Saturday, January 12, 2013

Homily, Baptism of the Lord, Year C

Last week when we celebrated the Solemnity of the Epiphany, we recalled that Jews and non-Jews alike, the shepherds and the Magi, were drawn to behold the Lord, the fulfillment of the blessings promised to Israel. Because they were both Jews and non-Jews, they symbolize all people of all times who are called to be co-heirs of these blessings. This week our Lord reveals that Baptism is the way to claim this inheritance. This also gives me an opportunity to do a little bit of catechesis on the Sacrament of Baptism to help you understand and explain our faith.

Jesus submitted to St. John’s Baptism not because he was in need of purification, but as a act of humility and in order to bring to fulfillment what was done for the Israelites long ago. At the time of Moses, they were held in slavery in Egypt. Moses, through the Passover, led them in an Exodus from Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. But Pharaoh’s armies chased them to the Red Sea so Moses, by the power of God, parted the waters of the Sea so that the Israelites could march through to the other side. Once safely across, the waters came crashing down behind them. In this episode, God’s People were saved through water from slavery to Egypt in order to pursue the Promised Land. By passing through the waters of the Jordan River, Jesus leads a new exodus from slavery to sin and for the promised land of heaven. And Jesus does this so that all peoples of all times could hear the words pronounced over him by the voice of the Father: that each of us is a beloved son or daughter of God.

In our modern day, this dynamic still unfolds for the People of God. Nonetheless, it may shock you to know that infant Baptism in the Catholic Church is in decline.[1] Let’s take a moment to look at the Church’s teaching on infant Baptism so that our own parish doesn’t fall victim to this trend (see the CDF’s “Instruction on Infant Baptism,” October 20, 1980).

The Church’s practice of baptizing infants comes primarily from our belief in original sin and in the necessity of baptism for salvation. We believe that Adam and Eve transmitted to their descendents a human nature wounded by their own first sin; a human nature deprived of its original holiness; this deprivation is called original sin. As a result of original sin, human nature is weakened, subject to ignorance, suffering, and death, and inclined to sin (CCC 416-418). It is this sin, contracted not committed, that is washed away when an infant is baptized. And so the Letter to the Romans says, “For if, by the transgression of one person [Adam], death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one person Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:17).

Our belief that Baptism is necessary for salvation comes from Christ himself, who said in John’s Gospel, “Amen, amen I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (Jn 3:5). And we read in the first letter of St. Peter that it is Baptism “which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 3:21).

The practice of infant baptism is also well established in Sacred Tradition. St. Augustine considered it a “tradition received from the Apostles” When the first direct evidence of infant Baptism appears in the second century, it is never presented as an innovation. St. Irenaeus, in particular, considers it a matter of course that the baptized should include "infants and small children" as well as adolescents, young adults and older people. The oldest known ritual from the start of the third century contains the following rule: "First baptize the children. Those of them who can speak for themselves should do so. The parents or someone of their family should speak for the others." The magisterium, popes, and councils from the earliest centuries affirmed this practice, from the Council of Carthage in 418 to Pope Paul VI in our own day.

Why then is the practice of infant baptism in decline? In other parishes I have been in, I have heard parents say, “Well we want to wait to have our child baptized until she can choose it for herself.” Why do parents say this? Perhaps they’re influenced by the example of the adults who were baptized in the Gospel. These adults after being converted to the Christian Faith by the preaching of the Apostles were then baptized. We may ask, “How can infants be baptized if they have no faith to profess beforehand?” But, this question fails to acknowledge that in the case of an infant, it is the faith of the Church that is professed. Plus, remember that Baptism is not simply a sign of faith as many of our Protestant brothers and sisters believe, but it is also a cause of faith. Through Baptism the child is given the gifts of Faith, Hope, and Love. The child is also made a son or daughter of God and a co-heir with Christ of the riches of Heaven. Furthermore, Baptism is the gateway to the sacramental life of the Church and all of the blessings God gives us through the Church. How could we delay their reception of these gifts?

Some may want to wait to let their child choose baptism because they think that baptism as an infant restricts his freedom to choose. They may think that it is unjust to impose on him future obligations that he may perhaps later be led to reject. Therefore parents should wait until the child can make the commitment himself and in the meantime they and the child’s teachers should hold back on the Catholic stuff. As reasonable as it sounds, this attitude is simply an illusion. There is no such thing as freedom completely immune from any kind of influence. Parents make all sorts of decisions for their child’s natural life before he can choose them himself, like the proper house in which to live or the elementary school he will go too. Having a so-called neutral attitude toward the child’s religious life is in fact a negative choice to deprive the child of all of the gifts and graces of Baptism.

Besides, the New Testament presents entry into the Christian life not as a form of slavery or constraint, but as admittance to a truer, more ennobled freedom (see Jn 8:36). When the child grows up, he will still be able to reject his baptismal faith, a sorrow attested to by many parents and grandparents. But, we should not underestimate the power of the seeds of faith sown in the soul in infant baptism, to one day spring to life again, aided by the parents’ patience, love, prayers, and authentic witness.

Jesus today has shown us that he has sanctified the waters of Baptism, making them a passage-way to healing and freedom, a fountain of new birth and everlasting life. Let’s work together to ensure that our children and grandchildren, our nieces and nephews, our neighbors and our friends that have not been baptized can be washed and graced by baptism without delay. The Church, described by St. Paul as Christ's "body" and His "fullness," is the visible sacrament of Christ in the world, with the mission of extending to everyone the sacramental link between the Church and her glorified Savior. Accordingly, the Church cannot fail to wish to give to everyone, children no less than adults, the first and basic sacrament of Baptism, the sacrament of our salvation.

[1] Baptism is a first step in involvement in the Church. A 10 year study in the Archdiocese of Louisville shows that as baptisms decrease so does elementary school enrollment. Baptisms are down from 3,065 in 1998 to 2,329 today, while total elementary school enrollment is down from 16,732 to 12,469 students.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Why Does Fr. Hardesty Do That?! Part 4

After a brief homily today, I addressed another topic concerning the celebration of Mass.  This time on the use of the low or quiet voice during the Ordinary Form (“new form”) of the Mass.  I’m not going to be very detailed regarding the various types of voice traditionally used.  So this is all off the top of my head.

Question: What is Fr. Hardesty whispering at various times of the Mass?

Answer: The Mass is one extended prayer to the Father.  Most of this prayer is said in a loud voice, audible to the congregation.  There are also some prayers said in dialogue with the congregation to facilitate their active participation in the liturgy according to the reforms of Sacrosanctum Concilium of Vatican II.  Sometimes though, there are prayers said only between the priest and God.  In the prior translation of the Ordinary Form (“new form”)missal, the rubric was mistranslated to indicate that these prayers are said “silently.”  Therefore, most priests pray these prayers interiorly.  With an eye toward celebrating the O.F. in continuity with the Extraordinary Form (E.F. or “old form”) of the Mass though, we know that prayers that makeup the content of the Mass are never said simply interiorly.  If so, how could we verify that these prayers were said at all?  Therefore when the translation of the Missal of the O.F. was revised, this rubric was correctly translated to indicate that the private prayers are said “quietly” or in a “low voice".  This better conveys that they should be at least vocalized, namely with a whisper.  It also paces the Mass well when you have to pause to vocalize these rather than saying them interiorly on top of another action.  Note that Deacons should whisper their own private prayers of the Mass too.  I find these to be very personally edifying.  You can pray these interiorly with the priest if you have a Daily Roman Missal or a Magnificat to follow along with.

For your edification, here are the private prayers of the Ordinary Form of the Mass:

Before the Deacon proclaims the Gospel, the priest blesses him saying:
”May the Lord be in your heart and on your lips, that you may proclaim his Gospel worthily and well, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”

If the priest proclaims the Gospel himself, he bows before the altar and says:
”Cleanse my heart and my lips, almighty God, that I may worthily proclaim your holy Gospel”

After proclaiming the Gospel, the priest or the deacon says the following:
”Through the words of the Gospel may our sins be wiped away”

In preparing the altar and the offerings, after offering the paten the priest or deacon pours a little water into the chalice and says:
”By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity”

After offering the chalice the priest bows profoundly and says:
”With humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by you, O Lord, and my our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God”

Then while washing his hands the priest says:
”Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”

After the Sign of Peace, while the Lamb of God is being chanted, the priest beaks off a small piece from the Host and drops it into the chalice saying:
"May this mingling of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it”

Before the “Behold the Lamb of God…” the priest prepares himself for Communion saying one of two options:
”Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who, by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit, through your Death gave life to the world, free me by this, your most holy Body and Blood, from all my sins and from every evil; keep me always faithful to your commandments, and never let me be parted from you.”


“May the receiving of your Body and Blood, Lord Jesus Christ, not bring me to judgment and condemnation, but through your loving mercy be for me protection in mind and body and a healing remedy.”

Before consuming the Host the priest says:
”May the Body of Christ keep me safe for eternal life”
Before consuming the Precious Blood he says:
”May the Blood of Christ keep me safe for eternal life”

Finally, during the purification of the chalice and paten, the priest or deacon says:
”What has passed our lips as food, O Lord, may we possess in purity of heart, that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity.”

Those are all of the private prayers of the Mass.  I do say a few interior prayers though that don’t make up the content of the Mass.  First, as I sign my forehead, lips, and heart before the proclamation of the Gospel I pray “May the Word of God be in my mind, on my lips, and in my heart.”  Second, either during the petitions, before the Preface, or during the times set forth in Eucharistic Prayer I, I call to mind the intention of the Mass.  Lastly, after consecrating the Host and the Chalice I say during the elevation of each, “My Lord and my God” – an indulgenced prayer.  Sometimes when I genuflect I’ll pray “You are great and I am small.”

Homily Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God Year C

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

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

Today’s solemnity is one of the many great mysteries we having been, and will continue to, move in and out of.  Paul’s verse in the Second Reading, “God sent his Son, born of a woman,” encapsulates the whole day.  The Eternal Son of the Father, the Eternal Word, the Second Person of the Trinity assumed human flesh, taking the body and blood of his mother Mary at his conception; he truly became man.  From that point he is forever fully God and fully man.  Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  He is the son of a woman.  He is OF God and OF Mary.  The mother of Jesus is the Mother of God.  This great gift of divine Motherhood is not a gift for her alone but for us all.

The meaning and purpose of Mary being the Mother of God are profound mysteries. Who she is, her relation to her Son, what the shepherds told her about all Glory being due to Jesus Christ, that He is Savior, Christ, and Lord – all of these things, the Gospel said, Mary “reflected on” in her heart. This means that she continually “pieced together” in her heart the meaning of these mysteries.  As she raised our Savior and watched him grow, they expanded more and more in her faith and understanding.  When we turn to her and remain close to her, when we place ourselves under her mantle, she pieces these together for us too, helping us to see how she is our Mother too, that Christ is our brother, and that God is our Father.

By the Holy Spirit of our Baptism we enjoy adoption as sons of the Father, sharing in the Sonship of Christ, so that we can proclaim “Abba!” - “Father!” – an intimate, personal way of addressing God.  Mary helps us to see ourselves in such an intimate relationship with God.  She brings us close to God and helps us approach Him. She is the short and easy way to Him. Going to God through her is also the more humble way to approach Him. True, Christ is our sole mediator with God.  But Mary participates in this mediatorship, humbly and lovingly drawing us close to Him.

St. Bernard explains that: “She consoles us in our distress, enlivens our faith, strengthens our hope, gets rid of our fears, and invigorates our timidity.”  She also teaches us like a mother should – parents being the primary formators in the faith of children.  She teaches us how to say Yes to God’s will, how to receive Christ deeply in our very being, how to generously give him to the world.

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

In this new year, our Blessed Mother, the Mother of God, is challenging us to say Yes to Him.  Today we take time to consider how it is that Mary is truly our Mother; what kind of son or daughter we have been to her; how we can allow her to be our mother; and each of us to be her son or daughter.  This could be a new year of a renewed relationship with Mary, our Mother.  Perhaps we could strengthen or pick up a Marian devotion that has fallen away, like the rosary.  Our we could take up some spiritual reading to learn more about her. Scott Hahn’s book, Hail Holy Queen, or Fulton Sheen’s book, The World’s First Love, are excellent places to start. Any time we honor, venerate, or pray to Mary, she always redirects these to her Son, she never keeps them for herself.  Know that as we grow in our relationship with the Mother of God, we can be assured of growing close to her Divine Son.