End Of Times

The end of the liturgical year is upon us; next week is the last Sunday which is the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe. Throughout the liturgical year you and I have celebrated within the Mass the great mysteries of God in the special seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and of course the Sacred Triduum. We have been taught throughout the season Ordinary Time what it means to be a disciple and how we should live our lives. And throughout the year, at each Sunday Mass professed our beliefs by proclaiming the Creed.

Now, in these past few weeks Holy Mother Church points us to the end of times. She is witnessing to what our final goal is and what needs to take place, both around us and within us. This Sunday, our readings dive deep into the meaning of one line in the Creed which we are about to proclaim: ‘Jesus will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.[1] These aren’t her words; Holy Mother Church didn’t make them up; no, Christ Himself has given us knowledge of the end.

The first reading is a warning about the judgement to come, our personal judgement:

Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven,
when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble,
and the day that is coming will set them on fire,
leaving them neither root nor branch,
says the LORD of hosts.
But for you who fear my name, there will arise
the sun of justice with its healing rays.[2]

God, will come and judge our lives; Heaven and Hell are real; these are solid and irrefutable facts. But, the end times are not a foregone conclusion. We can affect our eternal goal, as we hear in Malachi: ‘But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.’[3] By the words ‘we who fear His name[4] we mean: we who revere God to the point that we want to do everything we can to be close to Him, do His will, avoid sin.  We mean: we whose greatest fear is that of letting down the most loved person in our lives. We mean: we who offer back our existence to He who gave it to us; to trust in Him completely. This is what we mean; what we are meant for. This is what will affect our final judgement.

In addition, Christ tells us that we can never know when this judgement will come. In Matthew, He tells us: ‘But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.[5]; and so, we must persevere – come what may. Christ tells His apostles and us in the Gospel today: ‘By your perseverance you will secure your lives.[6] By perseverance ‘not a hair on your head will be destroyed[7] He tells us. This is how Jesus will judge each of us. All of us will stand in front of Him and be held accountable. All of us must be prepared.

These readings sound heartless and mean, they can sound scary and threating. We know our selves. How can we hope to meet this threshold of salvation? How can we have the strength to persevere?  Take heart – our judge has been one of us; has lived among us. We will stand in front of Jesus who is our brother. He knows what it means to be a frail human, what it means to suffer, what it means to face overwhelming forces and struggle with goals. The then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote. ‘One is reminded of the mighty vision of Christ with which the Book of Revelation begins (Rev 1:9-19): the seer sinks down as though dead before this being full of seemingly sinister power. But the Lord lays his hand on him and says ‘Fear not, it is I’ (1:17)[8]

Brothers and sisters, we come to the end of this year’s lessons. We are given the full import of our final judgement. We can understand that to succeed we need to fear the right things – fear of failing God, not of God’s judgement. The first affects the other.

Why? Because the God of justice is first and foremost a God of mercy. If we hold close to Him, trust in Him, ask for His forgiveness for those many times we have failed – he will embrace us; Yes, even if we fail and fall and return to Him again and again – He can’t do otherwise. Or as St. Paul writes so poetically ‘The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful–for he cannot deny himself.[9]

He remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.[10] These are powerful words that we can hang our hope on.

My friends – these readings are even more profound on this day; the day when the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy begins to close. But even though the year is closing and St. John the Baptist Parish Holy Doors are closing, God’s heart will never close. Let’s look to our Lord, especially in those times of trial and persecution, fear what is important to fear and hold on to His love and mercy. And most importantly pass it forward to those who we see that need it as much as we do.

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[1] Nicene-Constantinapolitan Creed
[2] 1 MAL 3:19-20A
[3] 1 MAL 3:20A
[4] ibid
[5] MT 24:36
[6] LK 21:19
[7] LK 21:18
[8] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), Introduction to Christianity pg. 251
[9] 2 TIM 2:11-13
[10] 2 TIM 2:13

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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.

Ode to a Mother

I am a convert to Catholicism; born and baptized in the Methodist Church but lived a life as a suburban secularist – God just wasn’t important. But, as I was trying to understand better why the Catholic church was an anathema to the human race I began to realize the great lie of secularists.  The only way that God wasn’t important is if you ignored Him.  He was and is there, He was and is in love with me.  He was and is who always makes me more human. This process of coming to terms with, and growing in the real truth was my road home to Catholicism.

That road was paved with great people and great words.  I owe my understanding of the faith to, primarily, the writings of Pope St. John Paul the great, Dr. Peter Kreeft, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger among others.  The authors of my conversion were the great points of clarity.  But as great as they were (and are) they are points in time.  I step back from life to read and understand.  But as Peter, James and John had to come down from Mt. Tabor I needed to put the books and papers down and go back into my life. This connection, this taking the truths and using them in my life was helped by another – a little nun in Northern Alabama.  Mother Angelica’s EWTN was the connection between these great writers and leaders and living a life in society.  Her enthusiasm for our God radiated through her television station and deep into my soul.  Through her and the programming of EWTN, I found that life could be lived within the faith joyfully. I came to know that my life lived in Christ didn’t mean a life of repression and boredom but a life of true freedom and vigor. The great truths of our faith didn’t hinder me but gave me fullness.  And of course, her ministry showed me that entertainment could be more than mind numbing titillation that left you empty and hungry, it could be life altering and empowering.

Thank you Lord for the gift of Mother Angelica from the very first years of my conversion and for her EWTN legacy.  May I, in some small way, pass forward what she and her community gave to this former ‘suburban secularist’ – a life in Christ.

Requiescat in pace Mother Angelica

What Path?

In 2005 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was chief celebrant and homilist at the Mass prior to the start of the conclave to elect the predecessor of Pope St. John Paul the Great.  In his homily Cardinal Ratzinger spoke words that rang throughout the media: ‘We are building a dictatorship of relativism[1] . His homily was as profound as it was challenging; one priest, a so-called ‘catholic expert’ for a major Washington DC newspaper wrote ‘I think this homily shows he realizes he’s not going to be elected.[2]

As a sound-byte goes, the Cardinal’s comment was good; but what made this sound-byte profound and challenging was the whole sentence that it came from.  ‘We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.[3]

Solely of one’s own ego and desires[4] His message is as relevant today as in 2005, maybe more so; both in its universal dimension and, most importantly, in its personal dimension. It is essential that we habitually pause for a moment and interiorize his observation and reflect on how our faith-life measures up to his statement; because how we live our faith affects how the universal church acts and thus how she influences the world.

Our faith, our response to God’s revelation, is one of acceptance of Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life (cf. John 14:16).  As Catholics we accept that it is only through our Lord:

  • that we can find our way home;
  • that we understand there are absolute truths and they are imperative;
  • and, that we can gain eternal life with God Himself.

We accept this and we submit to living a life in pursuit and adherence to these realities; we submit to a loving obedience to He who can give these – indeed are these. At least that is what we should be doing; but, because of the effects of original sin, this is never easy to live out – we get in our own way.

Brothers and sisters, during this Lenten season let’s ask ourselves if we are actively trying to live the life that brings us to these truths; or are we allowing our own ego and desires to color our faith life?  Or, in the words of Pope Francis: ‘Am I on the path of life or on the path of lies?[5] One path builds a stronger church and thus a healthier world – the other path leads to a cacophony of disappointments and emptiness.

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[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger 4/18/2005 Homily Misso pro eligendo Romano Pontifice.
[2] Fr. Richard McBrien The Washington Post 4/19/05
[3] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger 4/18/2005 Homily Misso pro eligendo Romano Pontifice.
[4] ibid
[5] Pope Francis Homily 2/25/2016

I Believe

Preparing our hearts and minds for both comings of Christ, His final return at the end of times and His nativity, is the reason for Advent. Last week we reflected on the hope that is prevalent throughout the season – indeed throughout every disciple’s journey. This evening I wanted to look into what allows us to have this constant hope – faith. It is faith that provides meaning to our existence because it is faith that allows God’s revelation to be fruitful. Faith unlocks the hope, it brings us to the fullness of humanness. We believe. We are receptive to the divine.

As we might infer from this dynamic of revelation and faith; faith is not a self-initiated interior process that leads to an individual an understanding of God – that would be a philosophy. It is brought about by, initiated by, an external authority. We don’t reflect to the truth – we are given the truth and reflect upon it in our hearts. In short, faith is the acceptance of a reality brought about from without that we then journey towards. The response that starts us on this journey of faith is ‘Credo’ – ‘I Believe’. It is proclaimed first from within (in our heart and mind); then outwards.

‘I believe’ should also be the hermeneutic for this evening’s reflection. So, in regards to faith, what do we mean when we say I believe? Do we really believe or give lip service to the words?

When I say ‘I Believe’ I am affirming this action of faith that is stirred within from something outside of me. Someone has told me, I didn’t think it up; couldn’t, however detailed and flawless my logic is. When I say ‘I Believe’ in regards to faith it is authoritative. It doesn’t contain any of the relative doubt that we attach to that phrase when used in other aspects of our life. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in his book Introduction to Christianity: ‘The phrase could literally be translated by ‘I hand myself over to.’, ‘I assent to’[1]The powerful reality behind Credo should cause our lives to change. By proclaiming ‘I believe’ we are new people reconfigured by faith, faith in the Triune God. Again, Cardinal Ratzinger from the same book: ‘the true nature of faith or belief is clearly a conversion, an about-turn, a shift of being.[2]

So as we continue our Advent journey let’s look within and reflect on what we mean when we say ‘I Believe’ for the answer to that query will determine how fruitful our Advent season will be and how our faith will affect us. Is it a rote proclamation without much weight; or is it a proclamation of intensity, of certitude? When we say Credo do we hunger for the reality behind the words and look for ways to change; or do we let these words drift away from us and not affect our life?

Brothers and Sisters, let’s open our mind and our hearts to the gift of faith; so that every time we say ‘I believe’ the words of St. Thomas Aquinas become an actuality in each of us.

Et antiquum documentum
Novo cedat ritui:
Præstet fides supplementum
Sensuum defectui.

Lo! o’er ancient forms departing
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith for all defects supplying,
Where the feeble senses fail.[3]

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[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger – Introduction to Christianity’ Section 1 chapter 7
[2] ibid
[3] St. Thomas Aquinas – Tantum Ergo  (the incipit of the last two verses of Pange Lingua)

Why We Can Pray

In today’s Gospel[1] we witness the reactions of Jesus’ disciples to His bread of life discourse; and in the first reading[2] we see Joshua meeting with the leadership of the tribes to discuss their allegiances – in both we see the people in dialog.  We see community interaction with each other and with their God. Prayer can be described as the communication of the faithful to He whom they have faith.  There are two basic types – personal and corporate. Personal prayer is just what it is called. With the corporate prayer we see community at work together.

Corporate prayer can be grouped into two broad classes: liturgical and non-liturgical. Liturgical prayer takes two forms – the Holy Mass is, of course, the highest.  It is the source and summit of our faith. Indeed our very existence on this journey needs to revolve around it because it is Jesus Himself. It is His action on Calvary, His sacrifice to the Father in which we too can offer our sacrifices as well. And of course His great gift of Himself to us in the Eucharist where we can be nourished and strengthened on our pilgrimage.

The other type of liturgical prayer is what we are participating in right now – the Liturgy of the Hours.  For the next few weeks, or so, I would like to delve into this great gift that also helps us in our journey; and not only us our actions in this liturgical prayer help the whole Universal Church, and the whole universe for that matter.

But maybe the best way to start reflecting on the Liturgy of the Hours is to reflect on a fundamental aspect of prayer. Why we can even pray to begin with? St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote: ‘The prayer of a Christian is never a monologue.[3] Prayer is not a one way action, it is dialog.  If there is no dialog then there is no relationship, at least a healthy relationship.  Prayer is the communication of a healthy relationship.  But still, how are we even able to enter into this dialogue with God?

Because God desires it and initiated it. There is no other way; if God didn’t want to communicate with us then we would be just ‘howling at the moon’ so to speak. But to our great joy – He desires it. And even more foundational, it is in His very nature to communicate. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in his book the Feast of Faith: ‘The basic reason why man can speak with God arises from the fact that God himself is speech, Word.[4] This should be obvious when we consider that God is a triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three persons in one God.  Within God there is dialog, the dialog of love.  The Son Himself is the eternal logos, the Word, and when He came among us He enable us to enter into an even more intimate dialog than mankind had prior to His incarnation because He embraced human speech and ‘made it a component of divine speech’.[5] In addition, with the indwelling of His Holy Spirit we are brought into an even more intimate participation of the divine dialog. St. Paul tells us this in his letter to the Romans: ‘the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.[6]

Brothers and sisters, let’s always remember that God has given us a great gift in being able to enter into dialog with Him, but even greater we have been given the ability to enter into His own divine dialog – we are an intimate part of His family and as family we are heard, our feelings and words are desired and cherished. For our part, we need to become active participants in this family discussion.

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[1] JN 6:60-69
[2] JOS 24:1-2A, 15-17, 18B
[3] St. Josemaría Escrivá – The Way #114
[4] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger – The Feast of Faith (pgs 25-26)
[5] ibid
[6] Romans 8:26 (RSV)

Thoughts of Hope

The path of society today has shown itself as moving farther and farther from the Judeo-Christian values that built it – both here and in Europe.  This week’s tragic decision on Marriage is just the latest in clarion examples that prove this.  It is now painfully obvious that Christianity needs to come to terms with a new paradigm which an op-ed in Time Magazine proclaims ‘Orthodox Christians Must Now Learn To Live as Exiles in Our Own Country’[1]

But should this worry us? Yes and No.

Yes

Our efforts to proffer the Gospel message as the best path for mankind to take is seriously ignored and ridiculed. We have been relegated to the sidelines as an annoyance – to some a threat.  Through our own inactions as apostolic descendants we have placed our message in limbo.  We don’t act as we speak and, truth be told, we rarely speak our faith anyways.  And through our actions we have shown that we don’t really live our faith.  The misguided belief that if our society doesn’t agree with the Gospel then we should just allow society’s ideas to be our own (as seen in numerous attempts to bend ideas to fit our faith) just howls of hypocrisy – and people see and understand it as such. We have led ourselves into some uncertain waters that could lead to persecution.

No

Our journey since the Lord ascended home has shown great periods of persecution, laxity, desertion and confusion.  During these times our Holy Mother Church has been purified, re-tooled and continued in a stronger fashion.  The Roman persecution saw savagery against our Church only to see great growth afterwards. The 13th century saw Holy Mother Church wallowing in self-indulgence and from this we saw the great mendicant orders started by St. Dominic and St. Francis re-energize the Christian world. And on and on. So we can hold on to hope that though we might struggle through our time on earth – God’s plan continues no matter what mankind throws in His way.

Our Heavenly Father doesn’t wish for our waywardness and failure – He doesn’t wish to ‘clean house’ and start afresh – He desires our success.  But He knows our struggles and He understands the pressures exerted on us by Satan and, yes, ourselves.  We hear in the Gospel of St. John Christ tell us that He has a plan for this: ‘Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.[2]  As scary as this sounds it is a much more loving correction that what He visited on Sodom and Gomorrah, what He tried during Noah’s time.

Years ago, then Cardinal Ratzinger made a shocking statement, at least at the time, and though rather lengthy it needs to be reflected on in total:

‘From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge—a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision.

As a small society, she will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly she will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Alongside this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. 

But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize her true center and experience the sacraments again as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship. 

The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystalization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. 

The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism of the eve of the French Revolution—when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain—to the renewal of the nineteenth century. 

But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. 

Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret. 

And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already with Gobel, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.’[3]

Brothers and sisters, we have seen terrible decisions made in our lifetimes, this week’s decision by the Supreme Court is just another in abominations done in the name of love.  We can see the continued and increasing threats to our faith, our ability to live our faith and probably even our freedom.  We have every reason to be sadden and worry – but never despair; and never resignation.  We have the right of it because we have been given truth from our creator.  If our church is entering a retooling then we continue the good fight and accept God’s will.  If we remain true to Christ He will remain true to us and Holy Mother Church will come out on the other side of this period stronger and more vibrant.  So I proudly say what is hanging on our front door: ‘as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.[4]

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[1] http://time.com/3938050/orthodox-christians-must-now-learn-to-live-as-exiles-in-our-own-country/
[2] John 15: 2-3 (RSV)
[3] Glaube un Zukunft (1970) Faith and the Future (1971/2006)
[4] Joshua 24:15b (RSV)