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'...