Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Homily Midnight Mass Year C 2012

            To those this with us this evening who are new to St. James, friends and family of parishioners, on behalf of our pastor, Fr. Chuck Walker, and our entire staff I welcome you to St. James and wish you a blessed and Merry Christmas!  I hope that you will find our Church and our parishioners to be warm and inviting and feel welcome to pray with us any time.  We are available to you and want to help you maintain and grow in your faith.  We also want to help you get reacquainted with your faith if you haven’t been to Mass in a while.  Let us try our hand at helping you answer a question or solve a problem that has been an obstacle to you.  We have a large and active parish with prayerful and resourceful people with many helpful gifts and talents all at your service… starting with this very Mass, the greatest help of all.
            One of the most helpful parts of our Gospel reading tonight is the strong example of St. Joseph.  It is Joseph who took Mary, pregnant with the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, to Bethlehem in order to register in the census; it is Joseph who, in doing this, fulfilled the prophecy of Micah that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem; it is Joseph who worked to provide for and protect his family by finding shelter in a nearby cave when there was no room in the inn (Navarre Lk 1:1-2:23).  St. Bernadine of Siena explains that it was Joseph, our Holy Patriarch, who was “a father to our Lord Jesus Christ and a faithful spouse to the Queen of the Universe, our Lady of the Angels.  The eternal Father chose Joseph to be the guardian and protector of his greatest treasures, his Son and his Spouse, and Joseph fulfilled his calling with perfect fidelity.  If the Church is indebted to the Blessed Virgin for having given Christ to us, then, after Mary, great gratitude and veneration is also owed to St. Joseph.” (ibid)
            Sometimes we can forget to turn to St. Joseph for help in our own lives.  He has such a humble witness in Scripture, but his role in the early life of Jesus Christ and his closeness to Him, makes him a powerful intercessor for us.  We should turn to him and ask him for his prayers any time we are in need.
            One of the lessons that St. Joseph teaches us, is how to properly line up our priorities.  Let us not treat him as all the others who neglected him.  Our Lord’s poverty at his birth rings throughout the Scriptures.  Mary laid him in a manger, our Gospel tonight said, “because there was no room for them in the inn.”  John’s Gospel opens with the words, “he came to his own home, and his own people received him not.”  Matthew’s gospel reminds us that “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Infancy Narratives, p. 66)
            This stark reality should cause us to reexamine the priorities we live by.  Joseph knew that his highest priority was tending to his Holy Family.  From the moment of his birth, Jesus is outside of what is important and powerful in the eyes of the world.  Yet he will prove to be the truly powerful one.  Part of what it means to be Christian is to leave behind what everyone else thinks and wants, the prevailing standards, in order to know Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (p. 67)
            There are many other inspiring details from our Gospel that can provide much fruit for prayer.  The fact that Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling clothes, the equivalent of bandages, calls to mind his death.  From the outset then, he is the sacrificial victim and the manger could be seen as a kind of altar. (p. 68)
            Our Holy Father, in his new book on Jesus’ infancy, describes a beautiful insight into the manger from St. Augustine.  The manger is the place where animals find their food.  But now, lying in the manger, is he who called himself the true bead come down from heaven., the true nourishment that we need in order to be fully ourselves.  This is the food that gives us true life, eternal life.  Thus the manger becomes a reference to the table of God, to which we are invited so as to receive the bread of God. (p. 68)
            Finally, there are the shepherds who are the first ones to receive the message of the newborn King.  Being outside of the city, Jesus was born close to their fields.  They were physically close to him and so they teach us to be inwardly close to him too.  And they were poor, showing us the great love God has for the poor and challenging us to resist being tied down by too many things so that we can be freed by the profound mysteries that only those who are humble have access too. (p. 71)
            We receive then, tonight, a great gift and a great challenge.  For Christ to not only be born at a specific time and place in human history but also in each of our hearts, we need the help that our faith gives us; we cannot receive such a precious gift by our own power.  We turn to St. Joseph as the patron saint of those seeking to re-align our priorities around Jesus Christ.  With the aid of Joseph’s prayers we can see that Jesus’ whole life, from beginning to end, is offered for our salvation.  We can see that allowing him generously into our lives is not simply a challenge but a great gift.  He is still giving his entire Life to us.  With the humility and poverty of the shepherds, we allow Jesus to enrich us with his blessings.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Homily Christmas Vigil Mass 2012

To those this with us this evening who are new to St. James, friends and family of parishioners, on behalf of our pastor, Fr. Chuck Walker, and our entire staff I welcome you to St. James and wish you a blessed and Merry Christmas! I hope that you will find our Church and our parishioners to be warm and inviting and feel welcome to pray with us any time. We are available to you and want to help you maintain and grow in your faith. We also want to help you get reacquainted with your faith if you haven’t been to Mass in a while. Let us try our hand at helping you answer a question or solve a problem that has been an obstacle to you. We have a large and active parish with prayerful and resourceful people with many helpful gifts and talents all at your service… starting with this very Mass, the greatest help of all.

It may not seem at first that tonight’s Gospel is of much help. What use are all of those hard-to-pronounce names in Jesus’ genealogy? I can remember when I was a kid I just couldn’t wait for the list to end! “When is Father gonna stop with the names!?” But if we can take into account what our Catholic tradition has revealed about this seemingly boring list, we can discover that this is more than just a list of names. It sets the stage for the Holy Family. And each member of the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, has an inspiring message for each.

Matthew’s account of Jesus’ genealogy, like a Christmas tree, climbs from the beginnings – from the root – to the present, to the top of the “tree.” It starts with Abraham and takes us all the way back to the earliest of Old Testament times. Abraham is a wonderer, walking forward into the uncertain future, towards the promised land, filled with trust in God’s promises to him. He promised Abraham that his descendents would be as numerous as the stars and that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. The Letter to the Hebrews describes Abraham as a man who “looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” He shows us that God is trustworthy. (BXVI, Infancy Narratives, p. 5)

The genealogy then rises from Abraham to King David. God made a promise to King David too; that he would have an everlasting kingdom – “Your throne shall be established for ever.” King David shows us that God wishes to lead his people in a consistent and reassuring way, to enlighten our path, to guard, to rule, to guide us.

The genealogy then descends from Solomon to the Babylonian captivity and rises again to Jesus. So, the first inspiring message from Matthew’s genealogy and the Holy Family is of course, Jesus’: He is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to mankind, from the Old Testament times to today. His kingdom is the one promised to Abraham. He is the king who will never be deposed, who will lead his people forever. This list of names is its own little gospel that gives the good news that Christ is King. He shows us that we have a Father who keeps his promises. He shows us that his kingdom, budding forth in the Church on earth, is the firm foundation that will not let us down. When the empty promises of the world, promises that you and I have each bought into along the way – when these disappoint us, we can look to Jesus Christ and know that he will lead us in a way that will not disappoint.

The second inspiring message from the Holy Family that this list of names gives us is from Mary, our Blessed Mother. Throughout the generations the genealogy uses the formula, “So and so was the father of So and so.” But at the end of the list it is different. In Jesus’ case there is no reference to fatherhood, instead it says, “Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.” In the account of Jesus’ birth that follows immediately afterward, Matthew tells us that Joseph is not Jesus’ true father. An angel told him in a dream, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.”

So Mary marks a new beginning. Her child does not originate from any man, but is a new creation, conceived through the Holy Spirit (p. 7) It is our own human history that Mary marked with a new beginning. She shows us that each one of us, by our common humanity and our brotherhood with Christ, is capable of a new beginning too. For those who are steadfast in faith, a new beginning could mean a deeper level of friendship with Christ; a deeper insight into his love and mercy; or a further step on the road of holiness. For those who have had difficulty with faith; who have encountered suffering along the way; or who feel they have been driven away from the Church, a new beginning means a renewed search for truth and peace.

Finally, the genealogy gives us to each of us tonight, the inspiring message of St. Joseph. The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and called him, “son of David.” He is Jesus’ true and legitimate link to the promises made to Abraham and David. Despite this royal lineage, when Joseph discovered that Mary had conceived a child, he decided to divorce her quietly. But, he wanted to do this not because he was suspicious of her – he no doubt knew her character was beyond reproach – but precisely because he is what Matthew calls him, “a righteous man.” St. Bernard explains it this way: “Joseph considered himself to be an unworthy sinner, unworthy to live with the woman who had astounded him with the greatness of her dignity. Fearful, he saw the unmistakable sign of the divine presence in her, and because he could not understand the mystery, he decided to draw away quietly from her… He marveled at the greatness of the miracle and the depth of the mystery.” (Navarre, Lk 1:18-25)

St. Joseph, introduced to us by the genealogy, shows us that God has beautiful and marvelous gifts in store for us. God shares these gifts with us through the sacraments and the ongoing life of the Church. But sometimes we feel unworthy of them. We feel too ashamed of what we’ve done to go to confession. We feel too humiliated to receive Communion.

We feel too embarrassed to ask to be anointed. We feel too nervous to explain our faith to our family or coworkers. I have felt these things before. It is true, none of us are worthy of the gifts God wants to give us. Neither was Joseph. But he shows us that we are called to receive them nonetheless out of God’s great love for us and it is our very reception of God’s great gifts that increases us in worthiness until we are brought into the perfection of everlasting life.

These inspiring messages of Good News are given to us subtly by the genealogy if we are willing to accept the challenge to go a little deeper. That is what our faith is all about. The link from Abraham to David to Jesus; the ending in Mary; and the hinge on Joseph are the keys that unlocked the genealogy’s inspiring words. Who knew that the Holy Family was speaking to us in such a meaningful way!? Who knew that Jesus’ message of being a firm foundation and a faithful king; that Mary’s message of hope for a new beginning; and that Joseph’s message of humble acceptance of God’s gifts were enshrined in such a beautiful list of “begats”?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Homily 3rd Sun Advent Year C 2012–We Shall Be Upheld

Heavy on my heart this morning, despite the joy signified by Rose colored vestments, is the sadness I felt when I heard the news this past weekend of the school shooting in Newtown, CT. I wondered how I could wear Rose vestments at Mass this weekend. In the midst of the purple of Advent, a sign of the intense prayer and work we take on in order to prepare our hearts to receive our Lord, Rose is meant to be a sign of the joy that we feel from knowing that our Lord is close at hand. Then, characteristic of a mind that darts too and fro, I remembered my two favorite lines from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and then I remembered one of my favorite Scripture passages which is popular in the pro-life movement.

First, my favorite lines from “A Christmas Carol”. You’ve all seen the movie right? I hope sometime you’ll have a chance to read the book. The edition from Penguin Classics has some very helpful footnotes. With this book Dickens single-handedly popularized many of the Christmas traditions we take for granted today: Christmas carols, lights, dinners, games, and parties all find their roots in his beautifully written story, A Christmas Carol. Do you remember the scene when the ghost of Christmas Past first takes Scrooge on his adventure to convert his heart toward the true meaning of Christmas? The Spirit clasped Scrooge’s arm and was about to whisk him away through the window to a scene from his childhood. Scrooge, afraid that he can’t fly like the Spirit said, “I am a mortal, and liable to fall.” “Bear but a touch of my hand there,” said the Spirit, laying it upon his heart, “and you shall be upheld in more than this!”

My second favorite line from the story is during the visit of the ghost of Christmas Present. The Ghost takes Scrooge to a vision of Bob Cratchit’s house. There he sees Mrs. Cratchit and the children busily preparing the Christmas dinner. Finally, Bob Cratchit comes home from Church with Tiny Tim upon his shoulder. “Alas for Tiny Tim,” Dickens writes, “he bore a little crutch, and had his limbs supported by an iron frame.” Then their daughter Martha, hiding behind the closet, jumps out, surprises Bob and runs into his arms. Mrs. Cratchit then asks about their time at Church, “And how did little Tim behave?” “As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.”

In coping with this tragedy today, I believe that if we let the Holy Spirit place His hand upon our hearts, we too could be upheld even in the most frightful situations. The sustaining hand of the Holy Spirit can even help us to look upon the suffering of children and call to mind the One who wraps his arms around them, loves them, touches and blesses them, heals them, and saves them.

In my experience counseling women who have lost children to abortion, one of the Scripture passages that resonates with them the most is that of Rachel from the Old Testament. The prophet Jeremiah describes the grief of Rachel, whose sons Joseph and Benjamin and their tribes have been lost and scattered among enemy lands. “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted, because they are not” (Jer 31:15).

Matthew’s Gospel quotes Jeremiah when he describes the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, King Herod’s attempt to kill the newborn sons of Bethlehem in order to eliminate the newborn King of the Jews. But Matthew doesn’t include the consolation that Jeremiah later describes: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded, says the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy’” (Jer 31:16). Why doesn’t Matthew quote this too?

Our Holy Father, in his new book on Jesus’ childhood, explains that in Matthew’s Gospel the prophetic text – the mother’s lament without the consoling response – “is like a cry to God himself, a plea for consolation that does not come and is still awaited, a plea to which only God can respond.” Our Holy Father continues to explain that “the only true consolation that is more than mere words would be the resurrection. Only in the resurrection could the wrong be overcome, and that bitter lament, ‘they are not’ be silenced. In our own day, the mother’s cry to God continues unabated, yet at the same time the resurrection of Jesus strengthens our hope of true consolation” (Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, p. 112-113). It is that hope that enables us to wear Rose.

In today’s Gospel when St. John the Baptist preaches repentance in order to prepare in men’s hearts a way for the Lord, he is advocating a change of mind, a turning not only away from sin, but toward God. Three times he is asked today, “What should we do?” In the face of mind-bending violence in Connecticut, teachers, parents, and children all over the country are asking, “What should we do?” This is a time for life-changing conversion. St. John has already told his audience the answer: “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance” (Lk 3:8). And he advises them to prove their faith through works of charity, honesty, and justice (Scott Hahn, “Homily Helps,” Dec 16).

What should we do? I think we should turn away from making the distinction between Church and State into a separation, and turn toward proclaiming God in the public square with renewed courage and zeal. We should turn away from radical self-reliance and turn toward storming heaven with our prayers both in times of joy and fear. We should turn away from isolation and neglect and toward renewed communion and brotherhood. We should turn away from trying to answer “Why?” and turn toward the Father who hears our pleas for consolation and responds; toward the Son who desires to love and save our children through his Resurrection; toward the Holy Spirit who places his hand on our hearts to uplift us. Lastly, today we turn toward our Blessed Mother, who knows what it’s like to lose a Son to unspeakable violence. Pray for us sinners, Dear Mother, nowand at the hour of our death.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Why Does Fr. Hardesty Do That ?! Part 3

After my homily for this evening's Mass I gave a brief third installment in my "Why Does Fr. Hardesty Do That?!" series.

Question: "Why does Fr. Hardesty never look at us during the Mass, does he not like us?"

Answer: I'm hearing in my head a whole flurry of answers to that question from a priest-friend of mine, but I won't go there!  I keep my eyes downcast throughout the Mass, except of course during those parts where I address the faithful, in order that I may better pray the Mass.  The Mass is one extended prayer to the Father, and keeping my eyes downcast in prayer helps me to offer it as a prayer.  Also, there is a desire for me to decrease so that Christ may increase.  As the representative of Christ at the altar, recollecting myself in prayer helps me to lay aside all of my own personality quirks, eccentricities, mannerisms, etc. that might draw attention to me and away from Christ and the sacred action.  My hope is that you will be edified by this and that it will help you to pray the Mass as well.  Plus, you can ask any of the staff who will tell you that I am eminently distractable so "custody of the eyes", as they used to call it, practically speaking, helps me to focus.  True, when a teacher addresses a class or when someone gives a speech to a group, eye contact is crucial.  But in the liturgy, eye contact with the people during the prayers to the Father creates a closed circle rather than a movement forward and up to the Father.  So when I don't look up often, it is not because I dislike you or don't love you... I very much love you.  And it is out of that love that I celebrate Mass as reverently as possible.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Why does Fr. Hardesty do that?! Part 2

For the second installment in "Why does crazy Fr. Hardesty do that?!" I'm dropping the "crazy" but we all still know its true!

Question: "Why does Fr. Hardesty take so long to do the dishes after Communion?"

Answer: Well if it was just a matter of doing dishes, I probably wouldn't do them at all! They would probably stay piled up on the credence table until Fr. Chuck finally did them! I'm not a very domesticated guy! But its about more than doing the dishes, its about purifying the vessels, not in the sense that they have been sullied bit in the sense of preparing sacred vessels for sacred use. This has ritualistic and devotional connotations. So then its not about being slow and mechanical but being reverent and careful. St. Thomas Aquinas taught us that as long as it still has the characteristics of bread and wine to the naked eye then it still is the Body and Blood of Christ. Without being scrupulous, what looks like a bread crumb is still the Body of Christ and what looks like a drop of wine is still the Blood of Christ. Therefore I try to be very careful with how I collect/consume/repose What remains after Communion.  On Sundays most of the vessels are purified at the credence table by the deacon which expedites this greatly.

I purify my chalice and paten at the altar because in the Missal there is a private prayer between the priest and God that is said during this: "What has passed our lips as food O Lord may we receive with purity of heart, that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity."

Finally, the time after Communion is a beautiful time to speak intimately with the Lord who loves us and is living in us through the Eucharist we have just received. It is a time for praying to the Lord as a friend, thanking him, telling him about our day, asking for his help, etc. If we are praying during this time, the priest wont even be noticed.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

New Series: Why Does Crazy Fr. Hardesty Do That?!

On Monday I got a wild hair and ran with it… let see how it goes.  I’ve been thinking lately that I do some things differently from Fr. Chuck, my pastor, or really many priests for that matter, especially in the way I celebrate Mass.  I don’t do this to necessarily draw a contrast or set myself apart or anything like that.  It’s just how it is.  I celebrate Mass how I was trained in seminary, with close adherence to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and with an eye toward celebrating the new form of the Mass in continuity with how the older form was/is celebrated.  Different priests have different formation, different convictions, different priorities, different interpretations of the G.I.R.M., etc.  So, for example, if the instructions for the new Mass aren’t clear or specific on a certain point, I’ll default to the more fine-tuned instructions of the older form (where this can be done legitimately).  An example of this would be how I hold my orans position (hands extended in prayer), how I use and place my hands during the Eucharistic Prayer, points of focus, etc.  On the other hand, what I don’t do is carry over ceremonial actions from the old form into the new, like blessing the water before it is used, making a sign of the cross with the Particle before it is dropped into the chalice, incensing the gifts with a large Sign of the Cross over them and three swings around them, etc., etc.

ANYWAY, what I’m getting at is: When people see things, especially in the Mass, that they aren’t used to or haven’t learned about, the difference is often internally disruptive rather than edifying, especially if a rationale or explanation hasn’t been given.  I vividly remember experiencing this in the pew myself.  And I’ve been thinking lately that I haven’t really explained Why I do what I do.  Perhaps that could be edifying?

SOOO… I’ve decided that during my Daily, Non-School, Masses I will preach briefly on the day’s readings for a couple minutes and then briefly explain for a couple more minutes one particular thing that I do that people don’t often experience.  This isn’t meant to spotlight me or the differences between other priests and me.  It is meant to be a brief, light-hearted, non-defensive, self-deprecating explanation in a catechetical or “New Evangelization” kind of spirit, to ease some of the disruption that folks might feel when they experience something they aren’t used to.  Each person can then judge if this is helpful or not.  Preaching to the Daily Mass crowd is often singing to the choir, but my hope is that they will share the bits of explanation (and the homily!) with their family and friends who may have these questions.

Let me know what you think.  Is this a good idea?  Feel free to suggest (charitably) future installments of, “Why Does Crazy Fr. Hardesty Do That?!”

Part 1: “Why does crazy Fr. Hardesty juke us out when he introduces the Gospel?  He goes, ‘The Lord be with you’ and we respond ‘And with your spirit.’  Then he says, ‘A reading from the Holy Gospel’ **PAUSE** ‘according to Luke’ and we respond ‘Glory to you O Lord’, but that pause throws us off.  And what does he whisper at the end?”

Answer: Before the Gospel is proclaimed the priest signs the Gospel Book, his forehead, lips, and chest as he introduces it with this short dialogue.  I personally like to do this as the rubricians (commentators on rubrics) of the old form of the Mass suggested.  The Gold Standard in my opinion is J.B. O’Connell’s, Celebration of Mass and The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described.  Again, where the new G.I.R.M. is imprecise my tendency is to default to the older instructions.  In this case, in the Latin of course, the priest signed the first letter of the first word of the Gospel reading as he said “A reading…”, his forehead as he said, “from the Holy Gospel,” his lips in silence (hence the pause), and finally his chest as he said “according to Luke.”  He then fixed his hands throughout the reading.  After he said “The Gospel of the Lord” and the server responded “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ” the priest whispered “By the words of the Gospel…” then kissed the first letter of the reading and continued, “… may our sins be wiped away.”  So that’s what I do now.  In the revised Missal of the new form the rubric says that this and other private prayers are “said quietly” not “silently” and so they are vocalized as a whisper and not merely said internally or skipped.  So there ya have it!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Homily, Christ the King, Year B 2012

christ the kingWe celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King on the last weekend of Ordinary Time, at the end of another Church Year. Next weekend marks the beginning of Advent, the beginning of a new Church Year as we wait with joyful hope for the coming of our Savior at Christmas. We celebrate Christ the King at the end of the Church year because the Church wants to teach us that by putting his Kingship at the end, we can see that His Crown is the Crown of the year. All of the action of the Church Year moves forward and up to His Kingship and is summed up by it. He is the King of all we have done and all we have celebrated. Everything from his Incarnation to his Ascension is both a sign of and a testament to his Kingship. He is our king in here. Is he our king out there?

John’s Gospel today puts us into a terrible scene: Jesus is being interrogated, only hours before his crucifixion and death. Over his head will soon hang the charge for which he was found guilty. It was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin so that all who passed by could read it. The Latin read, “I.N.R.I.” (“Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum”) – Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. He claimed to be king, but the Jews and the Romans already had their king, King Herod. Therefore, Jesus was killed. His persecutors were so blinded by their sin and hatred that they could not see Him for Who He truly is. They were expecting a worldly king with worldly power. They could not see that here hung before them the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the King of a kingdom not of this world, the King of the kingdom of God. This he told Pilate when Pilate asked Jesus if he was the King of the Jews. “Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom does not belong to this world… For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”

Is Christ our King, not only in this Church, but in the rest of our lives as well? Can others recognize his reign over our hearts? Our first reading foretold that the king to come would be served by “all peoples, nations, and languages.” Are we part of the fulfillment of that prophecy? Can we recognize him as king? Will we know him when he comes again triumphantly? The Book of Revelation, as we heard in last weekend’s apocalyptic readings, proclaims that Christ is the long-awaited king, heir to the throne of David. He is the “ruler of the kings of the earth” and “he is coming amid the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him.”

Let us treat this week, the end of the Church Year, like we often treat the end of the calendar year. Often the rolling of one year to the next causes us to look back and see how we have done. We may check our budget for the year and see how it panned out. We may check our expenses to see where we might save a little in the new year. This week, let’s look back on our spiritual year. Let’s call to mind how well we have been servants of our good and merciful Lord and King. Have we acknowledged him as our King? Or have we anointed another to be king in his place? Have we placed on the throne of our hearts a tyrant, another particular person or thing? In that way, have we preferred King Herod over Jesus Christ? Has our homage been to our work, our money, or the latest technology? Have we adored our reputation, our appetites, or our passions? Have we bowed down before our anger, our jealousy, or our laziness? So many things, people, and spirits are masquerading as our king, vying for our devotion.

The more we choose Christ as our King, the easier it will be to recognize him, and to choose rightly every time. It is similar to the way inspectors can tell when a dollar bill is counterfeit. The best inspectors know the real bills because they have handled the them by the hundreds. Hundreds of real bills, one by one, have passed through their hands until they almost know by instinct which one is a fake. The more we choose Christ, the easier it will be to recognize when a fake presents itself.

Let us choose Him again today. After all, the kingdom of God is already present in a real but incomplete way in the presence of the Church. He has “made us into a kingdom,” St. John proclaims from the Book of Revelation. We are the priestly people of his kingdom, priests for God our Father, who offer sacrifice and prayer to the Father on behalf of our brothers and sisters, each in our own way. When Christ alone reigns in our hearts, when we choose him as our king before any other person or thing, then… in a sense… we make his kingdom more recognizable to Him, when He comes again. Perhaps by our way of life, it will be easier for him to say, “Aha! That’s my kingdom, those are my people. Come, sit at my right, your foes I will put beneath your feet.”

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Homily, 30th Sun O.T. Year B: The Priest and the Moral Implications of a Vote

On the Sundays in the month of October and November we hear our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. This New Testament letter beautifully describes Jesus Christ’s own Priesthood, and by extension the Catholic Priesthood. For example, on the first Sunday of October we heard how the priest is able to relate to his people because he has suffered as they have, “therefore he is not ashamed to call them brothers.” On the second Sunday, we heard that priests are to preach the Word of God, even if that Word is quite penetrating. The Word of God must be “living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.” Preaching such a penetrating word is challenging to the priest as well! Often when I preach, I’m thinking of myself first and foremost, and the ways in which I need to pursue ongoing conversion. Last Sunday’s reading from Hebrews said, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested.” That reading ended with a consoling encouragement for you and I when we are challenged by the Gospel: “Let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” Finally, in today’s reading from Hebrews, we learned that “every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.” No one takes this honor upon himself, the Letter continues, “but only when called by God.”

So, as we have walked together through this beautiful Letter to the Hebrews we have seen that Jesus Christ and each of his priests are to each of you a brother; a preacher of a penetrating Word that gets at the heart of matters; one able to sympathize with the need to be challenged in order to grow in holiness, and one who is called by God to stand before Him as your representative. It is with this mandate and honor that I wish to say a word about the moral implications of the presidential election coming up… now only a little more than a week away.

My job is not to tell you who to vote for or against. I wouldn’t want you to tell me who to vote for so I won’t do that to you. But, what I am called to do is help and guide you toward making moral decisions. All of our actions are either morally virtuous, morally neutral, or morally sinful. As your priest, as your Associate Pastor, my vocation to teach, sanctify and govern most certainly includes preaching about morality. It is not wrong or illegal to speak about politics in Church if we focus on the morality of politics rather than partisanship. We can certainly talk about morality in Church.

A vote is a political act, but it is also a moral act. And a Catholic should vote not according to partisan politics but most importantly according to Catholic principles and a well-formed Catholic conscience. Our votes have moral implications because votes are powerful things that that can often either do good or do harm. With our vote we are capable of enabling and supporting the moral or immoral acts of politicians who have great power and influence over God’s people. The power of a vote becomes more and more apparent the tighter and tighter our elections become.

In order to help us wade through the morality of the issues at stake in a presidential election, the Catholic Church in America gives us a helpful document called “Faithful Citizenship” which is a guide for Catholics on how to exercise their faith not only in their private or interior life, but in their political life as well. Unfortunately, some commentators have taken this document out of context in order to justify putting all issues on the same moral plane. But, the truth is that there is a hierarchy of issues and it stands to reason that those that directly affect life should be on top while those that indirectly affect life should fall beneath them. The document does do a good job of explaining this hierarchy. It also explains well how some political issues have to do with intrinsic moral evils, things that are essentially sinful and can never be justified. Other issues may concern things that are evil under some circumstances but can be justified in others. There are some things that faithful Catholics must always reject, for example, abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and attempts to redefine marriage This doesn’t come from me; this is clear, faithful Church teaching. Besides these, there are other issues that faithful Catholics can disagree on or that aren’t absolutely or essentially evil, for example, capital punishment in rare circumstances, the proper response to poverty, and how to address unemployment or healthcare.

This year’s version of the Faithful Citizenship document is indeed very helpful, and I think the strongest version of it yet. It relies heavily though on another document from the Church in America that hasn’t gotten as much press or attention. It is called, Living the Gospel of Life. Let’s take a look at this. This is a little lengthy but I think it lays out nicely the proper approach that a faithful Catholic should take to the election coming soon. Listen to how uses the image of a house to illustrate the various issues at hand. Some issues form the frame and the walls of the house, while others form the foundation. It says:

Adopting a consistent ethic of life, the Catholic Church promotes a broad spectrum of issues… Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. Any politics of human life must work to resist the violence of war and scandal of capital punishment. Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing and health care. Therefore, Catholics should eagerly involve themselves as advocates for the weak and marginalized in all those areas. Catholic public officials are obliged to address each of these issues as they seek to build consistent policies which promote respect for the human person at all stages. But being “right” in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life. Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the “rightness” of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community. If we understand the human person as “the temple of the Holy Spirit” – the living house of God – then these [issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, etc.] fall logically into place as the crossbeams and walls of that house. [But] all direct attacks on innocent human life, such as abortion and euthanasia, strike at the house’s foundation. Neglect of these issues is the equivalent of building our house on sand. Such attacks cannot help but lull the social conscience in ways ultimately destructive of other human rights.

The earlier teaching of our beloved Holy Father, Blessed John Paul II, on the Vocation and Mission of the Laity, has a similar message. He said, “Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights -- for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture -- is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition of all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination." Again, this doesn’t come from me, this comes from the Church.

We have seen clearly and consistently from our shepherds that the house of issues, like the temple of the Holy Spirit, should be respected for what it is. It would be unreasonable and maybe even sinful to vote for some issues as if they were the foundation of the house when they are really only the walls or crossbeams; or to put the foundation on the top of the house and the roof on the floor; or to build the whole thing on sand.

Again, I am not telling you who to vote for or against. What I am doing is challenging you, and me! to vote not according to party affiliation first and foremost, but instead according to Catholic principles and a well-formed Catholic conscience, a conscience informed by the Church’s clear and consistent teaching concerning the hierarchy of issues, the intrinsic moral evil of some issues, and the legitimate disagreement that can be had with other issues.

One of the candidate’s party platform, as described at its recent national convention, contains multiple intrinsic moral evils, the other one, as described at its convention, does not. I don’t need to tell you which one is which. Remember, a vote is a powerful thing that can have a morally good, neutral, or evil effect and so it reflects on our morality as well. Bishop Paprocki, the bishop of Springfield in Illinois put it very succinctly back in a September 23 column in his diocese’s newspaper: “think and pray very carefully about your vote, because a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.”

Remember too, what we heard together about the priest described in the Letter to the Hebrews. I am preaching this in order to be for you a “brother”, your “representative before God,” someone painfully aware of his own need to be challenged in the moral life. I know that for some this homily has been quite affirming. For others it may be as Hebrews described a couple weeks ago: “sharper than a two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow.” But I’m not being your true brother, your true representative before God if I fail to speak about moral issues both when it is easy and when it is hard. When the moral life gets hard we don’t just leave each other alone. We pray for each other, we challenge each other, we support each other. And together we “confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Homily 16th Sun O.T. Year B: Sunday - The Day of Joy, Rest, and Solidarity

family Some of the fondest memories I have of my childhood are of going to Sunday Mass with my family. I grew up going to Blessed Mother Church in Owensboro, KY. My mom’s side of the family had a few Catholics but they lived outside of Kentucky. My dad’s side though was entirely Catholic and many of them went to Blessed Mother. Dad is one of twelve children so we formed a sort of “Hardesty section” at Blessed Mother. Every Sunday we were always surrounded by aunts, uncles, and cousins. I remember feeling this great sense of comfort and belonging as my whole extended family went to Mass together. I’m one of four boys and when we were small my dad could put his arm around all four of us. I always liked it when I was on the end and dad’s hand rested on my shoulder or if I was next to mom and she put her hand on my knee. This spirit of innocence, consolation, and family characterizes every Sunday Mass.

My family went to Mass every Sunday, we honored the Third Commandment to “keep holy the Sabbath day.” I don’t want to say we did this perfectly, but I think we lived well our Lord’s encouragement to his apostles today: “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” We kept Sunday as a day of rest, we rested in the company of the Lord, and we rested in each other. In the Mass and in our family we found refreshment and joy to sustain us throughout the rest of the week.

Our beloved and saintly Pope John Paul II wrote an entire Church document, called an Apostolic Letter, on Sunday, on the Lord’s Day, called Dies Domini. Therein he called Sunday a day of Joy, Rest, and Solidarity. Focusing on the family and looking at Sunday as a day of joy, rest, and solidarity can make the every-Sunday obligation of going to Mass something that we long for and desire rather than something restrictive or burdensome.

Often, throughout the work week, we find it hard to live in Christian joy. Every day we can tend to rush to work, bear down, rush home, eat, “veg out”, rinse, and repeat. You battle traffic, bosses, co-workers, and deadlines and then perhaps battle the kids at home. Or perhaps you battle loneliness and isolation while everyone else is busy and occupied. If we don’t let the Lord shepherd us via Sunday throughout the week, if we don’t let Sunday be a source of true Christian joy, then the Mass can become just another thing we have to stop and do, just another thing to take care of on a long list of chores; or just another thing keeping us from what we’d rather be doing – sleeping, shopping, playing, camping, fishing, traveling, etc.

If this is the type of work week we have, it is because we have allowed ourselves to be shepherded by other people or forces other than our Good Shepherd, the Lord. In our first reading from the Old Testament, the prophet Jeremiah saw God’s chosen people scattered and misled by sinful shepherds who were not caring for them. Therefore, God promised to shepherd them Himself by raising up a descendant of David, a shepherd-king, the Messiah, to shepherd them rightly. We too can become scattered and misled by our worries and anxieties and we can fail to see that the Sunday Mass is the source of the healing joy that we need.

In Pope John Paul II’s letter on the Lord’s Day he quotes his predecessor Pope Paul VI who encouraged pastors to be shepherds of joy. He urged pastors to insist "upon the need for the baptized to celebrate the Sunday Eucharist in joy. How could they neglect this encounter, this banquet which Christ prepares for us in his love? May our sharing in it be most worthy and joyful! It is Christ, crucified and glorified, who comes among his disciples, to lead them all together into the newness of his Resurrection. This is the climax, here below, of the covenant of love between God and his people: the sign and source of Christian joy, a stage on the way to the eternal feast" (Dies Domini, 58).

Sunday is also a great day of rest. As much as the work week can provide only a few moments of joy it can also provide similarly scarce moments of true rest. We can get into such a grind that every day is marked with getting up early and going to bed late. Then in the morning we’re too tired to do our morning prayers or at night we are too tired to do our examination of conscience. If this defines our work then it also defines our rest to the point where what we call “rest” is actually a mockery of true rest. When our work becomes so tedious then rest degenerates from a time of peace, reflection, meditation, and refreshment to a time of just “not working” – even “not being” or simply turning off. At the end of the day, by all means, turn off being a manager, a student, or a teacher; but never turn off being a father or mother, a daughter or son, a sister or brother. As for me, when I go back to the rectory, I should never turn off being a priest. Vegging out in front of the T.V. or computer at the end of the day is not rest. Vegging out is simply a soda and Sportscenter induced coma where we can for a while cease to be who we really are, we shut everything out, and close in on ourselves. There is nothing energizing or refreshing about vegging out, all it does is make us fall asleep and even then not a very deep one.

The Mass teaches us how to rest. It teaches us that rest is not simply a self-isolating check-out from the world. It teaches us that true rest, the rest that Sunday gives us, is a plugging in to the things that matter most – to peaceful co-existence in prayer and reflection with our closest family and friends, to the quiet leadership of our Good Shepherd. Instead of making Sunday a day of vegging out, or worse yet, running around dizzily to twenty ball games or sales at the Mall, let Sunday be the day described so beautifully in our Responsorial Psalm. Let Sunday be the day when the Lord is your shepherd and you “shall not want.” Let the Mass be the moment when, “in verdant pastures,” he gives you repose. “Beside restful waters” he leads us. He “refreshes” our souls.

Pope John Paul II wrote: Through Sunday rest, daily concerns and tasks can find their proper perspective: the material things about which we worry give way to spiritual values; in a moment of encounter and less pressured exchange, we see the true face of the people with whom we live… And, In order that rest may not degenerate into emptiness or boredom, it must offer spiritual enrichment, greater freedom, opportunities for contemplation and fraternal communion (Dies Domini, 67-68).

Finally, Sunday is a day of solidarity, a day in which the Lord draws us together from all of our different social and economic classes, from all of our different neighborhoods and home towns, from all of our different schools and workplaces, to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. It is here, as St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, that the “dividing wall of enmity” is broken down and God “creates in himself, one new person,” establishing peace, reconciling us with God, “in one body, through the cross.” This then becomes the mark of the best of parishes. The mark of a good parish is not simply how many hours it spends in community service; any secular social service agency can do that. The mark of a good parish is how far it is advancing in holiness. It is marked by its commitment to Mass and how many hours in spends in adoration of our Eucharistic Lord. It is this type of parish then that doesn’t leave Mass and go straight to the Mall or to the couch in front of the T.V. It is this type of parish that instead goes out to share the graces it has received with the poor, with its neighbors, with its family and friends.

To this point too, our late Holy Father wrote: The Eucharist is an event and programme of true brotherhood. From the Sunday Mass there flows a tide of charity destined to spread into the whole life of the faithful, beginning by inspiring the very way in which they live the rest of Sunday. If Sunday is a day of joy, Christians should declare by their actual behaviour that we cannot be happy "on our own". They look around to find people who may need their help. It may be that in their neighbourhood or among those they know there are sick people, elderly people, children or immigrants who precisely on Sundays feel more keenly their isolation, needs and suffering. It is true that commitment to these people cannot be restricted to occasional Sunday gestures. But presuming a wider sense of commitment, why not make the Lord's Day a more intense time of sharing, encouraging all the inventiveness of which Christian charity is capable? Inviting to a meal people who are alone, visiting the sick, providing food for needy families, spending a few hours in voluntary work and acts of solidarity: these would certainly be ways of bringing into people's lives the love of Christ received at the Eucharistic table (Dies Domini, 72).

When the Sunday Mass, the every Sunday Holy Day of Obligation, is lived in this way, in joy, rest, and solidarity it becomes the privileged way in which the Good Shepherd shepherds us and in which we become his faithful flock. It is how we become truly who we were created to be, a people marked through and through with the character of Jesus Christ – a people not characterized by the world, but known and characterized by these sacred mysteries.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Homily 15th Sun O.T. Year B – Preaching Repentance

confessional Sometimes before my regular homily, if the readings lead to it, I like to give a brief apologetics note to help you explain your faith.  Today I have a couple.  First is about the new vestment I am wearing today.  It is beautiful and was expensive but the sacrifice was worth it.  We wear beautiful vestments, have beautiful music, and use beautiful vessels and books to emphasize the fact that this is not just any type of gathering.  This is the Mass, which is the intersection of heaven on earth.  Beautiful things in the liturgy help raise our hearts to this reality and besides, God deserves the very best we have to offer in worship.

Second, our Gospel today presents one of the sources for our faith in the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.  The last line read: “The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (Mk 6:13). This anticipates James 5:14 “Beloved: Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the Church, and they should pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.”  I hope this helps you to remain confident that your Catholic faith is well-rooted in Sacred Scripture.

Now for my regular homily… Throughout my Diaconate and a few times during my Priesthood, I have had the chance to celebrate many Baptisms. I keep a record of this in my own personal register so that I can look back on it years from now and see all of the people God touched through me. One of my favorite parts of the ritual of Baptism is when the priest says the Ephphetha prayer. Ephphetha is Aramaic for the command “Be opened!” At this prayer, the priest traces a little sign of the cross with his thumb on the child’s ears and mouth saying, “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the mute speak. May He soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth, to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.” This prayer is a rich sign of the Holy Spirit animating the hearing and speech of the child so that he may receive and proclaim the Gospel.

Although this prayer is technically optional, I never skip it because it gives powerful testimony to the fact that each one of us, the entire Church, not just her ordained ministers, is called to preach the message of Jesus Christ and prepare for his coming. When Jesus sent out his Twelve Apostles, two-by-two to just the surrounding Galilean towns to preach a message of repentance, he did this as a sort of pastoral assignment to prepare them for his later command after his Resurrection: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15). As the first bishops of the Church, the ever-widening scope of their preaching and celebration of the sacraments empowered the early Christian faithful to proclaim the same message of repentance throughout every area of their lives, many even to the point of martyrdom.

What does it mean to “preach repentance”? What did the apostles say during their preaching assignment? If we are all called by that Ephphetha prayer in our Baptism to preach the same message of repentance, what can we learn from how the Apostles did it? Some of the little details in the Gospel give us a clue. When Jesus commands his Twelve Apostles to take only a staff, a pair of sandals, and one tunic, and no food, no sack, and no money he echoes God’s command to the twelve tribes of Israel the night before their exodus from Egypt. The Israelites likewise were sent out with no bread and only one set of clothes, wearing sandals and carrying a staff.[1] Mark wants us to see the Church’s mission as a new exodus. As the Israelites were led from slavery in Egypt to the promised land of Canaan, so the Church leads all mankind from slavery in sin to the promised land of heaven. Therein lies the message of repentance. The message we are called to proclaim by the words and example of our day to day lives is one that helps people learn right from wrong, to know what sin is and the role it plays in our lives, to encourage people to return to God by repentance and confession, and to trust in His continued help toward persevering in holiness.

Although priests are empowered for this preaching in a special way by their Ordination, this is a call to all of us, a call rooted in our Baptism, no matter what our state in life might be. The prophet Amos, in our first reading, insisted that he was no professional. “I was no prophet,” he said, “nor have I belonged to a company of prophets; I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. The Lord took me from following the flock, and said to me, Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” The apostles weren’t rabbis, they were simple fishermen. But Jesus gave them a share of his own authority to empower their mission, a power they passed on through sacramental grace to the early Christian Churches.

You don’t have to be ordained or have an advanced degree in theology to preach repentance. All you have to do is live out of the gratitude you have for the repentance you have already expressed and the forgiveness you have already received. One way of living out of this gratitude is simply continuing to make regular use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and encouraging others to share in the Joy you have received by going themselves. This can be a profound witness, especially to your family. I encourage all Catholics to go to Confession once a month – that way you can become better formed in the value of repentance: the more regular examination of conscience before your confession makes you a more astute observer of the role of sin in your life; the more regular reception of the grace of the sacrament allows that grace to flow through your life in a more continual way; and the more regular council from the priest helps you to better avoid the sins you confess.

Low confession lines are not for a lack of sin, but lack of a sense of sin. Many people in our society today do not even know what sin is, they strain to identify one thing they’ve ever done wrong. Paramount in the preaching of repentance is helping each other to grow in our awareness of sin – not so that we can form some scrupulous obsession with it, but precisely so we can avoid it and not let the evil one squirm his way into our lives.

But most importantly, God wants to bring good out of evil; He wants our increased awareness of sin to lead to an increased awareness of His Mercy and Forgiveness! This is a gift that spills over from God’s Divine Life and Love. His Mercy and Forgiveness is an ever-flowing, overflowing cup, running over and into our hearts through the sacraments. It is a shame that this gift is so rarely received, especially by our children who tend to only receive it when their class goes to Confession a couple times a year at school. If not for ourselves, lets at least help our children and grandchildren receive this gift by taking them to a monthly confession.

Fr. Chuck and I hear confessions every Saturday from 3pm to 4pm or until Mass starts at 5pm, if need be. And we have been generous in finding time to hear confessions outside of the official schedule. Never think you are putting either of us out by asking to hear your confession. We want to be instruments of God’s Mercy and Forgiveness for you – it is why we were ordained.

Outside of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, you can also preach repentance by teaching your children or grandchildren right from wrong, even if it means being less popular with them or their friends. You could also challenge a coworker to use ethical business practices or you could offer support to a friend who has turned away from God due to the pain of sins committed in his or her “past life.” Readily accepting apologies, extending forgiveness, and refusing to hold grudges are also powerful ways to preach repentance.

The Good News of Repentance can change the world from one of sin and death to one of Forgiveness and Mercy if you and I rely on God and work together in preaching it. I will sit in that confessional for you, for as long as it takes. I will sit down with you any time I can if you need help understanding this message. I will preach as clearly and as faithfully as I can. But at the end of the day, it is your vocation to convert the world to this message, you have a wider reach than I do, a larger sphere of influence, a more varied presence in the world, and a more diverse voice. “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature!” By Repentance, Forgiveness, and Mercy prepare the world for Christ’s Coming!

[1] http://www.salvationhistory.com/homily_helps/english/july_15th_2012_-_fifteenth_sunday_in_ordinary_time

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Fortnight for Freedom Day 14 Reflection

The fact is that men of the present day want to be able freely to profess their religion in private and in public. Religious freedom has already been declared to be a civil right in most constitutions, and it is solemnly recognized in international documents. The further fact is that forms of government still exist under which, even though freedom of religious worship receives constitutional recognition, the powers of government are engaged in the effort to deter citizens from the profession of religion and to make life difficult and dangerous for religious Communities.

This sacred Synod greets with joy the first of these two facts, as among the signs of the times. With sorrow,
however, it denounces the other fact, as only to be deplored. The Synod exhorts Catholics, and it directs a plea to all men, most carefully to consider how greatly necessary religious freedom is, especially in the present condition of the human family.

All nations are coming into even closer unity. Men of different cultures and religions are being brought together in closer relationships. There is a growing consciousness of the personal responsibility that weighs upon every man. All this is evident.

Consequently, in order that relationships of peace and harmony may be established and maintained within the whole of mankind, it is necessary that religious freedom be everywhere provided with an effective constitutional guarantee, and that respect be shown for the high duty and right of man freely to lead his religious life in society.

Declaration on Religious Liberty
(Dignitatis Humanae), no. 15
December 7, 1965

Reflection for Day Fourteen
In concluding its Declaration of Religious Freedom, the Council rejoices in the fact that religious freedom has been enshrined in the constitutions of many countries as well as in international statements. However, the Council Fathers are well aware that religious freedom is not guaranteed merely when it is stated on a piece of paper. It must be exercised by a living body of people. Moreover, there are actual governments that act against religious communities, sometime in the name of religion. The Council Fathers find such situations appalling and ask that Catholics and all people of goodwill work to rectify this injustice.

Since the Vatican Council, has religious freedom improved or deteriorated throughout the world? What is the relationship between growing religious diversity, as well as growing interactions among people of different faiths, and religious liberty?


Fortnight for Freedom Day 13 Reflection

In turn, where the principle of religious freedom is not only proclaimed in words or simply incorporated in law but also given sincere and practical application, there the Church succeeds in achieving a stable situation of right as well as of fact and the independence which is necessary for the fulfillment of her divine mission. This independence is precisely what the authorities of the Church claim in society.

At the same time, the Christian faithful, in common with all other men, possess the civil right not to be hindered in leading their lives in accordance with their conscience. Therefore, a harmony exists between the freedom of the Church and the religious freedom which is to be recognized as the right of all men and communities and sanctioned by constitutional law.

Declaration on Religious Liberty
(Dignitatis Humanae), no. 13
December 7, 1965

Reflection for Day Thirteen
While insisting upon the religious freedom of the Church, the Council Fathers do not wish to give the impression that in some manner the Catholic Church is special when it comes to religious liberty. Thus, the Council first states above that where the principle of religious liberty is present, the Church is able to peaceably fulfill her divine mission. It is this amicable relationship between herself and civil authorities that the Church always wishes to pursue and ensure.

In the light of this, the Church also champions the religious and civil rights of all so that all people can live “their lives in accordance with their conscience.” In this way there is no conflict with what the Church demands for  herself and what she demands for others—the freedom to follow one’s conscience in matters religious. This religious freedom for all is what the Council once more believes should be acknowledged and sanctioned within the constitutional law of countries.

In the United States, religious freedom is protected in the Constitution, as the Council desires. Are those constitutional protections enough? Are they growing stronger or weaker in our society today? What else, apart from the law, can strengthen or weaken religious liberty? What should Catholics do to defend and foster religious liberty in America today? What have Catholics done in the past when religious liberty was threatened?


Fortnight for Freedom Day 12 Reflection

Among the things which concern the good of the Church and indeed the welfare of society here on earth—things therefore which are always and everywhere to be kept secure and defended against all injury—this certainly is preeminent, namely, that the Church should enjoy that full measure of freedom which her care for salvation of men requires. This freedom is sacred, because the only-begotten Son endowed with it the Church which He purchased with His blood. It is so much the property of the Church that to act against it is to act against the will of God. The
freedom of the Church is the fundamental principle in what concerns the relations between the Church and governments and the whole civil order.

Declaration on Religious Liberty
(Dignitatis Humanae), no. 13
December 7, 1965

Reflection for Day Twelve
In Chapter I, the Council Fathers considered the nature of religious freedom from a rational and philosophical
perspective—the dignity and equality of human beings and the natural right to religious liberty. In Chapter II, they turn to examining religious liberty in the light of Christian Revelation.

In this context, the Council Fathers forthrightly insist that the Church must “enjoy that full measure of freedom which her care for salvation of men requires.” Jesus became man, died, and rose from the dead so that all men and women would come to salvation— to know the fullness of truth and the fullness of the Father’s love. This is why the Church’s religious freedom is “sacred.” Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, founded the Church as the means by which his saving message and presence would go forth to all the world. Only then would Jesus’ Gospel be lived out among all nations and peoples. Only if the Church is free can she rightly fulfill her divine commission. This is why the Church jealously guards her freedom while simultaneously fostering harmonious, appropriate, and
just relations with various governments throughout the world.

What present circumstances threaten the freedom of the Catholic Church particularly? Are threats to the Church’s freedom always from without, or do threats arise from within the Church itself? What threats in the past has the Church in our country had to contend with?


Sunday, July 01, 2012

Fortnight for Freedom Day 11 Reflection

Furthermore, society has the right to defend itself against possible abuses committed on pretext of freedom of religion. It is the special duty of government to provide this protection. However, government is not to act in arbitrary fashion or in an unfair spirit of partisanship. Its action is to be controlled by juridical norms which are in conformity with the objective moral order.

These norms arise out of the need for effective safeguard of the rights of all citizens and for peaceful settlement
of conflicts of rights. They flow from the need for an adequate care of genuine public peace, which comes about when men live together in good order and in true justice. They come, finally, out of the need for a proper guardianship of public morality. These matters constitute the basic component of the common welfare: they are what is meant by public order.

For the rest, the usages of society are to be the usages of freedom in their full range. These require that the freedom of man be respected as far as possible, and curtailed only when and in so far as necessary.

Declaration on Religious Liberty
(Dignitatis Humanae), no. 7
December 7, 1965

Reflection for Day Eleven
The Council Fathers are well aware that, while various religious groups are meant to live in harmony, each accepting the equal rights of others, yet, in reality, conflicts frequently arise between various religions. This may be due to what a specific religion holds concerning the nature of its own beliefs in relation to the beliefs of other religions. While each religious group has the right to profess that its religious beliefs are true and that other religious beliefs are either inadequate or contain erroneous tenets, no religious group has the right to persecute or seek to suppress other religious groups. Similar conflict may arise within a religion, in which case, the cause of
the conflict does not reside in the religious belief as such, but in a misinterpretation of those beliefs that prompts misguided attacks on other religious groups.

Given the reality of such religious conflicts, the Council Fathers acknowledge that the government is responsible for keeping public order, not by taking sides, but by enacting just laws and guarding the equal rights of all.

What causes religious conflicts today? Do governments always adequately respond to such conflicts? What distinguishes “public order” (which limits religious freedom) from an ordinary policy preference of government (which does not)?


Fortnight for Freedom Day 10 Reflection

Finally, government is to see to it that the equality of citizens before the law, which is itself an element of the common welfare, is never violated for religious reasons whether openly or covertly. Nor is there to be discrimination among citizens.

It follows that a wrong is done when government imposes upon its people, by force or fear or other means, the profession or repudiation of any religion, or when it hinders men from joining or leaving a religious body. All the more is it a violation of the will of God and of the sacred rights of the person and the
family of nations, when force is brought to bear in any way in order to destroy or repress religion, either in the whole of mankind or in a particular country or in a specific community.

Declaration on Religious Liberty
(Dignitatis Humanae), no. 6
December 7, 1965

Reflection for Day Ten
Because all human beings possess equal dignity, value, and worth, the government is to ensure that this equality is maintained both for the good of the individual and for the good of society as a whole. This equality specifically should not be violated on religious grounds. Each religious body and the members of that body have equal rights to religious liberty. This equality demands that there be no discrimination based upon one’s religious beliefs.

The Council Fathers now stress that, based upon this equality among its citizens, no government is permitted to impose in any way “the profession or repudiation of any religion.” Such an imposition is a violation of the right to be true to one’s conscience. Because of the freedom of conscience, the government is also not permitted to deny a person the right to join or leave a religious body. The government has no right to stipulate what a person can or cannot believe.

If the above is true, then the Council states that it is all the more wrong when “force is brought to bear in any way in order to destroy or repress religion.” This not only applies to governments but also to religious bodies themselves. No religious body is permitted to harass or seek to eliminate another religious group.

Within our contemporary world, where is religious equality denied or religious discrimination tolerated? Are there instances where one religion violates the rights of other religions?


Fortnight for Freedom Day 9 Reflection

The protection and promotion of the inviolable rights of man ranks among the essential duties of government. Therefore, government is to assume the safeguard of the religious freedom of all its citizens, in an effective manner, by just laws and by other appropriate means. Government is also to help create conditions favorable to the fostering of religious life, in order that the people may be truly enabled to exercise their religious rights and to fulfill their religious duties, and also in order that society itself may profit by the moral qualities of justice and peace which have their origin in men’s faithfulness to God and to His holy will.

Declaration on Religious Liberty
(Dignitatis Humanae), no. 6
December 7, 1965

Reflection for Day Nine
Once again, the Council Fathers turn to what they consider a very important issue. It is not simply that governments should not deny or impede the religious freedom of their citizens, it is also of the utmost importance that they positively, through just laws, be the guardians of religious freedom, so that no constituency— religious or secular—within society would seek to undermine the religious freedom of all. While few today would consider this, the next point that the Council Fathers make is also very significant. Governments should actually “help create conditions favorable to the fostering of religious life.” While governments do not control religions, they  should recognize their value and so promote their well-being. This allows all religious bodies and their members to exercise their religious rights and “fulfill their religious duties.” The government’s fostering the religious life of its citizens not only benefits those citizens but also, the Council states, contributes to the good of society as a whole. It helps society grow in its understanding and implementation of what contributes to justice and peace. This justice and peace find their origin in God, who desires the good of all.

How do governments protect and promote the religious life of their citizens? Do governments take this into consideration today? In the U.S., how does the government foster religious life while respecting the principle of separation of church and state?


Fortnight for Freedom Day 8 Reflection

Since the family is a society in its own original right, it has the right freely to live its own domestic religious life under the guidance of parents. Parents, moreover, have the right to determine, in accordance with their own religious beliefs, the kind of religious education that their children are to receive.

Government, in consequence, must acknowledge the right of parents to make a genuinely free choice of schools and of other means of education. The use of this freedom of choice is not to be made a reason for imposing unjust burdens on parents, whether directly or indirectly. Besides, the rights of parents are violated if their children are forced to attend lessons or instructions which are not in agreement with their religious beliefs. The same is true if a single system of education, from which all religious formation is excluded, is imposed upon all.

Declaration on Religious Liberty
(Dignitatis Humanae), no. 5
December 7, 1965

Reflection for Day Eight
The Council Fathers now address the religious freedom that is enjoyed by the family. Families have the right to live out their faith within the family. Moreover, parents have a natural right to religiously guide their families. They are the ones who have primary responsibility for the care and education of their children, and this is especially true of the religious education of their children. Thus, while parents are primarily responsible for the religious education, they are also free to choose the kind of religious education their children receive.

From within the Catholic tradition, Vatican II stated that the family is a “domestic church,” that is, it is within the family that children are first taught the Gospel, are taught to pray and to keep the Commandments. Together the members of a family live out the Gospel life of love. In keeping with this, the Council states that parents must be free to choose their children’s schooling. The exercise of this freedom should not be the cause of undue financial burdens upon the family. Likewise, children should not be forced to attend instruction that is contrary to the religious belief of their families. Lastly, if there is only one form of education within a country, this does not mean that all religious instruction should be forbidden. Accommodation is to be made. What we see here is the Church ardently wanting to assure a broad and extensive scope for families to live out their faith as families, and this extends to the education of children.

Why is the above important for parents and their families? Are the above aspects of domestic religious freedom jeopardized today?