Sunday, June 20, 2010

Homily 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C; and Father’s Day

Even though Father's Day is a secular holiday – in the Church, today is the Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time – it can give our fathers the opportunity to step back and take a fresh look at their fatherhood, to see how things are going, to see how inline they are with the Fatherhood of God. This includes, of course, natural fathers and grandfathers, but also spiritual fathers, those aspiring to be spiritual fathers, and anyone who serves as a "father figure." Our readings in today's Mass, through the generosity of the Holy Spirit, have much to say to fathers. This message is one of: Conversion.

When we hear the word "conversion" we often think of "converting" from Protestantism to Catholicism or from Judaism to Christianity, for example. But what I mean by "conversion" is that call from the Lord, to continually, daily, turn our hearts away from sin and toward him. Conversion is another one of the ordinary practices of Ordinary Time for every Catholic. God gives us the grace to see and acknowledge our sins, to repent and turn to Him for mercy and forgiveness, and to change our lives, trusting in his help. This we do progressively, every day.

Our starting point for conversion is the cross. Remember from our first reading: "They shall look on him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son, and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a firstborn." The Catechism of the Catholic Church, number 1432, explains that "It is in discovering the greatness of God's love that our heart is shaken by the horror and weight of sin and begins to fear offending God by sin and being separated from him. The human heart is converted by looking upon him whom our sins have pierced." The cross, or to be precise, the crucifix, is the ultimate sign of love. This sign, so vivid and real, should motivate us, every time we look at it, to love God and each other with the same love that it shows, and to never want to offend that love. The cross is the standard for love and the standard for fathers today.

One father that I am good friends with told me a story about a novel he was reading. It wasn't the greatest novel in the world but he was nearing the climax and was anxious to see what would happen. His wife and daughter were out running errands so he settled into his chair and picked up his book. But then the phone rang which turned into a task he had to follow-up on, on his computer. He finally got back to his chair only to have his wife and daughter come home five minutes later.

My friend's wife wanted to discuss a couple of things with him and his daughter wanted to tell him about her day. But he sat there, book in hand, glancing up at them, and down at his book, and up again… giving them the signal that they were interfering with something very important. But then he asked himself, "Who do I love more? This book? Or my family?" So he sat his book down, scooped up his daughter into his lap and let her tell him all about her day. Then he had a delightful conversation with his wife. The sacrifice was worth it. He had an enjoyable moment with his family and they saw once again the primacy they have in his life.

This is what our Lord meant when he said "to all": "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." The cross cannot be ignored, it is essential for continual conversion toward a good fatherhood that mirrors the Fatherhood of God. If my friend had never given the cross much thought, never contemplated sacrificial love, his heart may have been blinded to the day-to-day sacrifices he needs to make in order to increase and express his love for his family. He wasn't called at that moment to give his life for his family. He was simply called to put down his book. He chose to love his family more, so he took up that cross, and showed them his love.

It is conversion brought about by these day to day crosses, or lack thereof, that either makes or breaks fathers in this country. Dr. Gregory Popcak, a Catholic marriage counselor, writes about how people often ask him what the greatest problem in marriage is. They expect him to say alcoholism, or contraception, or pornography, or infidelity. To be sure, these are huge problems that should not be ignored. But he writes that in most marriages that are struggling, one spouse or the other loves their comfort zone more than their spouse.

Now, neither my friend's wife, nor his daughter would have concluded that he didn't love them had he continued to halfheartedly listen to them. But, in a small way, their relationship would have been diminished. What was a one-time hint could have easily grown into a full-blown message: "What I want, when I want it, is more important than you."

Spiritual fathers too, are not exempt from the need for continual conversion toward better fatherhood by taking up the daily cross – by choosing sacrifice out of love, over lesser things. How easy it is for me to have a full day: morning Mass, preaching, parish activities, taking Communion to the sick, assisting at a funeral, then attending an evening meeting and finally coming home and plopping down in front of the T.V. If the Church is truly my bride, a bride I love and want to give my entire life and heart too, undivided, then I should never be eager to get away from her. A true father and husband, natural or spiritual, identifies himself not by his comfort zone: "I am a guy sitting here watching T.V… or reading my book… or whatever," but by what he truly is: "I am a father and husband!" He lets his fatherhood and love for his family inform everything he does and every way he interacts with them.

I could choose to relax, but relax with my bride who I love, the Church. I could spend some time in prayer, reflecting on the day. Or I could call a parishioner who I know is alone, or do some spiritual reading. This is what Jesus is talking about when he says, "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." He is referring to our worldly life and our eternal life. A father who wishes to save his worldly life: the life of his own choosing and pleasures, free from any sacrifices of love, will lose his spiritual life and the spiritual lives of his family over whom he has been placed as their provider and protector. But a father who, with the help of grace, works through daily conversion, through daily taking up his cross, to lose his own life of choices and pleasures; who prefers God and his family over himself, will save his spiritual life and the spiritual lives of his family.

We fathers need to help each other out. I was happy to learn that there is a men's group that meets every Friday morning at McDonald's to discuss scripture and support each other. This is an excellent way to ensure that we are taking up our crosses daily and making sacrifices of love. If you are a father who has too often neglected the cross, today is the day to take it up. Look at the crucifix again. Repent at the foot of the cross and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There you will learn what true love is and will be given the grace to embark on continual conversion. The cross must be the focal point of our Churches and families. The restoration of true, authentic fatherhood, natural and spiritual, and the salvation of our families depends on it.

Listen to this homily: Recorded mp3

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Homily 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

    As we continue with the Season of Ordinary Time we continue our focus on the day-to-day duties and responsibilities of a faithful Catholic. These include remembering that every Sunday is a Holy Day of Obligation, returning to normal routines of prayer, renewing those small acts of penance that make up the penitential lifestyle of the Catholic, and examining our conscience regularly to see how prepared we are to receive Holy Communion. These are not extraordinary acts, these are the common practices of every mainstream Catholic in the pew. But today, the Holy Spirit highlights one in particular: Reconciliation. This should be as common as all the rest – one of those "ordinary" practices, so to speak, of Ordinary Time. Saints and popes have consistently encouraged us to go to Confession eat least on a monthly basis. But, for most of us, celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation is above and beyond the call of duty.

    Our reticence toward Reconciliation can be for many reasons. Our society in general has lost a sense of sin. None of us likes to acknowledge that sometimes we do what is wrong. We can easily become unconvinced that we sin at all. We can fall under the illusion that we really wouldn't have anything to confess even if we were to go to the sacrament. If everything I do, or don't do, comes from my feelings or my upbringing or someone else then nothing is really my fault. Under this mindset, we can approach going to confession more like a discussion or a therapy session than a sacrament and the whole thing becomes very down-to-earth. In that case, I could say to myself: "That's a session I can put off until next month." In fact, all of these thoughts I have had myself, before I began to take my faith seriously, about 10 years ago.

Throughout my adolescence and early adulthood I never realized the real power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and what it really meant. But, thank God, it has become an indispensible part of my life and one of the greatest motivators, along with the Eucharist, of my vocation to the priesthood. Through it, my Baptism continues to work in my life, washing away my sins, changing my heart and soul with the very love and mercy of God, turning back-on the wellsprings of Faith, Hope, and Love, renewing my sonship with God and brotherhood with the Church, fortifying me to never sin again and to avoid the near occasions of sin, and removing all obstacles to God's grace. Now I hunger and thirst to hear Jesus Christ Himself say, through the priest, "I absolve you of your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His Mercy endures forever."

A couple of years ago, I had an experience of the sacrament of Reconciliation that helped me to realize that sometimes people… sometimes I… avoid the sacrament beyond reasons of laziness, or ignorance, or misunderstanding. Sometimes great shame is involved. The setting was a Rachel's Vineyard retreat, named after Rachel in the Old Testament who weeped for the loss of her child. This is a weekend retreat for women, and increasingly men, who are suffering from an abortion, an abortion in their own life or in the lives of their daughters or granddaughters. A fellow seminarian, from another diocese, had volunteered at these retreats before, to assist with the Masses and other rituals that take place during the weekend and he invited me to come along. He knew I was passionate about the pro-life movement and wanted me to experience the other side of the picket line. Not only did this weekend become one of the most powerful examples for me of the beauty and power of the sacrament of Reconciliation, but it became one of the most powerful moments of my entire life.

Part of the weekend consisted of breaking the group of mostly women up into small groups, each with its own licensed counselor and another person with experience in the program who had walked, herself, with Jesus on the road from shame to healing. In these groups, each of the women was allowed to tell their story, how their abortion happened. I participated by telling the story of how one of my friends had an abortion and I felt ashamed because I thought I could have done more to help her. It was very difficult to hear the stories. You could feel the tension in the room.

Some of the women simply got carried away with themselves, like David in the account we heard from the second Book of Samuel. Before they knew it, they were at the brink of destruction. In David's case, it was lust. He saw a woman he wanted so he took her and sent her husband to the front lines of battle to get him out of the way. It took the prophet Nathan to help him realize that he was on a road of suffering that would last his entire life. When David finally confessed that he had sinned against the Lord, the Lord forgave him, and set him on the road to life. Nathan answered David: "the Lord on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die."

Since that first retreat as a participant, I've gone to three others as a volunteer. I certainly have not been counting, but I guess I have heard close to fifty abortion stories. Abortion always hurts. Women, and many men, we are learning, always suffer. It not only takes the baby's life but it ruins the mother's as well, sometimes in ways she doesn't realize. It often comes from abuse and leaves a legacy of abuse. And many women end up spiraling into drugs, alcohol, depression, promiscuity, or rabid advocacy of the pro-abortion cause, in order to justify the choice they made. Sooner or later their suffering catches up with them and they come anonymously, courageously, to these retreats for healing. The Friday they arrive is like Good Friday. But by telling their stories and hearing the stories of others, they become able to admit their share of the wrongdoing and turn to God for mercy and forgiveness. This opens the door to tremendous healing and sets them on the road not to death, but to life. They come to him as on Good Friday and at the end of the weekend, they go back into the world as on Easter Sunday.

By this time, the shame has gone away. They have named their children and adopted them from heaven. They have written them letters of remorse with the hope that their children are in a place now in which they do not know pain or resentment. They have placed themselves, through prayer, into each of Jesus' miraculous healings in the gospels. And we even celebrate a memorial Mass for their children. All of this is made possible for them by the sacrament of reconciliation.

Many of you may be regular confessors and I applaud you. Keep it up! Make sure it is always something you hunger and thirst for. It is necessary for a good life. If you are having difficulty going to confession, I tell you this story of the Rachel's Vineyard retreat, because I know that shame is a particularly difficult thing to overcome. If it's laziness, ignorance, or misunderstanding, snap out of it! But if its shame, a much harder obstacle, know that it can be conquered too. Throw yourself at the feet of Christ's Divine Mercy, like the woman in our Gospel today, like so many people who have gone through the Rachel's Vineyard retreats, for example. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is offered here at St. Gabriel every Saturday from 3:30 to 4:30pm and there are some parishes in the Archdiocese that even offer it daily. Shame need not keep you from the sacrament forever or sentence you to a vicious cycle of confessing the same thing over and over. God's Mercy endures forever, I've seen it unfold before my very eyes. Let Jesus say to you too, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." Let his forgiveness enflame your heart with love, love for those who suffer, but especially love for Him, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Listen to this Homily: Recorded mp3 

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Homily Trinity Sunday, Year C

    I've been involved in many youth and young adult groups over the years. One of the most effective ways I have seen for causing the group to be quiet was for the leader to make the Sign of the Cross. You could have 20 or 30 talking, joking, clowning teenagers but when the leader said, "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," the whole group, with its Catholic instinct, immediately made the Sign of the Cross and quieted down. All of you teachers and parents here today can feel free to use that one!

    While this is sort of a gimmick and we should be careful not to make the Sign of the Cross frivolously, I think it speaks to something very true. The Sign of the Cross was for most of us, the first prayer we ever learned. It is ubiquitous to Catholics, we make it all the time. The pervasive presence of the Sign of the Cross in the life of a Catholic serves to root his entire life in the mystery that it expresses. But it can also have an unfortunate effect. It is so common that we can easily take it for granted and not give it, or our one God in Three Persons that it names, much thought. When we dip our fingers in Holy Water and make the Sign of the Cross as we enter the Church, do we think about what this really means? When we bow to the altar or genuflect to the tabernacle before entering one of the pews, do we make the Sign of the Cross with purpose and meaning? When we make the Sign of the Cross after receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion, do we make it with reverence and awe at Who we have received?

    Many of us do make the Sign of the Cross well, but today, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity is the perfect day to focus all the more on Who God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, really is. God, the Holy Trinity, is the most supreme Truth of our Christian faith.

    The Feast of the Holy Trinity comes now at the beginning of Ordinary Time, I think, because it is the pinnacle of all of the great feast days we have celebrated so far: of Christmas, of Mary, Mother of God, the Epiphany, the Baptism of our Lord, Lent, Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday, the Ascension, and Pentecost. They all culminate in the Holy Trinity. In fact, every feast day, every Sunday, every liturgical act is a celebration of the Holy Trinity, of God who is one in nature, but three in Persons. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God. These three are not merely aspects of God, or names, or manifestations, or functions of God. This is why it is important that we never make the Sign of the Cross "in the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier," as it is the practice in some circles, because these are merely functions of God, they describe what he does, rather than name three distinct persons. These three are numerically one, for there is only one God. There is only one, single, undivided God. This God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

    I hope you'll excuse me for a little bit of teaching there, because it is so important that we strive more and more to be as clear as we can about Who God Is. This is a great mystery that we will never fully understand until we reach heaven and are able to see God face to face. But just because God is a mystery, doesn't mean we simply resign, nod our heads and move on. The meaning of life itself is the lifelong pursuit of this mystery. We must not give up on it.

    Scott Hahn, a popular Catholic author, has an interesting approach to this that I like very much. He explains that we often throw up our hands when it comes to mystery because we approach mysteries like math problems. The doctrine of the Trinity tells us that three Persons are One God, but we know in math that three does not equal one. It can seem that problems like this are so abstract, so hard to figure out, that all we can do is accept that fact that we are unable to solve them. But, as Scott Hahn puts it, mystery is better understood like a marriage, or any profound human relationship. "We cannot ever 'figure out' a spouse, but we can certainly grow in love, knowledge, and understanding of that person. The Trinity is the loving relationship we hope to know forever in heaven. If we are not growing in our love of that mystery, we are not growing any closer to heaven. And if that is so then our faith is superficial."

    The image of marriage helps us to understand mystery, but especially the mystery of the Trinity. God is not an in solitary confinement in heaven. The Godhead is a community of love. The Father loves the Son from all eternity. The Son receives and returns this love from all eternity. And the love that they share is divine and so intense that it is a third Person, the Holy Spirit, proceeding forth from them from all eternity. This image of the Holy Trinity as the Lover, the Beloved, and the Love They Share is the image St. Augustine used to illustrate the Holy Trinity. And this image is most vividly portrayed on earth in marriage and family. There we see a husband who loves his wife so much that he gives his life and all he has to her. She receives this love completely and loves him completely in return. And the love they have is so intense that proceeding from their love is a third person, a child. Love is the essence of the family, as it is the essence of God. Deus Caritas Est – God Is Love.

    This is what John's Gospel means when Jesus says, "Everything that the father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he, [the Holy Spirit], will take from what is mine and declare it to you." The community of love that is God is so complete and eternal that everything the Father has, the Son has, and everything the Son has, the Father has. And everything they share, the Holy Spirit has. This generosity of love is the essence of God and is the standard for what our families should be. It is the Holy Spirit who declares this to us, who invites us into the love of God, and empowers our families to be icons of this love to the world.

    But, unfortunately, broken families and divorce have touched all of us here in one way or another. If the family is supposed to be an image of the love shared between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and we come from or have been hurt by a broken family, how are we supposed to know God? We can still know him because the Holy Spirit makes his love forever attractive to us, even if we do not see it lived well in our circumstances. This love is the basis for all of our desires and all of our pursuits for happiness. If we can remain confident that this love is true, then it can empower us to reconcile, rebuild, and restore our relationships and families wherever this is possible. If this is not possible, we can find comfort and hope in the fact that we are already a part of this love. At our Baptism we were brought into the inner life of the Trinity and made sharers in God's eternal exchange of love. This love heals all wounds and divisions, overcomes all obstacles, makes all things possible and new and is beyond any love we can imagine. This is a love we can rely on even if everything else crumbles down around us. This love will never fail us, will never let us down, will always fill us with peace and joy. As St. Paul said, "the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us." And this love will be poured out anew into our hearts at this very Mass in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, in the Holy Communion that we will share. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Listen to this Homily: Recorded mp3