Sunday, October 23, 2011

Homily 30th Sun O.T. Year A – When Man is Loved, God is Loved

commandment In last weekend’s readings, when our Lord taught the Pharisees and the Herodians that the People of God should be able to fulfill their civic duties and their duties to God at the same time, they marveled at his teaching and went away. Before our Gospel reading today, the Sadducees who denied the Resurrection, tried to stump Jesus, but they too “were astonished at his teaching.” Now the Pharisees will try one last time. Infuriated that he was able to silence the Sadducees, they gathered around Jesus and, putting forward their most clever scribe, they asked him, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” By calling him “Teacher” they pretended to be humble and respectful, but really, they thought they already knew it all.

With this question they again hoped to stump him. In the old Jewish Law there were 613 laws which the scribes and Pharisees rigidly imposed on God’s people. Although these 613 laws were divided into light and grave offenses – with the grave ones being punishable by death – and further divided into small and great offenses, the Pharisees followed all 613 with equal force. So when the scribe asks Jesus which one is the greatest, he is trying to test Jesus’ faithfulness to the law. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” he asked.

To this Jesus gave a two-part answer, the first part easily recognizable to any faithful Jew. It was no surprise: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.” This is a direct reference to Deut 6:5: “Hear, O Israel,” it says, “The Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” Faithful Jews prayed this prayer three times a day, every day.

It is the second part of our Lord’s response, though, that would have been the most surprising to his audience. Jesus continues, “The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Here, in an unprecedented way, He formally joins love of God to love of neighbor by quoting Lev 19:18 “You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” Such a combination of texts is nowhere to be found in the writings of the rabbis down through the centuries. They did not connect love of God to love of neighbor. The prevailing Jewish attitude toward non-Jews at the time was of bitter contempt.

In this episode, Jesus again answers the question they should have asked. Earlier when they asked him, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?” he answered with what should be paid to Caesar and to God. Here they ask him which commandment in the law is the greatest and he gives them the greatest and the second-greatest! The reason he does this is because he understands the true spirit of the Old Law and he does not wish to separate love of God from love of our neighbor. These two commandments summarize the spirit of the entire Old Testament and of all 613 of its laws. They even summarize the 10 commandments we all know and love today.

True love of God leads us to love our neighbor. St. Thomas Aquinas said, “When man is loved, God is loved, for man is the image of God.” This is also echoed elsewhere in Scripture. The first letter of St. John tells us, “If anyone says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also” (1 Jn 4:20-21). But who is our brother or our neighbor?

The Jews, before and during the time of Christ, had a strict interpretation of the term “neighbor.” They had a strong national identity and a bond with each other as the chosen Sons of God, his people set-apart to bring the entire world to Him. Therefore, naturally, “neighbor” was a fellow Jew. But, just as Jesus was the first to formally join the two texts of the Old Testament together, love of God in Deuteronomy to love of neighbor in Leviticus, so was he the first to expand the notion of neighbor beyond their national identity. So who then is our neighbor? A scribe in Luke’s Gospel asked our Lord this very question and he answered with the story of the Good Samaritan.

We all know the story, right? There, a Jew is robbed, stripped, beaten, and left for dead. When the Jewish priests and Levites, who were trained in the law and thus more responsible for it, passed him by, finally a hated Samaritan stopped to help. But, he doesn’t just bandage him up and run away even though he could have because there was such hatred between the Jews and Samaritans. No, he poured water and wine on the man’s wounds, took him to an inn, cared for him, and paid for everything. In this story the Samaritan teaches us that our neighbor is everyone in need, friend or enemy. Every person is my neighbor, more particularly the one in need.

This story of the Good Samaritan also teaches what love is and how to love. Christ is the Good Samaritan, the wounded man is the human race robbed and beaten by sin and the devil, the oil and wine are the sacraments and the inn is the Church where we are cared for and where our wounds are healed. Looking at it this way, we see that love is more than how it is popularly portrayed; it is more than just a feeling. Our feelings come and go, but love is constant. It is an act of the will; to choose the good of another whether it feels good or not; to put another’s good before our own.

Imagine what it felt like to be the Samaritan. He knew the Jews hated his people and he was in their land. He probably was afraid and wanted to journey as quickly as he could. But, knowing the true spirit of the Old Law himself, and loving God first, he was moved to love his wounded neighbor despite the fact that he was a Jew. And this love had no mushy, buddy-buddy feelings to it. It was probably expensive to use his oil and wine on the man’s wounds but he did it anyway. It was probably difficult and dirty and tiring to dress up his wounds on the side of the road. It probably didn’t feel good and probably took a lot of energy to pick up the man and place him on his horse and then slowly ride him back into town despite the jeers of other priests and Levites who passed by. Then the Samaritan cared for the man all through the night and paid two days wages to ensure that he would be taken care of at the inn while he was gone. This is true love, a love centered on love of God and self-sacrifice. The Samaritan’s love for the wounded Jew was true love because it came from the overflow of his love for God first. Plus, if the Samaritan had waited to feel love before he showed it, then he may not have showed it at all. Now, certainly, when great feelings come with love then they are good and can bring much Joy. But, remember: Love is not a feeling, it is an act of the will, a choice.

How do you love God? How do you love your spouse? Your family? Your coworkers? Your friends? Your neighbor? Love God first and you will love the rest. But if you love your spouse first or your family first then your love is out of order, and that person becomes an obstacle to your love of God. When you love God first and most of all, then you will be able to love others as He does, as Christ does, with patience and sacrifice. Then you will care for what matters most: the salvation of the souls God has placed in your path. Then like Christ, you will be their Good Samaritan.

As you journey through life, go to where your family, your friends, your coworkers are and bring them to the Inn of the Church where they can be saved and refreshed by the “oil and wine” of our holy sacraments, a salvation paid for not by two days wages, but with the priceless grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, whom our psalm called our rock, our fortress, our shield, our strength. Let your love be self-sacrificial, a love of God and a love of your neighbor, and God’s law will always be a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Homily 29th Sun O.T. Year A–To Caesar and to God

render unto caesarOver the last few Sundays, our Gospel readings have been from St. Matthew’s Gospel and, parable after parable, Jesus has been putting the Pharisees squarely in their place. And with each parable they have been increasing in anger toward Jesus. He has stumped them and caught them trapped in their wickedness and so now the Pharisees decide to try to return the favor. They “went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech.”

Their plan seemed fool-proof. First, in an act of false humility, they compliment our Lord’s truthfulness and his disregard for opinion or status. Then, they ask him “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” They figured that if he said “Yes,” then they could discredit him among the Jews as one who advocated Roman rule. But, if he said “No,” then they could report him to the Romans for inciting anti-taxation sentiments. He answered not “Yes” or “No”, but this: “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” This was much more profound then the Pharisees expected: “When they heard it, they marveled; and they left him and went away.”

What did Jesus mean by this? Because this passage could be easily misunderstood, let’s look at what Jesus is not saying. He is not saying, “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar” on one hand, and repay “to God what belongs to God” on the other hand. Jesus is not teaching us the separation of church and state here. The simple word “and” between the two phrases tells us that they should be read together as one. Let us be on the look out for those who would use this passage to advocate the divorce of faith from the public square. Faith and Science, Church and State, Religion and Politics are distinct, but should never be separate. Therefore we must pray that more Catholics – who are faithful to Church Teaching – will enter into the fields of science and politics.

A Catholic’s faith should inform every aspect of his life, from the home, to the bedroom, to the office, to the voting booth, to the floor of the Senate, and the Oval Office. If we only allow faith to impact the comfortable areas of our life – mass on Sunday, conversations with the pastor, religion class, etc – and not the areas of our life that challenge us, then what is the sense in having faith at all? Our Lord does not want lukewarmness, he wants a faith that is complete and alive. We can’t separate our private convictions from our public actions without diminishing both. Pope John Paul I only reigned for 33 days but still had much wisdom in this regard. He said:

In this same society there is a terrible moral and religious void. Today all seem frantically directed toward material conquests: make money, invest, surround oneself with new comforts, live the ‘good life’. Few think also of ‘doing good.’ God – who should fill our life – has, on the contrary, become a very distant star, to which people look only at certain moments. People believe they are religious because they go to church; but outside of church they want to lead the same life as many others, marked by small or big deceits, acts of injustice, sins against charity; and thus they totally lack coherence.

We must pray and work for a society in which faithful citizenship can harmoniously repay to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.

But, remember, the Pharisees in our Gospel only asked Jesus about Caesar, why did he add the bit about God? I think Jesus is also teaching us here about the religious dimension of man. It is true what Aristotle taught us: “Man is by nature a political animal,” – it is natural for him to be social, to form partnerships, to form cities. But his whole being is not exhausted by his dealings with the cities, his politics. No, human beings have an immortal soul and have God’s law imprinted on their hearts. This soul, nurtured by faith, hope, and love, should inform all that a citizen does, thus making him a faithful citizen. This is why Jesus added the words, repay “to God what belongs to God”.

Obedience to civic duties is the responsibility of all who follow Christ as long as these do not conflict with our duties to God. If they do then God’s law wins out in the end. But, when they are in harmony, one’s attention to his civic duties can be a path to holiness. The Second Vatican Council taught us that:

The laity accomplish the Church’s mission in the world principally by [blending conduct and faith] which makes them the light of the world; [by uprightness in dealings which is an incentive for others] to love the true and the good and which is capable of inducing [them] at last to go to Christ and the Church; by that fraternal charity [which prepares all hearts] for the action of saving grace; [and by personal responsibility] in the development of society, which drives them on to perform their family, social, and professional duties with Christian generosity.

We must realize that our faith has much to bring to the world, to science and to politics. Faith is not an obstacle to the fullest realization of these things, but rather must serve as their guide. Science and technology, guided by faith, recognize the rights of all human beings from the moment of conception; recognize the horror of human cloning and embryonic stem cell research; and recognize that the inherent dignity of our elderly brothers and sisters is not found in the integrity of their biological systems or their functionality, but in their simply being human. Only this type of science can be truly progressive and reach its fullest potential. Science unguided by faith falls into mere ideology, a dominating, ravenous, caricature of what it was meant to be.

Politics, guided by faith, recognizes that marriage, by definition, is between one man and one woman, and this, coupled with its unbreakable bond, guarantees the health of society: it is in the state’s best interest to protect the integrity of marriage, of the family, of the upbringing of children, of Christian education, etc. A Catholic with a well-formed conscience can do much for the common good!

But, a society with politics unguided by faith is “at the mercy of aggressive elements and prey to a gradual dehumanization.” Thus we have a society in which the death of 4000 human beings to surgical abortion each day is lauded as freedom and equality; and the destruction of human embryos, tiny human beings, for unsuccessful medical treatments is advanced for political gain rather than real cures. In the Presidential election, a year away now, remember that a vote is a political act but it is also a moral act with moral implications.

In the periods of silence today, let us examine ourselves and where we stand with these principles. And I include myself. What have we done to bring our Catholic faith to bear on the common good? Are we proud of our faith in some areas, with some people, but reject it in others? Have we abused the gifts of science and technology in our own lives or damaged the larger common good through internet addiction, artificial insemination, contraception, or even abortion? Have we elevated our politics over our faith and distracted ourselves from issues concerning faith and life directly, themselves? If we have done these things, let us be assured that there is hope. This hope lies not in our vote or our candidate but in Jesus Christ. Did he not teach us: “For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his [soul]?” As Isaiah foretold twice in the first reading, Jesus Christ “is the Lord, there is no other.” Jesus is the Way when we have become lost in the political hype; the Truth when we have bought the lies of the evil one; and the Life when we have fallen to his temptations. In Jesus Christ we are secure and can exclaim with our psalm today “For great is the LORD and highly to be praised; awesome is he, beyond all gods. For all the gods of the nations are things of nought, but the LORD made the heavens… The LORD is king, he governs the peoples with equity.”

The Marian Talk at the 60th Annual Living Rosary

queen of clergyIt is a great honor for me to be able to give the Marian Talk this, the 60th Living Rosary Presentation. I believe some clever friends from St. Athanasius had a hand in my being chosen, I’ll talk to them later! Seriously though, as this is the first “living rosary” that I have been able to attend, I hope I am able to continue the tradition established by the good speakers who have given this talk in years past. Adding to the occasion, we celebrate this year’s event at Assumption High School whose name comes from one of the most beautiful Feast days that Holy Mother Church celebrates. With our theme being Vocations and World Peace, the Blessed Mother, in her Assumption, actually speaks well to both of these.

I fondly remember an inscription on the baldachino standing over the altar at the seminary I went to, St. Mary’s, in Baltimore, MD. It is the first phrase of Mary’s canticle of praise to God - Magnificat anima mea Dominum – My soul magnifies the Lord. At every daily Mass at the seminary, going back to when I first entered seminary in August of 2005, I read that phrase and pondered its meaning. What does it mean for one’s very soul to magnify the Lord? What does it mean for all of us today who celebrate Mary in a place named for her Assumption?

The answer begins in the Old Testament with the widow Judith. In the Book of Judith we read how she was highly praised for her victory over the Assyrians on behalf of the Israelites. Due to her splendid beauty and surpassing wisdom, she was able to get close to the enemy king. She had great courage and faith in the Lord’s protection and strength. When the king was asleep she took his sword and decapitated him, much to the horror of their enemies who fled in fear and were defeated. The Israelites praised her as blessed “above all women upon the earth.” They declared that God had magnified her name on that fateful day and that her praise shall come from the mouths of men forever. Judith was considered the glory of Jerusalem, the joy of Israel, the honor of her people.

The Church Fathers saw Judith as one who prepares God’s people to turn their eyes to the woman par excellence, most resplendent in beauty, most blessed among women, whom all generations shall call blessed – the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the glory, the joy, the honor not only of Israel, but of all mankind. By her courage in saying Yes to becoming the Mother of God and by her faith and hope in God’s promises she brought about a victory much greater than one nation over another. As Judith won victory for Israel by a fatal blow to the head of the enemy king, Mary brings about the victory over Satan by bearing our Savior, Jesus Christ, who crushes the head of sin and death underfoot. The Lord God prophesied to the serpent in the Garden of Eden, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” But, Mary does not magnify herself by her virtues. She sings, “my soul magnifies the Lord.” What does this mean? It means that her entire life joyfully proclaims to all generations our Lord’s conclusive victory over sin and death.

Due to the fall of our first parents, sin took hold over the beginning and the end of human life. At his conception, man inherits original sin and what we call concupiscence or the tendency toward sin. And at his very end he must suffer the wages of sin which are death and the decomposition of his body. But, the Blessed Virgin Mary escaped both. She shines forth as a beacon from God’s heavenly kingdom, showing us even now, before Christ’s second coming, that he is completely victorious over sin and death. The Lord, by Mary’s Immaculate Conception, saved her from original sin before she could be sullied by it, thus showing his victory over the beginning of life. By freeing her from the snares of concupiscence, he prepared her to live a life free from actual committed sin, thus showing his victory over the course of life. And by assuming her body and soul into heaven he showed his victory over the end of life. Mary was saved completely from the dominion and the bonds of sin and death.

When Pope Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption in 1950 he defined the essence of the dogma to be thus: “The Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death” (Munificentissimus Deus). This is what Catholics must believe. But what does this have to do with us?

First, Mary’s Assumption is the guarantee that those who share in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, will share in his glory. By sharing in Christ’s suffering and death at the foot of the cross, she proved to us that Jesus keeps his promises: she shares in his heavenly glory. If we offer up our sufferings, great and small, to the Father and die to ourselves, our passions, and our own will, each and every day, we too will share in Christ’s glory alongside our Blessed Mother who reflects the glory of her Son every time we look to her.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary also teaches us the honor due to our father and mother. Jesus followed the fourth commandment to its ultimate degree by bringing his mother, body and soul, quickly to his side at the moment of her “death.” He crowned her queen of heaven and earth. As Mary described in her canticle of praise, “He that is mighty, hath done great things to me; … he hath exalted the humble.” Fr. Matthias Scheeben, the brilliant German theologian of the mid 1800’s, described beautifully the honor that the Son of God showed His Mother: “As He on the third day had raised from the sepulcher… so also this mother was snatched from the grave and conformed to her Son; and as He had descended to her, so she, as being closely united with that greater and more perfect tabernacle, was taken up into heaven.”

How do we honor our father and mother, especially as they approach old age or death? Do we forget them or abandon them? Do we “honor” them by squabbling over money or inheritance? Jesus Christ is calling us today to honor our father and mother as if they were his Heavenly Father and his Blessed Mother for they have been given to us to lead us to these Holy Parents.

So, again, two of the main principles we learn from Mary’s Assumption is Christ’s victory over the beginning, duration, and end of life and the honor due our father and mother. The way that Mary models Christ’s victory over life and death is itself a call and a challenge for us to model this same victory in our own lives. In our world, all too often, the forces of sin and death reign over the beginning, duration, and end of life. At its beginning, man’s life is plagued by abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and human cloning. Through its duration, man’s life is plagued by disorder and unjust war. At its end, man’s life is plagued by euthanasia and unjust uses of capitol punishment. We must follow Mary’s model of Christ’s victory rather than the allurements of Satan’s reign. Only then will true peace reign over the beginning, duration, and end of life. Christ, the Prince of Peace, is challenging us with Mary’s example to let him reign in our lives too. Her Immaculate Conception is lived out in our lives when we pray and work to eliminate abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and human cloning. Her freedom from the tendency toward sin is lived out in our lives when we pray and work to bring order to society and free it from unjust wars. Her Assumption is lived out in our lives when we pray and work to eliminate euthanasia and unjust uses of capital punishment.

Peace is a value, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church teaches, and a universal duty founded on a rational and moral order of society that has its roots in God himself, “the first source of being, the essential truth and the supreme good.” Peace is not merely an absence of war, nor can it be reduced solely to the maintenance of a balance of power between enemies. Rather it is founded on a correct understanding of the human person and requires the establishment of an order based on justice and charity (CSDC 494). Peace is the fruit of justice… and is threatened when man is not given all that is due him as a human person, when his dignity is not respected and when civil life is not directed to the common good. Peace is also, [and primarily], the fruit of love (494). Similar to the culture of life, a “culture of peace” must reign. In a climate permeated with the harmony and respect for justice [and charity], an authentic culture of peace can grow and can even pervade the entire international community (495). Mary’s life, shining forth Christ’s victory, is of primary importance in forming a culture of peace.

The second principle we learned from Mary’s Assumption, about the honor due our father and mother lends itself to vocations in the Church, vocations which are sorely needed in order to extend Christ’s reign of peace in the hearts of man so that it can then, and only then, spread out and influence the larger community. We need strong families in which mothers and fathers are honored so that young men can then grow up into the honorable position of father and young women into the honorable position of mother. When need strong fathers so that young men will desire to in turn be fathers of many spiritual children. We need strong mothers so that young women will desire in turn to be mothers of many spiritual children, to be the spouse of Christ, to be the handmaidens of the Lord. Through strong families in general, Mary’s model of peace can reign in the hearts of our children. This peace in turn will not admit to them the many distractions in life that detract from a religious vocation. When children are raised in a spiritual and lasting culture of peace they will more readily hear the call of God to mimic Mary’s “Yes” and respond to him generously.

Now that I have been ordained a priest, I sometimes miss kneeling in the chapel at the seminary and reading that inscription over the altar each and every day – Magnificat anima mea Dominum – My soul magnifies the Lord. Oremus pro invicem – Let us pray for each other, today and during the rest of this year. If we avail ourselves of the intercession of our Blessed Mother, Queen of Heaven and Earth, we will not magnify ourselves by our faith and works, but instead always magnify our Lord. If we trust in her intercession we will share in Christ’s suffering and death and so share in his glory. If we honor her intercession we will honor our father and mother and give them the crown that they deserve. If we trust in her model, we will allow Christ’s victory to reign over our entire lives and so serve to instill peace in our hearts which will radiate into our families, communities, and world, also giving rise to many vocations. Finally, through her intercession, we have hope that we too will be brought swiftly to the side of our Lord when we die.

Homily 28th Sun O.T. Year A–The Marriage Feast and The Call

marriage feastI am sure we have all, at one time or another, experienced the disappointment of working and planning diligently for a major event only to have very few people show up. Especially when it is a parish event, you can feel so defeated and discouraged when you know that a presentation or a speaker could have been so helpful to so many people and you want so badly for the gifts of the Church to have an effect on everyone. But imagine the big occasions in your life where it is obligatory that a lot of people show up. Imagine if only a handful came to a milestone birthday party, or a family reunion, or worse yet, your wedding reception? I was thinking about how disappointed I would have been if my Ordination had been like that. The challenge today is for us to consider that sometimes we do that to God, leave him high and dry. Really mankind has done this to God throughout salvation history.

Beginning with the Israelites of the Old Testament, God sent them the prophets to continually call them to Himself, to salvation, to eternal life. What Isaiah called “a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines” was the salvation God had in store for them. Throughout the Scriptures the image of a great heavenly banquet is used to illustrate the great intimacy that God desires to have with us, in order to share with us His greatest gifts. Through the prophets, God proclaimed continuously, in the words of Jesus’ parable, “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.” They don’t have to bring anything. God doesn’t split up their last names and have A through H bring a meat, I through P bring vegetables, and Q through Z bring a dessert! He just wants them to be with him.

But, the Jews at that time either ignored the call – preoccupied as they were with worldly or family concerns – or, worse, rejected the king’s feast and killed the prophets who were sent to invite them. Remember, Jesus is in Jerusalem for his passion. He is making one last attempt to stir the consciences of the scribes and Pharisees, to help them see that they have fallen in line with the wicked tenants of last week’s parable who killed the servants and the landowner’s only son, who were sent to collect the produce of the vineyard. And now, Jesus says, they are like the invited guests who ignore and kill the servants sent to invite them to the feast.

But, in order to prove once and for all God’s great patience even for those who reject him, Jesus will go the greatest length himself to show that any and everyone are called to the feast, “bad and good alike.” He will go to the point of the cross to gather all he has found. He will suffer a three-fold rejection – He is the King that gives the feast, mocked by the purple robe and the crown of thorns – He is the Son around whom the feast is prepared, mocked as an illegitimate blasphemer before the Sanhedrin – He is the servant sent to proclaim the good news, mocked and jeered at as he hung on the cross.

When we get so caught up in our worldly concerns – “one to his farm, another to his business,” as the parable puts it – then we, in effect, are making this type of three-fold rejection of Christ the King, the Son of God, the Servant of our salvation. When I say, “I’m too busy to pray morning prayer” then I am making this three-fold rejection. Other examples could be saying, “I don’t want to get up for Mass” or “I’d rather watch the football game” or “I’m too afraid of what people will think if I invite them to Church or challenge their behavior”.

When Jesus says in the parable that “The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city” he foretold the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D. For us, if we choose over and over to reject God, our destruction, so to speak, will come about through the natural consequences of such choices: a feeling of alienation and distance from God, a sense of loneliness during times of difficulty, a less and less fulfilling way of life. Ultimately, if we receive Hell, it will be not because God sent us there, but because we chose it, consistent with the choices to reject him in our earthy life. One of God’s greatest acts of love for us was giving us the ability to choose to not love him in return. Love is free or it is not love. God will not force us to choose good and avoid evil. Only when we choose to love God rather than reject him will the love between us grow into an earthly life and an afterlife full of the richness and bounty of God’s gifts and graces.

The point of Jesus’ parable, and really this homily too, is not to beat up those who have rejected him, but to help them and us see the richness and the beauty of what is at stake and to challenge us to live our lives according to such great gifts. Our readiness for these gifts – the feast of the Eucharist, the gifts of the sacraments, the richness of the sacramentals that are constantly available to us: holy water, blessings, the rosary, the crucifix, the scapular, religious medals, and icons… our readiness for these gifts is illustrated in the wedding garment that the guests were required to wear to the feast. Those who wear the garment of a life of conversion and virtue joyfully share in the celebration. Today’s designation as Vocation Awareness Sunday also helps us to look at this parable in a positive light. Who among us is God calling to lead us to the celebration?

We all have the responsibility to answer the call of Christ to come to Him through his Church and to help others to answer his call. But, it falls particularly on those in the priesthood or consecrated religious life to be the servants of this call in a special way, to empower the laity to “Go out, therefore, [even] into the main roads” and “into the streets” to ensure Christ’s call is heard by all, and to do their own part in making it known. The King needs servants. The Church needs young men to hear the call to be priests and to extend the call of salvation to all the world. The Church needs priests who will offer, as Isaiah called it, the “rich food” of the Body of Christ and the “choice wine” of the Blood of Christ to the people gathered at the Eucharistic feast. The Church needs young women to hear the call to consecrated religious life, to be wedded to the Son, to make the Eucharist in their hearts a true wedding feast, to meditate on the call to salvation and help the wider Church understand it.

How many in our three parishes are willing to let their son, grandson, or nephew join the priesthood or their daughter, granddaughter, or niece enter consecrated religious life? To most of our children, this is never even presented as an option. It is never even considered. Sure, what was described in the parable could happen to them too, they too might be rejected or persecuted because of God’s message, especially in our increasingly hostile society. But, I can personally testify that St. Paul’s comforting words to the Philippians are true as well for those who receive a religious vocation: “My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

Throughout seminary and into my priesthood, I am constantly amazed at how he has helped me along the way, helped me when formation was difficult, helped me to do things I never thought I could do, like preach, and teach, and minister to people at the most profound moments of their lives. Plus it is incredibly fulfilling to stop and think that it is my hands and feet and voice that he uses to, as the Responsorial Psalm described it, lead God’s people “beside restful waters” and refresh their souls; to guide them in “right paths for his name’s sake”; to be at their side and give them courage; to “spread the table” before them; to anoint and to “overflow” them with graces. These things make it a tremendous blessing and a joy to “dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.”

We are blessed here to have six members of the clergy in constant contact with you: Fr. Chuck, Fr. Stan, Deacon Joe, Deacon Bill, Deacon Karl, and me. We must encourage our children and our grandchildren to follow their good example. We are doing very well as a cluster in having three seminarians from St. James who are in the seminary, and one is a Deacon. Let’s keep up the momentum. The Holy Spirit is moving in this archdiocese and there is much cause for hope and excitement! When I entered seminary in 2005 I was one of three men studying to be a priest for the Archdiocese of Louisville. Now we have almost 20 seminarians and more on the way!

As we all strive to hear and answer Christ’s call in our own unique way, let us pray with St. Augustine, “Help us, Lord, to disown our vain excuses. We want to attend the banquet… Don’t allow our pride or sensuality or attachments or idle curiosity to get in the way of our attendance. Make sure that we show up… We have been invited by the wealthy one who became poor for our sake… We will come… and we will tell him: “Keep steady my steps according to thy promise’ (Ps 118:133).”

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Homily 27th Sun O.T. Year A - Respect Life

faith This time four years ago was one of the most memorable events of my seminary career up at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, MD. October 1st, 2007 was a very exciting day as people packed into the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, just around the block from St. Mary’s. 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. He just recently moved to Rome though as the new Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

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 writing to the Philippians in our second reading: “Brothers and Sisters: have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition… make your requests known to God.” Like, Paul, Abp. O’Brien instructed us rely on God and the Church for help. 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 University 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 Isaiah at the end of our first reading: “he looked for judgment, but see, bloodshed! For justice, but hark, the outcry!”

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?

The psalmist seems to cry out right alongside Isaiah. He does so because he has faith that the Lord can help him. The Israelites were the Lord’s vineyard but they were unfaithful and yielded no fruit. They only yielded “wild grapes” – the Hebrew behind that phrase literally meaning “stinking things”. Therefore the Lord left them to their own devices and allowed his vineyard to be broken into and trampled, scattered about and overgrown. He even commanded the clouds not to send rain upon it. If they wanted to be ruined then so be it. But, the psalmist sings out to God: “O Lord of hosts, look down from heaven, and see; take care of this vine, and protect what your right hand has planted… Then we will no more withdraw from you; give us new life, and we will call upon your name.”

In many ways, we have reaped what we have sown in this culture of death. But, we must have faith that God does look down from heaven on us, that he can protect us and give us new life. We must never stop praying for this. 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.

On the whole, especially with so many youth involved, I see the pro-life movement filled with hope and joy. But sometimes when we become discouraged, the source of our discouragement is not the culture of death, but rather the things we have done to lessen our own faith in God. This happens, for example, whenever we let despair overcome us, whenever we have division in the pro-life movement, or whenever we resign ourselves to idleness or shrink from our responsibility to defend life. Sometimes when we feel discouraged or unmotivated it is the cumulative effect of these that we are feeling.

What we can do to ignite our faith again is to make an Act of Faith. You 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.”

An Act of Faith is the proper response to the culture of death, 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 a local pro-life group. Today, in Elizabethtown, where I’m assigned, we are having a “Life Chain” in front of the Mall where people from the community will stand shoulder to shoulder praying the rosary for an end to offenses against human life. We are also having a Holy Hour for Life at 3:45pm with brief readings from several Church documents on various life issues. With October being Respect Life month, there are many opportunities to volunteer at a local pregnancy resource center or pray in front of a abortion clinic in Louisville. 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 Meade County and everywhere in Kentucky. By our faith we can show that we have become the new vineyard and we, with the Son, are the heir of the Father’s riches. But, like the wicked tenants before us, our sins too are intimately related to the death of the beloved Son. We are now expected to render a timely account. Will we yield much good fruit or will we allow sin to yield what Isaiah called “wild grapes” or literally “stinking things”?

God has prepared us well. We are grown on the fertile hillside of grace. We have the choicest vines, the blood of the grape, the Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We are spaded and cleared of the stones of sin through the sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation. The tenants are our priests and bishops and the watchtower is the Magisterium.

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! Go out with courage and proclaim to all the world that our Faith and our Lord are the hedge built around this vineyard and we will no more be trampled and destroyed.