Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Homily 3rd Sunday of Advent Year A: The Advent of Meaning and Purpose



Today, this Third Sunday of Advent, is a day that the Church calls Gaudete Sunday. This comes from the first word of today’s Entrance Antiphon, “Gaudete,” which means Rejoice! The Entrance Antiphon is a short verse found in the Missal which can be chanted as the Entrance hymn. The full verse says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near.” Against the backdrop of short, cloudy days and long, cold, rainy nights… against the backdrop of Advent violet symbolizing penance, preparation and good works … against the backdrop of a renewed awareness of our need for the Lord and the longing we have for his return… against all of these we have today a beacon of hope, symbolized by the rose-colored vestments we wear today. We can begin to see the rays of light beaming from the Star of Bethlehem, from the manger of the Son of God; it is Jesus Christ, the Light of Lights! He is near at hand! He is not far off now! Only two more weeks and we will experience again his first coming! And what beautiful gifts he has in store!

The prophet Isaiah foretold that even “the desert and the parched land” will exult. Even the dry land eagerly awaits the coming of the Spring of Living Water which is Jesus Christ. And when he finally comes, the land will exult and bloom! “Let the earth bless the Lord. Praise and exult him above all forever. Mountains and hills, bless the Lord. Everything growing from the earth, bless the Lord!” How eagerly do we await his coming? If the earth and all of the Lord’s creation can be filled, in a mystical way, with joy at our Lord’s coming, we certainly can as well.

But, I realize that precisely this time of year, when the Church gives us a glimpse of joy in our time of waiting, can be a time of sorrow, of loneliness, of disappointment. For some of you this may be a time in which you mostly deeply feel the separation from a loved one who has died. Perhaps you may be feeling the stress of wanting to buy that perfect gift that you couldn’t possibly afford. Or a relative could be right next door but still distant and estranged. I think these feelings happen in all of us in some way or another. But how is it that some blessed souls are able to maintain their joy leading to, during, and throughout the Advert and Christmas seasons while others experience such sadness?
I think the way the world approaches Christmas contributes much to the malaise and discontent we can feel this time of year. There is no space for the preparation that Advent asks of us. The world begins the Christmas season the day after Thanksgiving, if not sooner, and ends it on Christmas day. We speak and celebrate Christmas as if it’s already here. We turn Christmas into a day when we can safely indulge all our materialistic passions – a day when we can morally accumulate more and more things that in a matter of weeks or months will fall apart or be forgotten. The coming of Santa Clause excites our children more than the coming of the baby Jesus. Is it Jesus that keeps them awake a night, excited and giddy with expectation? We cultivate materialism in our children and center their happiness on the toys they receive. There is outstanding pressure to keep up with the Jones’s, to spend money we wouldn’t dream of spending any other time of year. The drive, the competition, the pressure wears us out. I’ve done all of this myself! Heck, I have a LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar! No matter so many feel depressed during Advent. There was no room for Jesus.

Instead, if we are giving Advent its due, if we are focusing on remembering his first coming at Christmas and preparing our souls for his Second Coming (at a time we know not) then we will be prepared to meet the malaise that knocks on our door. In preparing for Christ, we will be spending time praying for our deceased loved ones and calling to mind the blessed times we had together. This prayer and remembrance makes us close again, and drives away the loneliness. In preparing for Christ, we will already be properly lining up our priorities, practicing self-denial and works of charity that drive away the temptation to make Christmas a day of accumulation instead of adoration. In preparing for Christ, we will be following the call of John the Baptist, the great Saint of Advent, to repent of our sins and follow the Lord. We will be working to mend the broken relationships in our families and calling them together.

So we see that the preparation that Advent promotes makes this time before Christmas one of deep meaning and purpose, one of repentance and reconciliation that cuts through the superficiality of the world’s approach. Then, at Midnight Mass, after the Christmas Proclamation, are hearts will be open and clear, ready to receives gifts that dwarf any notion of the Xbox One or PS4; gifts that bring a deeper, more profound happiness than $5 DVD’s at Wal-Mart; gifts of grace, of hope for healing and salvation, of deep and abiding joy.

Only then, for faithful Christians does Christmas begin! The world shelves the holiday for another year, but we will have only just begun! Only then does our celebration of Christmas really ramp up, with the Octave of Christmas, The Feast of the Holy Family on December 29th, The Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God on January 1st, the Memorial of the Holy Name of Jesus on January 3rd, The Solemnity of the Epiphany on January 5th, and ending with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on January 12th. It’s really on Christmas Day that we should turn on our lights, turn on the tree, and begin cooking Christmas foods and telling Christmas stories. “Be patient, brother and sisters, until the coming of the Lord,” St. James wrote in our second reading, “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.”

The miracle of Bethlehem, can be the miracle of our very own hearts. If at the coming of the Lord, “the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them,” then our own lives too can be transformed to see more clearly, to walk more steadily, to be healed of the infirmities of sin, to hear more loudly God’s call, to have a heart raised up to him, and to know his peace and happiness. Today, let us put away all sadness, let us rejoice! For the Lord who has and will do these things and much more is near… is very near…

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Homily: 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year A–Peace and Reunion among Families

The readings this weekend are so filled with both hopeful and challenging words that they definitely warrant a second look if you have some quiet time today or tomorrow. The prophecy from Isaiah speaks beautifully about the peace and unity that the messiah will bring when he comes – the wolf & the lamb, the calf & the lion, the cow & the bear, and even the baby & the cobra will live in harmony. These profound images capture the peace among all creation that existed before The Fall, before Adam & Eve’s Original Sin introduced disorder and chaos into the world. This is the peace that our Heavenly Father originally intended for us. This is the peace that the Messiah brings. But… he also brings judgment upon anyone who introduces further division and disunity.

Today, the Second Sunday of Advent, the Church puts before us the figure of St. John the Baptist, the Saint of Advent, to herald the Messiah. Sometimes I get fixated on his camel hair shirt and his eating of locusts and forget his deep significance. Thankfully, we have this season of Advent to take seriously again John’s message. What does it mean to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths”? Why does John say that he is “not worthy to carry his sandals”? We can see much in John the Baptist’s mission and his words that can be helpful for us as we prepare for the coming of the Lord.

First, did you notice the lead up to John the Baptist in the readings beforehand? This buildup, from our first reading in Isaiah, to the Responsorial Psalm, to the Letter to the Romans, culminates in the Gospel as St. John the Baptist bursts onto the scene. We get the feeling that John’s meaning in life, his vocation, was prepared for him since the times of the great Old Testament Prophets. John’s life’s mission is to prepare the way of the Lord, Jesus Christ, to till the soil of men’s hearts to be able to receive the seeds of peace and unity that he brings.

The Prophet Isaiah described “a voice of one crying out in the dessert, prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” John prepares for the Lord by fervently preaching to all of the people to acknowledge their sins before God and to symbolize their repentance by being washed in the Jordan River. By being repentant, we return to God what belongs to Him, our Love. Repentance also helps us to behave correctly, to usher in, ourselves, the Lord’s peace and unity. Our second reading encourages us to “think in harmony with one another,” and to “welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you.” We cannot experience the peace Isaiah prophesied, the peace of the Garden of Eden before the Fall, if there is division among us.

We can each look at our own families and friends and find examples of this division: One family member hates another one, or one won’t speak to the other, or one side of the family is estranged from the rest. In my own situation, I had an aunt and uncle, who with their two sons, I hadn’t seen in 20 years. Over Thanksgiving I was at a different aunt and uncle’s house with one whole side of my family and everyone was having a great time. They were all talking and playing so that no one noticed the doorbell ring. I decided to answer the door and… there they were! I’m sure they thought they rang the wrong house when they saw a priest answer the door. And I didn’t put two and two together myself! But when it finally clicked, I invited them in and everyone was so happy to see them. One of my uncles sat down with my aunt and explained to her who everyone in the room was, reminding her of their spouses and children. It was a beautiful moment. And all it took was for one of my aunts to invite them to come to the meal… from Kansas!. This type of invitation and reunion is what should characterize this season and our own efforts. This is no time for division among our families.

When we look at John the Baptist’s noble vocation, let’s not think that he is merely an isolated figure stuck in history two thousand years ago. We too are John the Baptist. It seems like John is too special for us to relate too. But, God has prepared from all eternity our own unique way of bringing about repentance and reunion with God and with each other as well.

Just stop and think about that for a second. From all eternity, before time began, God planned your personal, individual, vocation – “vocation” comes from the Latin, vocare, meaning “to call” – your calling; your reason for being. Do you know what yours is? What God has prepared for you before the world began? Our entire lives as Catholics are ones of waiting for the Lord, looking toward Him, and preparing for His coming by establishing peace and unity in the unique way God wills for us.

John said in the Gospel, “The one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals… I am baptizing you with water for repentance… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” John knew that his ministry was never about him, never about how good of a preacher he was to have been able to draw people from Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region to him in the waters of the Jordan River. The point is, we cannot be heralds of peace and reunion ourselves if we are filled with pride and division. We must repent and grow in humility.

For John, it was only all about Jesus, who John describes as mighty, like a king. The lowest most insignificant servant of a king was the one who had the often dirty job of loosening and carrying the king’s sandals and caring for his feet. But John, in his great humility would not even dare to carry the Lord’s sandals. This is how John shows us how to live out our unique calling with profound humility. Even Christ’s mission is mightier than John’s, for John’s baptism “with water” merely symbolized repentance from sin, but Jesus’ Baptism “with the Holy Spirit” [and water] actually effects what it symbolizes.

Finally, despite these vivid examples, the most striking one of John’s humility is one that I know I’ve read over hundreds of times before without catching it. St. Matthew simply describes John as a “voice.” He is simply “A voice of one crying out in the desert”. John is just a voice. He was so humble before the message of God that he became the message, the voice, of God the Father.[1]

Today, as we remember St. John the Baptist, with the help of his prayers we too can go forth and speak this message of repentance to our coworkers, our friends, and our relatives to build unity where there is division. From the heart of our own God-given vocation, with great humility, we too can not only speak but become the message, the Eternal Word of God, Jesus Christ. And we will always point to Him rather than ourselves. “May his name be blessed forever; as long as the sun his name shall remain.” As it is written: “Therefore, I will praise you among the Gentiles and sing praises to your name” O Lord.

[1] In Conversation with God, Volume One, p. 59, by Fr. Francis Fernandez

Monday, November 25, 2013

Homily Christ the King Year C: Seeing Christ For Who He Truly Is

As we have seen over the last few weeks, everything has led up to today’s Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, on this last weekend of Ordinary Time. Next weekend marks the beginning of Advent and the beginning of a new Church Year as we wait with joyful hope for the coming of our Savior at Christmas and throughout our lives. We celebrate Christ the King at the end of the Church year so that we can see His Crown is the Crown of the year, the capstone, the crowning achievement. 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 to the right hand of the Father is both a sign of his Kingship and a testament to it. We will praise and glorify his Kingship through the prayers and hymns of this Mass. He is our king in here. Is he our king out there?

Luke’s Gospel today puts us into a terrible scene: Jesus is dying of his crucifixion while the rulers, soldiers, and criminals around him mock and jeer at him. Over his head hang his death sentence. It was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin so that all peoples of all nations 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.

“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself,” they jeered. One of the criminals mocked him: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” 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 hang before them the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the King of a kingdom not of this world, but of God. Earlier, when Pilate asked Jesus if he was the King of the Jews, Jesus answered, ‘My kingship is not of this world… For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.”

His cross was his throne. Upon this throne, Christ the King achieved much more than we would expect by appearances alone. He achieved for all mankind of all times freedom from the torture of sin and death. Jesus always gives us more than we ask for and more than we expect. The good thief who hung at his right was moved to conversion by Jesus’ courage and resolve and by the prayers of forgiveness that Jesus offered for those who persecuted him. He recognized Jesus for who He truly is. And so he asked Jesus simply to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. But Jesus gave him infinitely more: everlasting happiness with him in Paradise. This was given to the good thief because he saw rightly, he acknowledged Jesus as his king, he repented of his life of sin, and he prayed that Christ the King would be mindful of him.

Is Christ our King, not only in this church, but in the rest of our lives as well? His kingship is easily recognized in Church when we are singing and praying about it. Can others recognize his kingship in the temple of our hearts? The Israelites in the Old Testament knew a king when they saw one. Our first reading described how the elders of Israel chose David to be their king because he “led them out and brought them back”, he shepherded them, he fed them, and he successfully commanded them in battle. And so the elders anointed David king of Israel. Can we recognize a king when we see one? Have we forgotten what the angel Gabriel proclaimed to Mary about her newborn Son? “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Have we forgotten what Paul reminds us in our second reading, that at our Baptism and every time we go to Confession, “God delivers us from the power of darkness and transfers us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”? Christ truly is our King and when he shepherds and feeds us through the sacraments, we are brought into his kingdom.

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? In essence, 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 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. The more we choose Christ, the easier it will be to recognize when a fake presents itself.

It is never too late for any us of to begin following Christ our King more closely than we have before. The good thief in our Gospel, who hung beside Jesus at the bitter end, tells us that it is never too late. If His Crown has fallen away from your life, restore it to the summit of your heart through the Sacrament of Reconciliation at your first opportunity. Consider that when you receive Communion, your loving, forgiving, merciful King not only fulfills the Israelites’ ancient desire for a king like David, he fulfills all of our deepest desires, he leads us out and brings us back, to shepherd us, to feed us, to successfully command us in our daily battle toward union with him and the good thief in the Kingdom of God.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Homily 32nd Sunday Ordinary Time Year C: Courage in Hope



Although we still have about one and a half months left in the calendar year, the Church year ends in a couple of weeks with the end of the Season of Ordinary Time. Advent, the season we will be entering into, marks the beginning of a new Church Year because it is the season that prepares for Christmas, the ultimate “new beginning” that celebrates the entry of God into human history when the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. Whenever we come to the end of something, that is always a time of great significance. End-times cause us to consider ultimate questions and last things. As we near the end of a liturgical season and the Church year, the readings at Mass become more and more challenging and direct. We are challenged to remain faithful, to persevere, to prepare for persecution, to prepare for our judgment, to avoid sin, and increase in holiness.

Such is the case with this weekend’s readings. The first reading from the second book of Maccabees gives a snapshot of a severely vivid witness of uncompromising fidelity and obedience to God in the face of overwhelming persecution and suffering. The Church gives us readings like this to help us to prepare for our own persecutions. In this scene, we have seven brothers and their mother who are brought before the king and threatened with torture and death unless they forsake the dietary restrictions of the Mosaic Law. The Israelites were under many dietary and ritualistic laws in order to form them in discipline so that they would be better able to receive the deeper, spiritual laws of the coming Messiah. These brothers and their mother will not forsake even the least of God’s laws. So the king tortures and kills each brother, one after the next, in front of the others. And with the death of each brother, the next one does not waver. Eventually all seven and their mother are killed for their obedience to God. What allowed them to persevere in the face of such cruelty was their deep and abiding faith in the resurrection. They believed that the glory due to them overshadowed any persecution or suffering in their earthly lives. Their faith in the resurrection helped them to put their suffering in proper perspective, no matter how severe.

The faith of these seven brothers and their mother is what the Sadducees openly mock in the face of Jesus in our Gospel reading. The Sadducees were a group of Jews who did not believe in the Resurrection because they did not see it spelled out explicitly in the first five books of the Old Scriptures. But, Jesus has been openly preaching the Resurrection and so they decide to try to make him look like a fool by posing to him an absurd riddle that despicably mirrors the scenario in the first reading. They ask, in the case of seven brothers and childless widow, to which brother will the woman be married if all are raised from the dead?

Jesus, not stymied by their trick, answers them on their own terms. He first makes the point that we are not “given in marriage” in the next life. Second, Moses himself teaches the resurrection when, in the episode of the burning bush, he calls Yahweh the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If God is a God only of the living, and they had been dead for centuries before him, then they must somehow be alive in God – which implies the resurrection. After this the Sadducees did not dare pose any other arguments.

Jesus’ point about us not being “given in marriage” in the next life was meant to emphasize the Resurrection but it can be a troubling point. I experienced this in my own ministry as a seminarian when I went to the hospital with a lay woman to visit a parishioner. It was a straightforward visit, but we could tell that the lady we were visiting had something else on her mind. She finally told us that she was feeling alone and afraid as she lay in the hospital. Her husband had just died one year before and she recalled that after his funeral Mass she asked the priest if she could still consider herself married to her husband. The priest must have been in a hurry because all he did to answer her was quote today’s Gospel about us not being “given in marriage” in the next life, without any further explanation. His words were ringing in her ears as she suffered alone in the hospital. She began to cry.

The woman I was with and I tried to console the lady. We explained that this scripture passage is true because marriage is, by definition, ordered to the procreation of offspring through natural sexual intercourse and the unity of the spouses which enables them to guide each other to salvation. But, once we are in heaven, life will not come through natural intercourse but directly from God, the source of Eternal Life. And spouses will not need each other to guide them to salvation because they will have received it fully. Once you come to the destination, you no longer need the sign pointing you toward it. Plus, we emphasized that she would be more unified with her husband in heaven than she ever was on earth because they would be one in Christ, which is a much deeper and more profound unity. This seemed to console her greatly.

This consolation of the Resurrection, which allowed the seven brothers and their mother in the first reading to persevere in faith and obedience despite great suffering… this consolation that helped the lady we visited find hope in a different, more profound unity with her husband in eternal life… this is the consolation that is put before each one of us today. This is our consolation too, that helps us to put all of our sufferings or persecutions in their proper perspective. In this country we do not face persecutions such as imprisonment and torture for being faithful Catholics, but we do have very real persecutions on the horizon and in our day-to-day lives that hold us back just the same.

This isn’t meant to be a partisan statement… but the health care law that goes into effect in the new year will be a form of persecution as faithful Catholic employers will be forced to disobey their conscience and provide services that are against Church teaching, such as abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations, and contraception, or else face onerous penalties. There are other persecutions that are more common to all of us. Again, these aren’t violent and forceful but they hold us back as if they were. These are more subtle persecutions, which can be the most devious… persecutions of timidity and fear; of pressure to be accepted, favored, or approved; persecutions of being bullied for being faithful; of the fear of change; of the fear of taking a step forward toward a better way of life because we cannot envision it due to not having experienced it yet… these are all persecutions that keep us at bay, that keep us from being bold and courageous Catholics.

Recently I was at a football game and the guy behind me was drinking and swearing, completely out of control. There I sat, a priest, and I should have turned around and said, “please stop taking the Lord’s name in vain”… but I didn’t, I was afraid of what he might say or if he might make fun of me so I just sat there and grumbled. But if I would have just taken a moment to think about the glory of the Resurrection that I can realistically hope for if I persevere in faith and obedience, then I would have had the courage to stand up boldly and defend God’s Holy Name. This is my point. Stopping for a moment to place our sufferings and persecutions, no matter how large or small, into the context of the Resurrection helps us to have the courage we need to endure them courageously and patiently. Our hope in the Resurrection gives us the strength to take every opportunity to glorify God, to defend our faith, to honor His Name, and to increase in holiness.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

All Souls Day Reading Suggestions

All Souls Readings Suggestions (Lectionary 668)

Mass I (From USCCB website)

First Reading: 1. (Wis 3:1-9)

Responsorial Psalm: 1. (Ps 23:1-6)

Second Reading: 1. (Rom 5:5-11) or 3. (Rom 6:3-9)

Alleluia 3. (Jn 6:40)

Gospel 8. (Jn 6:37-40)

Mass II.

First Reading 2. (Wis 4:7-14)

Responsorial Psalm 3. (Ps 27:1-14)

Second Reading 5. (Rom 8:31-39)

Alleluia 5. (Jn 11:25-26)

Gospel 5. (Lk 23:44-24:6) or 7. (Jn 5:24-29)

Mass III.

First Reading 3. (Is 25:6-9)

Responsorial Psalm 2. (Ps 25:6-21)

Second Reading 7. (1 Cor 15:20-28) or 8. (1 Cor 15:51-57)

Alleluia 1. (Mt 25:34)

Gospel 4. (Lk 7:11-17) or 11. (Jn 11:32-45)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

30th Sunday Ordinary Time Year C 2013



I must say that at this point in my life… I am happier than I have ever been. I am a happy man. That’s an awesome thing to say! I haven’t always been able to say that. In seminary I vividly remember wondering, “When will I be ordained? How long is this going to take? Will I be able to cut it as a priest? Can I even make it through seminary?” When I was a deacon at St. Gabriel and an Associate Pastor at St. James, I wondered, “Can I do all that a pastor has to do? Will I be a good shepherd?” Over the 4 months that I’ve been here, I have found great fulfillment in being the shepherd of this flock. My heart and soul are invested more than they ever have been. I live and breathe these parishes and can truly say that I am happier than I’ve ever been.

There have been some challenging moments. Change is hard for everyone. For you and for me. For you, I imagine it’s like receiving a whole new father. Fr. Chris was with you for 16 good years and was well-loved. He has definitely left some big shoes to fill. For me, it’s a little bit like leaving home, graduating from college, beginning a new career, getting married, and starting a family all at the same time! (The Basic Plan for Ongoing Formation, Part II, A) One of the most difficult things though has been bumping up against the gossip that so often characterizes small parishes and small towns. It’s really a problem in all parishes, big and small. I don’t mean to say that everyone here is gossipy, but you and I know that it doesn’t take many people to stir things up. Gossip really does sap the life and energy out of a parish and its initiatives.

I am part of the parish too, though! If this parish is gossipy then that includes me too! I am also guilty of venting at times to the first person that will listen without taking the time to pray about it and fully understand the situation. If we want to break the mold of what a small-town parish is like, if we want to prove to God and our neighbors that we don’t have to be gossipy parishes, then the change must start with me. With the theme of this weekend’s readings focusing on humility and prayer, we have the perfect occasion to recall the Church’s teaching on this subject to help us break this mold.

Last Monday at RCIA, when we studied the last seven of the Ten Commandments, we looked at how the Catechism of the Catholic Church expands on the 8th Commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” This is the commandment that the Pharisee broke in the Gospel reading today. Here is what the Catechism says about this in paragraphs 2477 to 2481: “Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury.” It then goes on to list some examples of sins against the 8th commandment. One is Rash judgment, which is when one “even tacitly assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor.”

The Pharisee in the Gospel definitely committed this sin. His prayer, full of pride, was not even a prayer to God. The Gospel said he “stood and prayed thus with himself.” The whole time he simply rattled off his accomplishments in order to somehow impress God. Full of himself, he saw no need for God’s grace or mercy. He boasted that he was not like the rest of sinful humanity; “even like this tax collector,” he smirked. On what grounds was the Pharisee able to conclude that he was a sinner? Simply because he was a tax collector? This particular tax collector could have been St. Matthew for all we know! What we do know is that because he was so quick to judge his neighbor, his prayer bore no fruit for him. “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, “Jesus said. It is only when we humble ourselves that Jesus is able to lift us up. It is only when we acknowledge that we are in need of his mercy that Jesus is able to give us his mercy. It is the “prayer of the lowly” that “pierces the clouds,” said the prophet Sirach in the first reading.

Another sin against the 8th commandment is called Detraction. This is when one, “without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them.” This one is particularly tempting because of our desire to want to be included and favored. When you or I see a group of folks that we relate too, that we are friends with, or that we want to impress, the latest nugget of gossip turns their eyes toward us and we have their attention. We think, “They are listening to me! They want to hear what I have to say! They want me as part of their group!”

This sin plays on all of our insecurities. “I know what so-n-so did and they don’t. Wait till I tell the guys this one! They’ll really approve of me then! And we will be able to say to ourselves, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this guy.” The devil loves this one because he loves for us to compare ourselves to anyone other than Jesus. Simply saying, “At least I’m not as bad as him over there” keeps us stuck where we are. But saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner! Make me holy as Jesus is holy!” is a statement that moves us forward and up to him. Jesus is our audience, he is the only one we have to impress. …And we thwart our spiritual progress for what? A few moments of recognition from friends who love us anyway? And meanwhile a man’s reputation is ruined, his name drug through the mud, and our hearts turned against him.

Calumny, another sin against the 8th commandment, is when one “by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.” This one comes about largely from a certain disruption that leads to misunderstanding. What begins as the innocent question, “Well… that’s different… why did Fr. Hardesty do that!?” then turns into, “Well, he must not like us… he must not want to spend time with us… he must want to inconvenience us… he’s keeping us here for a full hour on purpose!... he wants to make us miserable…. What are we gonna do?? Well… there’s no use… I’m just gonna go to a different parish!” And all of that happens without the person giving me one chance to explain.

One of the best things you and I can do to avoid committing this sin of calumny is to simply approach each other directly and kindly. Let’s help each other with this one. If I do something or decide something that you disagree with or are uncertain about, come to me and ask me directly about it. My role as a spiritual father is to listen to the needs of his sons and daughters and to be eager to respond to them. And you as spiritual sons and daughters should feel free to voice these needs to me. For my part I will take more time to learn and understand different practices or features of the parish before I make a faulty conclusion about them.

Lastly, the Catechism goes on to quote St. Ignatius of Loyola who says that to avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way: “Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.”

You and I together need to give each other the benefit of the doubt rather than being quick to condemn. Rash Judgment, Detraction and Calumny “destroy the reputation and honor of one’s neighbor.” Whenever we sin against the 8th commandment, we have a duty that “obliges in conscience” to repair the wrong, publicly or privately, insofar as possible. This humble making of amends along with frequent, at least monthly, confession can help us break out of this cycle and give us the grace and strength to continually “put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” By “putting away falsehood,” we will be able to “put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander.”

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My comments on the Pope Francis interview

PASTORAL LETTERS – September 29, 2013

Last weekend would have been perfect timing for me to preach on the now-famous Sept 19 interview that Pope Francis gave to Jesuit publications around the world and its coverage by the mainstream media. But, I try to always let the readings set the direction for my homily rather than my own agenda. So I wanted to use this weekend’s column to give some brief comments that I hope will be helpful to you. You can read the interview in its entirety at

On one hand, the mainstream media has enabled people who are not very well tuned-in to the Church to now be introduced to our Holy Father. Hopefully their interest will be piqued to explore his statements further. But, we, as faithful Catholics, should be tuned-in and should pay attention to coverage from outlets that aim to present the Church faithfully. Toward that end, I highly recommend the newspaper, National Catholic Register (; on T.V., EWTN, the Eternal Word Television Network (; and in magazines, I especially like First Things (

My comment is that a caricature of Pope Francis has been constructed that does not coincide totally with the full depth of who he is. He is presented as a “pastoral” pope who is more “pastoral” than his predecessors, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Blessed (soon to be Saint!) John Paul II. And often the word “pastoral” is used to mean “more open, less tied to those bothersome teachings on abortion, homosexual acts, and artificial contraception.” But, it is helpful to remember that “pastor” is Latin for “shepherd.” To put it simply, Bl. John Paul II was philosophically rigorous and Benedict XVI was theologically rigorous. Shepherding us in how to think well (what philosophy does) and then what to think about (what theology does) is an exceptionally pastoral and charitable thing to do! Now that we have been recently taught how to think well and what to set our minds too, Pope Francis (himself a rigorous thinker) exhorts the thoughtful Catholic to give a loving expression to our faith and teachings. He wants us to convey the GOOD NEWS of these teachings, not only the “Thou Shalt Not’s”. He wants our evangelization to bring about encounters with the Person of Jesus Christ and to reach out and capture the hearts of all God’s people. Pope Francis wants the content of the Truth to remain the same; after all, he is the servant of the Truth, not Its master. The presentation should change though, wherever it is not showing the loving and merciful face of a mother, our Holy Mother, the Church. I couldn’t agree more.

For a better understanding of particular points of the interview, check out the very good article on, titled, “Pope Francis Grants an Interview and Shakes Up the Church” at

In Jesus and Mary,

Fr. Hardesty

Homily 25th Sunday Ordinary Time Year C–The Joys of Accounting

I have to admit that I had some difficulty with this weekend’s Gospel reading. I had to look at a couple of Scripture commentaries to really understand the point that Jesus was trying to make. He tells a parable that is unlike his other parables. And he uses language that is unfamiliar to us today, speaking of the “steward,” the “master’s debtors,” “promissory notes,” “making friends with dishonest wealth” – what does that mean?! – “being welcomed into eternal dwellings,” and not serving “both God and mammon.” This all seem disconcerting but we must remember that a parable is simply a rhetorical device that Jesus used to convey a particular teaching (Navarre, Lk 16:1-15). It was meant to use images and phrases that were familiar to his audience. Even though these are unfamiliar to us today, they still convey a teaching that is valuable for us.

A “steward” is a head servant who handled the business affairs of his master’s estate (Ignatius, Lk 16:1). And this particular steward today has wasted his master’s goods. His master calls him to the carpet, tells him that he has gotten wind of his wastefulness and asks him to prepare an accounting of his management, his stewardship of the master’s property, because he is about to lose his job. The steward figures, “Well, if I have a little bit of time to prepare this account, I may as well use this time to set myself up well for life after employment!” So while he still has charge of his master’s property, he uses it to relieve his master’s debtors and win their friendship so that they will welcome him into their homes once he is broke!

The first debtor owed 100 “measures” of olive oil, which today is equivalent to 800 gallons. So the steward wrote him a promissory note which the debtor could cash in on the master’s estate and receive half-off on his debt! The second debtor owed 100 “kors” of wheat, which today is equivalent to 1000 bushels of wheat. The steward wrote him a promissory note which he could cash in on the master’s estate and receive 20% off of his debt! (Ignatius, Lk 16:6-7) When he finally came before his master to give his accounting, the master commended the steward for his being so astute and clever. He in effect said, “Well played… you’ve still lost your job! But… well played.

Jesus takes for granted that his audience understands that what the steward did was selfish and unethical (Navarre, Lk 16:1-15). But he still finds the steward’s behavior useful for conveying both an example to follow and a caution to take to heart. In a time of urgency, the steward was well prepared. A few weekends ago, Jesus made this same point about wanting disciples who were well prepared to be his servants when he compared them to a contractor who prepares to build a tower or a king who prepares for battle. The spiritual parallel is that as the steward prepared for life after employment, Christians should take even greater care in preparing for life after death (Ignatius, Lk 16:1-8).

Under pressure, it is amazing what we can accomplish! I can’t tell you how many times in seminary that I started a 5-page paper at 2:30am that was due at 8:30am!! For me, when the train is barreling down the tracks, my mind is a sharp as a steel trap. When the pressure is on, I think clearly, logically, sequentially. You also may be able to call to mind times when you surprised yourself by what you accomplished under pressure. St. Josemaria Escriva, one of my favorite saints, wrote, “When you and I put the same zeal into the affairs of our souls, we will have a living and working faith. And there will be no obstacle that we cannot overcome in our [ministries].” (The Way, 317, in Navarre, Lk 16:1-15)

The steward shows how to expend every effort in making use of our means to prepare for the future. Just as his cleverness won him comfortable living in the “houses” of his master’s debtors, so we are challenged to become friends of the poor by supporting them with our resources so that we will be received into the “eternal dwellings” – the many mansions of our Father’s house in eternal life. (Ignatius, Lk 16:8)

Is not the story of the steward also our story?? We too must realize that the resource we have are not absolutely or only ours – they truly belong to our master. We are his stewards – this is where we get our notion of “stewardship” – we are his head servants entrusted with the care of our Master’s goods and treasures.

The steward’s dilemma is our dilemma! We too will be asked to give an account! We know not when! Do we have his same urgency? Do we prepare for this accounting by urgently giving to the poor, by donating from the treasures entrusted to us? This is a defining question of our salvation! Remember how our Lord characterized the Final Judgment?? Some will be arrayed at his right hand, others at his left. To those on his right he will say, “When I was hungry, you gave me food. When I was thirsty, you gave me drink. When I was naked, you clothed me, etc.” And those on his right will say, “Lord, when did we feed you, give you drink, and clothe you?” He will reply, “Whenever you did these for the least of my brethren – the poor – you did them for me. Come into my Father’s House.” To those on his left he will say, “I was hungry and you gave me no food; thirsty and you gave me no drink; naked and you did not clothe me.” And those on his left will say, “Lord, when did we not feed you, give you drink, and clothe you?” He will reply, “When you did not do these for the least of my brethren – the poor – you did not do them for me. Go away from me, you accursed, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” This is the challenge placed before each one of us today.

This also shows the aspect of caution from the parable. We must take this challenge seriously. We cannot serve both God and “mammon.” “Mammon” is an Aramaic term for “wealth.” The Pharisees have been listening carefully, critically, to everything Jesus has said. In the very next verse after our Gospel passage, Jesus will call them “lovers of money.” They, like the steward, cared only about themselves and their own wealth, the esteem of others, and the temporal comforts of this world.

Whether we have been entrusted with a little or with a lot, we must serve God with what we have and value Him more than our wealth. We must look to him instead of our wealth for our safety and security. We must be “servants of the Lord,” as the Responsorial Psalm said, not servants of our wealth and ourselves. Otherwise we will be regarded as those in the first reading who despised the Lord and his holy days and cheated the poor (Scott Hahn,, Homily Helps, 25th Sunday).

We cannot serve both God and mammon, both God and our wealth. We are the stewards in the story but we are also the debtors. All the mammon, all the wealth in the world could not have paid the debt we owe our Master by our sins. So He paid it for us. He “gave himself as a ransom for all,” St. Paul wrote in our second reading. Because he gave to us first, we are enabled and empowered to give in return (ibid).

We can redeem the steward’s story. This is a challenge not only to you, but to me too! I was greatly challenged when this Gospel reminded me that after three months of being here, I am not yet tithing to this parish! So when our bookkeeper comes in on Friday I will rectify that. My challenge to you in return is to notice in the bulletin that I have started included the weekend offering for Holy Trinity and Holy Rosary, as we had done in the past. You’ll notice that Holy Rosary gave about $1200 last weekend while Holy Trinity gave twice that, about $2400. But remember that Holy Trinity is four times their size! I was embarrassed to bring this up, but a priest at the New Pastors Workshop that I went to last week, who was an accountant in his former life, told us that we should be more embarrassed not to bring up something like this! What kind of priest would I be if I was not affirming you, encouraging you, and challenging you to prepare for the accounting that each one of us will have to make? I would have to account for that too!

Again, we can redeem the steward’s story, both of us together, by using well the treasures entrusted to us. By being merciful to the poor, relieving their burdens in a disinterested way. By resting secure in our Father’s House, knowing that we have been trustworthy stewards, able to answer confidently and rightly at our own accounting – a joyful accounting! – an accounting to a Master who, God-willing, will be pleased with us; pleased by our virtue and our love for the poor and for Him.

Homily 24th Sunday Ordinary Time Year C–The Joy of Reunion

Do you remember a time when you lost a child in a department store or an amusement park or a time when you got lost yourself as a child? If you were like me, you were walking along with your siblings until something flashy caught your eye and you thought, “Oooh!” Then you suddenly remember you’re supposed to be with some other people! You look around and when you realize no one is there you get that terrible, horrible feeling in your stomach. You franticly look from one aisle or path to the next and finally, at the end of the store or across the park you spot mom or dad in the distance. The sudden surge of joy, a truly Christian Joy, is the greatest feeling in the world! This feeling explains why Jesus eats with the tax collectors and the sinners.

This is the feeling that God has when sinners repent, the feeling of a Father who has finally found his lost child. And to be sure it is our feeling too, when we are reunited with Him. Our Lord is the Mediator of this Joy. The Pharisees accused him of being a little too friendly with the sinners. But, in order to lead sinners to the Joy of Reconciliation with their Father, he must necessarily spend time among them, dining with them, listening to them, and calling them to Himself.

The Joy of Reunion and Reconciliation is a Joy that the Father feels even for just one child. Furthermore, he rejoices more over one recovered child than he does over having his other children always with Him. This is similar to the experience of a mother who feels much greater joy over finding a lost child than she does over having her other three walking peacefully beside her. It is because of this Joy that He can leave “the 99,” so to speak, and go in search of the one “lost sheep.” It is because of this Joy that He searches like the woman in the Gospel who lost one of her ten coins, each equaling a day’s pay, because each means so much to her.

God’s Mercy does not let Him forget the one that is lost. The woman did not say, “Oh, I will not worry about the one last coin, I still have 9 others.” And the shepherd did not say, “Oh, I will not worry about the one lost sheep, I still have 99 others.” God’s Mercy remembers the Joy of Reunion. As the prophet Ezekiel proclaimed, “’Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked,’ declares the Lord God, ‘and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?’” (Ezekiel 18:23) This Joy and His Mercy causes Him to go out, to pursue us. We so often concern ourselves with finding Him, looking for Him, searching for Him… but we forget that He is the one searching for us. The prophet Ezekiel also proclaimed, “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them” (Ezekiel 34:11-16).

Do we let ourselves be found? Do we get used to being away? This would be like a boy getting lost in the department store but then just getting used to the toy aisle, forgetting altogether the siblings he was with and even his parents. Do we hide while we are away, becoming obstinate in our being lost? Are we like the “stiff-necked” people described in the first reading, so-called because they refused the direction of their father Moses, like an ox who refuses the promptings of the plowman? They had been led miraculously out of slavery in Egypt and were brought to the foot of Mt. Sinai on whose peak Moses communicated face-to-face with God, learning His will for His people through the Ten Commandments. But, Moses took too long to come down the mountain and the people forgot all that God had done for them. They rejected God and lost themselves in idol worship, attributing to a golden calf the miracles of God. They would have persisted in this going astray, gotten used to their new god, had Moses not snapped them back to reality.

It is obstinacy that keeps us away or is it fear? Are we afraid of Him finding us? There is nothing to fear in our Heavenly Father finding us. There is only Joy in reunion and reconciliation with Him. Remember that He is more pleased over the grievous sinner sincerely repenting than he is over the minor sinners who repent often! He is definitely more pleased with all of his repentant children than He is with those who think that they have nothing to repent of, no sins to confess.

Moses implored God’s Mercy on the people who had lost themselves in idol worship, he prayed for them, he interceded for them, and God was indeed merciful. Jesus, the New Moses still pleads for God’s People at the Right Hand of the Father. We said in the Penitential Rite, “You were sent to heal the contrite of heart, Lord have mercy. You came to call sinners, Christ have mercy. You are seated at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us, Lord have mercy.” He intercedes for us and He searches for us as he did for the tax collectors and sinners. He looks for you in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Does he find you there? Does he find your children and grandchildren there? Will you help them to feel the Joy of God’s Mercy too? Or will they miss out on this Joy because they have no one to take them? He came into the world to save sinners. He saves us and our families through the sacraments. Will we let Him?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Homily 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C–Freedom to be Intentional

If we pause for a moment to call to mind the things we prepare so much for, we can be embarrassed to consider how much we prepare for our spiritual lives. Teachers and parents and students put much preparation into the school year; getting supplies, arranging classrooms, organizing schedules. Other things like a new job, or a new house, or a new car require all sorts of planning and research. We do all of this readily and with conviction. Do we even think about preparing to be followers of Christ and active Catholics? Do we even think about those things as requiring preparation? So often, we just coast into who we are, especially so-called, “cradle Catholics.” If you have met recent converts to Catholicism, they are usually always filled with great zeal, and energy, and initiative. But there is no reason that cradle Catholics can’t approach their own Catholic identity with the same newness and zeal.

Like a contractor who sets forth to build a tower and plans very carefully the design, materials and placement; and like a king who plans for battle by surveying his troops and the enemy force; just so, Jesus explains, we must prepare to go about the mission of being his disciples – with intentionality, foresight, and wisdom... otherwise, we cannot be his disciples. This preparation includes examining ourselves regularly to identify the things that keep us from being more active and involved Catholics. What are the obstacles that I or others have placed that I need to overcome? What are the opportunities that I am neglecting? Where have I become complacent in my Catholic identity or taken it for granted?

Another part of this examination is surveying our priorities. When Jesus said that unless we hate our family or even our own life, we cannot be his disciples, he meant that there must be ongoing growth and conversion in order for there to be an “old man,” a “former man” to hate. We must not desire our old way of living and anything that comes before Him, even our family. In my own life, I delayed going to seminary because I was hiding behind my family. A vocation director who I met at a conference once asked me when I was going to enter seminary. I told him that I wasn’t ready because I was renting a house with my brothers at the time and paying most of the rent and bills. His answer snapped me back into reality. He said, “Oh, you’re just enabling them.” He was right, they could have, and did, get along just fine. I was using them as an excuse to not commit myself to following God’s will for my life. Not even our families should ever come before God’s will for us or be an obstacle to Him.

Another obstacle to becoming more prepared and zealous is that we have a hard time imagining ourselves living any other way than we are right now. Again, in my own life, when I was having those initial stirrings of Priesthood, I would have doubts about if God was calling me to be a priest because I was having troubling imagining myself doing the tasks I would see my pastor doing. One Sunday my whole extended family planned to go out to eat after Mass and I was so much looking forward to it – it was going to be a blast! I looked forward to it all through Mass. After Mass as I was walking out of the Church, I looked back and noticed my pastor alone, picking up papers, tidying things, getting the liturgical books together, saying a few words to different people here and there. I thought, “How boring… I don’t wanna do that… I wanna go out to eat!” But, as God drew me closer and closer to the Priesthood, I invested my heart more and more into it so that now, after the last Mass, when everyone is going out to eat, that’s not a source of loss or sorrow for me! My heart is fully invested in this now so that I care so much more about it. I like going around and tidying up everything after Mass now; its sort of meditative for me!

My point is that, while many of you are very active and intentional about your Catholic identity – which has been very inspiring for me – there also many here today, or perhaps among your family and friends, who just coast in their Catholicism because they have trouble imagining what it would be like to live a different way. If you’re not going to confession monthly when you know you could, or you’re not going to daily Mass when you know you could, or you’re not volunteering at the parish when you know you could… you don’t have to start all of this tomorrow! God is pleased to see you approaching Him! All you have to do is challenge yourself to take small steps in this direction and as your heart becomes more and more invested you’ll find it coming more and more naturally to you and part of who you are.

Besides, how well do we really know our current way of life, let alone what God is calling us to?! The first reading captured it perfectly! “And scarce do we guess the things on earth, and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty; but when things are in heaven, who can search them out?! But, like Onesimus in the second reading, freed from slavery, free to be sent to Philemon to be a part of a new family – we too have been freed by Jesus Christ to be members of the active and growing family of God: His Church. We are no longer slaves to our past lives or our current complacency, no matter how uncertain the present or the future may seem. We too can live with a newness and joy and set out to become the full, conscious, and active Catholics that Jesus is calling us to be, filled with the youthfulness of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C: Pride, Poverty, and True Humility

During my seminary years, I had what’s called a Pastoral Year. This is a time when a seminarian spends an academic year out of seminary, between the second and third years of Theology, and in a parish in his home diocese. I was at St. Athanasius in Louisville. During that year, I had an experience of both pride and humility that I’ll never forget.

We were coming near to Holy Week and I had been feverishly preparing for the Easter Vigil. Even though the Easter Vigil had been going on like clockwork since long before I got there, I was determined to have everything figured out. Since I was going to serve the Mass, I poured over all the documents and instructions pertaining to the Easter Vigil, and made pages of notes, so that I could know exactly how everything should happen. It was a very prideful attitude for me to have. The pastor there at the time, Fr. Terry Bradshaw, very wisely left me to my devices. He knew before I did that I would learn from this. One should always prepare well for liturgy, but never think himself its master.

When the Easter Vigil finally came, I was a nervous wreck. But, I had a pretty good relationship with the sacristan so I was kidding with her a little bid in order to ease the tension. In the midst of that I said an off-color remark that hurt her feelings and she walked away sad. This was 15 minutes before the Easter Vigil was about to begin. I was crushed. I felt like the scum of the earth. Even after I apologized to her, I still felt terrible.

But it didn’t stop there. I forgot all about the careful preparation I had done, I forgot all about my notes. I was thrown all out of whack. On my way into the Church from the Easter Fire, instead of holding the paschal candle by the base, I held it by the candle itself and the base went crashing down on the tile, making a terrible noise. After that I sulked and moped throughout the entire Mass. After all my prideful preparation, after thinking I could be the master of this liturgy, God allowed me to be humbled in a profound way. He allowed all my preparation to come tumbling down. And of course, everything still went smoothly.

I think God allows that to happen to us because pride is one of the biggest obstacles that comes between us and Him. When Jesus was invited to a banquet at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, he knew the room would be filled with people watching carefully his every move, conniving and scheming for a way to trap him. But he went because he loved them too. He did not write them off as being beyond salvation. He took the opportunity to teach them a lesson that he hoped would soften their hearts toward him. He wanted them to see that despite their lofty position in society, the state of their souls was quite low. In that way they were the poorest of the poor.

When he saw them clamoring for the highest positions at table once they had all gathered there, he no doubt had pity on them. In his Sacred Heart reverberated our responsorial psalm today. “The Father of orphans and the defender of widows – is God in his holy dwelling – God gives a home to the forsaken – he leads forth prisoners to prosperity.” In their worldly exaltedness and their spiritual depravity, the Pharisees had orphaned themselves from the Father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They had spurned Lady Wisdom – she is a widow in relation to them. But God the Son, Jesus Christ, enters the home of the forsaken to offer them a new home in his heart. He leads forth those imprisoned to sin to the prosperity of the freedom of innocence by challenging them to take first the lowest place at the table, rather than presuming that they deserve the highest place. He warns them that if they exalt themselves in the eyes of the world, then they lower themselves in the eyes of God. “My child, conduct your affairs with humility,” Ben Sirach advises his grandson in the first reading, “and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.”

You and I must carefully examine how humility and pride characterize our lives. Pride sneaks into our lives quietly but can soon become a roaring lion. We can have a string of successes or favors and then all of a sudden, it’s “all about me.” “Look at how good I did, look at how successful I was!” We’re the first to brag about our successes and we want to be the center of attention. We want more and more, to advance our own position and we forget the needs of those around us, those looking to us for help. Pride is the worst kind of poverty. It stores up worldly praise, treasure, and ambition that fade away like vapor and is empty of the life of God and the spiritual riches that have eternal significance.

But, this is not to say that we should walk around gloomy and sulking – as I did during that Easter Vigil several years ago after feeling so terrible for what I had said. God doesn’t want gloomy Christians either. Being humble does not mean being constantly self-deprecating which is so tiring to one’s family and friends. This is a false humility – a humility that springs from a desire to appear humble rather than springing from a true humbled and contrite heart. We also see this in those who have an almost belligerent rejection of the charity of another or of proper praise when it is due. “No, No, No! That wasn’t nearly as good a homily as it could have been! Well, I got through it! Eh, it was OK… it wasn’t that great” – those kinds of statements often come from a false humility. Another funny example is what you can sometimes witness in a restaurant – the feverish competition to see who will pick up the tab – “Oh, allow me! Oh, no I couldn’t! Oh, but I insist! Oh, no please let me!” and there is this game of hot potato back and forth with the bill and the cash until someone ends up sliding money through the window of the car or hiding it in the other’s pocket! What we often forget is that accepting charity is an act of humility.

Humility is not a gloominess or a stubborn refusal of help or appreciation. It is simply an accurate estimation of one’s standing before God and of one’s situation. To adamantly reject the notion that we need or could use help in a given moment is to have an inaccurate estimation of our sinfulness, weakness, and room for growth. Only after we acknowledge how much help we truly need, will God be able to provide for those needs, to lift us up by the hand, and exalt us in the spiritual life.

This authentic humility brings peace and calmness. It comes naturally. It is attractive, it is gracious, it is welcoming. It is steady and even-keeled. It is joyful because it finds its sustenance through reliance on God who never fails, rather than on itself who often fails. Humility says, “Thank you very much, I appreciate that” when a comment is given. It says, “Well, that’s very generous of you, God bless you” when a friend offers to pick up the check. It carries always on its lips the song of Mary: “the Almighty has done great things for me and Holy is His Name. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty…” and the Glory be, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.”

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C–Share Your Faith, Broaden the Narrow Gate

Before I entered seminary in 2005 I was a software developer for an investment firm in Louisville. I was on a team that made in-house software that our portfolio managers used to track their performance. I did that for about 2.5-3 years and it was during that period that I discerned the priesthood. I felt like God had led me to Louisville via that job so I decided to study for the Archdiocese of Louisville rather than the Diocese of Owensboro where I was born and raised.

Toward the end of that job, I decided to send an email out, not only to my software development team but to the whole company, all the traders, portfolio managers, finance folks, etc. to tell them how happy I was to work with them and to explain that I was resigning in order to study to be a Catholic priest. After I sent that email, I got replies from many people who I had interacted with off and on over those three years but who I had no idea were Catholic. They would say, “Hey, I think its great what you’re doing… I’m Catholic too!” As I thought back on that later I realized that there was a piece missing from that whole experience. Why did I not recognize so many of my coworkers as Catholic? Why did they not express their Catholicism to me until that email at the very end? I think our readings this weekend provide several phrases we can use to piece together an answer to this type of problem: rubbing shoulders with people day-in and day-out without our Catholic faith being known.

“I come to gather nations of every language… that have never heard of my fame or seen my glory… to Jerusalem, my holy mountain, says the Lord” to the prophet Isaiah. On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus walks with a crowd of disciples and followers. One shouts out a question, “Lord will only a few people be saved?” Jesus doesn’t answer them directly. He answers the question they should have asked. They should have asked how to be saved, not how many. He said, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.” By this our Lord implies that it is not easy to be Christian or to be saved. It is difficult. It is a “narrow” gate.

It is not enough simply to belong to the Church, to the new covenant People of God. We should not have false confidence. In our Lord’s parable, when the people knock on the door of the kingdom, they say, “We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” How else do we eat and drink in his company than by the Eucharist? How else does he teach in our streets than by the proclaiming of the Gospel and of our faith? But, it is not enough to simply be passive receivers of these. For our Lord replies, “I do not know where you are from… you evil-doers!” It is not enough to simply belong and receive, we have to DO well. We have to DO good, animated by our Catholic faith.

God desires all to be saved. In order to bring that about, he commands each one of us here today, in the Responsorial Psalm to “Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.” “So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees,” the second reading said, “Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed, but healed.” We have an image of someone bowed low by the difficulties of this life. Nevertheless, our Lord wants us to go out to all the world, with our heads held high, with confidence and with zeal to work with him for the salvation of souls. It is a call to be exemplary, to encourage those who are wavering or have less strength of faith. When someone who has great suffering can still be a joyful witness, that makes a profound impact on people.

I will send fugitives – a better translation is “survivors” – I will send survivors; survivors of the difficulties of this life “to the nations and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations”… and from the Gospel we heard that “people will come from the east and the west, and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.” This has been fulfilled; the Church proclaims the Gospel in all four corners of the globe, but it is not yet complete. There are still so many who do not know Jesus. We must say with John the Baptist to those around us, “Among you stands one who you do not know.” Among you stands one whom you do not know.

We must play a part in the Church’s evangelizing mission. We each have a responsibility to help others to find the narrow gate that leads to heaven. A document from Vatican II, on the apostolate or the active ministry of the laity explains, “Inserted as they are in the Mystical Body of Christ by Baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, it is by the Lord himself that they are assigned to the apostolate… to bear witness to Christ all the world over” (Apostolicam actuositatem 3).

It is not about doing something odd or peculiar or neglecting our family or work to do it. Since I had been such a lukewarm Catholic for most of my life, when I had this life-changing conversion upon researching answers to my girlfriend’s questions about Catholicism in my senior year of college, my mom was rightly concerned that I would be this obnoxious Bible-thumper, all up in everyone’s face! But that’s not what this is about. It is precisely in the midst of our family and work, where we already are, that we find the place for this mission. It may even be a silent witness. Often it is simply the peace and joy with which we live our lives that has a more profound effect on others than any argument or statement we put together.

We can bring Christ to where God has placed us in several ways: By our example, the way we live our lives; by putting our faith into practice; by being cheerful, being someone people can easily approach; by refusing to be perturbed by the difficulties that are the common lot of all mankind; by encouraging others with the joy that comes from following Christ; by giving new hope to those near despair, fighting the temptation to always just mind our own business; and by helping others go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. With this last one I have in mind many of our elderly who have an acute desire for this sacrament but have no one who is willing to take them.

These last few weekends we have found much fruit in these readings for our nightly examination of conscience. Some questions this weekend that we can ask ourselves are: Do those who know us recognize us as disciples of Christ? Do we rub shoulders day-in and day-out with people who have no idea that we are Catholic, like I did at my old job? How many have we helped take a decisive step toward heaven? How many have we spoken to about God? How many have we recommended a good book too, that may provide that extra encouragement someone needs? How many have we explained the Church’s teaching to on marriage and family? How many have we shown the joy that comes from giving of ourselves?

And again I think about confession – and this is going to take me away from my outline but I don’t care – How many have we helped to go to confession? This time I refer to our children and youth. You all are going to get tired of me preaching about this, but it is too important for me to ignore. I have heard the confessions of very few children and young adults since I’ve been here. This worries me because I love you all and I know that we cannot grow in holiness on our own strength; our souls are fragile, we need the help of that sacrament. I know that our children who go to Catholic schools go to confession once or twice a semester but that is not enough. We need to be helping them find the narrow gate by bringing them to confession.

I have heard the horror stories, about being forced to go to confession when you were young, every Saturday, whether you had something to confess or not. I have heard how you had to just make something up to get through the confession only to have the priest be mean to you or rush you along. These stories weigh heavily on my heart. It doesn’t have to be this way, once a month is a healthy practice. And I promise to all of you that I will never be mean to you. I will never yell at you. I will never rush you to get you outta there… though I may ask you to be succinct if Mass time is approaching. I will be serious, but I will always be merciful with you. I am nothing to be afraid of. This sacrament is too important for some jerk priest to turn you away from it forever.

Back to my outline, my final point is that what the soul is to the body, the Christian is to the world. Is that said of us in our family, at work, at school, or at a football game? Are you the soul of wherever you happen to be? No one is excused from this type of mission and no one is excluded from receiving it from us. Every generation needs to redeem and sanctify its own time. True, we are faced with ideologies which use powerful means of communicating a contrary message. Just think about those closest to you and start with them. Don’t worry about feeling like you can’t share your faith very well or you are too few to make a difference. Our Lord will multiply our strength and the Queen of Apostles will assist us. If we cooperate with them they will make the narrow gate broad for us.

Monday, August 19, 2013

20th Sunday Ordinary Time Year C–On Fire but Not Consumed

It is startling hearing Jesus use all of this fiery language today; language about the earth being ablaze and division among families. This goes against the vision we sometimes have of Jesus as a meek and mild character. But, language of fire is something we’re all familiar with, we use it often in reference to our spiritual and emotional lives. Spiritually, there are Catholics who are “On fire” for their faith – they are bold and courageous, they have zeal and excitement for their faith, they want to share it and participate in it to the full. There are also Catholics who are “lukewarm.” This perhaps is the worst kind of Catholic – The Book of Revelation describes how the Lord “spits out” the lukewarm, like water that is distasteful to him (Rev 3:16). Lukewarm-ness is that wishy-washy, uncommitted middle ground wherein a Catholic is not “on fire” for his faith, but hasn’t necessarily “gone cold” to it either – he just doesn’t really think about it, going through the motions every week. Moving further away, some Catholics have “gone cold” toward God, maybe due to an illness, or death in the family, or other difficulty that tempts them to reject him or be angry toward Him.

We also use language of fire in our emotional lives. We speak of “burning with passion” or lust – a temptation comes and it overcomes like a fire. There is also “burning with anger” – someone cuts you off in traffic, says an insulting remark, or makes your job at work more difficult and you can feel the anger boiling inside you. Or the “fire of resentment” – where just the sight of someone who slighted you in the past burns you up inside. Or the “fire of jealousy” that burns every time you see the person that got something you’ve been eyeballing all year. If it’s not fire in our emotions, sometimes it is Lukewarm-ness, which is experienced as a sort of malaise, or complacency, or indifferentism – just coasting through life, day to day. And coldness comes when we feel alone, isolated, alienated from family and friends, or self-centered.

I think Jesus uses language of fire to redeem our experience of the degrees of fire in our spiritual and emotional lives. Jesus burns with a fire too! He burns with a holy impatience to bring to fulfillment his baptism, to accomplish the Father’s Will, to suffer, die, and rise again for us to save us from our sins. “How great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” we hear him exclaim in our Gospel today. But, the difference between his fire and ours is that he burns with love, a fire that burns continuously but does not consume or destroy. On the other hand, the fires we experience in our emotions – lust, anger, resentment, and jealousy – DO consume us as they burn; they burn us out, they burn us up. And the fire in our spiritual lives is quick to die down. Our Lord today wants to transform these fires into fires of love that burn continuously but do not destroy us – like the fire in the burning bush from which God revealed Himself to Moses – “although the bush was on fire, it was not being consumed” (Exodus 3:1-4). The first reading illustrated this transformation. The fires of anger that caused the king’s princes to throw Jeremiah into the cistern to die, are later in the story transformed into fires of mercy that cause the king to send his court official and three men to save him.

Our Lord burns for each one of us personally, to save us from the pits that our sins cast us into. But do we burn for Him in return? Last week I talked about how a nightly examination of conscience can reveal the small signposts that tell us we are on The Way or have gone astray. Part of that examination could be to ask ourselves how we burn for God. Does our faith stoke the fire when our feelings don’t? This is a very important question! Often we let our subjective feelings dictate the objective truth. Sometimes when we do not feel the warmth of God’s love or the warmth of his closeness to us then we conclude that He must not be real or must be distant from us. But if the truth was based on our feelings, which often come and go, then we would never know the truth. On the other hand, the fires of faith tell us that God is Love and He is close to us, even if we do not feel it. You could ask yourself, “Do I have a faith that fuels perseverance, or do I ‘go cold’ toward God at the slightest difficulty?” “Let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us,” the second reading said, “and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.” Two very powerful ways for stoking the furnace of faith, perseverance, and love are the sacrament of confession and Eucharistic Adoration.

In Dante’s narrative poem Divine Comedy, he describes an epic journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. In the first part, Dante’s “Inferno,” it is interesting to note how he describes the ninth circle, the deepest level of Hell. It is not like a lake of fire and brimstone with huge blazing flames like we usually imagine. Rather, it is a frozen lake of ice, with Satan trapped in the ice and gusts of icy wind blowing all around him.


Dante probably describes it as ice rather than fire because fire has connotations of warmth and comfort. Sure, Satan loves to stoke destructive fires of lust, anger, resentment, and jealousy within us. But, if it has been a while since you have been to confession, it can also feel like he has been packing ice onto your faith and love. Every time we sin, Satan packs more and more ice onto our hearts. Sometimes you can even feel the chill. But, remember what the prophet Isaiah foretold about our Lord: “A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3; Matthew 12:20). If we carefully carry the small ember still burning within us to the confessional, our Lord in his gentleness and mercy takes it carefully to Himself. Then, through the confession of our sins, the counsel of the priest, absolution, and forgiveness he adds more brush and twigs to the ember until it is built back up into a bonfire. Here, the lukewarm are emboldened and those cold to God are warmed up to Him.

If you have not been to confession in a while, let Jesus’ fire of love purify you and reignite you. “Then flew one of the seraphim to me,” Isaiah also foretold, “having in his hand a burning coal which he has taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said, ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin is forgiven’” (Is 6:5-7, RSV). Rekindled, we can return to our duty of enkindling the world with true fires of love as Jesus desired, in such a way that no one who comes in contact with us will walk away empty. Either through a smile, an act of deference, a kind word, a supportive arm, a prayer, or an outstretched hand, everyone we meet will be touched by the fire of love in us. It only takes a spark to ignite a blazing fire.


Finally, Eucharistic Adoration also keeps the fire going. Of course, as you know, when a host is consecrated at Mass it becomes the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. What looks like bread, tastes like bread, feels like bread, and smells like bread, after the consecration, is not bread, but the living Presence of God with us. And on Monday morning after the 10am daily Mass, I take one of those hosts and display it on the altar in a beautiful structure called a monstrance. This display has a beautiful gold base and stem and a window surrounded with gold beams like the rays of the sun. There lies our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament waiting for us to visit Him throughout the day and to talk with him as with a friend.

Come… listen to his voice in your heart… tell him about your children, your siblings, your parents, your neighbors, your friends… tell him about your joys, your sorrows, the raise you got, the demotion you got, the “A” you got, the “F” you got. Tell him about your birthday, your healing, your progress… tell him about your illness, your disappointments, your failures. Let him love you and give you his light and his strength. Learn from Him how to set a fire of love to the world. Let him transform the destructive fires that burn within you. Let him embolden you to withstand any hardship. The fire is set, but it is not yet blazing. Will you be a part of the flame or a part of its extinguishing? Let Jesus, through confession and adoration, set you on a blazing path that burns its way to everlasting life.

Solemnity of the Assumption– At the Mass during the Day

I fondly remember an inscription on the baldachino standing over the altar at the seminary I went to, St. Mary’s, in Baltimore, MD.  A baldachino is an architectural element, a canopy structure on four pillars.  It is the first phrase of Mary’s canticle of praise to God that we heard in our Gospel- Magnificat anima mea Dominum – My soul magnifies the Lord.  At every daily Mass at the seminary, going back to when I first entered seminary in August of 2005, I read that phrase and pondered its meaning.  What does it mean?  I think this is both a statement of humility and a statement of victory.  Mary does not magnify herself by her virtues.  She sings, “my soul magnifies the Lord.”  And her entire soul, her entire life joyfully proclaims to all generations our Lord’s conclusive victory over sin and death.

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

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

Mary’s Assumption is the guarantee that those who share in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, will share in his victory.  Some of the early Church Fathers differ on this point, but many taught that Mary did die.  But, the key difference between her death and ours is that our death will happen by necessity because we are fallen and sinful.  On the other hand, Mary’s death was not by necessity because she had no sin, whether that be original sin or committed sin.  Her death was a grace from God so that she might be conformed to her Son even in his death.  And her death lasted only an instant, in order to serve this purpose and in order that she might continue to be conformed to him in eternal life.  Her body was joined to her soul in heaven at the moment of her death, so that it would not know decay, and so that she would not have to wait for her Son’s second coming, wherein all of our bodies will be joined to our souls in heaven, hell, or purgatory.  Her body and soul were immediately assumed into heaven.

By sharing in Christ’s sufferings at the foot of the cross, and by sharing in his death, she proved to us that Jesus keeps his promises: she shares in his heavenly glory.  If we humble ourselves, we too will be exalted.  If we offer up our sufferings, great and small, to the Father and die to ourselves, our passions, and our own will, each and every day, we too will share in Christ’s victory and glory alongside our Blessed Mother who reflects the glory of her Son every time we look to her.  Today we can say with St. Paul, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us” (Romans 8:18).

That inscription in the seminary chapel helps us reflect on Mary's humility and victory.  One final reflection today that may be easily overlooked, is what the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary also teaches us about the honor due to our father and mother.  Jesus followed the fourth commandment - Honor Thy Father and Mother -  to its ultimate degree by bringing his mother, body and soul, quickly to his side at the moment of her death.  He crowned her Queen of heaven and earth.  As Mary described in her canticle of praise from our Gospel, “The Almighty has done great things for me; … [he] has lifted up the lowly.”  How do we honor our father and mother, especially as they approach old age or death?  Do we place them in nursing homes and then forget them or abandon them?  Do we “honor” them by squabbling over money or inheritance?  Jesus Christ is calling us today to follow his example, to honor our father and mother as he did at the Assumption and Crowning of His Blessed Mother.

Let us pray that through the intercession of our Blessed Mother, Queen of Heaven and Earth, we will not magnify ourselves by our faith and works, but instead always magnify our Lord.  Let us pray that through her intercession we will share in his suffering and death and so share in his glory.  That through her intercession we will honor our father and mother and give them the crown that they deserve.  Finally, let us pray, that through her intercession we too will be brought swiftly to the side of our Lord when we die.

Vigil of the Assumption

Celebrate Mary as the New Ark, as a Victor, and as the Perfect Disciple.

Interesting to have a first reading on the ark of the covenant.  What does it have to do with Mary’s Assumption?

David commanded the chiefs of the Levites
to appoint their kinsmen as chanters,
to play on musical instruments, harps, lyres, and cymbals,
to make a loud sound of rejoicing.

We too rejoice in the presence of an ark, the ark of the new covenant.

In the Old Testament the Ark is described as being about 2.5ft square and about 4.5ft long.  It was made of special acacia wood which was incorruptible, was covered inside and out with the purest, finest gold, and had a ring of gold on top. On each of the two sides were two gold rings that two wooden poles went through to allow the Ark to be carried. Even these poles were sheathed in gold. Over the Ark, at the two ends, were two cherubim, with their faces turned toward one another. Their outspread wings over the top of the Ark formed the throne of God, while the Ark itself was his footstool.

The Ark of the Covenant was built so magnificently because it stood for God’s very presence among the Hebrews. The Book of Lamentations called it “the beauty of Israel.”  It was pure, incorruptible, and of the highest beauty. It also held inside three items that were crucial to their faith and identity: the tablets of the 10 commandments of God’s Law; a golden vase containing the manna from heaven that fed them in the desert; and the rod of the high priest, Aaron, that bloomed in affirmation of his priesthood. But the beauty of the ark was not only due to what it symbolized or what it contained but what it prefigured, what it pointed to in the future: The beauty and purity of the Ark of the New Covenant: The Blessed Virgin MaryWe celebrate today a New Ark of a New Covenant with a beauty the Old Ark only aspired to have.

This point is packed with meaning! First the gold lining and covering of the old Ark pointed to the Immaculate purity of the Virgin Mary, the New Ark. And the three things the old Ark contained – The tablets of the Law, the golden vase of manna, and the rod of Aaron – are also in the New Ark, in the person of Jesus Christ, when Mary carried Him in her womb. He is the author of the Law, He is the Bread from Heaven, and He is the eternal High Priest.

In Israel’s history the Old Ark traveled often with them, finally resting in the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem where scholars believe it was lost when the temple was destroyed in 587 B.C.  This too prefigured something greater. Today we celebrate Mary’s entrance, body and soul, into heaven as the entrance of the new ark into the heavenly temple of Jerusalem.  Immaculate in soul and virginal in body she is without corruption and found worthy to enter immediately into glory.

In celebrating the Assumption we also celebrate the victory of Christ, as our second reading suggests:

When that which is mortal clothes itself with immortality,
then the word that is written shall come about:
Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?

Due to the fall of our first parents, sin took hold over the beginning and the end of human life.  At his conception, man inherits original sin and what we call concupiscence or the tendency toward sin.  And at his very end he must suffer the wages of sin which are death and the decomposition of his body.  But, the Blessed Virgin Mary escaped both.  She shines forth as a beacon from God’s heavenly kingdom, showing us even now, before Christ’s second coming, that he is completely victorious over sin and death.

The Lord, by Mary’s Immaculate Conception, saved her from original sin before she could be sullied by it, thus showing his victory over the beginning of life.  By freeing her from the snares of concupiscence, he prepared her to live a life free from actual committed sin, thus showing his victory over the course of life.  And by assuming her body and soul into heaven he showed his victory over the end of life.  Mary was saved completely from the dominion and the bonds of sin and death.

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

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

Finally, in the Gospel we celebrate her as the perfect disciple.  She traveled a rough road to the glory she now enjoys.  She was active and cooperative.  She said Yes throughout her life.  She had faith, she trusted God without knowing the future.  She surrendered completely to his will even to the death of Jesus on the cross.  She is the mother of Jesus, but also his disciple.

To be a disciple of Christ is more blessed than to be his mother.  The woman in the crowd praised Mary for being Jesus’s Mother.  But when Jesus replied, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it” he was making a point that Spiritual relationship is more important than blood relationship.  Of course, She was blessed on both accounts.  St. Augustine said, “Indeed the blessed Mary certainly did the Father’s will, and so it was to her a greater thing to have been Christ’s disciple than to have been his mother, and she was more blessed in her discipleship than in her motherhood.  Hers was the happiness of first bearing in her womb him whom she would obey as her master.”

She is taken up into heaven not only as his mother but as the perfect disciple.  She heard the word of God and kept it.  We are invited to follow her.  How is God calling you to follow Him in your particular state in life?  To know, we need to be open to the Word and respond with our own Yes.  If we respond like this, like Mary, we too will be glorified.