Sunday, May 11, 2014

4th Sunday of Easter, Year A: The Father and the Fold

Abridged version:
This Sunday is the fourth Sunday of the Easter Season, but we also call it “Good Shepherd” Sunday after the image of the Good Shepherd presented in our readings today. Typically we devote this particular Sunday to fervent prayers for Priestly and Religious Vocations and we should certainly do that today. But we also pray for your current shepherds, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, our bishop, Archbishop Kurtz, and the priests and deacons who serve us every day. With the pressures on the Church from the world around us, it is not easy to be a shepherd.

St. Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles that St. Peter stood up boldly to the Jews of his day, exhorting them to repent for their cooperation in the crucifixion of Jesus. And in his own letter, Peter described how he often suffered for doing what is good. But, he persevered, he followed the Lord’s example in suffering for the truth with humility and courage. Many people responded well to his courage – three thousand persons in one day were baptized! This great shepherd of the early Church, St. Peter, out of love for the flock made up of Jews and Gentiles, called them to faithfulness. Those who heard his voice responded because they heard in Peter the voice of Jesus Christ. What set Peter apart from other shepherds, from other voices calling for the attention of the people? It was his willingness to truly love the flock. And true love always involves some degree of sacrifice, even suffering.

When a husband cares for his dying wife, this may not always bring the most pleasant feelings, but he does this because he loves her. When a son cares for his ailing father, this brings difficulty and disruption, but he does this because he loves him. When parents sacrifice their own goals, or wants, or needs in order to provide for their children, this can bring difficulties and disappointment, but they do this because they love them. Similarly, we can recognize a true shepherd by his love for his sheep, by what he is willing to endure for them.

True shepherds are those who lead their flock with self-sacrificial love, who boldly preach the truth with love despite the pressures or ridicule. When the wolves come among them, true shepherds do not run away, afraid for their own welfare, neglecting that of his sheep. No, they stay, throwing themselves among them, standing guard and confronting the wolves in order to protect the sheep. This can be a test for anything or anyone trying to shepherd your life. What does that shepherd do when you are in danger, a danger that could envelope the shepherd too?

The account of the good shepherd that we hear from the Gospel, about the shepherd who calls his sheep by name and leads them out to pasture, illustrates God’s great love for us. Jesus, the Good Shepherd walks ahead of us, periodically calling us forward, reassuring us in the chaotic world around us with the gentleness and familiarity of his voice. Jesus said, “the sheep follow the shepherd because they recognize his voice… they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers… whoever enters through me will be saved…I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Through all the voices crying out to lead us, can we hear and recognize the voice of Jesus?

Through some time each day in prayer and Scripture reading, by challenging ourselves and each other to remain faithful to the Church, by coming to Mass every Sunday and making a monthly confession, we will be able to hear and follow Jesus’ voice above all others. And when you bring your children to Mass and to confession then you ensure that they too will be able to hear His voice above all others. Politicians, Universities, the Media are all clamoring to shepherd us and our children. Only by consistently hearing the voice of the truth will their hearts and ears be attuned to that voice so that it pierces through all others. And only by experiencing the nourishment within the sheepfold, will their grow to love it rather than resent it.

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Vigil, Year A: Captivating Joy and Healing Light

[YouTube video below]


Welcome! I welcome all of you today, especially friends and family of our parishioners who are visiting this morning. Whether you are a daily Mass-goer or only occasionally go to Mass, you are Welcome here. We have good people here to pray alongside and support you, to answer any questions you may have and to help you build a more regular practice of your faith. I know that some people remember having a priest that they did not feel like they could go directly to with a question or concern or need. They felt like they had to send someone else to speak for them. They didn’t feel like they could knock on the door or call their priest. I am not that kind of priest. I have a formal way of celebrating Mass but that does not mean that my personality is always like that or that I want to be distant from you. You can always come to me directly with anything at all.

It is such a great joy for me to be celebrating with you this Easter Vigil, my first Easter Vigil as a pastor and as the main celebrant. Tonight’s celebration in which four adults, four candidates, will be Received into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church, will be a beautiful experience. After their own special profession of faith, and reception into the Church, they will be immediately confirmed. They will be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit who enhances and completes the graces they received in Baptism when they were younger. Finally, they will receive their first Holy Communion, in which Christ feeds them with his glorified Body and Blood under the appearance of bread and wine. What a miraculous night! In one continuous celebration, will be made members of the Church, soldiers for Christ, and share fully in Holy Communion!

The power of this day reaches all of our hearts wherever and whoever we are… just as it reached the hearts of St. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary at the tomb; and the hearts of St. Peter and St. John, causing them to run to announce the Resurrection to the disciples. Even Catholics who rarely attend Mass, find their way back to this Easter day. Each one of us, from the daily Mass-goer, to the Christmas-and-Easter Catholic, have carried some darkness, some obstacle that Christ today wants to illuminate with his glorious Light. Today, darkness is no more; it yields to and is conquered by, the Risen Son. No matter what it is that keeps us from a deeper, more personal friendship with Christ, today He conquers it with his healing light: whether it be a doubt about our faith, or a lack of zeal or devotion, or a memory of an offense in the past that has kept you away, or the darkness of a tragedy in the family or of frustration with yourself – no matter the darkness, the healing Light of Christ shines on it today.

Have you all ever been to Mammoth Cave in south central Kentucky? I remember going on a field trip there in high school. One of the shticks they do is to lead a group of people into the heart of the cave and then turn out all the lights. Then the tour guide asks the group to put their hands in front of their faces and try to see them. It’s no use, in the heart of that cave, there is no light to get used too. Our eyes will never adjust, he says, not matter how long we sit there. The moment you can start to feel the tension in the cave, the tour guide slowly turns the lights back on much to everyone’s great relief. We got a sense of this earlier, when all of the lights of the Church were off, representing the individual and collective darkness that mankind suffers without the Light of Christ. Soon though the Easter Candle, lit from the Easter fire, showed us the way.

The temptation for each of us, though, is to just get used to the darkness rather than let the Light of Christ illuminate it. We become acclimated to bumping around in the night – it becomes our new normal. And I’m speaking for all of us here today, myself included. We get used to the same bad habit, guilty pleasure, personality quirk, or weakness and we forget that the Light of Christ is much stronger than those things. We forget that the Light of Christ has actually already won. We tend to think of ourselves as downtrodden and hoping for victory, rather than victorious and hoping to maintain the victory

Don’t let the devil rob you of your joy. Again, everyone from the daily Mass-goer to the Christmas-and-Easter Catholic has something holding them back. Today, no matter what it is, let Christ’s Light heal and conquer it. Today is a day of joy and gladness – a joy and gladness that lasts for 50 days, and God-willing well beyond. This is the day when Christ works in our hearts with His grace, getting us more used to him, the Light of the World, than to the darkness and making new, or deepened, faithfulness to Him and to His Church our new normal. Today he leads us and he not only turns on the light, but walks us out of the cave, and he not only keeps the Easter fire burning, but leads us into the Church and into the center of the divine life of the Trinity.

In that great movie, The Mission, Mendoza, a slave hunter on the cusp of conversion, says to the Spanish Jesuit, Fr. Gabriel: “For me there is no redemption, no penance great enough.” Fr. Gabriel replies, “There is. But do you dare to try it?” That is our Lord’s challenge to you and me: Do we dare try to let His Light, His Joy, His Redemption change and transform our lives?

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Good Friday, Year A: The Passion of the Lord Comforts the Afflicted and Afflicts the Comfortable

As I have examined my own spiritual life and interacted with others at many different parishes throughout the years, one thing most evident to me is that a true concept of sin is quite hard to find. I think we all, myself included, at different times in our lives vacillate between a lack of a sense of sin on one hand and a scrupulosity or shame on the other hand. But, it is when we are not vacillating, when we are not moving from one to the other as we seek with God’s help to find the truth about sin in the middle, then we are really in trouble.

When the lack of the sense of sin becomes concrete and determines our way of life then we have started down a troubling path indeed. Often this isn’t a consciously chosen path, though. It simply happens when a person coasts through each day, one after the next, unaware of the minor sins he commits that often add up to unnoticed serious sins. This person may not go to confession in years but when he does it is very difficult for him to think of specific sins he has committed. An equally troubling path is the scrupulous person. Once scrupulosity becomes a concrete way of life it settles from the soul into the psyche and begins to resemble obsessive compulsive disorder. Minor sins become serious sins and not even God’s mercy in Confession or the Eucharist is enough. Then shame builds, keeping this person from the sacraments entirely.

Thank God for Good Friday. Good Friday is one of the most powerful days for comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. One of the reasons it is “Good,” I think, is because it helps us to apprehend the truth of sin and forgiveness. For one who has lost or is losing a sense of sin in his life, Good Friday is a yearly reminder that it was not only the sins of the Romans and Jews of Jesus’ time that nailed him to the cross, but each one of our sins too. Recently I was reading a spiritual commentary on the liturgical year that vividly described the role our sins had to play in the drama of the passion and death of Jesus. The following excerpt definitely afflicts the comfortable:

“Imagine that divine face: swollen by blows, covered in spittle, torn by thorns, furrowed with blood, here fresh blood, there ugly dried blood. And, since the sacred Lamb had his hands tied, he could not use them to wipe away the blood running into his eyes, and so those two luminaries of heaven were eclipsed and almost blinded… Finally, so disfigured was he that one could not make out who he was; he scarcely seemed human; he had become an altarpiece depicting suffering, painted by those cruel artists, producing this pitiful figure to plead his case before his enemies… Therefore, sins – yours and mine – were the executioners who bound him and lashed him and crowned him with thorns and put him on the cross. So you can see how right it is for you to feel the enormity and malice of yours sins, for it was these which really caused so much suffering” (Navarre Commentary, Jn 19:1-3)

Such a reflection is a reality check isn’t it? The minor sins that we commit each day, that we don’t give much thought too – when seen in that perspective, cause us to take them more seriously and to turn to God more often for his mercy and help. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin,” the Letter to the Hebrews explains. “So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help” (Heb 4:15-16). Receiving this mercy and help frequently in Confession is the best way to avoid one of the most clever tricks that the evil one plays on us: the attitude that sin doesn’t really matter and that I never really ever do anything wrong. A monthly examination of conscience and confession will help us become more astute observers of sins in our lives and give us continual grace to avoid these sins and grow in holiness. This more examined life brings comfort to our Lord’s pierced Heart.

In Christ’s Passion and Death, there is not only gruesome reminders of the gravity of sin but also much comfort for the afflicted. Those who are scrupulous or filled with shame are also corrected. We find St. Peter, the head of the apostles, falling asleep three times rather than praying and later denying him three times. But we also see him express repentance and upon Jesus’ Resurrection, state three times his love – a love that brings him forgiveness and makes him a pillar of the Church. Throughout our lives, “In this adventure of love,” St. Josemaria Escriva writes, “we should not be depressed by our falls, not even by serious falls, if we go to God in the sacrament of Penance contrite and resolved to improve. A Christian is not a neurotic collector of good behavior reports. Jesus Christ our Lord was moved as much by Peter’s repentance after his fall as by John’s innocence and faithfulness. Jesus understands our weakness and draws us to himself on an inclined plane. He wants us to make an effort to climb a little each day” (Navarre, Jn 18:27). Again, Confession is helpful for the scrupulous person too if it can be seen for what it really is – as the way in which Christ’s victory over sin is shared and applied to each one of us. With God’s grace we can be victorious over sin too! Then when victory brings confidence and mercy softens the heart, harshness with oneself can be relieved. Then guilt can be seen as a good thing that motivates one to renewed union with God and the Church rather than as shame that causes isolation and alienation.

The grace of Reconciliation that Christ won for us today helps us settle into the middle, into the truth of sin and forgiveness. We thank God that we have a heavenly mother to help us with this also. After Christ, we should have a deep, personal friendship with his Mother as well. Jesus from the cross gave her to his beloved disciple and so to all of us. When John took her into his own home, he took her into everything that makes up his inner life. “Mary certainly wants us to invoke her, to approach her confidently, to appeal to her as our mother” (Navarre, Jn 19:26-27) – whether we’re feeling lax or harsh – so that she can teach us about her Son and how to take sin seriously while still living a life of joy.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Palm Sunday, Year A: Living A Deep and Meaningful Life

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Homily after the Commemoration of the Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem

This morning, like the children who cheered in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” when they saw Jesus healing the blind and lame (Mt 21:14-15) – we too shout out with unbridled joy, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Mt 21:9) And just as on Christmas morning when a multitude of angels praised the Eternal Word who processed into our lives as a child, singing, “Glory to God in the highest,” (Lk 2:14) so too does a multitude today sing out, “hosanna in the highest!” (Mt 21:9) as our Lord processes among us. From the beginning of Jesus’ life, toward the end, all people from children to adults, sing his praises and bless his Name. But, recently our Lord has been cautioning those he healed to not tell anyone, and he has been hiding from persecution, because his hour had not yet come. But now it is nearly here. Having seen his miracles ourselves and in our own lives, we cannot hold back our cheers. Neither does he desire to hide any more. It has begun. Nothing can stop him now.

Homily After the Gospel

The time from the beginning of Lent through Easter Sunday is marked with a rapid succession of external rituals in the life of a Catholic. We remember Ash Wednesday when we received the blessed ashes on our foreheads. Today we receive palm branches and we fold them into neat little crosses. On Holy Thursday we have the foot-washing. On Good Friday we kneel and kiss the Cross. And Saturday night, the Easter Vigil, is filled with incense, chants, exclamations, water, oil, and light. All of these, even the deadening silence and emptiness of the altar on Good Friday, are rich experiences that flood our senses.

It somehow makes sense that we come in such larger numbers to these liturgies than to the common Sunday obligation. Our Lord made us to be sensing beings and uses our senses to help us know him. But what will we do when Easter is over and the rest of the liturgical year marches on? What will we do when all the sensational things give way to the sobriety and noble simplicity that most often marks the Holy Mass?

We have been re-examining our Faith throughout this season of Lent, but now we are called to do so in light of these rich symbols. We must remember that all of the external rituals of our faith are not ends in and of themselves; rather they remind us of the deeper spiritual realities that they signify. Religious sentiments are good and appropriate in response to these beautiful things for they often serve as invitations to more fully enter into our faith. But our experiences of these things must not stop at the external level or the level of sentiment. We must consider the underlying spiritual effect that is taking place: what the ashes mean, what the palm branches mean, what the foot-washing, the cross, the water, oil and light meanwhat difference they make for our faith.

We are made for deeper realities, for solemnity, for transcendence. Deep down we are longing for something greater than ourselves. Some of the Jews of Jesus time, though, were only caught up with the spectacle of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem; they had not let Him enter into their hearts. St. Matthew describes how his persecutors spat in his face and struck him while some slapped him saying “Prophesy for us, Christ: who is it that struck you?” Later they jeered at him, “Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him.” Of course they have no faith him and have no deeper interest in prophecy or miracles – they are only concerned with external signs and wonders.

Today our Lord processes triumphantly into Jerusalem not upon a team of warhorses along a path of gold but upon a peaceful colt and donkey along a path of cloaks and palm branches. This he did to the shouts of praise of a “very large crowd” (Mt 21:8). But, only a few days later, this same group, riled up by the high priests, will shout for his crucifixion. Pilate said to them, “What shall I do with Jesus called Christ?
Why [crucify him]? What evil has he done?” “They only shouted the louder, ‘Let him be crucified!’” (Mt 27:22-23).

It’s easy to shout with praise and acclamation to Jesus when everyone around us is shouting praises too. But when people disperse enough ill will, are we quick to condemn him? Do I preach Christ, and Him Crucified only when I am surrounded by attentive parishioners or brother priests? What do I say to those who disagree with Church teaching or try to persecute the Church? What about when I’m with friends or family and my guard is down? Do I praise him still?

How can we live differently today because of the scenario that has unfolded before us? You and I have to make sure that our faith doesn’t stop at the externals. If we live our lives no deeper than the surface level, then we are easily swayed by those who have the loudest voice. But when we allow the external signs of our faith to take us deeper then we come to know the truth of our faith and come to know Christ for who He really is. Then Christ can begin to mold and transform us into Catholics who are always faithful, always at His right hand, even if we are the only ones standing up for Him, even when there is “darkness… over the whole land” (Mt 27:45).

If we can go deeper, we can be Catholics who wear ashes to show contrition; who wash feet to honor the commandment to Love; who are sprinkled with water to reclaim our Baptism; who receive oil to be sanctified, healed, and strengthened; and who light candles to show the world that Christ is the Light. We never use symbols because “that’s just what we’ve always done” – we use them because their deep and underlying meanings make us holy and glorify God. We use them because they flow from our faith and stir up our faith. We use symbols in order to be empowered to stay true to Him.

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Monday, March 10, 2014

1st Sunday of Lent, Year A: Do Good, Avoid Evil

At first glance we may ask, “What good could possibly come from Jesus’ actions today? He fasted for forty days and forty nights but then he was hungry. And why must we hear about Satan tempting him? It is so unpleasant for us to imagine. But, out of his great humility, Jesus submitted himself to these things to illuminate one of the most basic aspects of human life, one with which we are all painfully aware: the temptation to sin. He doesn’t just exhort us to do good and avoid evil from an ivory tower, unfamiliar with how difficult this can be. He enters this crucible himself, to show us how to pass the test. Only if we are willing to share in his suffering with him through Lent will we be able to share in his glory through Easter.

Every year at this time, the Church instructs us to pray more, to fast on certain days, to give up meat on others, to be more charitable in our support of the Church, and so forth. But equally important is the renewed commitment to avoid sin in our lives. It is a topic we don’t like to talk much about, but we must double our efforts to conquer the temptations to sin, which now more than ever assail us from every side because our sights are set on the Cross and the salvation that it brings. The devil hates to see us with our eyes fixed on the Cross and we can be sure he too will be doubling his efforts in order to turn us away from it. Indeed his temptations are quite horrible.

Let us not despair over being tempted, tempted to eat too much food, to spend too much money, to waste too much time, to love too little; no one is alone in these, and no one is immune from them. Even Jesus the Son of God, was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Mark’s Gospel says that “the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness.” The Holy Spirit threw him right into the middle of temptation so that he could begin, in earnest, his life’s mission and so that we could one day see The Way through and out of temptation.

In our case, God allows us to be tempted out of compassion for us, so that we might grow in faith. God learns nothing by the trials he allows us to face. He is not sitting up in heaven waiting to see the results. But we certainly learn something, of the level of our commitment, our progress in the spiritual life, where our true affections lie, the nature of our desires, and the depth of our love for God and our brothers and sisters. Every temptation poses the question, “Am I for God or against Him? Will I say ‘Yes’ to Him or ‘No’?” Every Yes exercises our faith and makes it stronger. Every single choice for God rather than ourselves steeps us deeper in virtue and his gifts and burns away our affections for sin.[1]
Even though we are constantly tempted by the devil, by other people, by unfortunate circumstances in life that are outside of ourselves, God’s will is never thwarted by these occasions. Rather, he wills that every temptation be an occasion for grace. And with every temptation God always provides the way out, but we must have the courage to take it rather than rely on ourselves or give in. And we must build ourselves up with spiritual tools so that we will be able to choose the way out. We often choose sin time and time again, unable to bear the trial, because we come to the occasion crippled by our not being spiritually prepared.

My advice to you today would be that when you are tempted to sin, no matter what it is, great or small, turn the devil on his head! You can foil the devil, just like Jesus did in the desert. After every time Satan tempted our Lord he always replied with Scripture, the Word of God. Even when Satan tried to manipulate Scripture and quote it himself, to fool Jesus, Jesus quoted it right back at him, accurately and truthfully. The devil didn’t have a chance in the face of the Truth and he was forced to leave. Any time the devil’s temptation becomes an occasion for prayer or Scripture his knees are chopped out right from under him.

In the end, it is often not really about the object of the temptation at all. It is never about infidelity, or food, or alcohol or whatever, it is about something much deeper. What we often really want is simply intimacy, intimacy with God and the ones we love. What we really want is just to give and receive love. What we really want is to belong or to be happy, especially to be happy. But sometimes it is the case that we have chosen wrongly so many times that we forget how to properly satisfy these deepest desires (which are good and true). This Satisfaction is only Our Lord, Jesus Christ who never abandons us, especially in our times of greatest need. He truly can fulfill us, infinitely better than any act of lust, overeating, or overdrinking can.

This Lent, enter the desert with our Lord bravely, yet trusting that “He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you” and “With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Enter Lent bravely and courageously, because you are humble and reliant on him. Enter Lent believing that this year, with His help, we can overcome our temptations, we can do better, we can be purified. Through our prayer, acts of charity, and penances, we will sacrifice and suffer with Him so that we can, even in this life, experience a share in his victory and his glory.

[1] Cf. Scott Hahn, Understanding “Our Father: Biblical Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer, p. 56, 58, 60.


Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Ash Wednesday–Don’t Just Offer Something Up, Offer Something For

This morning, 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. 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 up 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 up to you not lustful actions but reading one article each day from the Catechism for my friend who I know is struggling with this.” Or if you want to purify yourself of gossip, pray “Lord, I will offer up 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 23, 2014

Why Does Fr. Hardesty Do That?! Part III: Whispers

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

Answer: Most of the prayers of the Mass are said in a loud voice and in dialogue with the congregation. Some though are said privately, between the priest and God. The rubric in the missal used to indicate that these prayers are said “silently,” so most priests pray them interiorly. But if prayers that makeup the content of the Mass are simply said interiorly, how could we verify that they were said at all? When the translation of the Missal was recently revised, this rubric was corrected to indicate that the private prayers are said “quietly” (not “silently”) or in a “low voice". This better conveys that they should at least be whispered.

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”
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”
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”
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.” OR
“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”
And 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.”

In Jesus and Mary,

Fr. Hardesty

7th Sunday, Ordinary Time, Year A: We Must Heal the Anger and Division in Our Hearts and in Our Families.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Confession is For the Courageous


Vatican City, 19 February 2014 (VIS) – The Holy Father dedicated his catechesis at this Wednesday's general audience to the Sacrament of penance. After touring St. Peter's Square in an open car, greeting the thousands of faithful who applauded as he passed, the Pope explained that “the forgiveness of our sins is not something we can offer to ourselves; it is not the result of our efforts, but rather a gift from the Holy Spirit, which fills us from the wellspring of mercy and grace that surges endlessly from the open heart of Christ, crucified and risen again. … It reminds us that it is only by allowing ourselves to be reconciled through the Lord Jesus with the Father and with our brothers that we may truly be at peace”.

Pope Francis explained that the celebration of this Sacrament has transformed from its previously public nature to the private and reserved form of Confession. However, “this should not lead to the loss of the ecclesiastical matrix, which constitutes its living context. Indeed, the Christian community is the place in which the presence of the Spirit is felt, which renews hearts in God's love and brings all brothers together as one, in Jesus Christ”. He continued, “For this reason, it is not enough to ask for the Lord's forgiveness in our own minds and hearts, but rather it is also necessary to humbly and trustfully confess our sins to a minister of the Church”.

The Bishop of Rome emphasised that the priest does not only represent God, but rather the community as a whole, and that anyone who seeks to confess only to God should remember that our sins are also committed against our brothers and against the Church, which is why it is necessary to ask forgiveness from them too, and to be ashamed for what we have done. “Shame can be good”, he affirmed; “It is good for us to have a certain amount of shame, because to be ashamed can be healthy. When someone has no shame, in my country we describe them as “sin verguenza”, shameless. Shame can be good as it can make us humble, and the priest receives this confession with love and tenderness, and forgives in the name of God. Also from a human point of view, to unburden oneself, it is good to speak with a brother and to tell the priest those things which lie so heavily upon our hearts. And one feels unburdened before God, with the Church, and with a brother. Do not be afraid of Confession!”

The Pontiff went on to ask those present when they last confessed, and strongly urged them not to overlook Confession. “If a long time has passed, do not waste another day, go, the priest will be good. It is Jesus who is there, and Jesus is better than a priest, Jesus will receive you, he will receive you with love. Be courageous and go to Confession! … Every time we confess, God embraces us, God celebrates! Let us go ahead on this path. May God bless you!”

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why Does Fr. Hardesty Do That?! Part II: Purifying the Vessels

Question: "Why does Fr. Hardesty take so long to do the dishes after Communion?"

Answer: Well if it was just a matter of doing dishes, they would probably stack up on the credence table (that table beside the servers) until Martha Spalding (my saintly Housekeeper/Cook) came over and washed them! But it’s about more than “doing the dishes,” it’s about purifying sacred vessels. The chalices and ciboria are sacred vessels in that they have been blessed and are intended only for a sacred use. Saying that they are “purified” is not meant to imply that they have been sullied but that they are prepared again for sacred use, for the next Mass. After Mass the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHC’s) wash them gently with soap and water in the sacristy to ensure they are sanitary. The EMHC’s cannot purify them at the same time that they wash them because only a Priest, Deacon, or Instituted Acolyte (a seminarian) is allowed to purify the vessels.

Purification also has ritualistic and devotional connotations. So then it’s not about being slow and mechanical but being reverent and careful. St. Thomas Aquinas taught us that, after the consecration, without being scrupulous, what looks like a bread crumb to the naked eye is still the Body of Christ and what looks like a drop of wine is still the Blood of Christ. Therefore I try to be very reverent with how I collect, consume, and/or repose any remaining particles of Hosts or drops of Precious Blood that remain after the distribution of Communion, lest any are lost. I try to go as fast as I can and to be as careful as I can at the same time. Please pray for the Ordination of Rick Fagan to the Permanent Diaconate and pray for him to be assigned to Holy Trinity and Holy Rosary so that he can help expedite the process! It really only takes about 3 minutes to go from the last communicant to the Post-Communion prayer.

I purify the vessels at the altar because our credence table is a little too small to fit everything and because, in the Missal, there is a private prayer between the priest and God that is said during this: "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."

Finally, the time after Communion is a beautiful time to speak intimately with the Lord who loves us and is living in us through the Eucharist we have just received. It is a time for praying to the Lord as a friend, thanking him, telling him about our day, asking for his help, etc. If you are praying during this time, then I won’t even be noticed. Enjoy those precious moments of silence that are so hard to find once we step outside of the Church!

In Jesus and Mary,

Fr. Hardesty

Sunday, February 16, 2014

6th Sunday Ordinary Time Year A: Blessed Are They Who Follow the Law of the Lord


A more succinct version, outside of YouTube, here:


My Canon Law professor at the seminary, Msgr. Fulton, had a way of teaching Church law that made us actually enjoy learning it; he made it a joy to know the law and to help others to know it too. In his great sense of humor he helped us realize that the law of the Church, which is a reflection of the law of the Lord, should be taught and learned and followed with joy and from the heart. The law is not intended to be something that embitters us. The law is not meant to be followed with white-knuckled anxiety or with demands that are impossible to meet. Laws, when they are just, do not bind up… they set free.

Now, we all bristle under the law every now and then – whether it’s that speeding ticket for going 5 miles over the speed limit or that sudden realization that it’s a Friday in Lent right before you bite into a steak. This is nothing though compared to what the Israelites felt in Biblical times under scrutiny of the scribes and Pharisees. The 10 commandments, as awesome as they are, were ultimately national laws for public observance. Breaking one of the 10 commandments brought grave punishments. And on top of these were the hundreds of other laws that governed almost every aspect of their way of life. But, these laws were ultimately good because they separated the Israelites from the influences of their pagan neighbors, they set the standard for exhibiting a right relationship with God, and they defined them as God’s chosen people. Through their many laws, God prepared them for a New Covenant in Jesus Christ that would inscribe the law of God on their hearts and give them deeper meaning.

But, the scribes and Pharisees missed the point. Rather than accept Jesus who fulfilled, completed, perfected, and transformed the law into the means of their salvation, they held on to the old laws and based their salvation on strictly observing their “smallest letter.” Thank God we don’t have the same burdens placed on us. With Jesus and his grace, the law can be light and heartfelt. “My yoke is easy,” He said, “my burden light” (Mt 11:30).

The law is easy and light if we love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, not just with our external observances. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever” (Jn 14:15). We are given grace and the Holy Spirit to help us even to love the law. Through what else but the spirit of God was the psalmist able to pray, “Open my eyes, that I may consider the wonders of your law. Instruct me, O Lord, in the way of your statutes, that I may exactly observe them. Give me discernment, that I may observe your law and keep it with all my heart” (Ps 119). We have to believe that this is possible for us too.

Let’s take for a couple of examples, the 5th and 6th commandments, “You shall not kill” and “You shall not commit adultery”. None of us personally needs the law “You shall not kill.” We can say we are free of the demands of that law. But Jesus wants us to go deeper. What about the anger in our hearts that kills our relationship with our parents, or our siblings, or our coworkers? What about the lack of patience with ourselves that we cannot let go of or the revenge that we secretly desire every time we are offended?

“You shall not commit adultery” – now that one is particularly challenging. “Whoever looks at a woman with lust,” Jesus says today, “has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” And “whoever divorces his wife,” he continues, “causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Mt 5:27, 32). Still, most of you who are married do not need that law either – when you exchanged your consent on your wedding day you intended fully to be exclusively faithful to each other for the rest of your lives and to be open to children. You should be very proud of the covenant you have kept in your marriage.

But, let’s go deeper. Perhaps for some, this hasn’t been so easy. Perhaps through a build-up of small and bad choices along the way, what was a good and valid marriage has become broken and torn asunder. Perhaps there are some that have chosen divorce or that have followed that with remarriage outside of the Church. Perhaps there are some that have had divorce inflicted on them, through no fault of their own. It is in these situations that the law can be hard, that the yoke is not easy, and the burden is not light. But, even in these situations, as unbelievable as it may seem, God is offering the help needed to do the right thing or to receive healing. Come to me and let me help you sort through the many layers of the problem. I can also help you to receive the advice of the Archdiocese’s tribunal to help you understand exactly where you stand. There are a lot of myths about annulments that I can help you to expel. Or I can refer you to a marriage healing retreat or a good Catholic marriage counselor.

Before I conclude, allow me to address a common misconception: divorce in and of itself doesn’t bar one from Communion. Divorce and remarriage outside of the Church does make one unable to receive Communion because of the persistent sinfulness of that second union. But, it is important to remember that neither of these makes one excommunicated from the Church. Furthermore, the Sunday obligation is to the Mass, not necessarily to Holy Communion. There are all sorts of reasons why someone may not be able to receive Communion, either from having committed a mortal sin between the time of his last confession and this Mass or from simply having broken the one hour fast before Communion.

The point is, divorced and remarried Catholics can still benefit greatly from the prayers of the Mass, from the readings and the homily, and from having companions in prayer. These along with fellowship in the myriad of activities in the life of the parish can be the help they need toward advancing to a more perfect obedience of the Lord’s commands, to a more perfect love and to healing. This is something, frankly, that we should all work toward together, reaching out and helping each other along the way. Even the most difficult laws of the Church can be followed with ease if we take the risk of giving our hearts to each other and to God and allowing Him to place in us His Sacred Heart, a heart that beats with love, mercy, forgiveness, purity, and strength. Today, let us all take courage from the wisdom of Sirach: “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; he has set before you fire and water [life and death, good and evil]; to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand” (Sir 15:15-16).

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Why Does Fr. Hardesty Do That?! Part I: Formality

I ran this series when I was at St. James, St. Ambrose, and St. Ignatius and have decided to use them here at Holy Trinity and Holy Rosary also, with some revised answers.

Part 1: “Why is Fr. Hardesty so formal? There’s no personality!”

Answer: The G.I.R.M. advises the priest that when he celebrates the Eucharist, “he must serve God and the people with dignity and humility, and by his bearing and by the way he pronounces the divine words he must convey to the faithful the living presence of Christ” (93). Earlier it says, “The gestures and bodily posture of both the Priest, the Deacon, and the ministers, and also of the people, must be conducive to making the entire celebration resplendent with beauty and noble simplicity… Attention must therefore be paid to what is determined by this General Instruction and by the traditional practice of the Roman Rite…” (42). The general principle is “not merely that the priest should act efficiently, decorously, and reverently, but also that when he stands at the altar as the representative of Christ he should lay aside, as far as possible, all individual peculiarities, and even the smallest idiosyncrasy, exaggeration, or affectation which might attract attention to himself, and withdraw it from the great Act in which he is engaged” (O’Connell, The Celebration of Mass, 182).

It is true that in no other sphere in which you have a person addressing a group – like the teacher’s classroom or the chairman’s board meeting – is that person expected to minimize himself. He would be considered a very poor presenter indeed! So, one of the difficulties of the priest celebrating Mass facing the people instead of the earlier practice of facing the same direction they did – forward and up toward God – is the overwhelming temptation to act like any other presenter and for the crowd to expect that from him. But, for him to be applauded, to be funny, to put himself forward, to be a fan favorite throughout the Mass means to take the attention away from Jesus Christ (the True Celebrant of the Mass) and put it on himself. This is a closed circle that doesn’t move forward and up to God.

That said, I know that I can express myself better and be more engaging when it is proper to do so, namely, at the Greeting in the beginning of Mass, the Homily, and the “Thank You’s” and announcements before the final blessing. After all, we are in a relationship! But, to flesh this out, we’ll have to spend more time with each other outside of Mass too. And we can work together to expand a welcoming environment, like having greeters at the doors, periodic coffee and donuts in the Church basement or the school cafeteria, or even periodic blessings of new parishioners.

As I challenge myself to grow and expand according to your feedback, I in turn challenge you to be open to being inspired by the Mass in a way you aren’t used to or may not expect. Don’t look for ME in the Mass, look for Jesus! Pray the Mass! Let go of the Missalette and listen to the Lord speaking to you in the readings and silences and us to Him in the prayers. Then from the depth of your heart, respond.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A: Extraordinary Graces in Ordinary Things



Last Sunday, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord was the official beginning of the Season that we are now in: Ordinary Time. It had a special focus on how Jesus fulfilled God’s plan to save His people through water, a plan that still unfolds for us to this day, through the Sacrament of Baptism. This Sunday continues that theme but there is no special Feast Day; it is just a quote/unquote “normal Sunday.” But, what is special about Ordinary Time is that rather than focusing on a particular mystery in the life of Jesus or the saints, the focus is now on those day-to-day duties and responsibilities of a faithful Catholic. For example, remembering that every Sunday is a Holy Day of Obligation, not just the special holidays; returning to normal routines of prayer that can be disturbed by the busy-ness of the holidays; renewing those small acts of penance that make up the penitential lifestyle of the Catholic; and examining our conscience regularly to see how prepared we are to receive Holy Communion. These are not extraordinary acts, these are and should be the common, ordinary, practices of every-day Catholics. What is beautiful about Ordinary Time, is that it reminds us that through Ordinary things, Extraordinary things can happen.

The “Ordinary” in “Ordinary Time” is similar to the word “ordinal” which simply implies that the season is a numbered series of Sundays – as in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time, etc. So, for us, “Ordinary” does not have to mean “mundane,” or “commonplace.” How many times, for example, have you heard me say the same words St. John the Baptist said today in our Gospel, as I hold the consecrated Host over the chalice, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world”? Every Sunday you’ve heard it, maybe even every day. Many of you have heard this thousands of times throughout your life. It could be easy to forget what it really means. But this phrase should never become mundane to us. It is an ordinary expression that has an extraordinary meaning.

“John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’” We can imagine him pointing to the Lord as he said it. What this means for us, is that we who are united by Baptism and strengthened in the Eucharist are also called to point others to Jesus, through our words and actions.[1] When the priest goes on to say, “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb,” we are pointed to the Book of Revelation, where God revealed to St. John the Apostle what the Mass in heaven will look like: “Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb’” (Rev 19:9). In this prayer, the “Blessed” are not us per se, but those who have been found worthy to share in the heavenly Liturgy, the supper of the Lamb. We pray that one day, we may join them in the everlasting life of the Kingdom of God.[2]

I think it’s important to pause every now and then and reflect on what the different prayers and gestures of the Mass mean. When we understand it better, our experience of the Mass can be much more fruitful rather than simply boring or mundane. If you enjoyed Rome Sweet Home, I encourage you to pick up Scott Hahn’s, The Lamb’s Supper. He says, If we are calling Jesus the “Lamb of God” during our Mass, if John the Baptist called Him the “Lamb of God” as he walked on earth, and if the Book of Revelation calls him, as he reigns in heaven, the “Lamb of God” 28 times in the span of 22 chapters, then what does that tell us about the Mass!? It tells us that we are participating in something that is literally heaven on earth! It shows us that everlasting life in heaven is possible and that this earth is not all that we live for. For something that happens so ordinarily, this is quite extraordinary![3]

This phrase, “Behold the Lamb of God,” is also a challenge to us today. It is a challenge because the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, takes away the sins of the world. How does he take away the sins of my own world, of my life? He certainly doesn’t force Himself on us. We have to accept this for ourselves. The way that we do this is by receiving Communion but also by going to the sacrament of Reconciliation. In the Mass, the victory of the Lamb of God over sin is realized for our own time and place. In Confession, the Lamb of God takes away and forgives the sins of my world, of my life, through the absolution of the priest.

Going to confession should be as common as all of the other "ordinary" practices of Ordinary Time. Just like the prayers of the Mass, our personal prayers, acts of penance, and the examination of conscience, confession is also an ordinary thing that has extraordinary meaning. Saints and popes have consistently encouraged us to go to Confession eat least monthly. When we hear at Mass, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world” we should let that phrase be our reminder. When I hear that phrase I think about how he has taken away the sins of my own world and when the last time was that I let him into my world. After all, he was a friend to tax collectors and sinners and he ate with them. He forgave the woman caught in adultery with the simple words “Go and do not sin again”. In the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee he taught us to pray “God be merciful to me a sinner!” And in the parable of the prodigal son he shows us that we too have gone astray and so our Father comes to us and gives us what we need to come home to stay. Can we ever lose hope of being forgiven when it is Christ who forgives? Can we ever lose hope of receiving the graces we need to be saints when it is Christ who gives them to us? This assurance fills us with great peace and joy.[4]

In this current season, let’s call to mind again that there is nothing ordinary about Ordinary Time. Let us use this time to focus on the extraordinary graces offered to us every day through our ordinary prayer lives. Thank God that through the Mass and Reconciliation, by the power of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, graces as extraordinary as forgiveness and the very divine life of God are made ordinary parts of our lives.

[1] USCCB, Parish Guide to Implementing the Roman Missal Third Edition, Appendix D Bulletin Inserts, “Scripture and the Mass,” back.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Scott Hahn, The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth, p. 9

[4] Francis Fernandez, In Conversation with God, Vol. 3, p. 42-43.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Baptism of the Lord–A Catechesis on the Sacrament of Baptism



Last week when we celebrated the Solemnity of the Epiphany, we recalled that both Jews and non-Jews alike, the shepherds and the Magi, were drawn to behold the Lord. Because they were both Jews and non-Jews, they symbolize all people of all times who are called to be co-heirs of God’s 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. Our Lord himself said to John, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” At the time of the Exodus, when Moses parted the waters of the Red Sea, 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.
In our modern day, this dynamic still unfolds for the People of God. But why does this happen through infant baptism in the Catholic Church when most Protestant communities practice adult or adolescent baptism? Let me take a few more minutes to explain.

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 and us 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. 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). [see the CDF’s “Instruction on Infant Baptism,” October 20, 1980]

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 modern times.

Why then is the practice of infant baptism in decline in recent years? In other parishes I have been in, I have heard parents say, “Well we want to wait to have our child baptized until she is old enough to choose it for herself.” Why do parents say this? Perhaps they’re influenced by the example of the adults who were baptized in the New Testament. 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, we must remember that Baptism is not simply a sign of faith already present, 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. Furthermore, the child is made a son or daughter of God and brought into the sacramental life of the Church as a co-heir with Christ of all of God’s blessings. How could we delay or refuse a child’s reception of these gifts until some older age of choosing?

Some parents may want to wait until the child is older so as not to restrict his freedom to choose. They may think that it is unjust to impose on him future obligations that he may not want. As nice 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 the good of their child’s natural life before he can choose them himself, like the house he will grow up in, the food he will eat, or the school he will attend; why not decide for the good of his supernatural life? Having a so-called neutral attitude toward the child’s religious life is in fact not a neutral, but a negative choice to deprive the child of the gifts and graces of Baptism.

Besides, the New Testament presents entry into the Christian life not as an imposition or constraint, but as admittance to a truer, more ennobled freedom. “If a [S]on frees you,” John’s Gospel says, “then you will truly be free” (Jn 8:36). When the child grows up, he will still be able to reject his baptismal faith, a sad reality attested to by many parents and grandparents today. But, if this happens, 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, by entering the River Jordan, sanctified the waters of Baptism, making them a fountain of healing, freedom, new birth, and everlasting life. Let’s work together to ensure that our current and future children that have not been baptized will be baptized with proper preparation and without delay. The Church 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.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Epiphany Year A, 2014: Come, Let Us Adore Him



The Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord is a mystery that can be difficult to grasp at first. “Epiphany” is a familiar term, like the “Immaculate Conception,” but also like the Immaculate Conception, we have to pause a moment to remember what exactly it refers too or we could misunderstand it.

The word “Epiphany” means “manifestation.” Our Lord manifested himself and the glory of his divinity in several ways throughout the Gospels. He showed his divinity to his closest apostles on Mt. Tabor at his Transfiguration. He performed his first public miracle by turning water into wine at the Wedding Feast at Cana. God the Father announced Jesus as his Beloved Son at his Baptism in the Jordan River. These were all manifestations, all epiphanies, but today’s celebration focuses on the Son of God being made known to the three wise men from the East. It can be confusing sometimes to understand what all of our feast days mean. But, there is indeed a clear message to all of us today.

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

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

Their journey was long, no doubt, and how do we suppose they explained it to their family and friends? I’m sure they were met with doubt and dismissal, maybe even ridicule. They had studied the stars; they knew how to follow this brightest star of them all. But it was by a special grace from God that they interpreted it as a sign of the presence of the long-awaited Messiah whom they had heard about from their Hebrew neighbors. Inspired by this grace they sought him out in order to do him homage and adore him. It is just as the prophet Isaiah foretold, “Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you: your sons come from afar” (In Conversation with God, vol. 1, 320).

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

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

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

As we grow closer to Jesus, one helpful reflection could be to examine ourselves to see how/if we adore him. Today’s solemnity challenges us to see ourselves in place of the Magi. Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament is the same Jesus the wise men found in Mary’s arms. When the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the tabernacle or displayed in the monstrance every Monday for adoration, do we even realize he is there, like the magi did? How can we grow in that awareness? Many Catholics maintain their awareness by making the Sign of the Cross whenever they drive by a Catholic Church – acknowledging His Presence in the tabernacle there. Or they genuflect slowly and deliberately, with their eyes on the tabernacle, when they enter or exit their pew. Or by spending an hour, or just 15 minutes to pray to Him during Adoration on Mondays. Actions such as these help us to remain prostrate before the Lord in our hearts, right beside the magi. How sad it would be to live life unaware of his presence or to pursue him only “from afar.”

Finally, let us not forget Mary. “The three Kings had their star [to lead them to Jesus]. We have Mary… [who was called by the early Church Fathers] Stella Maris, Stella Orientis, Star of the Sea, Star of the East” (ibid. 333).

[1] Drum, Walter. "Magi."

Friday, January 03, 2014

Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God–Our Guide, Our Teacher, and Our Help

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 today’s Solemnity 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 unique, natural and supernatural relationship with God.

St. 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, the mystery of his life and purpose expanded more and more in her faith and understanding.  When we turn to her and remain close to her Immaculate Heart; when we place ourselves under her mantle, she pieces these mysteries together for us too. She helps 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 by her example 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 give honor, veneration, or prayer 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.