Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Daily Mass Homily to High School Students: The Mustard Seed and Courtesy

There is an old English Catholic writer who lived in the early 1900’s that you guys should definitely look up in your English lit classes. This guy walked extensively all over Britain and Europe. He even went so far as to walk from central France, across the Alps, and all the way down to Rome and as he walked, he wrote descriptions about the people and places he met along the way, along with drawings of the route, and some humor, poetry, and other reflections here and there. These make up his book titled, The Path to Rome, and the writer I’m talking about is Hilaire Belloc. One of the things he discovered along his walks was the importance of simple good deeds, like having Courtesy. As simple as it may seem, it can have a great affect, even a divine affect. He wrote a poem about Courtesy that I think relates to your lives and to our Gospel today:

Of Courtesy, it is much less
Than Courage of Heart or Holiness,
Yet in my Walks it seems to me
That the Grace of God is in Courtesy.

On Monks I did in Sorrington fall,
They took me straight into their Hall;
I saw Three Pictures on a wall,
And Courtesy was in them all.

The first the Annunciation;
The second the Visitation;
The third the Consolation,
Of God that was Our Lady’s Son.

The first was of Saint Gabriel;
On Wings a-flame from Heaven he fell;
And as he went upon one knee
He shone with Heavenly Courtesy.

Our Lady out of Nazareth rode –
It was Her month of heavy load;
Yet was Her face both great and kind,
For Courtesy was in Her Mind.

The third it was our Little Lord,
Whom all the Kings in arms adored;
He was so small you could not see
His large intent of Courtesy.

Courtesy is small and simple, like the mustard seed in our Gospel today. The typical mustard seed is about a quarter of an inch round, but it can grow to become a huge tree, about 15 feet tall in a matter of weeks! Jesus uses this image to describe what the kingdom of God is like. The kingdom of God is where people experience something heavenly, something divine. All it takes are simple good deeds like courtesy to help someone around us begin to experience the kingdom of God in all its breadth.

What you must ask yourself is this: Will I be an obstacle to the kingdom of God or Will I let God bring it about in me. Which one will it be? You can bring joy to your friends or sadness. You can bring light to your family or darkness. You can help someone come closer to God or to the Church or help him move away from God or the Church. Which will it be? You don’t have to be a Bible-thumper, running around, being obnoxious about your faith. Just start with being courteous, good-mannered, respectful, polite. All the angel Gabriel did when he arrived to Mary to tell her she was to be the Mother of God was bend on one knee to tell her. But this small act of courtesy helps us understand the power and meaning of His message. All Mary did when she visited Elizabeth was enter her house and greet her. But this small act of courtesy caused Elizabeth’s baby, St. John the Baptist, to leap with joy in her womb. And all that Baby Jesus did was lay there in a manger, moving the hearts of the magi to honor the Holy Family with three gifts. But this small act of courtesy continued to his greatest act of all, dying on the Cross for our salvation and offering us his real Body and Blood in Holy Communion. And what a true courtesy that is: A small, round, white host… a chalice of simple wine… that for all their simplicity become none other than Jesus Christ Himself, our Lord, and God.

Not that you all aren’t courteous already, but think about the greatness that a simple act can give. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or what year you’re in, or what family you’re from, or what clique you run with, or what AP class you take – all of you can achieve great holiness. Just start small with acts of courtesy whenever you can make them. Courtesy is small, but like the mustard seed, it can grow and blossom to unimaginable greatness. Just think – the door you open for a woman could be the only kindness she receives from a man that day. The politeness toward your teacher could make right years of misbehavior! One reverent genuflection before you enter your pew, one sign of the cross made slowly and intentionally out of respect for Jesus, could be the one thing that encourages your classmate not to give up his faith. Just like how the Church began with twelve poor fisherman and now spans every corner of the globe, so too can the kingdom of heaven, the experience of holiness, spread throughout your entire family, your entire school, your entire neighborhood… your entire heart… through one small act of courtesy.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Homily 27th Sun O.T. Year C: Respect Life Sunday

    Only two short days ago, Fri Oct. 1, was a very important day here in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. It marked the three year anniversary of a very important event. I remember vividly where I was on October 1st, 2007. I was sitting right where you are. It was a very exciting day as people packed into the Cathedral. I was sitting in a pew with many other seminarians and I remember thinking how neat it was to see so many different religious orders, many of the faculty from St. Mary's, so many priests and deacons, even a good number of bishops. That wonderful event was the Mass in which Abp. Edwin O'Brien became the 15th Archbishop of Baltimore, at the same time becoming the "first among equals" of the American bishops.

    Not only do I remember vividly the setting that day, I also remember well the homily. With today being Respect Life Sunday, we would do well to recall what Abp. O'Brien proclaimed to Baltimore and to America on his first day as the Archbishop of Baltimore. His words were full of conviction and resolve, full of certainty and hope. Indeed, he was like a modern day St. Paul and we were like his spiritual son, St. Timothy. Paul wrote to Timothy in our second reading, "stir into flame the gift of God that you have"! "For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord"! Like, Paul, Abp. O'Brien instructed us to be courageous in our witness to the Gospel of Life and courageous in our love of women in crisis pregnancies and of the unborn. He said:

I pledge that I shall make every effort possible to continue and intensify the defense of the right to life that has been waged by my predecessors. And I pledge more. No one has to have an abortion. To all those in crisis pregnancies, I pledge our support and our financial help. Come to the Catholic church -- let us walk with you through your time of trouble, let us help you affirm life, let us help you find a new life with your child, let us help you by placing that child in a loving home. But please, I beg you, let us help you affirm life. Abortion need not be an answer in this archdiocese....

    What a rousing call! It certainly stirred up the flame in my fellow seminarians and me to do more spiritually and publicly for the pro-life cause. I remember how we often gathered with students from Johns Hopkins on early Saturday mornings in front of a local abortion clinic to pray the rosary and to offer counseling to women as they entered and left the clinic. We were filled with compassion and zeal. We wanted more than anything to help, to make a difference. But when people would heckle us or mock us, I had moments in which I felt like the prophet Habakkuk in our first reading. He cried out to the Lord, "How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, 'Violence!' but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord"!

    Aren't these the cries of so many in the pro-life movement when we consider the magnitude of our mission? When we consider that abortion is allowed throughout the entire nine months of pregnancy! When we consider that over 1 million surgical abortions take place every year in the United States, over 4000 every day, and that they are mostly done for non-medical reasons! How can we move forward, how can we continue to witness to the Gospel of Life, in the face of such a formidable foe?

    After the prophet cried to the Lord for him to intervene, the Lord finally gave him an answer. The Lord cautioned the prophet not to give up hope so easily, for his salvation "still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint." "If it delays," the Lord said, "wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live."

    Faith is the key when we feel discouraged in our work to end abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and all other offenses against the life of God in us. What we must remember is that all the faith we will ever need in this life has already been given to us! On the miraculous day of our Christian Baptism, Jesus Christ the High Priest infused into our souls what we call the "theological virtues", the precious gifts of Faith, Hope, and Love. The blessed waters of Baptism became a spring of living water in our souls, a spring of Faith, Hope, and Love flowing throughout our very being. A spring that could very well carry us to heaven if we do not inhibit its flow.

    Often, the source of our discouragement is not the enemy before us, but rather the things we have done to build a damn in the spring of Faith in us. Whenever we let despair overcome us, we place a large rock in this spring. Whenever we have division in the pro-life movement, we place another. Whenever we lash out recklessly against those who are pro-abortion, we place another. Whenever we resign ourselves to idleness or shrink from our responsibility to defend life, we place another, until we have built a damn, blocking the flow of the spring of Faith. When we feel discouraged or unmotivated it is this obstacle that we are feeling.

    What we must do to break down the damn against the spring of Faith is to make an Act of Faith. We have heard of the Act of Contrition, right? It is the prayer we say during the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Remember? It goes, "O my God I am heartily sorry for having offended you…" and so forth. Did you know that there is an Act of Faith as well? It goes:

"O my God, I firmly believe that you are one God in three divine Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I believe that your divine Son became man and died for our sins and that he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches because you have revealed them who are eternal truth and wisdom, who can neither deceive nor be deceived. In this faith I intend to live and die. Amen."

    When the apostles realized how demanding Christ's teachings are, they did not become discouraged, instead they made an Act of Faith. Theirs was simple, they said to the Lord, "Increase our faith" and he replied that nothing is impossible if we preserve our Faith in Him. Indeed, "If you have faith the size of a mustard seed," he said, "you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you"!

An Act of Faith is the proper response to the pro-abortion forces in our society, not fear. Your Act of Faith could be the formal prayer or it could be an actual act of faith. For example, you could volunteer with the Respect Life group here at the Cathedral. They will celebrate Respect Life month later in October. They also plan a baby shower in May that benefits a local pregnancy resource center and the Gabriel Network, a support system for pregnant women in need. You could pray in front of an abortion clinic or join a national prayer campaign at www.PrayerCampaign.org. There are many prayers and acts of Faith that you can make.

By our faith, the victory that Christ won over sin and death by the power of His Cross can reign in our lives, in our families, our Churches, our neighborhoods. By our faith that victory can reign in Baltimore and everywhere in Maryland that there is an abortion clinic. In fact we have seen that victory recently with the closing of the abortion clinic in Severna Park last week!

    Never lose faith in the victory of life over death that has already been won. Our Lord desires to work through you to apply this victory to our place and time. And he has limitless mercy and forgiveness for those who have been wounded by abortion. Make an Act of Faith! Let the springs of Faith flow like a raging torrent through your heart and soul! Go out with courage and proclaim to all the world that as long as we draw breath, death will not have the final say!