Hero

Listening to a few young adults the other day talking about the ideals of valor and commitment to a cause and I was struck by their inability to ascribe to those virtues. They just couldn’t comprehend giving their lives to something other than themselves and I got the feeling they afraid. It brought to mind the lyrics of a song by one of my favorite musicians, Ray Davies, who I think is a brilliant poet as well, he has an uncanny ability to comment on contemporary life.

I wish my life was non-stop Hollywood movie show
A fantasy world of celluloid villains and heroes
Because celluloid heroes never feel any pain
And celluloid heroes never really die.[1]

Today, if these young adults are any example, there is a general detachment from embracing life changing values. There is an aversion to sacrificing for a greater good. Suffering for something important is abhorred, indeed suffering of any kind is to be given a wide pass. The idea of ‘heroic’ is unfathomable. To them a hero is someone that can be watched on TV, at home, in comfort, and then turned off – very safe and very much not them.

There are, sadly, very few people today, of any generational group, who we can honestly call heroic. It should be all of us, we should strive for that vocation. It is even more incumbent upon those who profess to follow Christ; who are the current holders of the torch of His ministry on earth. And it begs the question: how are each of us doing in holding His torch high for all to see?

Now, it is true that we will have setbacks, we will fail; but it is precisely in the next decision, the next step, that defines whether we are still on solid ground, whether we are ‘heroic’. Christ has given us Himself to help us on this journey. He has given us the Holy Eucharist to nourish and strengthen us; He has given us the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation to cleanse and heal us. They are offered to us so that we can decide a life with Him – a heroic decision to live a heroic life.

This decision to follow Christ; our constant and continual decision to put down the wrong that we have acquired and pick up Christ again isn’t a mental exercise; it is a choice of a new life. Every time we bravely choose to recommit to Christ we take a different path which will be reflected in how we live; a life of heroic witness.

Our choice, our decision, to take this different path is our reacceptance of Christ’s mercy. It is the only ‘thank you’ that can be given to He who gave His all for us. It is the only action that can bring us closer to Him. It is the most important participation that we can offer to Him through Holy Mother Church. It leads us to a life of mercy towards those around us – a sacrificial life of love – but one that comes with the cross.

Brothers and sisters, let’s continually make the decision to take the path of Divine Mercy; the heroic path of truth and love. A decision that, though is a path of trials and suffering, is the only path that allows us to realize who we truly are; living, breathing witnesses of Christ who will live forever with Him in heaven. Let’s make the decision to be heroic and not celluloid heroes – who, after all, might not die but have never lived.

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[1] Written by Raymond Douglas Davies • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Abkco Music, Inc

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I Have To Wonder Why

Today’s Gospel left me wondering.

In today’s Gospel Jesus is relating to them that God desires a relationship. The parable has a very important line; a hermeneutic of sorts, a key. He relates to them the parable of the master of the house. In it that master tells those on the other side of the locked door: ‘I do not know where you are from.[1] He repeats it a little later: ‘I do not know where you are from’[2] In this there is the hermeneutic, the operative phrase, so to speak, which is: ‘I do not know you’. Christ needs to know us.

A relationship, by definition must be a two way offering, otherwise it is just an introduction; over and over again, but still just an introduction.

The master of the house, God the Father, is constantly introducing Himself to us, offering Himself in fellowship to us. He always desires a personal relationship with each of us. The Bible in one sense is the history of His actions of friendship, familial relationship; and our failure to respond.  He offers all He is to us; and do we offer the same back to Him? This is important because our faith is not an academic faith towards a philosophy, it is brotherly relationship with Jesus Christ and a son-ship with God the Father.

All we need to do is look around Holy Mother Church, Christ is right there, at the most intimate moments of our familial lives. Baptism, weddings, moments of regret for our actions in Reconciliation, Death.  His presence at these moments brings us tremendous grace, some even sacramental grace. But for many these moments, events, are just boxes on a check list, things to do; things that can up to a ticket to heaven. God, though coming to us is still not being welcomed into the lives of the participants. Once the event is over the people move on to another aspect of their lives where God isn’t a part.

Brothers and sisters, let’s not fall into the trap of thinking our faith is about doing; doing certain things that pleases God. It is not. Today’s Gospel highlights this when in response to Christ first saying ‘I do not know where you are from’ the people reply ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.[3] A stranger can do as much. No, Christ wants more, He wants us. Let’s redouble our efforts in building this relationship; and the way to a relationship is to talk, it is that simple – prayer. Saint Teresa of Avila wrote: ‘For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.

Pray, it is that simple, it is that important; which leads me back to my first sentence. I have to wonder why, for many us, including myself, it is such a hard decision to do it.

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[1] LK 13:25b
[2] LK 13:27
[3] LK 13:26

Introductions

In this morning’s gospel we are surprised by Christ’s attitude. We have come know Jesus as the compassionate, the peacemaker, the merciful. His attitude towards his apostles, his disciples and those he meets during his ministry was one of fellowship, brotherhood, love. But this morning he seems to almost hurl his words at us: ‘I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing![1] and: ‘Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.[2] and he continues in talking about a house, a family, divided.  How does this reconcile with our understanding of the prince of peace?

We can know much about Jesus; we can dive deep into study and reflection of our Lord; but as important as that is, it is not what our faith calls for. It is a very big mistake on our part to only ‘study’ our Lord; Pope Benedict in his first encyclical writes: ‘Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person…[3] We need to know Jesus himself; we need to build and deepen a relationship with Him. As we become closer to Him then words like today’s gospel start to open up into the loving, not threatening, message that they truly are. We need to embrace the love of Christ with our love for Him.

Where do we start? Where can we go to step into this relationship that is so needed? How can we be sure that we are building a true friendship, a loving relationship?

This evening we start the celebration of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She who loved God absolutely. She who offered her body and life to God Himself. She who embraced Christ every day and built a mother’s love for her child as she deepened her love for God. She who, at the cross embraced all humanity with a mother’s embrace. She who, has come to us through the millennia to introduce us to Jesus. Let’s look to her as our guide to Christ, as our model for our relationship with her Son. She loves us with all her heart and soul.  Let’s ask her for the wisdom to deepen our friendship with her Son.

It is then that all of Christ’s words will come into clearer focus and consistency. It is then that His words this morning will take on the attitude of love and we will realize that our hearts will blaze with the fire of true love as He wished.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.
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[1] LK 12:43
[2] LK 12:51
[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, paragraph 2

Cafeteria Food

Vesper homily for the Vigil of the Memorial of St. Dominic (patron saint)

I attended a morning of reflection the other day for parish and diocese staff about the ministry of administration.  The talk was a little awkward at the beginning and the end because the author of the book we were reflecting on tried some rather trendy prayer techniques. That is my feeling but I know others liked it.

What was surprising, however, as the author was discussing forgiveness in the workplace and she mentioned that it was hard to truly forgive (and that is true) she commented that was why the church still carried the doctrine of purgatory! My heart and mind screamed.

The reason the church ‘still carries’ the doctrine of purgatory is because it is doctrine! It is a foundational belief of the Catholic Faith. To infer that it was just another piece of luggage not only does damage to that doctrine but it does damage to all doctrine.

Purgatory exists! The Catechism of the Catholic Church has three paragraphs that discuss it.[1] This doctrine is based on long standing tradition and upon the Second Book of Maccabees[2] and other parts of Sacred Scripture.[3] It exists!

But even more; this incident highlights an issue that has been around since the beginning of our faith. One that our patron saint Dominic was well acquainted with and has taken on a more intense ‘persona’ since Vatican II – fitting the faith into a more convenient belief system. In this case, a person, of some importance, giving a reflection to a large group and undermining the reality of the faith by either not fully understanding the faith or choosing to nuance it to her preconceived ideas of how the faith should be perpetuates the ‘cafeteria catholic’ malady.

Brothers and sisters, we need to be vigilant; vigilant but loving; loving but immovable as to the truths.  Faithful to our Lord and His whole revelation, not just parts of it. If we hope to celebrate with the heavenly hosts and our Triune God at the eternal banquet our determined vigilance is paramount.

Let’s face it, cafeteria food is never as good as a full banquet.

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[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 130-132
[2] 2 MACC 12:39-46; (2 MACC 12:46 – Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin.)
[3] Rev. 21:27, Hab. 1:13, II Chr. 6:30, Matthew 5:24-26, I Cor 3:11-15

Look Busy!

Today’s gospel gives us a very loud warning on being constantly prepared and on watch for Christ’s second coming. He tells us: ‘You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.[1] Which always brings to mind an old joke.’

One day in the middle of St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican our Lord appears.  The startled security guard quickly finds a priest, the startled priest finds a bishop who then finds a cardinal who then, just as startled, bursts into the pope’s office and loudly informs the pope that Christ has appeared below his window in the square. The cardinal asks the pope ‘what should we do?’ The pope quickly puts down a book he was reading, goes to his desk, picks up pen and paper and starts to write. The cardinal repeats: what should we do? The pope without looking up says ‘act busy!’

In the gospel today Christ seems to be warning his apostles that followers of His need to be always about His business; that being followers of His doesn’t give them a free ride. He says” ‘Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.[2] That Christ has given much to us is a given; but what is it that He expects back? What does He mean when he tells us the parables of the vigilant servants?

The key to these parables and to our understanding His expectation for us is right there in front us. Indeed, the second reading from the letter to the Hebrews screams it at us. Faith, faith is what Christ expects to find when He returns.  When faith is present then the rest takes care of itself.

But the word faith has many explanations, many uses; which begs the question – what does Jesus mean by faith? In our second reading the author gives us a succinct and exact definition: ‘Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.[3] Ok, and just are we hoping for, what are the things not seen? Jesus tells us in the gospel ‘for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.[4]. Eternal life – that is what is hoped for and what we know to be waiting us. But not just eternal life, for people in hell have that, but eternal life with our Lord; or as Jesus Himself worded it, at the Last Supper account in the Gospel of St. John: ‘Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.[5]

In addition, the faith Christ is looking for is an active faith, one that is dynamic and energetic.  A faith that causes us to move – move out from ourselves towards others, towards the future. One that removes all hesitation in the here and now because of what we know about the eternal. To believe in our loving God, a God who is Our Father, who awaits us with all the angels and saints in paradise, will cause us to live the life of a vigilant, active, and loving servant.

How? Because this faith causes within us two great actions – the two greatest actions:

Love God
How can we not love Our Father who offers us joy, peace, eternal happiness? How can we not love His Son who came to us to affect this eternal offering of the Father; who thought only of His Father and us – never Himself – and continually offers Himself to and for us?  How can we not love, Love Himself, the Holy Spirit who dwells within us and guides us and takes our prayers to Our Father.

Love our Neighbors
How can we not love those who our God loves us as much as us. Those who are our family, which is everyone, even those who hate us. If they are as important to God as we are, then they should be as important to us as we are to ourselves.

These actions, these works, are the signs of a true faith – without them faith is weak at best, maybe even illusory. St. James tells as much in his letter: ‘For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.[6]

But faith, true faith, doesn’t just show itself by our works, as if it is just another activity in our daily lives; it affects our lives, it colors our existence. It transforms us into what God intended us to be; we become fully human. In 1993 Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: ‘faith creates culture; faith is itself culture. Faith’s word is not an abstraction; it is one which has matured … through intercultural mingling in which it formed an entire structure of life, the interaction of man with himself, his neighbor, the world and God.[7] This is how foundational faith is. This is why I said earlier: ‘When faith is present then the rest takes care of itself.’

I urge each of us, when time allows, to reflect on our faith. Do our actions reflect our desire for a life of faith? How, do we do this – prayer. That is the first step, prayer, where we open our hearts to ask God to help us understand our own faith. Nothing else will suffice.

Brothers and sisters, what is it that Christ expects to see from us when He returns? True Faith, living faith, faith in all that God has revealed to us about Himself and our future with Him. Faith that lives and breathes through us out toward each other. Faith that enables us to reflect the light of the eternal God in every action we do. Faith that builds and connects each of us with God and each other.

That is what Christ expects to find when He returns; and that, my friends, is no joke.

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[1] LK 12:40
[2] LK 12:48b
[3] HEB 11:1
[4] LK 12:32
[5] JN 17:3
[6] JA 2:26
[7] ‘Christ, faith, and the challenge of cultures’, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, 3/2-5/1993. Speech to the presidents of the Asian bishops’ conferences and the chairmen of their doctrinal commissions.

In The Middle, At The Back

As citizens we are called to participate in the national discourse and that discourse has gotten very polemic in the recent decades. The public discussion is now a ‘for or against’ dynamic, no in between; if ‘our side’ is not leading then we are being led wrongly. Choices made by groups are becoming more punitive then accommodating against those who disagree. The whole of society seems to be pushing to the margins any sense of common good, fellowship. Whether it is because mankind is moving away from faith, and this is the outcome; or our disordered discourse is causing us to move away from faith the result is the same: mankind is finding it harder to be in solidarity with each other. The eventuality is the evaporation the greatest commandments; love God and love our neighbor is devolving into deny God and challenge our neighbor. What are we to do? This is the choice for each of us.

For me, I look to God’s design; as a follower of Christ I am expected to stay right at the side of the marginalized, of those who suffer from the effects of our aggressive social dynamic. I will try to walk with them regardless of any differences in opinion. I will try to show compassion; I will offer love regardless of their viewpoint. Pope Benedict XVI then, and Pope Francis now, constantly remind us of what happens when God is pushed to the peripheries, or even forgotten. Pope Francis has spoken a few times on where clergy, and by necessary extension the laity, need to be on this social journey: ‘walking with our people, sometimes in front, sometimes behind and sometimes in the middle, and sometimes behind: in front in order to guide the community, in the middle in order to encourage and support; and at the back in order to keep it united and so that no one lags too, too far behind, to keep them united.[1]

Friends, with the ever increasing polarity of our society, especially our political arena, it is more important than ever that we walk behind and in the middle of our fellow man to keep hope alive for them.  Our tendency, inculcated from our society, is to push to the front, be the leader; but, as Christ’s disciples our witness comes best from these two other positions. Polemics and sophistry dominate the opinion and decision making process – distrust in our leaders is in the hearts of all. Let’s stand in the middle in solidarity next to those we encounter, including those we disagree with. Let’s walk in the back with those who struggle to keep up and urge them forward to be an active part of the societal journey, especially those who are different from us. There is no denying that our ideas and philosophies will differ. No one will have the exact same values and ideals as someone else; but we all have the same God-given dignity; and that should color our interactions.

Society will pressure us, but God is stronger. Rules will coerce us, but truth is everlasting. The only thing we need to do is choose God; choose fellowship and solidarity with our fellow man. Don’t give in to the prevailing societal dynamics of ‘for or against’, ‘ally or enemy’.

Brothers and sisters, let’s think about Christ’s victory which, as St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, began when Christ – ‘emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.[2] When He became the one next to us and the one behind us. He came for everyone, even those who persecuted and executed Him. Let’s use His example as our model of interaction. This leading from the middle and the back will change the current climate more than polemics from the front.

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[1]  Pope Francis, 10/4/13, Meeting with the clergy, consecrated people and members of diocesan pastoral councils Cathedral of San Rufino, Assisi Friday
[2] Philippians 2:17 (RSV)