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.

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.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Homily for Easter 2020

When was the last time you had someone intrude into something you were doing? How did you feel? We usually get upset when someone pushes their way in when they have not been invited to something. Whether it is a party-crasher, or just someone listening in to a private conversation, it makes us upset. There is an ancient reference by one of the Church Fathers that refers to Jesus as “the Holy Intruder”. This is not an insult to Him, but a reference to how powerful His work is.

Jesus, when He was born into the world, He was “intruding” because He is not a creature, yet He took on human flesh. When He raised from the dead, He was “intruding” into the normal pattern of death, because dead people usually stay that way. When He comes into our hearts, He is “intruding” because it is not in our fallen nature to allow someone to tell us what to do. Yet, in all these things, He is not an evil intruder, but a “Holy Intruder”. He comes to bring goodness and holiness.

When Jesus first stepped out of that tomb on Easter morning, He was intruding into a world that have never seen a genuine, eternal, resurrection body before. He was bringing something fully new, and that was our very salvation all wrapped up in Him Who is our Savior. Let us each approach Him today with humble hearts, recognizing that we each need Him to do some “intruding” in order to drive away our sin, and fill us with His grace and mercy. In doing this, we can each rejoice fully in His resurrection and what it means for us. He comes into our lives so that we can come into His life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Homily for Palm Sunday, 2020

"Because of His great love"

I had to get my cholesterol checked a couple months ago, and I knew it was not going to go well. First of all, I do not do well when I get blood taken (usually I get light headed and dizzy). Second of all, I had to fast from midnight until after the test, and I always have difficulty with fasting (again, light headed and dizzy). Put those two things together and I was sure it was going to be unpleasant. I am sure you all know what happened: I almost passed out after they finished taking blood. I knew what to expect, but I also knew I needed to do it, so I went anyways (although I did try to come up with a few dozen excuses not to go!).

Have you ever had something unpleasant that you wanted to get out of, but went ahead with it because there was something powerful pushing you in that direction? When Jesus entered into Jerusalem on that first "Palm Sunday" He knew exactly what it was going to lead to: His crucifixion. Yet, He went through it anyway. I cannot imagine what it would have been like for Him to ride on the back of that donkey and know that those shouts of praise were going to turn into shouts of "crucify Him" in just a few days.

We are told by St. Paul in the second reading for today that Jesus willingly accepted what He had to suffer. He did not use His divine power to free Himself, but,
. . . emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. 
What He endured was far worse than my petty little dizziness at my blood test, and Christ did it not just for Himself, but for every one of us. You, me, and anyone who obeys Him.

We can experience similar things in our lives. People may like us one day, and then turn against us the next day. This is a reminder that nothing in this world really is secure apart from God Himself. When He entered into Jerusalem to the praises of the multitude, there was no pride in Him; He was perfectly aware of the weaknesses of men, and knew that even His own disciples would fail Him. Because this world is fallen, everything in this world is weak, and if we place all our hopes in the things of this world, or even the people of this world, they will fail us as well. It is only our precious Lord Who will never fail us.

In this time of plague, what are you spending most of your time thinking about? Is it the weak things of this world -- those things that can fail us? If so, you are probably experiencing some depression right now. Jesus knows exactly how weak this world is, and He wants us to look to Him for our true strength, but if we focus on weak things, then we begin to doubt that He can really help us. This is the very opposite of what He went to the cross for: He wanted to deliver us from these weak things, and bring us into His presence for all eternity.

Instead of focusing on things like: the empty shelves at the store, the unemployment rate going up, or the continual stream of new rules about how to deal with this, we need to remind ourselves (every day) how amazing it is to focus particularly on the unlimited love of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ! He did not falter when it came time for Him to endure a horrible death. He did it, not because it was just the right thing to do; He did it because He had such great love for you and me. He did it because He knew that it would lead to many souls being able to spend eternity with Him -- which is something He truly loves!

When we think about what Jesus did for us, we all need to realize that we ourselves are just like the rest of those who failed Him. We might praise Him joyfully one day, and then the next day we choose a horrible sin; with no regard for how it hurts Him. Only when we realize and admit our failings and sins can we find true deliverance. Jesus knew we were all sinners, that was the point of the cross: to save sinners. This is why we must return to Him every time we fail Him; we go back and ask His forgiveness in Confession, and He always joyfully grants it. He knew what each of us would do, and He still went to the cross. He was willing to do all that because of His great love for us. Let us each realize and accept that great love so that we can find His grace and forgiveness. He willingly chose to undergo a painful passion and death for us, let us each willingly accept it and rejoice in it; both now and forevermore. ✠

Friday, March 27, 2020

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, 2020

"Blessed in the midst of suffering"

There is the story about the homeless man who was helped by a group of people from a nearby Catholic Church. When asked about his experience, he said, "I am so glad I was homeless. I never would have met these loving people or been able to be blessed by them if I had been a rich man." What an amazing perspective. He saw the work of God in his life, and how it was more powerful because of the suffering that came before. There are many things in our lives that are only seen well through the eyes of suffering.

In the gospel reading for today, we are all familiar with the story. Jesus comes and raises His friend Lazarus from the dead. We are certainly supposed to see an encouragement in this for us to be confident of our own resurrection which Jesus promises to all the faithful. Yet, there is also an important principle involved in this. Although we only have the stories of a few people whom Jesus raised from the dead, He was always doing the work of resurrection.

The work of resurrection that Jesus is doing (even now) can be seen in many different things. Whenever He comes to us, He is bringing us eternal life. That means that He is always bringing new life into situations and events that were dead. We might look at something and think that there is no hope of any good happening, but our Lord often has other plans. The Apostles' response to Jesus choice to visit Lazarus after he died shows that they were not sure what Jesus could do, but they certainly did not appear to expect Lazarus to raise from the dead.

When we look at our current situation, it might seem somewhat hopeless. It is easy, as I have said before, to slip into a depressing attitude about what we are going through. Not being able to go to Mass might seem like a "death" since you are being kept back from the very source of life that God gives to us in the Eucharist. Yet, the testimony of today's gospel should make us recognize just how God does things. We could even go so far as to say that God likes bringing life into situations of death. Remember: Jesus waited two days after hearing about Lazarus' sickness and said it was for the "glory of God" -- He intentionally let Lazarus die so He could raise him from the dead.

Since our Lord knows what He is going to do in every situation, He does sometimes wait for bad things to happen so that He can intervene in what is happening and show His glory to us, and thus help us to come to love and serve Him better. We are told in another place in Scripture that some Jews rejected the miracle of Lazarus being raised and still did not believe in Christ. We must not be like them; we have to watch for the work that God will do or we could miss it.

Both Mary and Martha said to Jesus that He could have stopped Lazarus from dying (which He could have), but Martha still had faith that Jesus could do something to help after Lazarus died. Which action of God really is more amazing? Is it more powerful for Jesus to stop a trial from happening, or for Him to allow it to happen, and then do a miracle in overcoming it? Obviously the latter. This is because, as I said before, God likes sending new life into situations where all we see is death and hopelessness.

So even though Jesus may not be raising the dead right now, that does not mean that He is not planning on doing a wonderful work for us. It may not be something that everyone sees, but like His own resurrection, it will be something that can be appreciated by those who love Him and believe in Him. Our current experience may seem quite scary for some, and for others it may seem like a "death" of a sort. Jesus, however, is setting things up to bring us life; you can be sure of it. Hold on to your faith; keep hoping in Christ; and, like Martha, trust that Jesus can always do a great work in the midst of our suffering. ✠

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Confession and Communion

I would certainly never say it is a good thing that public Masses are cancelled (yes, I know it supposedly helps to reduce the spread of the virus, but that is not what I am talking about). It is a spiritual suffering for every Catholic, and that is not something that anyone with a heart would wish on others. Yet, I want us all to recognize the proper gravity of what is happening and thereby keep a proper balance in how we view things right now.

To begin with, let us all admit what the normal rules are for Catholics. You are (normally) required to attend Mass every Sunday, and on Holy Days of Obligation. Also, you are required to receive Holy Communion at least once a year (preferably during the Easter season). Now, I want everyone to think about those two rules, just for a few minutes. Meditate on what those rules mean for you at this time.

This means that technically it is more an issue right now that the laity are deprived of being present in the Mass than that they are being prevented from receiving the Eucharist. No, I'm not saying that the Eucharist is less important, but rather that it is important that the Church normally says "be in Mass every Sunday" but only requires the Eucharist to be received once a year! We cannot take that difference lightly; one is required (about) fifty-seven times a year compared to the other which is required once a year. It is not wrong to receive communion at every Mass (presuming you are receiving in a state of grace, and we know that many do not), but the Church is saying something in how it has written the rules and the balance that it presumes in them.

It is a relatively new phenomenon whereby people receive communion at virtually every Mass that they attend. That was not the case in generations past. This, of course, does not mean that it was wrong for Pope Pius X, in the last century, to have encouraged more frequent communion. Yet, we also must admit that an increase in people receiving communion and a decrease in people going to confession was not a good combination. Nobody intended on having fewer people go to confession, yet when it happened at the same time as more frequent reception of communion, the result was obvious: more people receiving communion who were in a state of mortal sin.

We cannot imagine that the Lord would ignore the increasingly common occurrence of Catholics knowingly receiving communion in a state of grave sin. This must stop; and though many priests try to encourage people to go to confession, and not to receive communion until they do, not all listen. There is no excuse for refusing to go to the sacrament of confession; it is necessary for our salvation, and to treat it as optional is in itself a grave sin. I know this might be unpleasant to hear, but it must be said; especially now in this odd situation that the Lord has allowed us to enter.

We all know (or at lease we should) that no one except the priest is required to receive communion at every Mass. In this time of so many people being deprived of communion, it is as if the Lord is saying He wants "less frequent communion" rather than more. Better to have less frequent communion, and yet have more people receive it in a state of grace, than to have more frequent and they receive it in sin.

Think about the situation we are in: today it is easier to receive Confession than the Eucharist! What an interesting twist on what has been happening for the last century. It would be foolish to ignore the spiritual consequences of what we are going through. If God has not chosen this for us, at the very least He has allowed it to happen (and anything He allows He does willingly). Confession, available; communion, hard to find. Coincidence? I doubt it. Go to confession.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, 2020

"Whose fault is it?"

There is the old story of the guys who played a prank on a friend. While he was sleeping they came in quietly and placed a small dab of limburger cheese on his upper lip (in case you are unaware: limburger smells awful!). When he woke up he said "this room smells bad", and went into the living room. There he said, "this room smells bad too", and went outside. When outside he said, "the whole world smells bad!"

Blame is a hard thing to accept; we all know that. Like the man in the story, we will usually look for someone else to blame before accepting the blame ourselves. Yet, sometimes there is actually no one to blame. In this week's gospel reading, the Apostles asked Jesus "who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" In that instance Jesus makes it clear that the blindness did not happen because of any one particular sin. Of course, we all know that blindness (like any other physical ailment) is only a part of this fallen world; so in one sense, blindness is a result of sin in general, but not of any one instance of sin for the man in the gospel.

What our Lord also makes clear, however, is that the blindness was not merely haphazard, as though it had no purpose whatsoever. Rather Jesus says that it happened so "that the works of God might be made visible through him". In other words, the healing of the blind man in that instance was what was really on display. God wanted to show the wonderful work that He can do in the midst of pain and suffering. God often works in this exact manner. He allows a suffering to occur precisely so that He can show His grace in the midst of it. Do we all see that grace? Sadly, we do not. That is why we need to open ourselves up to the work of God so that it "might be made visible" to us.

In the midst of the pain and suffering of the world today (sickness, economic worry, the loss of public Mass, etc.), I can guarantee that God is wanting to do a wonderful work. He always does. The blind man in the gospel was not suffering for his own sin specifically, and what we are suffering is not necessarily for any particular sin of ours. Yet, as the Apostles asked the question, we should as well. It is a perfect (personal) question for Lent: "Lord, is there a sin that I am suffering for that I need to repent of?" That is one of the primary reasons why He allows us to suffer: to make us turn to Him in our time of need.

As we all struggle with the spread of a terrible virus throughout the whole world, we may be tempted to look for someone to blame. Ultimately, we will likely never know who to "blame" for this (and presuming that we do know, is prideful), so we should leave the "blame game" alone. Instead we need to ask "am I to blame?" This helps us keep the right focus, and it helps us to make sure that we are maintaining the virtues of faith, hope and charity. We need to be a good example of holiness in these days, and the only way that we can do that is by working, diligently, on the spiritual disciplines. When this pandemic is all over (and it will end someday), it is possible that the world will look different than it does now. Will Catholics be ready to step into the gap and encourage penitence and holiness in those around them? What we are doing now will make all the difference then. ✠

Friday, March 20, 2020

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent, 2020

I know this is a bit late for last Sunday. I was sick (yes again) and was unable to say Mass or give a homily to my people. It was a bit disappointing to prepare a homily and then find that I was unable to deliver it. Therefore, although this is not the way I normally do it, I have decided to rework that homily into a post here and give it to you. In the future, since I cannot now say public Mass on Sunday and give my weekly homily, I will be writing them out and posting them here so that those who are interested can read them. 

So, here goes . . .

"More than she bargained for"

There was once a wealthy man sitting in his new $11,000,000 home that had just been finished a few days before. He was entertaining guests and it happened to be raining. He noticed after just a few minutes that the roof was leaking directly on his head where he was sitting on his $5,000 couch. So he quickly calls the contractor who had built the house and starts yelling and complaining. The contractor simply says, “I don't see what the problem is; just move your couch.”

That is not exactly the solution to the problem, but we all know what it is like when we do not want to admit our faults and failures. In the gospel for the the third Sunday of Lent, Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well, and she clearly does not want to admit her faults (and they were apparently many).

The Samaritans had a vague and incomplete view of God and religion. They were confused in many areas, but Jesus does not confront her in that regard. No, rather He chooses to do spiritual surgery and make her open her soul to Him. He shows her that He already knows her sins, and when she realizes that she cannot hide anything from Jesus, at that point she also recognizes the reality that He is her Savior. In fact, we could say that she had no real peace until she admitted her sins. We often think the opposite: we can have peace if we hide our sins and go on with life. That is not what Jesus was doing for her; He was telling her that Confession and honesty about sin are the only ways to find peace.

In our first reading for this last Sunday we read of people who were fretting about whether God really cared for them. In the second reading, St. Paul tells us that we find true peace only in Christ. These two, tied together, are saying the same thing that the Gospel is saying. Apart from God we fret and worry; when we come to Him in humble honesty, then we find real peace. We can only find that peace, though, if we are willing for Christ to do a work of spiritual surgery on our souls like He did for the Samaritan woman. No, the place and manner of surgery might not be the same for us as for her, but Jesus knows where to operate.

Many today are worried about the coronavirus, and that is something we genuinely should be concerned about. Yet, much more should we be concerned about our spiritual health. Do not allow any worries or concerns that you have about physical well being overshadow the importance of your eternal soul. The Samaritan woman had done something in her life that enabled (or forced) her to ignore her sins, and Jesus made her give it up.

She came to the well thinking that all she needed was physical water, and she got far more than she bargained for. The Lord knew what she really needed. Somehow that was the right moment for her, and she was open to hearing what Jesus had to say. Are you open right now for the Lord to speak to you? Are you willing to confess your sins to Him and have Him do a spiritual surgery for the healing of your soul?

Only when we let Christ look within can we be healed by Him and find that peace that He offers. Denial is no way to find peace; the sacrament of Confession is how God communicates His grace of forgiveness to us. Do not presume that because a penance service was cancelled, that you cannot go to confession. All priests can still hear confessions by appointment. If you have not yet gone to confession during Lent, call me; call one of my brother priests; set up an appointment. Open yourself to the Lord, and He will grant you His "pardon and peace".

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Affliction and Plague

Are you afraid? Are you concerned about dying? Are you frightened that something out of your control will end your life? How many of you, upon reading those questions, immediately thought about the coronavirus? If so, you should know that there is a good side and a bad side to that. The good side is that it is always helpful if we take seriously the fact that we have to appear before the Judgment seat of Christ someday. The bad side is that you may be fearful of the wrong thing.

To a certain degree we should be afraid--always--but not necessarily of some virus that can end our lives. Our Lord tells us often that our "fears" should have the right priorities. See, for example, the familiar passage in the gospel of Matthew:
[D]o not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (10:28).
Of course, our Lord does not want us cowering in fear about the possibility of spending eternity in Hell, but He does want us to have some kind of fear about it (or He would not have told us to do so!). The godly fear that we are supposed to have about the almighty power of our eternal Judge should always be with us. Yet, we all know that it fades at times. When that happens we need a good reminder to help get our minds back on track.

So then, what are the things in your life that cause you to worry? If you are truly worried about dying from the latest virus, I have to ask, "why?" What is it about leaving this world that causes you fear? Is it because you are unable to let go of things in this world (which is sinful, by the way)? Is it because you are genuinely frightened that you may not do so well when you stand before the Lord (cf. 1 Cor 3:13-15)? If neither of those are a concern for you, then why are you afraid? If you are properly detached from the things of this world, your faith is strong, and you are in a state of grace (and thus, been to confession recently) then you should be confident in Christ.

There is a wonderful passage in the book of Sirach that speaks of fear and the things that go along with it.
Much labor was created for every man, and a heavy yoke is upon the sons of Adam, from the day they come forth from their mother’s womb till the day they return to the mother of all. Their perplexities and fear of heart—their anxious thought is the day of death, from the man who sits on a splendid throne to the one who is humbled in dust and ashes, from the man who wears purple and a crown to the one who is clothed in burlap; there is anger and envy and trouble and unrest, and fear of death, and fury and strife. And when one rests upon his bed, his sleep at night confuses his mind. He gets little or no rest, and afterward in his sleep, as though he were on watch, he is troubled by the visions of his mind like one who has escaped from the battle-front; at the moment of his rescue he wakes up, and wonders that his fear came to nothing. With all flesh, both man and beast, and upon sinners seven times more, are death and bloodshed and strife and sword, calamities, famine and affliction and plague (40:1-9).
Notice what the author is telling us. He wants us to realize that there are a lot of things that everyone can be fearful of (and no one is without fear). Notice, specifically, that his list includes, right at the end of my quotation, "plague". In the Scriptures, a "plague" is not always a judgment of God; but it can be. This means that whenever a massive sickness spreads around us, we should ask ourselves, "if this is a judgment of God, what does God want me to learn from it?" Can you do that right now? If not, it likely means that your heart is so fixated on the things of this world that you cannot see the things of the next world -- and that is a dangerous state to be in (more dangerous than having an incurable virus!).

Right now, there are a few things that actually do have me a bit worried (not fearful, just a serious concern). I am more "worried" about a potential lock-down in the area I live in and the restrictions that go with it than I am about the virus itself. I am also worried, just a bit, about the panic that people are in; this can hurt more people than the disease can. We should be concerned about these things, because when they happen, sometimes people get a bit nutty. They start scrambling in desperation because they believe that physical death is the worst thing that can happen to them (and it is not). Those fears, however, are small.

When we encounter things like this virus, it is the time when we should be thinking more about our spiritual state than our physical state. That does not mean that we are supposed to ignore our physical health. It does mean, however, that we need to keep our priorities straight (as I said above). Try, right now, to measure your concerns. What really takes a higher level of importance in your heart? Is it whether you catch the coronavirus or is it whether you die in a state of grace? I have no idea whether the coronavirus is going to become a global catastrophe like the bubonic plague, or the flu pandemic of the last century. Whether it does or not, whether you catch it or not, each of us needs to make sure that we are working on our spiritual well being.

Although I am not sure it would work, the suggestion from the Polish Bishops is the exact right perspective. They apparently said that in order to decrease the numbers of people in the Mass (smaller groups = less likelihood of spreading the virus) then Churches should have more Masses, not less! If a parish that fits everyone into one Mass on Sunday had 5 Masses on Sunday, then you would have 1/5 of the people in the Church at a time (and the greater spiritual impact of more Masses offered up!). Aside from the exhaustion potential for someone like me who already does 4 Masses every weekend (I know how tired I am after 4 Masses in 24 hours, I am not sure what I would feel like after 20 Masses!). The point is correct though. We need greater spiritual devotion right now, not less.

The passage I quoted above from Sirach does not end where my quotation does. It goes on to point out just what we all need to hear right now.
Riches and strength lift up the heart, but the fear of the Lord is better than both. There is no loss in the fear of the Lord, and with it there is no need to seek for help. The fear of the Lord is like a garden of blessing, and covers a man better than any glory (40:26-27).
We all can get sick, and every one of us will die eventually. This means that our fear of death is a reality, and it can even cripple us. When we are crippled by the fear of physical death, then we need to get help. The fear of the Lord, however, will never cripple us. It will, in fact, give us strength; strength to move on, and strength to stand fast in these troubling and confusing times.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Good Suffering

"Well, I have to say, that was the best case of the flu I have had in a long time!" Can you think of the last time that you heard someone say something like that? I myself actually said it (quietly) just yesterday morning. Yes, I caught the flu recently and it knocked me out of commission for a couple days. You may be asking why I would have said it was the "best case of the flu". To begin with, as Catholics, we already know that all suffering is for our good and can be offered up to our Lord for the good of others. Yet, there is much more to it than that.

There are often times when we suffer something and can only see our own pain. In these times we forget about the beauty of "offering it up" and the suffering comes and goes with no spiritual fruit coming from it (on days like that, you can almost hear an audible sigh come from your guardian angel). I can thank our gracious God: this was not one of those times. Right at the beginning when I started feeling the onset of the aches, chills, and sore throat, the Lord put some people on my heart that were deeply in need of prayer. By the grace of God I immediately offered up my pain and suffering to our Lord for the sake of those very people.

The consequences of this are definitely more than I will ever know, but there are a couple that I am aware of. Firstly, it made the rest of the time being sick more bearable. I saw it as something I was doing for someone else (not just having to put up with). In addition, it caused me to remember those people more frequently and I offered up extra prayers for them as well. My perspective changed entirely on what my experience was all about because of the way in which our Lord promised to "use" our suffering (as small as the flu may be) by combining it with His sufferings.

It all makes me think of the time I was trying to teach one of my sons to hit a baseball. I would throw the ball to him as directly as I could into the line of his swing. At first, he missed every single one, but I kept up and eventually he nailed it. I can picture our Lord in Heaven saying, "OK, I will send this trial at him; let's see if he can take advantage of it". Each time we miss those opportunities, God says "try again" and gives us another shot.

How many "baseballs" has God thrown to you and you swung and missed? We used to say (maybe they still do; I do not pay attention to sports, so I do not know) when someone hit the ball real well that he "got good wood on that". We each need to work on our "hitting average" (to keep the metaphor) and take better advantage of all our trials and difficulties. Have you suffered something recently and "missed taking advantage of it"? Ready yourself, right now, for the next suffering that God will toss to you. He always throws it right where we can hit it if we only try. May Jesus help you to use it rightly so that you can offer it up.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Just Sayin' . . .

I saw this over at Fr. Z's blog and could not resist spreading the word. Just sayin'...

Friday, February 28, 2020

An "Elegant" Mass

In 1965, Catholic author Evelyn Waugh was troubled by the new developments that he saw occurring in the Catholic Church as a result of the Second Vatican Council (both those that were supposed to occur, and those that were not [the latter of which, were many]). In a published letter he made an interesting comment:
"The Anglicans have an elegant and comprehensible form of service. All they lack is valid orders to make it preferable. If a completely English Mass is desired the first book of Edward VI with very few amendments, would be satisfactory. Instead we have a jumble of Greek, Latin and uncouth English."
"Uncouth English" is correct. The Novus Ordo (even the current third edition) is not what any English scholar would consider "elegant". Sometimes the wording in the Novus Ordo is so convoluted that it is hard to understand what it is talking about (which the exact opposite of what the translators intended).

What if that which Waugh suggested had actually occurred in the late 60's? What would the Catholic Church look like today? We can only speculate, but what he thought would be a good idea way back then, is precisely what has occurred in the Divine Worship Mass today. His words are almost prophetic.

Imagine with me for just a moment what the Catholic Church would have become if the vernacular form of the Mass had gone in that direction. In one sense, there would never have been a need for the Ordinariates. Anglicans who converted and became Catholic would have seen many of their traditions upheld and it is likely the case that many more would have "swam the Tiber" much earlier (!).

Think of the many catechetical errors that occurred over the last 50 years; would many (if not all) of them have been forestalled? All the liberal mumbo-jumbo-tinkering with the Mass that has happened would probably not ever have occurred. Priests would still be saying Mass ad orientem and it would thus be rare for them to try to get the people to focus on them personally (because they would be far less tempted to think the whole thing is about them). Most important of all, there would be few, if any, who would tout the idea that Vatican II was a "break with the past".

Yes, much of this post is along the lines of "probably" ideas, and "likely" statements, with very little that is definite. We cannot but guess at what could have happened. Of course, we live in this present world (the one that our Lord chose for us to live in), and not in the world of fantasy and speculation. Thus, we are only able to deal with what is real; but we can learn from the speculations of what might have been; even Jesus spoke of the "what if?" factor (cf. Matthew 11:20-24, et. al.).

Our Lord's intent with explaining the hypothetical "what if" factor appears to have been to spur His listeners on to penitence and greater faithfulness. Hence, for us to consider the hypothetical situation of a different form of the Novus Ordo being given after Vatican II, should motivate us to have a greater appreciation for what we have been given. In other words, the opportunity was missed 50 years ago, and yet our Lord apparently still wanted us to have an "elegant and comprehensible" form of the Mass, for that is what we have now in the Divine Worship Mass.

As someone who almost majored in English in college (just a couple classes shy), I have a passion for well spoken language. The "old English" that appears in the Divine Worship form of the Mass is quite elegant, and perfectly understandable. There is something significant about having the words of the Mass be in a form that we do not currently use for common speech. It takes the Mass to a level that is distinct from what is used on a daily basis and lifts it above--exactly what is possible in the Traditional Latin Mass (sadly, however, many who attend it do not understand it at all, so it is "elegant" but not always "comprehensible"!).

We who attend the Divine Worship Mass regularly (whether members of the Ordinariate or not) have a great treasure that is unlike anything the Church ever experienced before. Let us be thankful for what has been given to us and never doubt that God's timing is better than ours. For those who have never experienced the Divine Worship Mass, I encourage you to do so. As Evelyn Waugh acknowledged, it is truly "elegant".

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Today, we receive the imposition of ashes in the Mass. Why? Have you ever wondered about the reason for the use of ashes? The most particular reason relates to the traditional form of the admonition spoken by the priest when the ashes are applied: "Remember that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return". In other words: remember, you are going to die someday.

I have performed a number of funerals since being ordained as a priest in the Catholic Church, and I always am concerned for the family and loved ones of the deceased. The only way to heal after a great loss is through dealing with the loss; we cannot heal if we deny that the person has died. Yet, much of our modern behavior regarding death seems to try to run against that idea. We keep death in hospitals (rarely does anyone die at home unless it is from an accident); we decorate the deceased with make-up to try to make them look like they are alive and just sleeping; we are not accustomed to death.

Thinking about our mortality may seem like an unpleasant thing, but it is truly good for us. No, we should not be constantly frightened about dying -- that can be debilitating. We should, however, realize that this life will end someday. We will all have to appear before the Judgment seat of Christ to give account for our lives. If we keep that perspective in our minds, then it will properly help us to make wise decisions. Yet, let us admit it: who really enjoys thinking about death and Judgment Day?

When we compare our spirituality with that of our forefathers of centuries ago, we are sissies (and not just a little bit). The intense and rigorous spirituality of past generations makes us look like we are no different than the heathens in some areas! We do not like to hear about mortality and although we seem to have no problem with watching death and mayhem in movies and video games, we do not want to be told that we ourselves are going to die (ever!). The Latin phrase "momento mori" is related directly to this. It means "remember that you are mortal". That was a common expression in the medieval period, but not as much today. It would not be a bad thing to tell ourselves this regularly (maybe print it on a coffee mug!).

The other way to think about the ashes is a fairly obvious application of what is being said above. We should not just be thinking about our death, but also about the life we live up to the time of that death (whenever that occurs). Consider it this way: if we are all going to die someday, and we are also going to have to stand before the Judgment of God, then that means that every action, every decision that we make, every choice that we approve of--it all matters. There is nothing about which we can say "it doesn't matter" because it all plays a part in our eternal standing. 

Is that how you think of what you do? Do you slip occasionally into the mode of "this is just a little sin, so it's no big deal"? This is what the ashes today help to remind us to avoid. "Remember, what you do matters." I hope that all of you are able to attend an Ash Wednesday Mass and receive the ashes (you do not need to be Catholic to receive them), and when you do, let that idea sink deeply into your heart. "Being here in Mass matters; how I treat others matters; what I say to my family matters; how generous I am in giving to the Church matters; etc."

I do not want us to get morbid; certainly not. I do, however, want us to be realistic. To go through life with the idea of "I'm going to live forever" is not only the habit of 18 year-olds; I have seen this attitude in people of all ages. Instead (not just on Ash Wednesday, but every day of the year) we should have the frame of mind that asks regarding every action "how will this impact my eternal destiny?" And today is a wonderful means to help us keep that in heart and mind. So, I will say it again: Remember, you are mortal.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Why Are You Singing?

There was once a funeral Mass in a Catholic Church for an individual who was widely known and greatly loved throughout the larger community. Many people were there, and the family of the deceased asked a non-catholic to "sing a song" during the Mass. The priest was very reluctant because the non-catholic had never been to a catholic Mass before and so did not understand the nature of the Mass. After much pressure he agreed to allow the song. Afterwards, he greatly regretted his choice. The singer turned what was supposed to be a communion hymn into an opportunity to draw attention to himself. This is not to say that the singer did not have talent, he did; yet, he was not leading other people to God, but to himself ("look at me, ain't I wonderful?").

What is singing for? Maybe it would help if I began by asking, "what is singing not for?" If we can eliminate some of those errors, then it would make it easier for us to consider what singing is actually for. Of course, we need to differentiate between singing in general and singing within a liturgy. These two situations are certainly not equivalent. How and what we might sing when we are driving down the road compared to what is done in Church should not follow the same rules.

For example, I have some very eclectic tastes when it comes to music; I do not like all music, but I do appreciate some very diverse musical styles. This does not mean that everything that I like to listen to is necessarily appropriate in all the same settings. During meals I like to listen to very soft ambient kinds of music (I have even read that it helps with digestion!). I do not, however, like that kind of music to be playing when I am driving--the absolute last thing I want when driving is to fall asleep. When driving, if I listen to music, I prefer some pretty heavy rock and roll; the tempo helps to keep me alert and focused on the road. As you might expect, I do not want heavy rock music playing when I am eating--not relaxing at all.

This is just a simple example of how different musical styles have different settings. There is another layer, however, to what we are dealing with here. It is not enough to say that certain styles of music have a proper location, for what I consider "proper" for one style of music might not be what anyone else would agree with (maybe someone likes soft music when they are driving so that they do not get stressed?). This means that we must realize the "personal taste" factor cannot be ignored. You see, we in modern society are so enamored with entertainment, that it is very difficult for us to distinguish between something that we like because it is personally enjoyable, and something we appreciate because it has a value that goes beyond ourselves.

What is the "value" of a certain musical style while driving (to continue to use this metaphor)? It will be determined largely on what the need of the situation is (which will not be the same for everyone). In asking this question, we must acknowledge that in the worship of God, it is not merely an issue of "taste" because we are not dealing with something that is allowed to be tailored to each individual's personal preference (contrary to the goofy antics that you see in some Catholic Masses!). There is only one goal that people are supposed to be aiming at when it comes to worship: personal humility and reverence toward Christ (which are two sides of the same coin).

Singing in the Mass in such a way that we draw attention to ourselves (as with the individual mentioned above) for the purpose of self-aggrandizement is a grave sin. Yet, drawing attention to yourself is just as self-serving as is singing merely because you enjoy the song. When the singing is not done to glorify God and assist those present in drawing closer to Him, then it is sinful. Just because someone enjoys a particular song does not mean that it is automatically glorifying God. Doing a "good job" does not guarantee that you are encouraging holiness. There are a number of musicians with great talent who are doing nothing to glorify God.

The purpose for music in the Mass is to do exactly as I have said above: lead the faithful to a deeper personal humility and reverence for God. This is why the Church says (yes, still today!) that Gregorian Chant always takes precedence in the Mass; all other forms are secondary. Pop music might be enjoyed, but it does little to deepen reverence. Singing because we enjoy the music is fine if we are singing at home, but that is not supposed to be our motivation for music in the Mass. So then, the question "why do we sing?" is easy to answer. "Why are you singing?" is the real question for us.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Some Thoughts on Querida Amazonia

Yesterday, Pope Francis released his conclusions on the Amazon Synod. The "final statement" is called "Querida Amazonia". In it, he does not refer specifically to the proposal of allowing married deacons to be ordained as priests, but he clearly does not give a big thumbs up to it either. He also does not express approval of the idea of women being ordained as deacons. Most took this as a negative response to both of these issues (and traditional Catholics were pleased at that). Some complained that it was too vague and that those who wish to continue to promote these ideas will find a loophole. Maybe; maybe not.

Regardless of what people are interpreting from this (and I am sure there are numerous points of view on it), we cannot be sure what he actually thinks (and, to some degree, it does not matter--the Pope is supposed to guide us to Jesus, not to himself). All we can know is what the Holy Father said, and generally, most would acknowledge that if he does not give express approval of a change in Church practice, that the current rules remain in force. If it is actually as bad as many (who are wringing their hands in fear) say it is or if it is better than we think, we are always supposed to move on in faithfulness.

It is also likely that the Pope is aware of the fact that if he were to seek to change the rules on priestly celibacy (which could happen) and women's ordination (which could not happen) there would likely be a major schism in the Church. Aside from the potential lightning from Heaven, and the Earth opening up and swallowing the heretics (fire, brimstone, etc.), we can be certain that the Holy Spirit will protect us. The promise of the Church's endurance through every trial still stands firm (and even an erring Pope cannot overcome the Holy Spirit). Regarding the potential schisms, there would likely be a whole new surge of offshoots like the schismatic SSPX, and the ugliness that would follow could be beyond anything we have ever seen.

Just to be clear: the rule on male-only ordination in the Catholic Church cannot be changed; that one is set in stone. If, however, the customary rule of priestly celibacy (in the Latin Rite portion of the Catholic Church) were to be changed, it should only be under vastly different circumstances than what we are dealing with today. Right now they are saying "let's get rid of the rule so we can have more priests". That is merely a pragmatic motivation, and not one based on clear theological or biblical reasoning.

For the Church to reach a point where the Pope and Bishops can examine this issue without the "static" of modernist and irrational thought, it will likely take us at least a few more generations. The motivation and desire to change the celibacy custom must come from a conviction and a soundly reasoned doctrinal position; not from a desire to fix a problem that is entirely unrelated to the issue of celibacy. Changing it now would be like using a screwdriver to hammer a nail because it is possible to swing the screwdriver; it might work, but you are going to ruin the screwdriver.

As I read through some of the statements of the Holy Father on what must be done about the shortage of priests in the Amazon, it was interesting to see a distinctly standard Catholic position put forward (and quite gently at that). It appears as if Francis' encouragement is "stop whining, buckle down and deal with the situation, and teach parents to be better at raising their boys in the faith so that they will want to be priests"! I am sure that those who examine the tiniest details of what Francis wrote might disagree with me, but reading between the lines, this is a logical conclusion from the admonitions he makes about evangelism.

What if Pope Francis' intent is to "sneak something in through his vague statements" (as one commentator claimed today)? I say, "so what?" In other words, what would it really change? He is accountable for both his mistakes and any sinful intentions he may have (if any), and the Holy Spirit promises to protect us from ourselves. Whatever the intent of Pope Francis may be (even the intent of the liberal Catholics who want to protestantize the Catholic Church), we cannot behave like "chicken little", because the sky is not now, nor ever will it be, falling.

I will bet that at least some traditional Catholics will feel like we dodged a bullet. The Pope basically said "no" and now we should be able to move on. That seems to be the position that Cardinal Mueller seems to take in his comments on Querida Amazonia. Even if we had not dodged the bullet (if that is possible), we can trust that our Lord will get us through that as well. What would that look like? Many new married priests, many bad parish experiences, many unexpected consequences, lots of regret, and even more clean-up operations; this is not a pleasant prospect. Also, if people attempted to ordain women into holy orders, there would be various types of chaos from those who are holding to Catholic orthodoxy; there would be numerous invalid ceremonies, and lots of time cleaning up and backtracking. We should never want something like this, but we could get through it if we had to.

Remember, Christ is still on His throne and no errant teaching or mistaken practice can change that. The Church has endured 2000 years of much worse problems than this, and she will endure this as well. Thank our Lord for what we have, ask Him to protect us from what is coming, and seek to glorify Him in all you do.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

What's Your Sign?

No, not your astrological sign (I guess I showed my age by even making the reference?). I am referring to something much more important than the position of the stars on your birth date. Each one of us gives off a certain "atmosphere" or "mood" by our personality, and it is usually noticeable as soon as we enter a room. Yes, it is sometimes quite vague, and hard to determine by others, but that does not mean that we are not giving off a particular "vibe" to people. Sometimes there is no word to describe the particular "feeling", but it can still be recognized by most.

So, I ask: what is your "sign"? Presuming that our "vibe" can be seen by others, there is a "sign" that goes along with that vibe and though not all can decipher it, it is there for all to see. Imagine someone walking into a room and he glances around the room at the people who are there, scowling and breathing slowly and deeply. We would presume intense anger, and that he is likely looking for someone who made him angry. The sign he is "wearing" says "beware of dog" (for lack of a kinder euphemism).

Think of it this way: it is like we are all wearing a street sign around our neck and it says something to others (it could be warning signs, or it could be something more encouraging). "Falling rocks ahead", "uneven surface", or even "slippery roadway" are a few that we might see on some who are unpleasant to be around. So what is your "sign" that you present to others? When you enter a room, how do people feel inside? Most often others will not tell you how they feel, but they can give it away by subtle body language.

How do others behave around you? Do they strike up a conversation, or avoid you? Maybe some are drawn to you, while others seem to squirm uncomfortably? If you have been thinking that it is their fault, then it may be time to reconsider. People are naturally drawn to be around those who exude a pleasant disposition; and they are also naturally deterred from being around those who seem like a human version of a Tasmanian devil.

We could also describe this "sign" as a "cloud". It is an entirely different metaphor, but it helps us to see the same subject from an alternate perspective. What kind of a cloud hovers over you? Is it a white puffy cloud that shows you have a "sunny" personality and which encourages others to want to speak to you? Is it that type of cloud that makes people want to lay down on a hill and stare up at the sky? Or, is it a dark gray cloud that makes people run for shelter?

Whether you think of a cloud or a sign (or both), you are telling others something about you. Sometimes these "clouds" or "signs" that we bring with us are unknown to us. We go about our daily lives completely unaware that we are driving others away, or sometimes even making our own lives difficult because of an "aura" that we carry with us everywhere. It can be the tone of voice you use, or an expression of the eyes, or even the way you hunch your shoulders. There is a language behind it, and it impacts how we are able to interact with others.

I knew someone a while back who always complained that people did not like him. He seemed ignorant of the fact that his own manner of speaking to others made people uncomfortable around him, so most people that knew him avoided him when he came into a room. This can be caused by someone who is over-friendly or equally by someone who is anti-social. Quiet people often complain that no one will talk to them, and boisterous people often complain that everyone else is boring -- it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It is truly remarkable how many people today are socially inept. The more time that people spend with blue faces (i.e. head bent down, eyes glued to their phone screen) the less ability they have to socialize properly with others. There are also those who were never taught by their parents how to interact with others so they are unable even to start up a basic conversation with anyone they do not already know. If you have someone in both of these situations, then I am sure that psychiatrists will likely find some diagnosis (and an attendant medication) to justify their lack of social grace.

In the Church we are supposed to be a social community. In other words, we are supposed to be spending time with one another. A parish family that only interacts during the Mass (which, if the rules of the Mass are obeyed, means minimal interaction with each other) is socially crippled and bound to end up dying a slow death. The Mass is where we are supposed to interact as a group with the Lord. Even the "peace" (while not wrong) is somewhat extraneous to what is going on in the Mass.

When we come together in settings outside of the Mass, then we are forced to talk to one another and that means that likely we will offend each other and have to go so far as to "forgive one another as Christ has forgiven you" (cf. Ephesians 4:32). That kind of interaction might sound like something that we want to avoid, but that is like cutting off your hand to avoid having your finger poke your eye. Those challenging interactions (that we all need to learn how to deal with) are a part of being the body of Christ and growing closer to our Lord. Jesus gave us one another in a parish community for the sake of helping each other grow closer to God (especially in the relational challenges!).

Each and every one of us needs to examine ourselves and ask whether are behaving like a part of "the body" or whether we are behaving more like a parasite on the body (i.e. something that everyone wants to get rid of). Social involvement in the community may not be essential for our eternal salvation, but it is essential for a healthy parish community to thrive. It is not just for what we can get out of it, but also for what we can put into it. Remember, Christ did not just call "you" to salvation, He called "us"!