Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Homily Feast of the Holy Family Year B

I know I'm jumping the gun a bit here, it's not even Christmas yet! But, I'm currently only writing homilies for Sunday readings. Below is my homily for next Sunday's readings on the Feast of the Holy Family.

For the past few weeks, we have been so intensely focused on the coming of Jesus Christ, that today the Church invites us to take a step back and look at a larger picture: The Holy Family. The Son of God, in His Divinity, could have come to us full grown and alone. Or he could have come as a child under the protection of some royal court. Instead, he chose to come to us in the midst of the most fundamental dynamic in human life: the family. The first thing Jesus sanctified by his presence was a family home – the poor cave Mary prepared for Joseph and their newborn Son. The first instrument he uses to draw men to himself is the family. Notice how this Holy Family immediately attracted the wise men and the shepherds to come and adore the Infant Jesus, because Jesus was at the center of their life. In this way the Holy Family is the greatest example we have ever been given for how our own families should be formed: centered on Jesus. Does the joint witness and holiness of our family draw others to us and therefore to Christ? Is He the center of our family life? A little examination of conscience for our family as a whole is important for us to do today as we reflect on the Holy Family.

But, what should we think when we notice that not much is said of the Holy Family at all in Scripture? In fact, the Bible is silent about Jesus’ entire adolescence and early adulthood, attributes no words and very few scenes to St. Joseph, and not much more to the Blessed Mother. Should we just think then that the Holy Family is too good to be true? Too good to be a feasible example for us to follow? If we thought this way, I’m afraid we would miss the whole point. It is true that Mary is the greatest of all creatures, without sin and ever-virgin. And Joseph was a “just man” and the protector and foster-father of the Son of God. And Jesus was both fully divine and fully human! So this isn’t your typical family! But, by showing their poor means, their long journeys, their devotion, and their many years in obscurity, Luke highlights the ordinariness of this family despite its extraordinary members. This is a family we can and should see ourselves in. This is a family we can and should relate too.

In reality, most of our families are in relative obscurity. We don’t make the front page very often or have our own reality show. None of our relatives are Hollywood celebrities or musicians. Our families work hard, try to make a living, pray together, raise their kids well, and try to do the best they can. Our families are most like the Holy Family when they are humble and simple like this. But, today’s celebration of the Holy Family calls us to continual conversion.

First, to all the children here this morning: Are you like Jesus was when he was a child? Do you remember what our Gospel said about him? It said he “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” Are you doing what you can to stay healthy and strong? Are you eating good foods and avoiding too many snacks and sweets? Do you play outside and exercise or do you spend hours playing video games? Do you listen to your parents and remember their advice and learn from them? Are you putting your best effort into your homework and reading books to develop your mind? Most importantly, do you pay attention at Mass, talk to God often, and pray with your brothers and sisters? If you can do your best in these things then you can be like the child Jesus in the Holy Family.

To the Mothers and Fathers here this morning I’d like to share a story from my own childhood. One of my fondest memories is of my Dad teaching my three brothers and me how to pray each night before we went to sleep. My dad was a manager at McDonald’s for most of my childhood and so he often worked long hours and late nights. But I remember well how he would come home late and instead of finding us fast asleep, my brothers and I would be wide awake laughing and teasing each other. So he would gather all of us in one of our bedrooms and we’d all pile onto one bed. He would have us take three deep breaths to calm down and then he would take a little prayer card out of his shirt pocket. He would say a line of the prayer and we would say it after him until we memorized the whole prayer. Soon we learned several prayers and formed a regimen of prayers that I still say to this day.

Since I started to take my faith more seriously, back in my senior year in college, I began to look back on memories like this and treasure them greatly. But I used to always wonder why my mom had never been a part of it. I used to regret not having my mom there with us. I asked my dad about this one time a few years ago and then I learned the truth. My dad would come home dog-tired after 12 hours or more at McDonald’s and all he would feel like doing is kicking his feet up for a while. But my mother would always encourage him night after night to go into our rooms and pray with us. She was a Catholic elementary school teacher so she did much to teach us the faith. But on those precious evenings she worked behind the scenes as the gentle inspiration my dad needed to be the spiritual leader of our family.

I share this story with you not to imply that I had the perfect family, we had our own spiritual and worldly shortcomings. My point was to convince you not to take for granted your role as spiritual mothers and fathers of our Catholic faith. Our children have a natural capacity for awe and wonder and mystery. Their innocent souls are uninhibited fonts of faith, hope, and love. As a spiritual father myself I implore us all to work together in our families to cultivate and nurture the budding Catholicism of our children. They are looking to us to validate and share the faith that they are being taught so well in our school. On one hand I see many parents who are doing a great job of this, they encourage their children to participate at Mass or even to serve it; they involve their children in the life of the parish; and they devote much time and effort to their spiritual development. Most of our families do this.

But we also know relatives in this parish or in our extended family for whom we are concerned. For example, what message do we send our children when we teach them how to pray at school but then refuse to pray with them at home? Or when we teach them to say the rosary at but then forget to pray it together as a family? Or worst of all, when we prepare them for their First Confession and their First Communion but then never go to Confession ourselves or fail to bring them to Confession or even to Mass on Sundays? The once a week school Mass is not enough. Our children are open vessels; when they experience the graces of our faith they want it all. Let’s not give them mixed signals. Let’s not ensnare them in our own personal lukewarmness, if that is our struggle. Vatican II taught us that the home is a domestic church and parents by their words and actions are the first heralds of the faith. Let’s embrace this responsibility with all our hearts, with generosity and with joy. We can become a barrier to our own salvation and that of our children or we can make the narrow path accessible to them and easy to find. On this feast of the Holy Family, let us remember the words of St. Francis de Sales, a Doctor of the Church: “Raising a house, that is, a family, does not consist in building a splendid residence and storing up vast worldly possessions but in training children well in the fear of God and in virtue. No trouble or labor should be spared to do this, for children are their father’s and mother’s crown” (Introduction to the Devout Life)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Homily Fourth Sunday of Advent Year B

Below is my homily on the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent:

Today we have finally reached the Fourth Sunday of Advent. During the tail-end of this season, from Dec 17 to 23, the Church observes the ancient custom of praying on each day one of the seven “O” Antiphons. They are called “O” Antiphons because each one addresses the Son of God with a different Old Testament title, beginning with the invocation “O”. These texts, traced back to seventh-century Europe, are drenched in biblical allusions offering a rich source for personal prayer and reflection during these final days of preparation for the celebration of Christmas. They also appear in the liturgy as the Gospel acclamations for each day and there is a verse for each one in the famous hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”. So, for example, up until today we have prayed to God the Son “O Wisdom”, “O Root of Jesse”, and “O Key of David”. After today we will pray to Him “O King of Nations” and finally “O Emmanuel.” But today, we pray to Him “O Dayspring”.[1] There is a beautiful hymn that accompanies this day:
O very God of very God,
And very Light of Light,
Whose feet this earth’s dark valley trod,
That so it might be bright:

Our hopes are weak, our fears are strong,
Thick darkness blinds our eyes;
Cold is the night, and, oh, we long
That you, our Sun, would rise!

And even now, through dull and grey,
The east is brightening fast,
And kindling to the perfect day
That never shall be past.

Oh, guide us till our path is done,
And we have reached the shore
Where you, our Everlasting Sun,
Are shining evermore![2]
We are beginning to see, coming from the East, the rays of the brightly shining Everlasting Son of God beaming from the Christ Child. But, in our readings today we do not see him, he is not here yet. If our readings are supposed to encapsulate the day, then where do these glimmers of light in the distance come from? Are they merely an illusion from our minds weakened by darkness, from our eyes straining to see? No, Christ is indeed shining in our readings. Resting in the womb of His Blessed Mother, he shines forth in her beauty, the beauty of the Ark of the New Covenant, just as God centuries before shined forth to his chosen people from the Ark of the Old Covenant. This is the Light we are seeing, the light bursting forth from the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Now, every time I think of the Ark of the Covenant I think of that Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. There, Indiana and his trusty Egyptian sidekick break through the roof of the Well of Souls and Indiana has to go first through all the snakes and cobras. They finally hoist the Ark out of the Well only to have it taken by the Nazis. So I imagine this huge golden chest between two long poles as it’s depicted in the movie.

Actually in the Old Testament it’s described as being only about 2.5ft square and about 4.5ft long, not near as imposing as in the movie but it was equally elaborate. It was made of special acacia wood which was incorruptible, was covered inside and out with the purest, finest gold, and had a ring of gold on top. On each of the two sides were two gold rings that two wooden poles went through to allow the Ark to be carried. Even these poles were sheathed in gold. Over the Ark, at the two extremities, were two cherubim, with their faces turned toward one another. Their outspread wings over the top of the Ark formed the throne of God, while the Ark itself was his footstool.[3]

The Ark of the Covenant was so magnificent because it stood for God’s very presence among the Hebrews. The Book of Lamentations called is “the beauty of Israel.” It also held inside three items that were crucial to their faith and identity: the tablets of the 10 commandments of God’s Law; a golden vase containing the manna that fed them in the desert; and Aaron’s rod that bloomed in affirmation of his priesthood. But the beauty of the ark was not only due to what it symbolized or what it contained but what it prefigured, what it pointed to in the future: The beauty of the purity of the Ark of the New Covenant: The Blessed Virgin Mary.

St. Luke, in our Gospel today, is very careful with the words he uses. He purposefully alludes to Old Testament images to highlight the point that they are now fulfilled. Some of his passages are direct references to the Old Testament promises while other words are only faint whispers of the stories faithful Jews were raised to know by heart.[4] Sometimes I wish I could have one of his original audience, a first century Israelite mixed among the Gentile Christians. What Joy they must have felt when they first heard St. Luke use this reference or that turn of phrase that brought to mind all they had lived and died for, for centuries – all their hopes and dreams – finally fulfilled in Jesus Christ! No word in our Gospel reading today is accidental. The point St. Luke is trying to make is that we now have a New Ark of a New Covenant with a beauty the Old Ark only aspired to have.
This point is packed with meaning! First the gold lining and covering of the old Ark point to the Immaculate purity of the Virgin Mary, the New Ark. And do you remember the three things the old Ark contained – The tablets of the Law, the golden vase of manna, and the rod of Aaron? These are also in the New Ark for Jesus Christ is the author of the Law, He is the Bread of Life, the Bread from Heaven, and he is the eternal High Priest. That’s pretty cool! Mary now assumes a role in Salvation History that was once played by the old Ark of the Covenant. Like this golden chest, she is a sacred vessel where the Lord’s presence dwells intimately with his people.[5]

“Ave!” – “Hail!” the Archangel Gabriel exclaims to her, “full of grace! The Lord is with you.” This salutation, “Hail!” meant “Rejoice” to the Hebrew people and it was their cry of Joy because God had chosen to dwell in their midst. Mary is greeted with this same cry of Joy because she is the embodiment of faithful Israel and in her very midst indeed dwells our Lord and God![6] Also, by calling her “full of grace” we have the only instance in the Bible where an angel greets a person by a title instead of a name.[7] This shows her singular importance among the history of mankind. And because fullness admits nothing else, Gabriel teaches us that Mary has been and is now filled with divine life and therefore free from all sin from the moment of her conception. When Gabriel explains how Mary is to bear the Light of the World, he says very carefully that “the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” This is the same expression used in the Greek version of the Book of Exodus to describe how Yahweh “overshadowed” the Tabernacle and the Ark, making it his dwelling place in Israel.[8]

These are actually only a few of the parallels between the Ark of the Covenant and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Others are described further on in Luke, past what our reading today describes. These are fine for now though because I wanted you all to see the outstanding beauty that Luke attributes to our Blessed Mother. She gives us hope to keep squinting for the light of the New Day ahead, Christmas Morning when Christ, the Light of the World, will dispel the darkness of sin and death. Mary’s beauty glows with this Light so let us draw near to her during this week, trusting that she will soon show us the Light of a New Hope, a New Way, a New Life, a New Day fulfilling all of God’s promises. Let us find joy in our remaining preparation. Let us rejoice with Mary in the silence of our hearts. Let us hear her sweet voice singing
O come, O Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadow put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

[1] “Praying the ‘O’ Antiphons”, The Magnificat Advent Companion, p. 83-91
[2] Ibid., p. 83
[3] "Ark of the Covenant." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 17 Dec 2008, 15:06 UTC. 19 Dec 2008 .
[4] “Mary, Ark of the Covenant”, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: Luke, by Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch, p. 21
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid., Commentary on Lk 1:28 “Hail”, p. 19
[7] Ibid., Commentary on Lk 1:28 “full of grace”
[8] Ibid., Commentary on Lk 1:35 “overshadow you”

Monday, December 15, 2008

Season-after-Advent Visit Part 2

Here's some more photos of my visit to St. Mary's about a week and a half ago.

First, the Christmas Tree is ready for the party:

After a Closing Mass, we had a nice formal dinner then the Christmas...er... Season-after-Advent party around the tree. We alternated between singing hymns together and watching various skits prepared by the guys, grouped by class or diocese. It was a lot of fun. The Pre-Theology class (Oh, those crazy kids!) did a great parody of many of the faculty. I would have laughed harder had I known it was pre-approved!
The next night some guys and I went out to eat in Hampden, a trendy sort of neighborhood near Roland Park. Now, I don't ususally go for "trendy" but I liked the restaurant we found, called Grill Art. My appetizer (French Onion Soup) and my dessert (some fancy cookies) weren't very good but the entre was spot on, a Bison Burger with cheese & bacon and homemade chips.
Here I am with Deacon Dan Hoffman, one of my best friends at the seminary. Oh and excuse my friend with the wine bottle, he's a little slow :)

We then walked over to 34th Street to enjoy some of the Christmas lights and a snowball fight

Then off to J. Patrick's, a hole-in-the-wall Irish Pub downtown. Good fun. Live Irish music. Good beer. Easy-going atmosphere.

George Bush/Austin Powers Mashup - Who throws a shoe? Honestly...

When I heard about the dork journalist who thew his shoes at President Bush I immediately thought of this Austin Powers reference. Perfect!

Little Drummer Boy again

Yunno the Christmas Carol, Little Drummer Boy? Well, I've always just kinda ignored this one every time I heard it on the radio because of the "pa rum pum pum pum"s. I didn't even realize it was a Christian song! Until recently, at a funeral, my current pastor sang it for the deceased. It was her favorite song. He did a great job and it was actually pretty moving. Check out the lyrics, first with the drums, then without. I know I'll never listen to this one the same again.

Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum.

So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
When we come.

Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That's fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum.

Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,
On my drum?

Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum.

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.

Now without the drums:
Come they told me,
A new born King to see,
Our finest gifts we bring,
To lay before the King,

So to honor Him,
When we come.

Little Baby,
I am a poor boy too,
I have no gift to bring,
That's fit to give the King,

Shall I play for you,
On my drum?

Mary nodded,
The ox and lamb kept time,
I played my drum for Him,
I played my best for Him,

Then He smiled at me,
Me and my drum.
It's actually quite beautiful.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Homily Third Sunday of Advent Year B

Below is my homily for today's readings, the Third Sunday of Advent: Gaudete Sunday

At Mass today, we celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent, also known by it’s Latin name Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for “Rejoice!” which is the fist word of our Entrance Antiphon: Gaudete in Domino semper! “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near.” This is taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In all of our readings today we see woven through them the thread of Joy. Listening closely to the unity of the readings our Mother Church gives us can provide the key to understanding what she wants to teach us. I think the key this Sunday is Christian Joy that is ours when Christ is near. Our penances, prayers, and fasting this Advent in preparation for the coming of the Lord is almost over. There is cause for great Joy! Soon, our Lord will be born again in our hearts, bursting forth with the light of day.

You know, in our society today, Joy is an elusive virtue. We always tend to either undercut it, by defining it too superficially, or over-emphasize it by making it too proud. In undercutting it we equate it with that sort of fake happiness that is simply the feeling we get when things go our way. In over-emphasizing it we turn it into haughtiness or giddiness, like when we exclaim "It can never get better than this!" Either way, we base this happiness on our circumstances which are always fleeting or on some future condition: Like, “If I could only get a different job, then I’d be happy. If I could only get a new car, then I’d be happy. If I could only get a raise, then I’d be happy. If I could only get over this illness, then I’d be happy.” But too often, what we find is we get the job, the car, the raise, and the health (maybe even all together!) and still are not satisfied. That is because the world’s allurements are all too attractive but can never bear the weight of our happiness, a happiness that should never fail, the happiness we all seek in every action that we make. Everything we say or do, from the mundane to the profound, is done to attain happiness. This is Good because it is in our nature to do so. But, we must base this happiness on a foundation that will not fade away or let us down. Only Jesus Christ, through whom all things were made, can bear the weight of our unquenchable happiness. Our infinite desire for happiness, rooted in our immortal soul, can only be satisfied by he who is all in all, the Alpha and the Omega, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Soon he will come and true Christian Joy can be ours once again.

Now that we have addressed what Joy is Not, let us take a brief look at our readings again to see what real Christian Joy is all about. In our first reading, Isaiah writes a beautiful poetic description of Joy. First it is characterized by closeness to the Lord. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he says, “he has sent me to bring glad tidings.” This Joy leads him to serve his fellow man, “the poor”, to “heal the broken hearted”, to “proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.” Who in our family, at our school, or at our work could use glad tidings brought to him? Whose day could we make a little easier this Advent? Who do we know that is broken-hearted, that could use a visit, or a phone call, or a letter from us to assure them that Christ, our Rock, will never leave us. Who do we know that is being held captive and prisoner to addiction or to unhealthy relationships? These too could use our help to free them from the tyranny of fake happiness in this world.

Also in Isaiah, see how deep-seated his joy us, it is not superficial, it is not easily lost. “I rejoice heartily in the Lord,” he exclaims, “in my God is the joy of my soul.” He then compares this joy, which is rooted in and springs from his immortal soul, to the joy that is present among a new bride and groom who are nearly bursting with joy as they prepare for their magnificent wedding: “like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels.” This too is a source of true joy my friends. One of life’s true pleasures is to behold the joy of a couple on the cusp of the Wedding Mass. They cannot wait to receive the blessing of the Lord on the great love and sacrifice they have been called by God to share. When weddings are true to this form, we can see Joy beaming from their faces. This joy is true because is mirrors the Joy that wells up in the Sacred Heart of Our Lord in his Marriage to the Church.

But, there are still more other beautiful ways in which Joy is laid out for us, the Joy to which we are destined. Our Responsorial Psalm, taking a different turn this Sunday, is taken from Luke’s Gospel rather than from the body of Psalms in the Old Testament. And this happens to be one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture, Mary’s Magnificat. “Magnificat, anima mea Dominum,” she exclaims! My soul “magnifies” or “proclaims the greatness” of the Lord, my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior. Mary proclaims this moving Canticle out of the Joy she has in visiting her cousin Elizabeth who gave homage to our Lord in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. Here too the spirit of the Lord is upon his chosen one. Here too closeness to God leads to service. This time God rests in Mary’s very self, under the light of her Immaculate Heart. The overwhelming Joy of this fact moves Mary to make a no-doubt treacherous journey alone to Elizabeth who was pregnant in her old age, “for nothing is impossible with God.”

When true Joy seems impossible to find, know that in a heart properly disposed rests the same Lord in our daily Eucharist who rested in the womb of our Blessed Mother. This too should bring us much Joy. And Elizabeth too is a great example, for she who could not see her Lord believed and “was filled with the Holy Spirit.” In the face of such joy we must do what St. Paul instructed the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks.” And this is precisely what the word “Eucharist” means; it comes from a Greek word meaning “to give thanks.” A heart filled with Christian Joy can do nothing but give thanks to God. And this is a thanks that St. Paul always gave God, even in the midst of intense suffering, because he knew and believed that his Joy is not founded on his circumstances but on the Lord who will not change, who will not waver, who will not flinch in his faithfulness to us. During these times of suffering, Joy remains not in the outward signs of laughter or cheers but in an internal Peace and Consolation that refuses to let suffering rule the day.

But, what about our Gospel? There are no words in it like “glad tidings”, “rejoice heartily”, “spirit rejoices”, or “rejoice always.” What does it have to do with Joy? It’s just about the unbelieving Levites and Pharisees interrogating John the Baptist to find out who he is, right? But, therein lies the answer: Belief. Faith. Listen again to the beginning of our Gospel: “A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” So, our thread of Joy continues right through to our Gospel after all. It is Faith in Jesus Christ, the Faith for which John paved the way, that will end in unimaginable Joy. With Faith, Joy is empowered not only to satisfy our deepest human longings but to blow them away ! Faith brings to mankind a Joy he could never have imaged, never could have fathomed. And this Faith is not in a set of principles, not in a list of rules, or a decade of commandments. Our Faith is in a Person, the Word of God, Jesus Christ. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only-begotten Son from the Father… And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:14-16)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Homily Second Sunday of Advent Year B

Oops, I've been forgetting to link to the readings for these homilies. Below is my homily for last Sunday's readings, the Second Sunday of Advent.

Today, the Second Sunday of Advent, the Church puts before us the figure of St. John the Baptist. Now, when we think of him, I bet the first things that come to mind are that camel hair shirt and his eating of locusts! Those always grab my attention when I’m reading the beginning of Mark’s Gospel. It’s easy for me, and maybe you too as the long year winds down, to lose focus on his example beyond those things. Thankfully, we have this season of Advent to take seriously again John’s message. What does it mean to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths”? What’s the difference between John’s baptism and Jesus’? Why does John say that he is “not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of [Jesus’] sandals”? Even though our Gospel reading for today is made up of only eight verses, we can see much in John the Baptist’s mission and his words that can be useful for us as we prepare for the coming of the Lord.

First, did you notice the lead up to John the Baptist in the readings beforehand? I always enjoy discovering how all of the readings tie together each Sunday. I think the Church wants us to listen closely to the readings in this way, to listen for the connections, and the brilliant way in which all of salvation history points to Christ and the glory of the Father. This buildup, from our first reading in Isaiah, to the Responsorial Psalm, to the second letter of St. Peter, culminates in the Gospel as St. John the Baptist bursts onto the scene. We get the feeling, when we listen closely to the trajectory of the readings that John’s meaning in life, his vocation, the reason he was put on this earth was prepared for him since the times of the great Old Testament Prophets and before. John’s life’s mission is to prepare the way of the Lord, Jesus Christ, to till the soil of men’s hearts to be able to receive the seeds that Jesus will plant.

Isaiah exclaims, “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!... Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed… Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord God!” It’s as if the prophet Isaiah has given to John the Baptist, centuries before his arrival, the very words that he should say. Then our Responsorial Psalm helps us understand the way that John prepared for Jesus. He didn’t just “spread the word” as if our Lord’s public appearance was some holy gossip to spread among the land. No, John prepared mankind for Jesus in a particular way, with Justice. And so we heard at the end of the psalm “Justice shall walk before him, and prepare the way of his steps.” John fervently preached to all of the people to acknowledge their sins before God and to symbolize their repentance by being washed in the Jordan River. By repentance we return to God what belongs to Him, our Love. That’s what Justice is all about. Repentance also helps us to behave correctly. Our second reading asks us, “what sort of persons ought you to be”? It then answers: “conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God”. As the last prophet of the Old Testament and the first herald of the New, John the Baptist perfectly takes the torch of all that came before him.

When we look at John the Baptist’s noble vocation, let’s not think that he is merely an isolated figure stuck in history two thousand years ago. We too are John the Baptist. We see how John inherited and echoed all of the prophecy that came before him. He even exceeded the prophets by beholding, believing, and even baptizing the long-awaited Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. But, God has prepared from all eternity your vocation as well! Just stop and think about that for a second. From all eternity, before time began, God planned your personal, individual, vocation; your mission; your reason for being. Do you know what your vocation is? What has God has prepared for you before the world began? Every single one of us has a vocation. Perhaps you are living it now, in a married life, where husband and wife prepare each other and their family to receive the Lord when he comes. Perhaps your vocation is to the priesthood where you will prepare souls for the Lord through the grace of the sacraments. Perhaps your vocation is to religious life as a nun, a sister, or a brother where you will prepare the Church through prayer and work. Or perhaps it is as a lay single person as you go out into all the spheres of the world – business, the markets, the streets, the schools – making “straight in the wasteland a highway for our God”.

Whatever your vocation, know that a true vocation from God is always one that prepares for his Son and relies not on our abilities but on his grace. Our entire lives as Catholics are ones of waiting for, looking toward, and preparing for the coming of the Lord. Do not despair if God’s will is coming to you with difficulty. Have faith that every one of us has a vocation that, though it may be in common with others, is tailor-made for our own, unique, individual salvation. When you discover your vocation, let John the Baptist teach you not only what to do and what to say, but how to say it. I think the “How?” of our vocation can be answered best by John’s humility. Let’s look again at the wonderful picture of him that our readings today have painted.

See how first we are told to “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.Speak tenderly.” Then “the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together”. Notice the glory is not in the messenger, but in the tender message, or rather the Word of God, Jesus Christ. Then we heard the Psalm begin “I will hear what God proclaims; the LORD—for he proclaims peace to his people.” He hears not the words of his own agenda, but focuses on what God proclaims. And since he “await[s] these things, [he is] eager to be found without spot or blemish before [the Lord], at peace.”

Then we see John in the Gospel, “And this is what he proclaimed: ‘One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’” John knew that his ministry was never about him, never about how good of a preacher he was to have been able to draw “People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem” to him in the waters of the Jordan River. It was only all about Jesus, who John describes as mighty, like a king. The lowest most insignificant servant of a king was the one who had the often dirty and unhealthy job of loosening the king’s sandals and caring for his feet.[1] But John, in his great humility would not even dare “stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.” Even Christ’s mission is mightier for John’s baptism “with water” merely symbolized repentance from sin, but Jesus’ Baptism “with the Holy Spirit” actually effects what it symbolizes. It really and truly washes sins from the soul.

Despite these vivid examples, the most striking one of John’s humility is one that I know I’ve read over hundreds of times before without catching it. St. Mark, in quoting Isaiah at the beginning of his Gospel, before he introduces John the Baptist, describes him as “A voice of one crying out in the desert”. John…is…just…a…voice.[2] He was so humble before the message of God that he became the message, the voice, of God the Father. Let us go forth and speak this message of repentance to our coworkers, friends, and relatives. From the heart of our God-given vocation, with great humility, let us not only speak but become the message, the Word of God, Jesus Christ. And let us always point to Him, “for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
[1] In Conversation with God, Volume One, p. 59, by Fr. Francis Fernandez
[2] In Conversation with God, Volume One, p. 59, by Fr. Francis Fernandez

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Season-after-Advent Visit Part 1

I had a great time visiting the guys at my seminary, St. Mary's in Baltimore, for their end-of-year, Christmas, er, season-after-Advent events. It was good to take a little break from the parish, catch up with good friends, and meet the new guys.

On Friday the guys were hunkered down with the last day of classes. So I went fly-fishing in the Gunpowder River south of Baltimore! This was my first time and it was pretty fun!... didn't catch anything though... my excuse is that it was too cold and the water was murky from new water let out from the reservoir. My good friend Fr. Paul Beach, on a day off from classes at CUA's School of Canon Law, took me along. He had all the gear, pretty impressive!

Here's me taking a stab at it. I look like a dork with Fr. Paul's huge jacket on and my jeans rolled up! I hadn't planned on fly-fishing!

Next up, pictures of the Christmas Tree, dinner out, lights on 34th Street, and an Irish pub!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Homily First Sunday of Advent Year B

Msgr. Ronald Knox, a famous early-twentieth century English convert to Catholicism and a brilliant homilist, characterized Advent as a traveler in the night who with bleary eyes squints at the faint light of his destination ahead. Because the darkness clouds his depth perception he plods forward hoping that the light is only a few hundred yards ahead rather than a few miles. The Hebrew prophets were very much like this traveler as they looked forward to the redemption of their people and the restoration of a true king in the line of David. They did not know how long it would take for this glimmer of light to break out into perfect day, they just knew that some day it would.[1]

We’ve all had experiences like this in our journeys through life haven’t we? Two examples come to my mind: driving to Owensboro to visit my family and driving up to the seminary in Baltimore. When I’m driving to Owensboro, it’s often when I’m pretty tired. When I finally get on 231 South I can’t wait to see the glimmer of the new bridge in the distance that crosses into Daviess County. I always thank God when I arrive there. And in Baltimore… and Fr. Terry can attest to this!... When I turn off of Roland Ave and pass between the concrete pillars it seems as if the seminary driveway will twist and turn through woods and trees forever until it suddenly bursts open and I behold the huge palatial seminary before me. It’s quite a sight!

Msgr. Knox’s point is that we should always have the attitude of “looking forward” to Christ. To help form this attitude in us, the Church gives us the four weeks of Advent. During this time we look forward to Christ’s advent, his coming, on Christmas Day. Actually the word “advent” can be broken up into the Latin phrase “ad venire” which means “to come towards.” His coming towards us at Christmas isn’t the only one we are preparing for though. Let us not forget his coming at our particular judgment at the moment of death or his Second Coming for the Last Judgment at the end of time. Both will come suddenly so we must be prepared. But, there is another coming which could be easily forgotten because it happens so frequently: His coming in the Eucharist at this very Mass. Every Mass we attend, daily or on the weekend, is its own little Advent – just as real as Christmas morning – that we should also seriously prepare for. All of these “advents”, at Mass, at Christmas, at death, and at the end of time require careful and determined preparation.

The prophet Isaiah exclaims in our first reading, “No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him. Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!” The author of our Responsorial Psalm pleads with the Lord, “Rouse your power and come to save us… Then we will no more withdraw from you; give us new life, and we will call upon your name.” St. Paul, in our second reading, instructs the Corinthians not be “lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Finally, St. Mark’s Gospel is the most forceful of all. Our Lord pleads with his people in return, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come… May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”

How then should we prepare? I would like to propose four ways – maybe you could use the acronym PERM, “P”, “E”, “R”, “M.”, standing for “Purification”, “Examination”, “Reconciliation”, and “Motivation.” Perhaps you could focus on one of these four on each of the four Sundays of Advent. Spending some quiet time before or after Mass, during Mass after the Homily or after receiving Holy Communion, or even alone in front of the tabernacle could help you with this exercise.

First, Purification. What are the things that make us impure and unready to receive the Lord in our hearts at Christmas? When he comes will he find our hearts free and open to Him or will he find them full of obstacles such as pride or lust or gluttony or lukewarmness? Will he find our hearts divided among cares of this world and unavailable to him? Will he find only dark corners in which to hide? If our hearts are not pure we must make use of little acts of penance, called mortifications, that can transform our hearts into little Bethlehem’s, little mangers. For example, spending 15 minutes to read the accounts of the Nativity in the Gospels rather than our favorite magazine or Stephenie Meyer novel can infuse our hearts with the Word of God. Or praying one decade of the rosary instead of playing our favorite video game or surfing the Internet can let our Blessed Mother, the Queen of Hearts, prepare our hearts for her Son like she prepared the manger. Also, meditating on the purity of the Infant Jesus can be a powerful way of purifying our hearts especially during those times when we’d rather not think about him, such as in the morning when we first wake up, at work or in front of the television when our eyes wonder immodestly, or late at night. When I was a child my father taught me this prayer: “Baby Jesus, meek and mild, have pity on me a little child. Baby Jesus, all I do, I do it for the love of you.”

So that is the “P” in P.E.R.M., “Purification.” Now the “E,” “Examination.” For this we think of the examination of conscience that we perform before we go to Confession. And Advent is certainly a good time to renew our efforts in this exercise, to take it more seriously, to give it more thought and time and prayer. But I would like to suggest examination as a normal part of the day as well. I slip up on this one every now and then so let us support each other, OK? My idea behind it is that regular examination of our spiritual lives is the beginning of conversion and this will prepare us for a happy death, a particular advent that we need not fear. Again, St. Mark reminds us, “Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.” But if we make self-examination a habit in our lives then we will be more aware of the ways in which we are falling short and the ways in which God is calling us to increase in holiness. I remember a time when a seminarian brother and I got in a big argument. He was mad at me for being so bossy to him all the time, something I didn’t even realize I was doing because I hadn’t properly examined myself.

But, we can practice this, for example, when we wake up in the morning. We can ask ourselves, “How prepared am I for the responsibilities of this day? How can I help my friend or colleague today? What prayer should I say, which saint should I turn to for help in today’s particular challenges?” At night before we go to sleep we can ask ourselves, “How did I do today? Did I reveal or obscure Christ to those I met? Did I place myself in occasions of sin? For what sins can I ask forgiveness before I go to sleep? My father taught me a prayer for this time as well: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. And this I ask for Jesus’ sake. Amen.”

So now we have the “P” and the “E” of our acronym P.E.R.M, “Purification” and “Examination.” The third letter, “R”, stands for “Reconciliation.” This time I would like to focus specifically on the sacrament. I cannot say enough how crucial the sacrament of reconciliation is in the life of a Catholic. Our whole life is characterized by a preparation and a waiting for the Lord, but especially before major feast days like Christmas and Easter. It is a traditional practice that confession lines are always longer before these holy days and priests, myself included [Note: pretending I’m a priest giving this homily], should be patient and generous with Our Lord’s forgiveness. Frequent celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, monthly or weekly, for both mortal and venial sins, can increase our sorrow for our sins, mature our acts of penance, increase our resolve against occasions of sin, and strengthen our intention to change our lives. Freedom from sin in general, sacramental grace, and the counsel of the priest strengthen us for the journey to the Light of Christ ahead of us. And Freedom from mortal sin in particular allows us to worthily receive Communion at Mass.

Finally, after Purification, Examination, and Reconciliation, we have our last letter, “M,” which stands for “Motivation.” Motivation is an Advent challenge not only to those who are lookwarm or who have a watered-down or lazy Catholicism, but also for those who are heavily involved in the Church. We can be involved in every committee of the parish, practice every devotion, and go to confession every day, but what is our motivation? Please, don’t get me wrong, the vibrancy and activity of this parish is a tremendous blessing to all of us and to the whole Archdiocese. But the inactive and the active alike must ask themselves “Why do I do what I do?” Am I lazy because of fear or ignorance? Am I active so that others can see me? Am I busy just to be busy? Our world is full of busy-ness already. Am I inactive because I am too proud to ask for help? Am I active because of the feelings I get when I can behold the results? Remember, weather we are lazy or busy, active or inactive our Lord judges our actions not by their results but by their motivation, by the intention of our hearts. When he comes at Mass, at Christmas, at death, and at the end of time will we receive him with pure motives?

Now we are complete: “P”, “E”, “R”, “M”: Purification, Examination, Reconciliation, and Motivation. I think we, all of us together, would do well if we devoted each of the four Sundays of Advent to each of these letters. Then we will be prepared for Christmas. Then we can “take the shepherd[s] for our guides, and imagine ourselves travelling with them, at dead of night, straining our eyes towards that chink of light which steams out, we know, from the cave at Bethlehem.”[2]

[1] In Conversation with God, vol. 1, p. 1, by Fr. Francis Fernandez.
[2] In Conversation with God, vol. 1, p. 2, by Fr. Francis Fernandez.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Homily Christ the King Year A

After high school, I didn’t enter seminary right away like some of my fellow seminarians. I loved computers and wanted to some day work in a high-tech field like web development. I went to Lindsey Wilson College, a small school in south central KY and was a computer science major. I remember when I was a freshman I was looking through the manual for my major and shuddered at the description of the Capstone Project that was required after my senior year. It was to be a wholly original project that summed up my entire four years of computer science learning. Some of you in high school or college may know what I’m talking about… pretty scary huh? My project ended up being a system that gathered and reported data on the technology demands of the buildings and the student body of the college.

Today, we all together have our own sort of Capstone Project: The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King. We celebrate it on the last weekend of Ordinary Time, at the end of another Church Year. Next weekend marks the beginning of Advent, the beginning of a new Year. Why then do we celebrate Christ the King at the end? I think it is for a similar reason that we have academic Capstone Projects. The Church wants to teach us that by putting his Kingship at the end of the year we can see that His Crown is the Crown of the year, the capstone. A capstone is the top stone of a structure or wall but it is also the crowning achievement.[1] All of the action of the Church Year moves forward and up to His Kingship and is summed up by it. He is the King of all we have done in the Church this year and all we have celebrated. Everything from his Incarnation to his Ascension is both a sign of and a testament to his Kingship which is not only spiritual but real and human as well.

But, Christ’s is a Capstone that need not cause us to shudder, as I did before my senior year computer science project. Only evil need shudder, not those who are holy and subservient to Him, for He is unlike any king we have ever known. Our first reading from Ezekiel prefigures Christ as a loving shepherd who tends his flock. “I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered,” says the Lord God, “when it was cloudy and dark. I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest.” In our Responsorial Psalm, he gives us, his sheep, repose in verdant pastures; he leads us beside restful waters; he refreshes our souls; and he guides us on right paths. In our second reading St. Paul teaches us that he gives us new life and in our Gospel he is made known in those who are hungry, thirsty, foreign, naked, ill, and imprisoned. Does this sound like any of our kings or leaders today? Only the great saintly kings of old gave us a true image of Christ’s Kingship, like Saint Edward the Confessor, King of England or Saint Louis, King of France. Too many of our leaders today follow not the example of these saintly kings but of the one described in the famous 16th century book, The Prince, by Machiavelli. Here, “political expediency is placed above morality and the use of craft and deceit is advocated to maintain authority and carry out policies.”[2] This, I’m afraid, is all too familiar.

But, let us not be fooled into thinking that Christ’s Kingship is just a weak alternative. Let us not regard him as simply timid and sweet. Again, turning to our readings, it is true that in Ezekiel he seeks out the lost, brings back the strays, binds up the injured, and heals the sick, but the sleek and strong he will destroy, “shepherding them rightly.” He will not tolerate those sheep who try to evade or usurp his authority. In our responsorial psalm “he will spread the tables before me in the sight of my foes.” He is not ashamed to lavish rich blessings upon his chosen ones; our foes can jeer all they want. In our second reading, St. Paul teaches that at Jesus’ second coming, he will destroy all that is evil, even death, the result of man’s first sin. And by his Might and Merciful Justice everything will be subjected to him and he will reign Supreme. Finally from our Gospel we learn of his just judgment.

Now, at the moment of our death we will receive what is called a Particular Judgment where we will be judged by the state of our soul to receive Heaven or Hell for eternity or Purgatory for as long as is necessary to purify us for Heaven. But our Gospel, on the other hand, describes what is called the Last Judgment. This “sentence pronounced at the end of time will simply be a public, formal confirmation of that sentence already passed” at the moment of our death (Navarre commentary Mt 25:31-46). Returning to our Gospel, then, we see that “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him.” And “He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

But, all this talk of shepherding rightly, spreading out tables, having victory over death, and proclaiming judgment sounds all very… spiritual. What about his life as a man? Wasn’t he pretty weak then? Well, I would say that meek is a better word. While still in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary he relied on her flesh and blood and the power of the Holy Spirit for life, yet she was still his living throne, a tabernacle. Our Lord was the King Messiah that the Jews had long awaited. The Archangel Gabriel announced, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Lk 1:32-33).

As an infant his new throne was a simple wooden manger. Yet the magi, probably royal figures themselves, came to offer him gifts fit for a king: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. His kingship as a man was meek and moderated. He did not allow the royalty of his divinity, his claim on all creation, to have the glorious splendor it deserved. But this did not make his human kingship any less real or less royal.

Our Lord gradually revealed his kingship so that it could be acceptable and accurately understood. Therefore, we read in John’s Gospel that on some occasions, when a crowd was enthusiastic about a miracle, "Jesus, knowing that they would seize Him and make Him king, fled to the mountain, Himself alone (John 6:14)." And He often, after working a great miracle told the people not to tell anyone. The reason is that so many held a false notion of what the King Messiah was to be; they expected a great temporal conqueror who would free them from Roman oppression. But He did not come to exercise earthly power. Even though in Matthew’s Gospel, at his Resurrection, Christ said to His Apostles "All power is given to me in heaven and on earth” yet He still did not intend to exercise temporal rule. He wanted a spiritual reign, to rule over hearts. He said as much to Pilate when Pilate asked Jesus if he was the King of the Jews. “Jesus answered, ‘My kingship is not of this world… For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.”[3]

This truth he showed the whole world when me made his cross his last earthly throne: “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16). Upon his death on the cross, “God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee must [bend], in heaven and on earth and under the earth; and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:9-11). “What wonder, then, that he whom St. John in Revelations calls the ‘ruler of the kings of the earth’(Rev 1:5) appears in the Apostle's vision of the future as he who "On his robe and on his thigh has a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Rev 19:16). It is Christ whom the Father "appointed the heir of all things" (Heb 1:2); "for he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Cor 15:25).[4]

At last then, what does Christ’s spiritual and human kingship mean for us? The Catholic Church is the Kingdom of God on earth. Each one of us is called to participate in this kingdom and expand it through our good works. The Lord should be present in our families, among our friends, neighbors and colleagues at work.[5] And St. Josemaria Escriva taught us firmly on this feast that

Against those who reduce religion to a set of negative statements, or are happy
to settle for a watered-down Catholicism; against those who wish to see the Lord
with his face against the wall, or to put him in a corner of our souls, we have
to affirm, with our words and with our deeds, that we aspire to make Christ the
King reign indeed over all hearts, theirs included.
We cannot wait for the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God at the Last Judgment our Gospel describes. Let us work on this Capstone Project now: that he reign in our minds with firm belief in truth and doctrine; in our will with obedience to the laws of God; and in our hearts with love for God above all things. Then we can confidently pray with the good thief, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power.” (Lk 23:42).

[1] "Capstone." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 02 Dec. 2008. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Capstone>.
[2] "Machiavellian." Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 02 Dec. 2008. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Machiavellian>.
[3] “Kingship of Christ, Queenship of Mary in Scripture,” by Rev. William Most
[4] Quas Primas, On the Feast of Christ the King, Pope Pius XI, 11 December 1925
[5] In Conversation with God, Vol. 5, “Christ the King”, by Fr. Francis Fernandez

pray for my pastor and his father

Please pray for the soul of William Kelly Bradshaw, the father of my Pastoral Year pastor, Fr. Terry Bradshaw. His family celebrated Thanksgiving the weekend beforehand and Mr. Bradshaw had all of his family around him at the meal when, after offering a blessing, he had a sudden heart attack. This was followed by a cranial hemorrhage which was inoperable. He died early Monday morning (11-24-08) at around 2am. Fr. Terry was able to be there with him the whole time and Anoint him along with an uncle in the family who is also a priest. Scores of people from Lebanon, KY and all over the Archdiocese flooded the funeral home to pray for Mr. Bradshaw and his family. Some waited more than two hours as the line extended out of the funeral home and into the front lawn. On Wednesday I was honored to serve the Funeral Mass at the gorgeous St. Augustine in Lebanon, KY with His Excellency, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz. I only met Mr. Bradshaw once, but from knowing his son, Fr. Terry, and from witnessing the great faith of his family and the love and admiration so many 100's of people had for him I can say he was loved by all and a man for all seasons. Mr. William Kelly Bradshaw, requiescat in pace.

Thanksgiving Ecumenical Prayer Service

On Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving I participated in an ecumenical Thanksgiving Prayer Service for the area Catholic Churches and Protestant communities in Okalona/High View. I must say it was a very nice service. Area pastors and I met once a week for about a month planning it. There were scripture readings, traditional hymns, prayers, a collection for the poor, and a couple homilies. I gave a "Thanksgiving Prayer," a task I learned I would be doing shortly after I got there! I came prepared to just read one of the readings. But the roles got shuffled a bit at the last minute. Here's what I prayed:

"Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks and we pray that our actions will always be inspired by you and so please you. Lord, we approach you from various communities this evening but we all together give you thanks. Help us to never forget You, from whom all blessings flow. Through our joint acknowledgment of you, water the seeds of unity and bring Perfect Unity among us to a speedy fruition. We pray for this and we offer you our thanks through your Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen."

Afterwards in the parish hall we enjoyed MANY pies. There was an impressive turnout as this has been annual tradition going back since the late 50's.