Saturday, January 31, 2009

Homily 4th Sun Ordinary Time Year B

Below is my homily on the readings for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

One of the things I find most fascinating about the Liturgy of the Word, the readings at Mass, is the unity of these readings. If you listen closely to the first reading, the responsorial psalm, the second reading, and the Gospel you can detect a thread running through them that weaves one unified message that the Holy Spirit would like to speak to us. Now, on some Sundays this unified theme is easier to detect than on others. For example, during the Seasons, such as the Christmas season that we just passed through, there is a larger theme at play anyway and so it is easy to see the particular theme on any given Sunday. But, in Ordinary Time, the season we are in now, these themes can be a little harder to detect. I remain convinced though that on every Sunday of the year the Holy Spirit’s purposes for giving us a particular set of readings can be discerned with careful listening.

Take today’s readings for example. Our first reading, responsorial psalm, and Gospel are about prophecy, its power, and the obedience due to it. Our first reading describes the prophet God promised to His people, a prophet who will speak God’s very words and commands. The responsorial psalm invites us to start every prayer with openness to God’s voice and to not repeat the hardness of heart of our ancestors. And our Gospel presents the fulfillment of the promised prophet, our Lord Jesus Christ. We see him speak with the authority of the Father in teaching his people and in driving away demons who would seek to thwart his Voice.

So clearly we have a theme of prophecy, right? Then what do we make of our second reading from First Corinthians? St. Paul explains that an unmarried man, such as a priest or religious brother, is concerned mainly with “the things of the Lord” and “how he may please the Lord.” But a married man is also concerned with things of the world, like material resources, and his wife and family, so his heart, naturally, is divided and it is harder for him to accomplish “adherence to the Lord without distraction.”

I must admit that when I read this at first I was stumped. What does marriage have to do with prophecy? What message can I give you today that you will find helpful in your everyday life, in advancing in holiness?

I am reminded of a lady I visited in the hospital a couple summers ago. I went with a lay woman from the parish who had many years of experience visiting the sick and taking Holy Communion to them. She had a remarkable way with the sick and suffering and they were always consoled and strengthened by her. Her name was Lois.

The lady that Lois and I visited was a longtime parishioner. When we entered her room we exchanged greetings and some small talk and Lois offered to bring her a bulletin so that she could stay connected to the parish. It seemed like an easy visit but before we were about to leave I could see on the lady’s face the slight impression that there was something more, something else that she needed from us. As we turned to leave she finally said, “Can I ask you a question?” She then explained to us that her husband had died only a year prior and that she was scared in the hospital without his help and companionship. But she was even more grieved by the imprudent words she had been told after her husband’s funeral. She told us that when the Mass was over she asked the priest in the sacristy if she was still married to her husband. He responded by simply quoting the twelfth chapter of Mark without any further explanation. There, verse 25 says, “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” Now, in the hospital, when she needed her husband the most, these words were ringing in her ears. Having to face her illness without him while on earth was hard enough, but not even being able to hope to be married to him in eternity made her feel even more alone and afraid. She began to cry.

At that moment I really believe the Holy Spirit spoke through Lois and me. This was a fairly complex question we had been given and we had no time to prepare an answer. It brought up all at once the meaning of marriage, its purpose, and its place in our salvation. This isn’t a “Who made you? – God made you” type of question! But immediately, Lois and I responded together and bounced off of each other as if we had rehearsed what we would say. Our joint reply had to have been from the Holy Spirit. We explained that, yes, it is true that Scripture indeed teaches us that we are not given in marriage in heaven. But, we continued, in heaven we will be one with Christ and so we will be closer to our loved ones in heaven than we ever were on earth! Marriage is meant to prefigure the union of the Church in eternity with her sole Head and Spouse, Jesus Christ. Marriage prepares us for and points us to eternal union with Christ and once this is accomplished then its noble purpose is served. This answer seemed to give her great comfort and she was filled with peace.

In this episode I think we find the key to finding our theme for today: the prophetic voice of marriage. Our visit still remains vivid in my mind and reflecting on it has born much fruit for my vocation. I offer it to you for your own reflection as well.

Now, in Scripture, a prophet is most often defined as one who made known the will of God, who exposed and rebuked evil, and who stood for the law. He often had supernatural knowledge and inspiration.[1] How then is marriage prophetic? It is prophetic because it speaks, with all the force of a sacrament and with the authority of God, of the love Christ has for His Church, the love that will be brought to its fulfillment at the end of time in eternity. As far as the Church submits herself to Christ her spouse and head so too is a wife called to humbly submit herself to her husband. But, husbands in return are called to mimic Christ who gave his entire life for his Bride, the Church, even unto the cross. St. Paul tells us this very thing in his letter to the Ephesians: “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord… Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:22, 25). But, let me be clear, this is not a servile or oppressive subjection which should always be rejected. Rather, I’m speaking of Christian sacrifice and humility that take after the relationship between Christ and the Church. Husbands and wives, by living out their marriage in this way, speak boldly and prophetically to the world of the powerful love God has for us and the love we must give him in return. In living out a Christian, total, faithful, fruitful, joyful marriage, husbands and wives share the Good News of the one, indissoluble, union with Christ in Heaven. This, I believe, is the joyful hope that that lady in the hospital found.

That’s pretty amazing isn’t it! Does your marriage share this Good News? Does it speak of Christ’s love for the Church? Does it give your family and those who see you hope in everlasting union with Christ in heaven? This isn’t just pie-in-the-sky theology. Even though marriage is roundly attacked in today’s society and can be full of struggle and difficulty and distraction from “adherence to the Lord” as St. Paul put it, it can still be beautiful and prophetic. Actually the evil in our world serves to accentuate the beauty of marriage all the more because against evil and mockery, true Christian marriage shines all the brighter. Our marriages must reclaim their prophetic voice now more than ever so that we can tell the world that marriage is not dead, hopeless, doomed to fail, and subject to our every whim or passion but can still accomplish its noble purpose.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

National Sanctity of Human Life Day

I just got this in an email. Did you know President Bush did this? Is this recurring yearly? Will President Obama strike it down? Here's the text:

National Sanctity of Human Life Day, 2009
A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

All human life is a gift from our Creator that is sacred, unique, and worthy of protection. On National Sanctity of Human Life Day, our country recognizes that each person, including every person waiting to be born, has a special place and purpose in this world. We also underscore our dedication to heeding this message of conscience by speaking up for the weak and voiceless among us.

The most basic duty of government is to protect the life of the innocent. My Administration has been committed to building a culture of life by vigorously promoting adoption and parental notification laws, opposing Federal funding for abortions overseas, encouraging teen abstinence, and funding crisis pregnancy programs. In 2002, I was honored to sign into law the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which extends legal protection to children who survive an abortion attempt. I signed legislation in 2003 to ban the cruel practice of partial-birth abortion, and that law represents our commitment to building a culture of life in America. Also, I was proud to sign the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004, which allows authorities to charge a person who causes death or injury to a child in the womb with a separate offense in addition to any charges relating to the mother.

America is a caring Nation, and our values should guide us as we harness the gifts of science. In our zeal for new treatments and cures, we must never abandon our fundamental morals. We can achieve the great breakthroughs we all seek with reverence for the gift of life.

The sanctity of life is written in the hearts of all men and women. On this day and throughout the year, we aspire to build a society in which every child is welcome in life and protected in law. We also encourage more of our fellow Americans to join our just and noble cause. History tells us that with a cause rooted in our deepest principles and appealing to the best instincts of our citizens, we will prevail.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 18, 2009, as National Sanctity of Human Life Day. I call upon all Americans to recognize this day with appropriate ceremonies and to underscore our commitment to respecting and protecting the life and dignity of every human being.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifteenth day of January, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-third.


Homily 2nd Sun Ordinary Time Year B

Below is my homily on the readings for the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B.

Last week was National Vocation Awareness Week when we prayed that vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life would be multiplied and renewed. It is Providential then that, following National Vocation Awareness Week, the Church has provided us with readings today that describe the beautiful calls of Samuel in the Old Testament and our Lord’s first disciples in the New Testament. Through these beautiful accounts we can learn about our own call from God as well.

One of the things that stood out to me from the readings is how these calls came about in close proximity to our Lord. This is a very important lesson to us all today. They form a sort of model for how our Lord calls us and how we should answer. In our first reading, Samuel was “sleeping in the temple of the LORD where the ark of God was”. Now, I hope that none of you falls asleep this morning, but you get the idea. Samuel was near the ark of God, the ark of the Covenant, which in the Old Testament stood for God’s very Presence. And after he consulted the old high-priest Eli he learned that the call was authentic and how he should respond. Then the Lord “was with him” and directed his vocation in a powerful way such that not a word of his was “without effect.” Please pray for me that I could have a similar blessing.

In our Gospel, St. Andrew and St. John began to follow Jesus when John the Baptist prompted them as Jesus “walked by.” Jesus said to them, “Come and see” and they “stayed with him that day.” Later, Andrew’s joy from this encounter led him to find his brother Simon Peter, to share with him the good news of the Messiah, and to bring him to Jesus. Then Jesus looked Simon Peter in the eyes and named him Cephas which means “rock”, the rock on which Jesus built his Church. Together these two accounts of Samuel and the first disciples teach us three things. First, we hear God’s call best when we are close to him. Second, often God uses others to direct us to him. And Third, we should respond with humility, openness, and promptness.

When I look back on my own life and my calling to the priesthood I see that by the grace of God, this model played out with me too. Although not always like Samuel, Andrew, John, and Peter, I am humbled by how God brought me to where I am today. For most of my life, in a way I was like Samuel who, according to our reading, “was not familiar with the LORD, because the LORD had not revealed anything to him as yet.”

… Tell Vocation Story…

For me, what began as an intellectual exercise, reading more and more about why we believe what we believe, became an experience and a way of life. By the grace of God, I fell in love with Jesus, and with His Church, and with what He teaches us through it. Our vocation in life, what God is calling us to do, can never be just a matter of intellectual curiosity; it affects one’s whole life: a person cannot understand it unless he lives it; therefore, in our Gospel our Lord does not tell Andrew and John in detail about his way of life; he invites them to spend the day with him. What God is can only be understood through experience: words cannot fully describe it.[1] Our Lord invited everyone when he said “Come and See”. And like the disciples we must obey his command and learn by personal experience.[2] Only by living with him and knowing him can we ever really know ourselves and the vocation he intends for us. Just as Samuel was near the ark of God and the apostles spent time with Jesus where he “stayed”, I began to spend more and more time in front of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament getting to know him and his will for me.

Just as Samuel answered the Lord, “Speak, for your servant is listening” and just as Andrew and John “followed Jesus”, I tried to respond by praying to God that I wanted to know his will for me as much as I wanted to each lunch that day or to have a roof over my head. I prayed that God would allow me to be as intimate with his will for me as I was with meeting my basic needs

Also, just like God used Eli to call Samuel, and John the Baptist to prompt Andrew and John, and Andrew to call Peter, the Lord used a Protestant girl to put me on the road to the priesthood! And he used many others too, like Michael Wimsatt another one of our seminarians who will be ordained in May. His first words to me were not “Hello, my name is Mike” or “Hello, nice to meet you,” but “Have you ever thought about being a priest?” And God used my friends who confirmed my thoughts that priesthood could be a good fit for me. And he used priests like Fr. Paul Beach who have encouraged me along the way by their advice and their own priesthood.

I pray that you too will grow in confidence in God’s will for your life. I hope my story is helpful to you. I hope the accounts of God’s call in our readings today will bear much fruit for you. Spend some silent time with our Lord in the tabernacle. Rest with the ark of God. Spend the day with him. Maybe you could spend 15 minutes a day in adoration or an hour per week. Live with him and allow him, his Church, and what we believe to change your life. Be attentive to the way He places people in your life to bring you to Him. Then we, together, can exclaim with our responsorial psalm today: “I have waited, waited for the LORD, and he stooped toward me and heard my cry… ears open to obedience you gave me… then said I, ‘Behold I come’… ‘it is prescribed for me: to do your will, O my God, is my delight, and your law is within my heart!’”

[1] Navarre Commentary on St. John, p. 51
[2] St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on St. John

Monday, January 19, 2009

It's a miracle

Love him or hate him, thank God he wasn't aborted.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Homily Epiphany Year B

Below is my homily for today's readings ([text][audio][video]) of The Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord.
Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord. But what does that mean? Well, the words itself means “manifestation” but this is one of those feasts of the Church whose meaning can be unclear by its name alone. It is like the feast of the Immaculate Conception which many think is about Jesus being conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but it is really about Mary being conceived without the stain of Original Sin. I admit I sometimes have to do an intellectual double-take when I think of the Immaculate Conception. And so with the Epiphany – for some reason I always think first of the Transfiguration, but that is when Jesus allowed his Divinity to shine forth to his closest apostles on the top of Mount Tabor. It’s also a manifestation, like his Baptism in the Jordan River when God announced his Beloved Son and the Wedding Feast at Cana when he performed his first public miracle. But, let us definitively say that the Epiphany concerns the Son of God’s manifestation to the magi, the wise men from the East. But, I’m afraid the confusion continues! Scripture doesn’t tell us that they were kings, only that they were wise men or “magi from the east” and it doesn’t say that there were three kings, only that three gifts were offered! Likewise we are unsure of how long after Christ’s birth that they arrived, exactly where they came from, and their arriving and departing flight! But, bear with me; I promise you, in the midst of all this seeming confusion there is a clear message to all of us today.
The teaching of the early Church Fathers has answered a lot of these questions for us. But first and foremost we should know that our Gospel reading today does not merely contain the things of pious legend, as some who try to rationalize the account would say. The story of the wise men from the east following a star to Bethlehem and to Jesus is a narrative of fact. And no, the star was not merely a comet, or the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn, or a cosmic starburst – it was a miracle and it was real![1] The reality of the account, though fixed at a certain time in history, provides a wealth of inspiration and meaning for all mankind of all times.
Actually it is these three kings – or scientists of the stars, as they came to be known – who themselves represent all mankind. It was too these three non-Jews that Jesus, born to a faithful Jewish family, made himself known. And their journey is typical to all of those throughout history who have searched for Jesus to adore him. This is a source of great hope for us. To those of us who may not feel particularly close to Jesus – today is a new day. We can find hope in the fact that these three kings also made the journey and they have shown us how to make it. Their journey was long, no doubt, and how do we suppose they explained it to their family and friends? I’m sure they were met with doubt and dismissal, maybe even ridicule. They had studied the stars; they knew how to follow this brightest star of them all. But it was by a special grace from God that they interpreted it as a sign of the presence of the long-awaited Messiah that they had heard about from their Hebrew neighbors. Inspired by this grace they sought him out in order to do him homage and adore him. It is just as the prophet Isaiah in our first reading foretold, “Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you: your sons come from afar.”[2]

Often we too, by a special grace from God, yearn to be close to Jesus Christ and to adore him but it can sometimes seem like we are only coming “from afar.” Let us learn from the magi and be brave. Let us put the same certainty in our knowledge of heavenly things and in our faith that they did. Let us make the long journey with confidence that we will indeed find Jesus, and let us cast aside our love for approval or for material things that get in the way. Upon finding Him, Isaiah said, “Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow.” Indeed, St. Matthew tells us, the magi “were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house [when] they saw the child with Mary his mother.” This joy is ours too. How about we make today the day in which we take another step, or invite those who aren’t on the journey to take the first one?
When the magi finally made it to Jerusalem it seems from the tone of our Gospel reading that they got lost.[3]

They “arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.’… Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, [King Herod] inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea.’” (Mt 2:1-5)
Along our way to Christ we too should be docile and willing to ask others for help. But, St. Josemaria Escriva teaches us that

we Christians have no need to go to Herod or to the wise men of this world. Christ has given His Church sureness in doctrine and a flow of grace in the Sacraments. He has arranged things so that there will always be people [like our priests and bishops] to guide and lead us, to remind us constantly of our way… Allow me to give you a piece of advice [he says]… If ever you lose the way… Go to the priest who looks after you – [if not me than your own pastor] – who knows how to demand of you a strong faith, refinement of soul and true Christian fortitude… A conscientious Christian will go – with complete freedom – to the priest he knows to be a good shepherd, who can help him to look up again and see once more on high the Lord’s star.[4]
In seeking Jesus myself and in trying to be a good shepherd, I have found it helpful to seek the guidance of my priest-spiritual-director at least once a month and to receive his forgiveness and council in the Sacrament of Confession. I also find much guidance in the advice of priest-friends, in the example of our good and holy Archbishop, and in the writings and speeches of our Holy Father.
With bravery and guidance we make our way to Jesus and when we find him we discover that all of the confusion we started with is replaced with simplicity and clarity. St. Matthew tells us that when the magi “saw the child with Mary his mother [t]hey prostrated themselves and did him homage.” They simply adored him. All of the confusion of their long journey, following the star despite difficulties, seeking and following advice, and enduring Herod’s conniving demands gave way to simple adoration of our God Made Man. This adoration is so clear that the Council of Trent expressly quotes our Gospel reading today to teach us the devotion which is due to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
Jesus present in the tabernacle is the same Jesus the wise men found in Mary’s arms. Perhaps we should examine ourselves to see how we adore him when he is exposed in the monstrance or hidden in the tabernacle. [Do we even realize he is there, like the magi did?] With what devotion and reverence do we kneel in the moments indicated in Holy Mass, or each time we pass by those places where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved?[5]

For example, perhaps we could renew that pious tradition of making the Sign of the Cross whenever we drive by a Catholic Church or chapel. Actions such as these can place us prostrate before the Lord right beside the magi rather than unaware or “from afar.” Finally, let us not forget Mary. “The three Kings had their star. We have Mary, Stella Maris, Stella Orientis, Star of the Sea, Star of the East.”(St. Josemaria Escriva, Christ is Passing By, 38)[6]

[1] Drum, Walter. "Magi." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 4 Jan. 2009 .
[2] Fr. Francis Fernandez, In Conversation with God, Vol. 1, 320.
[3] Ibid., 322.
[4] Ibid., 323.
[5] Ibid., 329.
[6] Ibid., 333.