously mirrors the celebration of the Eucharist)?

In any of those times when we are caught up by the challenging events of life around us (as we are today with this viral plague), we can easily miss the work of Christ in our lives. Yet, even while we are unaware of what our Lord is doing, He comes along side us, as He did with these disciples, and walks with us in our troubles and pains. This means that He is often already there before we even pray and ask Him to come and help us (remember that the next time you think God is not helping you where you need it!). He speaks to us with love, and sometimes even tells us where we have been wrong and foolish. As much work as He willingly does for us we still do not see it for what it is right away. It takes something deeper and more profound to shake us and wake us up.

When we are confused and trying to believe what the Church tells us about our Blessed Redeemer, Jesus Himself comes along side us and walks with us. He does it because He loves us; because He loves you. Only when we are willing to look beyond those things that are confusing us and look attentively for the work of Christ, can we see that God's hand is in all these things. Yet, this will only happen if something first catches our attention and helps us to think about God's provision for us; about how He has protected us, provided for us, and (most especially) given us His grace. Then, and only then, do we see what He is doing!

Therefore, my dear people, look for Him this week. Expect our Savior to be with you and ask Him to help you see that He is there. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you by reminding you of all the great works that He has done in your life so that you can see the great works that He is doing right now. You may think it is just the daily trials of these crazy days that we live in, but God does not see it that way. He sees you trying to get through this confusion and pain, and He wants to accompany you and have you recognize Him. Pray specifically for Him to send that special event that will help you to see exactly what He is doing, and have hope that He will answer that prayer. Then, do not let anything get in your way of seeing Him present with you. In the name ✠ of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Homily for Divine Mercy Sunday, 2020

Last year after the celebration of the Triduum (the three days before Easter) I recall speaking to someone about the Easter Mass. He said, "Easter almost feels like a let-down". I knew exactly what he was speaking about; have you ever felt that way? What he was referring to was the fact that the Easter Mass comes after Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil (all of which are very different services from the normal Sunday Mass). It almost feels like Easter is "just ordinary" after all the different ceremonies of the Triduum.

That is actually the way that it is supposed to be, though we do not usually think of it like that. You need to understand that all the other 51 Sundays of the year are designed to be a "little Easter" and therefore are patterned after the original source for Sunday Mass: Easter Day. Easter is the norm, and the others are the copies (so that we can continue to celebrate the resurrection of Christ every Sunday of the year). So it is not a "let-down" exactly; it would be better to say that on Easter we return to "normal".

This does not mean, however, that we are supposed to allow ourselves to get bored with the normal pattern of Sunday Mass; especially this Sunday. The Easter season goes from Easter Sunday until Pentecost (May 31st this year), but the seven days after Easter are counted as part of Easter. This means that we are still celebrating Easter today; do not think that it has ended. Today being "Divine Mercy Sunday" is the conclusion of the real Easter celebration (this is also why you did not need to practice your weekly Friday abstinence last Friday).

In the gospel reading for today, Jesus set this pattern for the Apostles. He came to visit them first on the "evening of the first day of the week" (the first Easter). In other words, He came on the Sunday of His resurrection. Then He came "eight days later" (on "Divine Mercy Sunday") and appeared to them once again. He came to them as He comes to each of us on every Sunday (even if we cannot gather for Mass!). He comes to you and your family today. He approaches you in your very homes and says "Peace be with you".

When He comes to you today, He wants to find you keeping the pattern of Sundays. He wants to see you doing all you can to maintain the Lord's Day as a day of rest and worship. He wants you to say the rosary, or read the Scripture readings for today. He wants to find you being with your family (as much as you can). He wants to find you remembering that wherever we are, whatever we are doing, and however difficult the times are that we are going through, that we acknowledge that He is our Lord, and that "this is the day the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice in it". And He wants to give you His peace. In the name ✠ of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.