Sunday, July 28, 2013

17th Sunday Ordinary Time Year C: Prayer and Persistence

Why is it that… of all the things that are the most life-giving in our faith, prayer can be the most confounding? The questions that we have when we first learn to pray continue to pop-up when we are most advanced in prayer: When should I pray? How should I pray? What should I say? Why should I even try? The good news is we are not left on our own to find the answers to these questions. And we are not alone in asking them. Jesus’ disciples, even after his preaching, teaching, and parables; even after his miraculous cures and his miraculous feats; even after he calmed the storm at sea, cast out demons, and multiplied the loaves and fishes; even after the Transfiguration, they still felt the need to ask him how to pray.

And this we should pay close attention too. This is Jesus Christ, fully divine and fully human. The Father cannot resist the prayers of His Son. The very words of the “Our Father” that Jesus gave his disciples were given to Jesus by the Father as he prayed in silence. At the same time, Jesus knows the human heart perfectly. He knows how to put into words exactly what we need. The “Our Father” is the perfect prayer. No matter your experience of prayer it is the surest way to our Father’s heart. It should always be a staple of our personal prayer.

The words of the “Our Father” in St. Matthew’s Gospel are the words we are most familiar with. In St. Luke’s Gospel today, the “Our Father” is a little more succinct. He starts out with, “Father, hallowed be your name.” He doesn’t say “who art in heaven.” St. Luke does this because he doesn’t want us to think that God is somehow confined in heaven and distant from us. He leaves this out in order to draw us up to heaven, close to the Father, and to draw us away from earthly things (Theophylus, Catena Aurea, Luke 11). This closeness to him is the reason that we are able to call him “Father.” We truly are his children and we should feel like his children. We should feel like we can come to him with whatever needs we may have. And if we pattern our prayer after the “Our Father”, he is sure to answer us, even if not how we expect.

Believe it or not, there is a right and a wrong way to pray. The Letter of St. James, chapter 4, verse 3 says, “You ask, but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” Sometimes children pray for silly things, like when a girl prays for God to make her brother mute so he’ll stop picking on her! This is OK because it cultivates a familiarity with God and an impulse to turn to Him regularly. When we become adults we should have a child-like faith, but not a child-ish faith. We shouldn’t pray to win the lottery or for our favorite team to win. Like the “Our Father,” we should praise God first – “hallowed by Thy Name” – ask for his will to be ours – “Thy Will be done” – then pray for only those things which are objectively good for us. We should examine our motives and ask God to purify them.

Even a seemingly good prayer, like “God, grant me a deeper understanding of your Church’s teaching,” could be tinged with the desire for others to praise us for this understanding. And God, who knows our hearts perfectly, will not answer us right away because he does not give what is not good for us now. Like the gospel said, he will not “hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish” or “hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg.” This is because no matter how good the fish or the egg might sound, if in his will they are not good for us now, then they will be harmful. But, when we pray the “Our Father” or pattern our own prayer after it, asking for good things with pure motives, our Father will surely answer us, even unexpectedly. He would not encourage us to ask, seek, & knock if he was not willing to give and give abundantly.

Our ancestral father in faith, Abraham, gives us another sure and certain way to our Father’s heart: persistence. The Lord in the form of an angel was determined to go to the wicked towns of Sodom and Gomorrah to see if the outrage expressed against them was really true. Abraham knew what the verdict would be if it was: The Lord’s justice would prevail over those cities. Moved with hope he concluded that surely there are innocents among them. Then out of love for these unknown innocents he implored the Lord repeatedly to make concession for them. He was humble, he expressed all along his desire not to pester the Lord. But with courage he continued to intercede for the innocent residents of Sodom and Gomorrah. And with patience and generosity the Lord progressively tempered his justice with his mercy at each of Abraham’s requests. It was Abraham’s persistence that elicited the most generosity from the Lord.

We should never be afraid to be persistent in prayer. Jesus Christ himself taught us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread”. This daily bread is both our temporal, physical, or emotional needs for that day and especially our spiritual need for the Eucharist. These we should pray for every day. But, when we think of praying to God about the same thing over and over we imagine a little child in line at the grocery store who begs and begs for candy until his mother finally buys it. The mother in that case isn’t teaching the child about the nobility of persistence or rewarding him for his perseverance. She buys the candy because she can’t bear the whining any longer! This is not how God operates and it is not how he sees our relationship with him. From God’s point of view, He is unwearied in his love for us. From our point of view, we pray repeatedly for something not because we want to pester God into submission but because we believe that he can provide what we want. It’s actually a sign of great faith. If you are one who prays repeatedly, you should know that God has given you a great faith

Repetitious prayer also develops our reliance on Him rather than on ourselves. It helps us to give the proper value to God’s gifts and not to take them for granted. One who toils for years for something keeps it safe and secure, he doesn’t leave it unguarded to be lost or stolen or forgotten. God’s gifts, his graces, virtues, assistance and healing are more precious than gold. He doesn’t wish for these things to be taken so trivially. But this doesn’t mean that he is stingy in his giving. In fact, He gives much more than we are willing to receive.

God sometimes delays in answering our prayer because he knows that this delay will serve us better in the end. If the man in the parable today had opened the door on the first knock for his friend who needed bread for his guest, then the friend in his hurry would have taken the bread and ran home immediately to his guest. Instead, the man inside delayed, forcing his friend to consider not only his immediate need, but also the late hour of his request and the courtesy due to the family inside who were asleep. The man caused his friend to think more deeply about their friendship, to honor it more, and to think outside of himself toward others. God’s delay in answering our prayer should cause us to consider the same things.

When we pray the “Our Father” in a little while say each phrase carefully and think about each phrase as you say it. When we sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” and “Hosanna in the Highest!” praise God from the depths of your heart. Before you receive Communion, ask the Father, through Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit to unite your will to his. Then spend some quiet time in prayer after Communion, the most fitting time to pray, and ask for what you need. When you praise him, seek his will, and ask for good things with good intentions at this time – right after receiving Communion – you will not only be praying like Jesus and with Jesus, but you will be praying as Jesus, because the Father will look upon you and see the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of His Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, living in you. When He sees His Son in you, He will not fail to answer.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C: In Contemplation, We Love the Lord with Our Whole Heart, Being, Strength, and Mind.

Do you remember last week’s Gospel? A scholar of the law asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, but Jesus asked him for his own take on the answer. The scholar replied, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, …being, …strength, …and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Then Jesus vividly illustrated the second half of his answer by telling him the parable of the Good Samaritan. St. Luke, today, follows up this parable by illustrating the first part of the scholar’s answer, how we are to love God with all our heart, being, strength, and mind.

Last week we went deeper into the parable because it is too easy to just dismiss the priest and the Levite who passed by, praise the Good Samaritan for his good deed, say, “Just love everybody,” and end it at that. In this account of Martha and Mary we must also go deeper in order to see how it really illustrates loving God with one’s whole heart, being, strength, and mind. Again, it is too easy to just dismiss Martha for her busywork, praise Mary for her listening, say, “Just listen to God more” and end it at that. We need to appreciate the work Martha was doing. In the first reading, Abraham busily tended to his three guests. He saw the Lord in them, he ran to greet them, ran into his home to have Sarah prepare a meal, then ran to his servant who quickly prepared the meat, and finally he waited on them while they ate. With eagerness and haste he waited on the Lord.

This sounds a lot like the hospitality that Martha gave our Lord. She too “welcomed him” and was “burdened with much serving.” We see in her the same sense of eagerness and haste in serving the Lord that Abraham had. In fact, Abraham’s scenario – which occurred “by the terebinth of Mamre” – and Martha &Mary’s scenario – which occurred in a “village”, probably Bethany – both happened in the same area, just south of Jerusalem. These parallels help us to see that Martha’s “anxious and worried” hospitality should not be simply dismissed. Jesus would never rebuke such hospitality outright. We can imagine that Jesus had his disciples with him and Martha wanted to honor them by being a good hostess. The Lord’s reply to Abraham, “Very well, do as you have said” should comfort Martha too.

But, at the end of the day, very little was needed physically or temporally. After all, in serving the Lord, Abraham only brought his guests “a little food”, just enough to “refresh” them. Jesus himself says to Martha, “There is need of only one thing.” His physical needs will come and go, but his Word endures forever. Mary preferred to sit at his feet, as a disciple does before a master, and listen carefully to his teaching, tending to the Word of God. Were these words to be lost on Martha? Her work for Jesus was good and will continue to be good but only after she spends some quiet time with him listening to his voice, and receiving it deeply into her heart. This is how we are to love God, by allowing our whole heart, being, strength, and mind to be filled with and permeated by the Word of God.

How can we, like Martha’s sister Mary, choose “the better part” each day, if we do not love the Lord enough to let Him speak to us? Ignoring or not giving enough attention to his voice is tantamount to not loving him. How many wives would insist that their husbands loved them if their husbands never communicated with them on a deep level? How many children would insist that their parents loved them if their parents completely ignored them? Loving God involves much more than just hearing the readings on Sunday. It means much more than fitting some quiet time for Jesus into our busy day. Loving the Lord means fitting our day into Him! Setting aside time for quiet prayer is certainly very good. But the other parts of the day that do not give us silence can still be lived in dialogue and union with God who is always speaking to us, always calling us to be with Him.

Fr. Jean Corbon, a Dominican theologian, wrote a book that I read a few summers ago called, The Wellspring of Worship, about how we can constantly live in the grace of the liturgy. In that book is a quote that always comes to mind whenever my conscience tells me to pray but the evil one makes me feel guilty for not being busy. It’s a simple quote that just says, “Contemplation is the most fruitful human activity.” This is because contemplation involves our whole heart, being, strength, and mind.

Contemplation can happen in silence or in activity. In silence, we love God with our whole heart when we give him all our inclinations and passions and ask him to make our heart like his Sacred Heart which beats with purity, sacrifice, and perfect love. In silence, we give our whole being to him when we surrender to him as his faithful disciple and he fills us with his own being by making us holy through grace. In silence, we give all our strength to him when we focus all of our attention on him despite how tired, or bored, or distracted, or rebellious we may be and he gives us strength to persevere in prayer when it is dry or to be consoled when it is fruitful. Finally, in silence we give our whole mind to God when we give him all our thoughts, feelings, and desires and he in turn gives us what he gave St. Paul: the completion of the word of God, “the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past”, and “the riches of the glory of this mystery”, indeed, “all wisdom.”

Contemplation can also extend to the activity of our day. We can and we must extend the dialogue of our quiet time in prayer throughout the rest of our day. I really like how you all spend some time in prayer before Mass in order to gather your heart, being, strength, and mind to be filled by God. Many parishes have fallen out of this practice. I also encourage you to spend time in prayer after Mass to thank him for making you holy and to draw the rest of the day’s plans into his presence. We must continue to do this.

Then when we get up Monday morning for work we can say to God that we will work this day not for some superficial goal but in order to glorify him. And during the day we could say: “Lord, let me approach this customer as if it were you.” Or, “Lord help me to offer up the pain I feel from my illness for the salvation of my family, just as you saved all mankind through your crucifixion.” Or, “Lord I invite you to be a part of even the smallest steps of this project.” Now, work is not prayer, it must have its own time. But our work can be done prayerfully when we contemplate the presence of God in everything we do and in everyone we encounter.

This is the “better part,” when we fit our entire lives and our entire day into him, rather than fitting him only into some small part of our life or our day. When we pray at night, at the end of a day of both quiet and active contemplation, we will not feel as if we are finally speaking to our long-lost friend again. We will be speaking to the Lord who all the while was “standing nearby” us, was running to “the entrance” of each day to greet us, who has brought us the “little food” of the Eucharist for our eternal refreshment, who hastens and runs to bring us his graces, and who “sets these before” us always. We will discover that He was the one “burdened with much serving” so that even through a busy day, he “will not be taken” from us. Through contemplation, the most fruitful human activity, we shall “love the Lord, our God, with all our heart, …being, …strength, …and mind.” We “will live in the presence of the Lord” and “shall never be disturbed.”

Monday, July 15, 2013

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time: The Good Samaritan and The Courage to Love and be Loved

This parable today, of the Good Samaritan, is one of the most memorial parables in Scripture; like the Parable of the Prodigal Son, where the son squanders his inheritance and comes back for forgiveness; or the Parable of the Good Shepherd, where the shepherd leaves the 99 in search of the one lost sheep. These parables are so memorable, we could easily think, “Oh, I’ve heard that one before, I know what it means” and tune them out. But, any time we think we already have a parable or a passage figured out, that should be a sign to go even deeper. I typically don’t like to just retell the readings in a homily, because you all just listened to them! But this parable warrants a re-telling so that we can uncover its deeper meaning.

A scholar of the Old Testament law approaches Jesus and asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus essentially answers, “You tell me!” The first part of the scholar’s answer is a no-brainer for any Jew: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, …soul,…strength,…and mind.” A faithful Jew prayed these very words from the Book of Deuteronomy twice every day. But this scholar, a pious Jew, who understood the true spirit of the law, added onto the end something unexpected, a reference to the Book of Leviticus: “and [you shall love] your neighbor as yourself.” It would have been very unexpected for a Jew to make this connection. In fact none of the writings of the rabbis from this period connect loving God with loving our neighbor. The scholar is on to something here: To love God is to love our neighbor.

But who is my neighbor? For the Jews, one’s neighbor was a fellow countryman or a pilgrim in his country. It did not include those outside of Israel, or those who were non-Jews, or those who were sinners. Their whole concept of holiness involved being faithful to God by avoiding contact with those who could lead them away from Him or who could make them ritually impure, unfit to participate in public worship. And this wasn’t necessarily a bad approach because the Jews were influenced so greatly by the pagan worship of those who conquered them or surrounded them. So, in our Gospel’s parable of the Good Samaritan, we shouldn’t be quick to judge the priest and the Levite for passing by the man who had been robbed, stripped, beaten, and left half dead. The law dictated that they should only have contact with the corpses of their immediate family or else they would be impure for worship. But Jesus teaches the scholar and us that the bar for maintaining holiness has been raised. Holiness was once found adequately in acts of strict obedience to the law. Now it must be found in acts of mercy for all people, especially those in need, whether they are a part of the same community or not. And Jesus used the example of a Samaritan, a nationality hated by the Jews, to make this very point.

To see how much the Jews hated the Samaritans, you only have to look in the Book of Sirach, chapter 50. There, the author asks God to bless all of mankind, except for certain groups of people who had led the Jews astray. He says, “My whole being loathes two nations, the third is not even a people: Those who live in Seir and Philistia, and the degenerate folk who dwell in Shechem.” Those “degenerate folk who dwell in Shechem” who are “not even a people” are the Samaritans. We would understand then if the Good Samaritan ran right past the fallen Jew just like the priest and Levite did, in order not to be seen or persecuted. But, moved with great pity and mercy at the sight of the Jewish man’s suffering, the Samaritan dresses his wounds with oil and wine, takes him to an inn, and gives the innkeeper two whole days wages, enough to pay for several days lodging. He even offers to pay more if needed. He did not simply bandage the man and move on, he made sure he would be increased to full vigor. The scholar conversing with Jesus, humbled by this parable, answers correctly that it was the Samaritan who was the victim’s true neighbor, not the victim’s fellow countrymen, the priest and the Levite who passed by him.

Now, again, just a surface reading of this parable could lead us to resent the priest and the Levite and to simply admire the Samaritan for his good deed and close the book at that. But we must also appreciate the need for ritual purity at that time, the courage that it took for the Samaritan to act, and what neighborliness and holiness truly are: Love and Mercy toward all in need. But, we can go even deeper still because the early Church Fathers, like St. Augustine, saw this not only as a parable, but as an allegory: the characters and the objects in the story represent spiritual meanings. By looking at the spiritual meaning we are taught not only how to love and who to love. We are taught also that we should receive love.

For St. Augustine, the man robbed, beaten, and left half dead represents Adam the first man who, through his Original Sin, is beaten by Satan, robbed of immortality, and left half dead to sin. The priest and the Levite who pass by represent the Old Testament laws and regulations which were unable to heal man’s soul and raise him to new life. But, the Good Samaritan is Jesus Christ, who comes to man’s side as his neighbor in order to rescue him from death. He doesn’t simply restore mankind to level zero, he increases him by taking him to the inn, which is the Church. There we are healed by the oil, wine, and refreshment of the seven sacraments. And for such gratuitous gifts he paid not two silver coins, or two days wages, but the infinite price of his Precious Blood. And he promised to continue to nourish us, whenever we need it, through the innkeeper, the ordained priesthood, which continues his ministry until the end of time.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is much more than a generic command to just “love everyone.” Each of us, personally, is offered love in a concrete way through the sacramental life of the Church. The Church and the sacraments are God’s great and superabundant gifts of love and mercy for each of us. Do we let Jesus heal us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation or are we content with our sins and the havoc they cause, telling Jesus to just move on down the road – “No help needed here.” Do we allow Jesus to heal us of our venial or “minor” sins by worthily receiving Holy Communion, or do we persist in serious sins which close us off from being able to receive Him? We are given so many graces through the sacraments and all of the prayers, devotions, and blessings of the Church’s Tradition that there is no reason why we can’t live life not only restored, but increased and strengthened by God’s own Divine life.

Do we help others to receive this new life? Do we take our children or grandchildren to confession monthly? Do we take them to daily Mass when they are home from school? Do we pray with them at home or at Church or encourage them to receive the sacraments often and worthily? Our Lord wants to be the Good Samaritan to us who are wounded by our sins and weaknesses. Let him take you to the inn, to the Church, which is not a haven for saints, but a hospital for sinners.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Homily for 14th Sun in O.T.: Vocations–Lieutenants in the Church Militant

As Catholics, we believe that the Church is not only made up of Catholics in this world, but also those who are being purified in purgatory and those who have inherited eternal life in heaven. The Church in heaven, the communion of saints, is called the “Church Triumphant.” The Church in purgatory is called the “Church Suffering”. And the Church here on earth, which is composed of all of us here today, is the “Church Militant.” Together they make up One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

Why are we called the “Church Militant”? This is our title because, since the moment of our Baptism and with the strength of our Confirmation, we have been sent out into the world with a mission, to tell the whole world, especially our families, friends, and coworkers, the message of Jesus Christ and His Church, and to make the world around us holy, acceptable, and pleasing to God, our Heavenly Father. We have been sent out as soldiers for Christ, into a very real spiritual warfare, to combat and subdue the devil and all that is evil in our society. To this battle we take the weapons of virtue and truth, the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the graces of the seven sacraments. Against these weapons and the Word of God, no evil can stand. This very Mass is the front line of the battle where Satan is defeated and he gets a taste of what is coming to him at the conclusive victory of Jesus’ Second Coming. The readings are our orders and the Eucharist is our nourishment for the battle.

But, our calling goes all the way back to the first one Jesus gave his apostles and disciples. Ours is the same one. Luke’s Gospel describes how Jesus appointed seventy disciples to prepare his way in “every town and place.” This was a universal mission. He sent them out to all the world. And the mission was urgent. God’s people are referred to as a “harvest”, ready to be gathered into his kingdom. But the harvest is abundant, and laborers are few. They must get to work, there is no time to waste, “the kingdom of God is at hand.”

They are to take no money bag, no sack, no sandals; they are armed only with their mandate from Jesus and the power of His Name. And indeed, they were the first wave of the Church Militant, sent like lambs among the wolves. But, as the prophet Isaiah foretold, “the Lord’s power shall be known to his servants.” As Jesus’ disciples went from town to town, two by two, spreading the “Peace” of Christ, healing the sick, and casting out demons, Satan fell… “like lightning from the sky.” The disciples came upon “the full force of the enemy” and in Jesus’ Name they were victorious. This fight is real.. this isn’t mere hyperbole. Will we be victorious in our own time? In our own hearts and souls? Peace will never reign in our world if it does not reign in our hearts.

A mother and father is absolutely, understandably, proud when they have a son or daughter join our nation’s military. But what about the Church Militant? How many are willing to let their son join the priesthood or their daughter, consecrated religious life? To most of our children, this is never even presented as an option. It is never even considered. But what was true in the early Church is still true today: “The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few.”

There are about 200,000 Catholics in the Archdiocese of Louisville but only about 200 priests. One do have one man from our parish preparing for the Permanent Diaconate, but, since Fr. Mark Spalding was ordained, I don’t think we’ve had a son from our parishes enter seminary for this archdiocese. When was the last time a daughter from our parish took final vows as a religious sister or nun? We are blessed to have many good priests and deacons in this region. We must encourage our children and our grandchildren to follow their good example. They, too, can lay down their lives in sacrifice and service in a vocation of great joy and fulfillment for a Church against which the powers of hell shall not prevail.

Perhaps there are young men here today who are called to be priests or religious brothers. Perhaps there are young ladies here today who are called to be religious sisters or nuns. Who from Holy Trinity/Holy Rosary will take our place when we are re-assigned or have run out of strength? Who from Holy Trinity/Holy Rosary will take up the banner and continue the fight? Who from Holy Trinity/Holy Rosary will ensure that Christ sits enthroned over a culture of life, and not a culture of death? Let us not fall into the trap of caring more about continuing our own name, legacy, or inheritance than we do about continuing the Name of Jesus Christ and his holy family, the Church.

Sometimes we hear people talk about a lack of vocations or a “vocations crisis.” There is not a lack of vocations, there is a lack of discernment. But we are seeing that the tide is turning! The Holy Spirit is moving in this archdiocese and there is much cause for hope and excitement! When I entered seminary in 2005 I was one of three men studying to be a priest for the Archdiocese of Louisville. Now we have almost 20 seminarians and more on the way! Allowing your sons and grandsons to join this faithful band of brothers will not be a losing battle! Since 2005, I have watched their company grow to include good and prayerful men from all sorts of backgrounds. They love God and they love the Church. They love our Holy Father, the Mass, and all that the Church teaches. They are intelligent and they know their faith. They can explain it well and are easy to relate too. They love the people of God and are eager to serve them. It’s the sacrifice and the challenge that entices them the most. They want to be a part of something greater than themselves. They want to be a part of something that has eternal significance, something with meaning and purpose. They want more than ever to take up the banner of Jesus Christ and continue the fight until the victory is won! Your sons or grandsons can be part of that victory too!

The women’s religious orders are seeing tremendous growth as well. The orders that have retained their habit, have held onto their founding principles, that have renewed their lives with prayer and sacrifice are seeing young ladies join today at a rate unseen before. For example, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, in Nashville, TN celebrated their 150th anniversary a few years ago. They had to completely expand and renovate their convent because they were receiving so many vocations! Their order and so many others like them are converting the world to holiness through their many diverse missions and through their constant prayer in the inner life of the Church.

There is no better time than now to encourage your sons and daughters to consider a religious vocation. If your child or grandchild is considering it, have them email me or call me and I will help to point them in the right direction. As we engage the front line of battle today at this Mass, perhaps we can spend some time after Communion or quietly after Mass to “ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest”… to ask the Head of the Church Militant to call forth men and women from Holy Trinity/HolyRosary who can help him to win this most winnable battle.