Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mass for the Pope

At today's votive Mass for the Pope from the Masses for Various Needs and Occasions, I used the following readings which support, I think, his humility and closeness to God:
Dt 10:8-9 (option no. 2 from Common of Pastors)
Ps 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 11 (option no. 1)
Lk 22:24-30 (option no. 9)
The 1st reading highlights how Levi was set apart, his portion was the Lord and attending to Him.
The Psalm proclaimed "You are my inheritance O Lord"
Luke's Gospel admonishes the leader to be the servant. The greater is the one who serves.
I can imagine these three readings ringing from Pope Benedict's heart as he is so close to the Word of God. He reflects their great humility.
Two other virtues that I think characterize his legacy are Gratitude and Unity.
Gratitude especially with regard to the liturgy as he has tirelessly taught us to receive generously the liturgy as a gift from God through the Church rather than trying to claim and craft it as our own. Receiving it generously means receiving it from the bountiful hands of its tradition and organic development from the whole spectrum of history, not just its apostolic age. What was good before is still good today. We express gratitude to God when we receive this with fidelity and care.
The third virtue of the pope's legacy, I think is unity. He is not the divider and conqueror everyone supposed him to be. His work to bring traditional Anglicans back into the fold through canonical and accommodating structures shows his great generosity in working for unity in the Church. His work in maintaining a continuity with tradition by expanding access to the older forms of the Mass and sacraments as well as his patient and persevering work in dialogue with the SSPX shows his desire to help the Church see traditionalist Catholics as part of the same family rather than as fringe relatives. Finally his work in establishing the Year of Faith and official structures for the New Evangelization has brought us all together in a new ardor for the Faith we have all received and share. May he be blessed all the days of his life.
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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday Homily, Year C

This afternoon, as we enter into the Season of Lent, Jesus sets the tone for the attitude that we should have. He says, “when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” meaning, do not be self-satisfied our puffed up about what you do this Lent. Our Holy Father has definitely helped us with that attitude hasn’t he? He just made what I’m giving up for Lent look really trivial! Hah! I wish I could take credit for that joke but it comes from a buddy of mine, Fr. Chris Larimer. Seriously though, his great act of humility, wanting to hand the office of the papacy to a man with more physical strength to meet the unique difficulties of our world today, is a great example. With this and so many other things, we can follow the pope’s lead. Profound humility is the way to enter into and proceed through the Lenten Season.

Today I am struck by the words of the final blessing that I will offer at the end of Mass; I hope that you will listen for it. It says, “Pour out your spirit of compunction, O God, on those who bow before your majesty, and by your mercy may they merit the rewards you promise to those who do penance.” That word “compunction” isn’t a word we hear very often. It has the same root as “puncture” and so praying that God will pour out on us a spirit of compunction probably means that we are praying for our inflated egos to be punctured so that we can be purified and disciplined for ongoing conversion. Lent is the great spiritual equalizer; no matter who we are, we are all together in need of the purification that this season brings. We are all together in need of practices that subdue our passions and impulses, practices that tell our bodies to take a step down so our souls can take a step forward. St. Leo the Great said, “Appropriate fasting and almsgiving, together called works of mercy, are praiseworthy and pious actions; in times of inequality of wealth and possessions, the souls of all the faithful may be one and equal in their desire for good.”

I think this “desire for good” that St. Leo says brings us all together during Lent is what it is all about. It sounds like Jesus in our Gospel is discouraging giving alms, praying publicly, or fasting while putting on ashes. But what he is trying to discourage is doing these things with impure motives, with an intention to be recognized rather than with a desire for good. We must certainly give alms during Lent, give gifts to the poor, or to those we love – but not in order to “win the praise of others.” We must certainly pray publicly – Lent is filled with public prayer like the Stations of the Cross which can serve to motivate others to pray. But we must not do them simply “so that others may see them.” We must certainly fast during Lent and wear ashes today as so many of you have come to do, but not simply so that we “may appear to others to be fasting.” We must do these things only out of a desire for good. That good is our own ongoing conversion and the salvation of the poor and those we love.

This desire for good helps us to see that our Lenten prayers, almsgiving, and fasting aren’t only about us. Often Lent can become a very self-centered season – but then that just serves to inflate our egos, which, we remember, need to be punctured. When you pray, when you offer something up or do acts of charity, when you fast, do these not only to advance your own salvation, but the salvation of others as well. Don’t just offer something up, offer something for.

We are the members of the mystical Body of Christ with Christ as our head. He offered the ultimate sacrifice, His own Body and Blood, for us out of a desire for good, the spiritual good of our salvation. Because we are His members we too can offer sacrifice for the spiritual good of others. And we offer sacrifices, gifts, good things, to God in Lent, not sins. For example, if you want to purify yourself of laziness, pray “Lord, I will offer to you not laziness but five minutes each day of Scripture reading for the good of my grandmother who is sick.” Or if you want to purify yourself of lust, pray “Lord, I will offer to you not lustful actions but reading one article each day from the Catholic Encyclopedia online for my friend who I know is struggling with this.” Or if you want to purify yourself of gossip, pray “Lord, I will offer to you not gossip but saying one nice thing about someone each day for the salvation of my son who has left the Church.”

Don’t just offer up sins, offer gifts for those you love. The very act works for good in us too. Instead of simply not doing some sin or excess in your life, start doing the opposing virtue. Let a desire for good motivate your Lenten practices. Being the Mystical Body of Christ makes this possible and gives us hope that if we share in His sacrifice then we will one day share in His glory.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Homily 5th Sun O.T. Year C: The Universal Call to Worthiness

As I’ve been a priest for almost two years now, and a deacon a year before that, I have seen how the pursuit of holiness in parish life tends to be a two-edged sword. As we pursue holiness, its light shines on our weaknesses and makes them stand out in our eyes all the more. But then as we step into the light, we are encouraged to be a light to our brothers and sisters.

Before I entered seminary at St. Mary’s in Baltimore, where I went for 6 years, I remember thinking that all the guys there were going to be ten times holier than I was. I thought I would be fumbling around with guys who were way above my head. I was startled to find out how really normal and down-to-earth most of the guys were – we were all together trying to increase in holiness, trying to be formed into priests of Jesus Christ, after the pattern of his own Heart. There were a few guys who stood out though, who truly were advanced in holiness, who made me feel like I was in a strange paradox of, on one hand, feeling discouraged because I wasn’t that far along yet, and on the other hand, feeling encouraged by their example to keep going. I finally found that a I let their example embolden me and give me hope for my own progress, then I was able to be an encouragement to others in return.

That feeling of being called to something greater, being called toward a certain light that attracts us and motivates us yet at the same time reveals how not-there-yet we really are is indeed a strange two-edged sword. Many vocations and ministries become stilted, I believe, when we focus our attention too much on the not-there-yet aspect of ourselves rather than on the hopes that lie ahead of us. I hear many discerners of the priesthood tie themselves in knots about how unworthy they are of seminary or the priesthood, an unworthiness revealed to them as they step into the light of that vocation. They tend to let their unworthiness become an obstacle to seminary rather than let the light of priesthood spurn them forward to new heights.

Recently I went to a training session for Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion and I was impressed with the sincerity of the group. But, as the theology of the Eucharist and the importance of this ministry was explained, they felt more and more intimidated by it. They felt more and more unable to go through with it. These types of feelings are common in parish life as people with great humility and sincerity are called to participate in great things. I am glad they stuck with it.

The three main figures in our readings today, the prophet Isaiah, St. Paul, and St. Peter, help us to sort through this type of dilemma. The prophet Isaiah was given a vision of the Lord on his heavenly throne, surrounded by angels who forever sing a chorus that we join into at every Mass, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!” Faced with such holiness, his own sinfulness stood out all the more. So Isaiah cried out, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips… yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” But then an angel touched his lips with an ember from the burning incense, removing his wickedness, purging his sinfulness, and empowering him to go and proclaim the word of the Lord. If Isaiah had turned away, if he had let the light of God’s holiness drive him away, then he would have remained in his unworthiness. Instead, he let God approach him and make him worthy. This whole scenario plays out at every Mass before the priest proclaims the Gospel. He bows low to the altar before picking up the Gospel book and whispers a prayer to God, “Cleanse my heart and my lips almighty God, that I may worthily proclaim your Holy Gospel.” Then the very Word of God that streams from his lips makes them more and more worthy to proclaim Him. After the Gospel he prays, as he kisses the text, “By the words of the Gospel, may our sins be wiped away.”

The Second Vatican Council’s document on the Church, called in Latin Lumen Gentium, has a paragraph that is very comforting to me. It says, “The shepherds of Christ’s flock must in a holy way and eagerly, humbly, and courageously carry out their ministry, in imitation of the eternal high priest, the shepherd and guardian of our souls. They ought to fulfill this duty in such a way that it will be the principle means also of their own sanctification.” I thank god every day that this dynamic is possible. If I only shuddered at the thought of my unworthiness before the light of the priesthood, I’d never get out of bed each morning. Rather it is that same light, the Light of Christ, that not only exposes sinfulness but also heals it, bandages it, and binds it up. The Light of Christ converts the soul, strengthens it, and expands its view, calling it forward to progressively become the light so that the Light of Christ can shine before all men, not just those by the Lake of Gennesaret, but even in Elizabethtown, and St. James parish too.

This is the light that caused St. Peter to cry out, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man” after Jesus performed the miracle of the huge catch of fish. But Peter didn’t let that stop him there. He let that call him forward to the primary place among the apostles who together, as fishermen, caught men and women into the saving net of Jesus Christ and the Church. This is the light that caused St. Paul to call himself, “the least of the apostles” and “not fit to be called an apostle.” Yet it is the same light that turned “one who persecuted the Church” into an apostle indeed, the greatest missionary the Church has ever known, one who “toiled harder” than all of the rest.

Finally, to laypeople, the Council’s document on the Church also gives a very encouraging word. As you pursue the call of God in your lives, do not think that it is in addition to one’s tasks in life that one is sanctified; rather one’s sanctification occurs in the very accomplishment of these tasks. All states in life must be lived in such a way that charity permeates all its aspects. All are called by their holiness to cooperate with Christ in the salvation of our brethren. Don’t let your sinfulness or unworthiness convince you that all you can be is a sinner. Let the Light of Christ progressively call you forward with courage and hope to what you were created to be: a saint.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Why Does Fr. Hardesty Do That?! Part Five

Question: Why does Fr. Hardesty bow his head at different parts during the Mass?  Does he have a crick in his neck?

Answer: Yes!  Also (!) it is because of a long-standing tradition in Catholic worship to bow our heads out of honor and reverence.  This is not only for the priest, but for the people too.  This was a very common practice in the older form of the Mass and in fact is still in the instructions today, for the new form of the Mass.  In the Extraordinary Form there are many different types of bows of the head and body for many different occasions in the Mass.  These have been simplified in the Ordinary Form but are still there.

GIRM 275 says: “A bow signifies reverence and honor shown to the persons themselves or to the signs that represent them.  There are two kinds of bow: a bow of the head and a bow of the body.  A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saint in whose honor Mass is being celebrated.”

According to the traditional practice, the head bow in worship is made by solemnly drawing the chin to the chest rather than the nod that you see guys give each other on the street.  Some bow the head when they hear “Jesus” others just when they hear “Jesus Christ” (as is my practice).  During the homily, rubricians back in the day advised that you only needed to bow the head (or doff the biretta) at the first mention of the name of Jesus – otherwise you could be bowing your head quite a lot!  In the Extraordinary Form, this is indeed quite comical when a preacher in a flurry of piety repeats the name of Jesus every other sentence and you see birettas at the sedillia and choir jumping up and down!

How to Go to Confession

Have you ever wanted a step by step on how to go to Confession but didn’t want to take your iPhone with the iConfess app into the confessional with you?  Below is how I trained the 2nd Graders who made their first confession this morning.  This is straight out of the Rite of Penance.  Practicing the rite in class, it was precious hearing the children dutifully answer “His mercy endures forever” after I said, “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good.” (which is at the end of the rite)

  1. Father welcomes you.
  2. You make the Sign of the Cross with Father.
  3. Father says a prayer to help you and you answer: “Amen.”  The prayer is: “May God who enlightens every heart help you to know your sins and to trust in His mercy.”
  4. Father may read a brief passage of Scripture to inspire you.
  5. You tell Father what your current state in life is and when your last confession was, for example: “I am in the 2nd grade and this is my first confession” or “I am a wife, father, priest, etc. and my last confession was a month ago.”
  6. You Confess your sins specifically and how many times you did them.
  7. Father gives you counsel on how to do better.
  8. Father gives you a penance
  9. You tell Father if the penance is acceptable
  10. Father invites you to say the Act of Contrition. You say these or similar words:
    “My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things. I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin. Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In his name, my God, have mercy.”
  11. You bow your head as Father extends his hands over your head and says the Prayer of Absolution.  The prayer is: “God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.  Through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace.  And I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
  12. At the end, you may make the Sign of the Cross and say: “Amen.”
  13. Father says: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.”
  14. You answer: “His mercy endures for ever.”
  15. Father says: “The Lord has freed you from your sins. Go in peace.”
  16. You may say, “Thanks be to God” or “Thank you, Father” and depart.

That’s it!  I have found that if you practice the rite at each religion class running up to First Reconciliation rather than waiting to go through it at the end after you’ve covered the theology, it reinforces it much better.  I also made up fake scenarios and sins and did a “straw” confession in front of the class with a volunteer 8th grader – this was a big help too.  I also never use the word “nervous.”  I avoid planting in their heads that this is anything they should even suspect being nervous about – other than the natural nervousness of something new.