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. ✠