Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Homily 4th Sun OT Year B – The Prophetic Nature of Marriage

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

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

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

I must admit that when I read this at first I was stumped. What does marriage have to do with prophecy? I am reminded of a lady I visited in the hospital a few summers ago as a seminarian at Bl. Teresa of Calcutta parish. I went with a lay woman from the parish who had many years of experience visiting the sick and taking Holy Communion to them. She had a remarkable way with the sick and suffering and they were always consoled and strengthened by her. Her name was Lois.

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

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

In this episode I think we find the key to finding out what prophecy has to do with marriage. In Scripture, a prophet is most often defined as one who made known the will of God, who exposed and rebuked evil, and who stood for the law. He often had supernatural knowledge and inspiration.[1] How then is marriage prophetic? It is prophetic because it speaks, with all the force of being a sacrament and with the authority of God, of the love Christ has for His Church, the love that will be brought to its fulfillment at the end of time in eternity. Insofar as the Church submits herself to Christ her spouse and head, so too is a wife called to humbly submit herself to her husband. But, husbands in return are called to mimic Christ who gave his entire life for his Bride, the Church, even unto the cross.

St. Paul tells us this very thing in his letter to the Ephesians: “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord… Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:22, 25). But, let me be clear, this is not a servile or oppressive subjection; that should always be rejected. Rather, I’m speaking of Christian sacrifice and humility that take after the relationship between Christ and the Church. The Church, His Bride, does not hesitate to submit to so selfless a Bridegroom as our Lord, Jesus Christ. This is our model. Husbands and wives, by living out their marriage in this way, speak boldly and prophetically to the world of the powerful love God has for us and the love we must give him in return. In living out a lifelong, faithful, fruitful marriage, husbands and wives share the Good News of the one, indissoluble union with Christ in Heaven. This is the joyful hope that lady in the hospital found.

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

[1] http://saints.sqpn.com/ncd06834.htm

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Homily 2nd Sun OT Year B

callingofpeterandandrew_caravaggio Last week was National Vocation Awareness Week so this weekend we pray that vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life will be multiplied and renewed. We pray especially for three of our Louisville seminarians who are from this parish: Sean McKinley, Tony Cecil, and Deacon Stuart Priddy who will be ordained a priest in May. It is Providential that our readings this weekend describe the beautiful calls of Samuel in the Old Testament and our Lord’s first apostles in the New Testament. Through these beautiful accounts we can learn about God’s will for our lives as well.

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

In our Gospel, St. Andrew and St. John began to follow Jesus when John the Baptist prompted them as Jesus “walked by.” Jesus said to them, “Come and see” and they “stayed with him that day.” Later, Andrew’s joy from this encounter led him to find his brother Simon Peter, to share with him the good news of the Messiah, and to bring him to Jesus. Then Jesus looked Simon Peter in the eyes and named him Cephas which means “rock”, the rock on which Jesus built his Church.

Together these two accounts of Samuel and the first apostles teach us three things. First, we hear God’s call best when we are close to him. Second, often God uses others to direct us to him. And Third, we should respond with humility, openness, and promptness. When I look back on my own life and my calling to the priesthood I see that by the grace of God, this model played out with me too. Although not always like Samuel, Andrew, John, and Peter, I am humbled by how God brought me to where I am today. For most of my life, in a way I was like Samuel who, according to our reading, “was not familiar with the LORD, because the LORD had not revealed anything to him as yet.”… Tell Vocation Story…

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

Just as Samuel was near the ark of God, and the apostles spent time with Jesus where he “stayed”, I began to spend more and more time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament getting to know him and his will for me. Just as Samuel answered the Lord, “Speak, for your servant is listening” and just as Andrew and John “followed Jesus”, I tried to respond by praying to God that I wanted to know his will for me as much as I wanted to each lunch that day or to have a roof over my head. I prayed that God would help me to desire his will for me as much as I desired to meet my basic needs.

God used Eli to call Samuel, he used John the Baptist to prompt Andrew and John, and he used Andrew to call Peter. In a similar way, the Lord used a Protestant girl to put me on the road to the priesthood! And he used many others too, like Fr. Michael Wimsatt who was ordained a year ahead of me. His first words to me were not “Hello, my name is Mike” or “Hello, nice to meet you,” but “Have you ever thought about being a priest?” That got me thinking more about the priesthood. And God used my friends and other priests in the Archdiocese who encouraged me and gave valuable advice.

I pray that you too will grow in confidence in God’s will for your life. I hope the accounts of God’s call in our readings today will bear much fruit for you. Spend some silent time with our Lord in the tabernacle. Rest with the ark of God. Maybe you could spend 15 minutes a day in adoration or an hour per week. Live with him and allow him to change your life. Who has He placed in your life in order to bring you to Him? Who are you called to bring to him? Our responsorial psalm gives us the proper approach: “I have waited, waited for the LORD, and he stooped toward me and heard my cry… ears open to obedience you gave me… then said I, ‘Behold I come’… ‘It is prescribed for me: To do your will, O my God, is my delight, and your law is within my heart!’”

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

Homily Epiphany Year B

epiphany Have you ever heard a Catholic term that is familiar but one you have to really think about before you can remember what it means? Sometimes I still have to do that with the Epiphany, the Solemnity we celebrate today. I think it’s similar to the Immaculate Conception. Without thinking, you could say that the Immaculate Conception is about Jesus being conceived in the womb of our Blessed Mother. But, then when you think a minute you realize it is really about Mary being conceived without original sin in the womb of her mother, St. Anne. I think it is the same with the Epiphany; you have to think a moment about what it means.

The word “Epiphany” means “manifestation,” but if you don’t give it some thought, you could think that it refers to when Jesus showed his divinity to his closest apostles on Mt. Tabor… but, No, that’s his Transfiguration. Could it be when he performed his first public miracle by turning water into wine… No, that was the Wedding Feast at Cana. What about when God the Father announced Jesus as his Beloved Son at his Baptism in the Jordan River? No… that’s not it either! These were all manifestations but today’s celebration, the Epiphany, is about the Son of God being made known to the three wise men from the East. It can be confusing sometimes to understand what all of our feast days mean. But, there is indeed a clear message to all of us today.

First and foremost, we should know that our Gospel reading today does not merely describe a pious legend or some astronomical alignment, as some who try to rationalize the account would say. The story of the wise men from the East following a star to Bethlehem and Jesus is a narrative of fact. It was a miracle and it was real![1] The reality of the account, though fixed at a certain time in history, provides a wealth of inspiration and meaning for all mankind of all times.

Actually it is these three kings – or scientists of the stars, as they came to be known – who themselves represent all mankind. It was too these three non-Jews that Jesus, born to a faithful Jewish family, made himself known. And their journey is typical to all of those throughout history who have searched for Jesus to adore him. This is a source of great hope for us. To those of us who may not feel particularly close to Jesus – today is a new day. We can find hope in the fact that these three kings also made the journey and they have shown us how to make it.

Their journey was long, no doubt, and how do we suppose they explained it to their family and friends? I’m sure they were met with doubt and dismissal, maybe even ridicule. They had studied the stars; they knew how to follow this brightest star of them all. But it was by a special grace from God that they interpreted it as a sign of the presence of the long-awaited Messiah that they had heard about from their Hebrew neighbors. Inspired by this grace they sought him out in order to do him homage and adore him. It is just as the prophet Isaiah foretold, “Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you: your sons come from afar”.[2]

Often we too, by a special grace from God, yearn to be close to Jesus Christ and to adore him but it can sometimes seem like we are only coming “from afar.” Let us learn from the magi and be brave. Let us put the same certainty in our knowledge of heavenly things and in our faith that they did. Let us make the long journey with confidence that we will indeed find Jesus, and let us cast aside our love for approval or for material things that get in the way.

Upon finding Him, Isaiah said, “Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow.” Indeed, St. Matthew tells us, the magi “were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house [when] they saw the child with Mary his mother.” This joy is ours too. Many of you are doing well in your spiritual lives and remain close to Jesus. For you, this could be a day in which you take another step to be even closer to him or invite those who aren’t on the journey to take the first step.

When the magi finally made it to Jerusalem it seems from the tone of our Gospel reading that they got lost.

They “arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.’… Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, [King Herod] inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea’” (Mt 2:1-5).[3]

Along our way to Christ we too should be docile and willing to ask others for help:

Christ has given His Church sureness in doctrine and a flow of grace in the Sacraments. He has arranged things so that there will always be people [like our priests and bishops] to guide and lead us, to remind us constantly of our way… A conscientious Christian will go – with complete freedom – to the priest he knows to be a good shepherd, who can help him to look up again and see once more on high the Lord’s star.[4]

In seeking Jesus myself and in trying to be a good shepherd, I have found it helpful to seek the guidance of my priest-spiritual-director at least once a month and to receive his absolution and counsel in the Sacrament of Confession. I also find much guidance in the advice of priest-friends, in the example of our Archbishop, and in the writings and speeches of our Holy Father.

With bravery and guidance we make our way to Jesus and when we find him we discover that all of the confusion we may have started with is replaced with simplicity and clarity. St. Matthew tells us that when the magi “saw the child with Mary his mother [t]hey prostrated themselves and did him homage.” They simply humbled themselves, lying flat before him, in adoration. All of the confusion of their long journey, following the star despite difficulties, seeking and following advice, and enduring Herod’s conniving demands gave way to simple adoration of our God-Made-Man.

This adoration is so clear that the Council of Trent in 1545 referred to our Gospel reading today when it described the devotion which is due to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus present in the tabernacle is the same Jesus the wise men found in Mary’s arms. As we grow closer to Jesus, one helpful reflection could be to examine ourselves to see how we adore him when he is exposed in the monstrance or hidden in the tabernacle.[5] Do we even realize he is there, like the magi did? How can we grow in that awareness?

Many Catholics maintain their awareness by making the Sign of the Cross whenever they drive by a Catholic Church – acknowledging His Presence in the tabernacle there. Or they genuflect deliberately, with their eyes on the tabernacle, when they enter or exit their pew. Actions such as these help us to remain prostrate before the Lord, in our hearts, right beside the magi instead of remaining unaware or “from afar.”

Finally, let us not forget Mary. “The three Kings had their star [to lead them to Jesus]. We have Mary… [who was called by the early Church Fathers] Stella Maris, Stella Orientis, Star of the Sea, Star of the East.”[6]

[1] Drum, Walter. "Magi." http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09527a.htm.
[2] Francis Fernandez, In Conversation with God, vol. 1, 320.
[3] Ibid., 322.
[4] Ibid., 323.
[5] Ibid., 329.
[6] Ibid., 333.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Homily Mary Mother of God Year B

mother of God Below is my typing out, on the fly, of the main ideas I preached about using an outline of notes – I was too distracted by the UK – U of L game and New Years Eve to write out a full-blown text beforehand!

Happy New Year – my blessing to you for the new year is the text of the First Reading: “The Lord bless you and keep you!  The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!  The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”

This Solemnity calls forth our finest as we honor and venerate the Holy Mother of God – hence the cassock, nice alb, and First Mass chasuble.

It is because of this Solemnity that Mary has all of the other titles and graces given to her: Her Assumption, Immaculate Conception, Immaculate Heart, and Most Holy Name; her own Nativity; her appearances at Fatima, Guadalupe, Lourdes, and Mt. Carmel; her Sorrows, her Rosary, her Presentation, and Queenship; and her Visitation of her cousin Elizabeth all depend on her being the Mother of God.

Today’s mystery is one of the many great mysteries we having been, and will continue to, move in and out of.  St. Thomas called this exitus et reditus, exit and return, going out and returning in.  God is always doing this: giving his love, and receiving it from us; giving life and receiving it; giving His Son, and receiving Him who brings us with Him.  By the Holy Spirit who moved over the waters of our Baptism, we have, in a sense, been breathing these great Mysteries.  They are our life, our livelihood.  Like lungs filling up and emptying out, we have been focused IN on Jesus at Christmas; then we stepped OUT to celebrate the whole Holy Family; then we stepped IN to celebrate Mary and the shepherds today; OUT next week to celebrate the Magi from afar at the Epiphany;  and we will step back IN on March 19 to celebrate St. Joseph.  These are what we’re all about.

Paul’s verse, “God sent his Son, born of a woman,” encapsulates the whole day.  The Eternal Son of the Father, the Eternal Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, was not made like a carpenter builds a house.  He is eternally-begotten, eternally generated by the Father, he has no beginning or end.  But, when he assumed human flesh, taking the body and blood of his mother Mary at his conception, he truly became man.  From that point he is forever fully God and fully man.  Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  He is the son of a woman.  He is OF God and OF Mary.  The mother of Jesus is the Mother of God.  This great gift of divine Motherhood is not a gift for her alone but for us all.

Pope Benedict XVI, preaching on this feast in 2008, explained that when the Gospel says Mary “reflected on these things in her heart” – what the shepherds told her, about all Glory being due to him, that He is Savior, Christ, and Lord – the Greek behind the phrase literally means a “piecing together.”  As she raised him and watched him grow, she pieced together these great mysteries and they expanded more and more in her life.  When we turn to her and remain close to her, she pieces these together for us too, helping us to see how she is our Mother too, that Christ is our brother, and that God is our Father.

By the Holy Spirit of our Baptism we enjoy adoption as sons of the Father, sharing in the Sonship of Christ, so that we can proclaim “Abba!” - “Father!” – an intimate, personal way of addressing God.  Mary helps us to see ourselves in such an intimate relationship.  Although He is near to us… perhaps He is too tall!  Mary picks us up, as little children, and helps us to reach our Father, putting us in His arms, lifting us close to His face… like any mother would help a child reach his father.

True, Christ is our sole mediator with God.  Mary participates in this mediatorship.  She is our shortcut to the Father.  She shortens the journey to Him.  St. Bernard: “She consoles us in our distress, enlivens our faith, strengthens our hope, gets rid of our fears, and invigorates our timidity.”  She also teaches us like a mother should – parents being the primary formators in the faith of children.  She teaches us how to say Yes to God’s will, how to receive Christ deeply in our very being, how to generously give him to the world.

She also helps us with our images of the Father.  Often our images of God come from the experiences of our natural fathers.  If our natural father was harsh, she helps us to know God’s mercy.  If our natural father was absent, she helps us to know His presence.  If our natural father was distant, she brings us close to Him.  When our natural fathers do well, she helps us to see how this points to our heavenly Father.  When our natural fathers are merciful, present, and close to us she helps us to attribute these values to God.

In this new year, our Blessed Mother, the Mother of God, is challenging us to say Yes to Him.  Perhaps after the homily, Communion, or Mass today you could spend some quiet time considering how it is that Mary is truly your Mother; what kind of son or daughter you have been to her; how you can allow her to be your mother; and you to be her son or daughter.  This could be a new year of a renewed relationship with Mary, your Mother.  Perhaps you could pick up a Marian devotion that has fallen away, like the rosary.  Any time we honor, venerate, or pray to Mary, she always redirects these to her Son, she never keeps them for herself.  Know that as you grow in your relationship with the Mother of God, you can be assured of growing close to her Divine Son.