To Decrease

Homily for the final Sunday Vespers at my original parish (1o.5 years of Vespers).
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In today’s Gospel St. John the Baptist reveals to us a great attribute of a Christian, one that enables us and ennobles us. Humility.  As he spots Jesus walking towards him on the beach he points to him and says: ‘‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. ‘He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’’[1] He effectively directs those who follow him to follow the Lord.  He removes himself from fame and importance because he knows the truth and it is the truth that is most important.

His ministry was extremely popular and most effective. He was able to bring many to the river for ritual purification and by doing so, prepared them for the advent of the Lord; prepared the soil of their souls so they could accept the truth.  His ministry is now fulfilled, and that was ok with him.  He had done what needed to be done, what God had prepared him for, which was: ‘to go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,[2] This was his calling from birth, his vocation was this and only this, no more no less – and that was ok to him.  When the time had come he resolutely decreased so the Lord could increase.

This is the way of our calling as well; we are given talents and time to affect our surroundings as the Lord desires. Ours is not to win the battle of salvation but participate in it and to move forward in the journey. Ours is to use what is given us and point to who is most important: the way, the truth and the light – Jesus. This doesn’t make us unimportant, it doesn’t reduce us; rather it shows how integral we are to the Lord’s plan and to each other.

Brothers and sisters, our greatest act in life is to listen to God, allow Him to guide us along the journey, a journey that only He knows the path. Our response to His love is to trust completely. He might move us from the comfortable to the uncomfortable but He will move with us. He might need to change how we participate with Him, allowing someone else to fill our place; but His grace will always be with us. Our part in His plan is to participate within Him, within Him. So, in all the things He calls us to, let’s remember St. John the Baptist’s words and make them our own. ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.[3]

I would like to close this homily and my part in our Sunday Vespers with words from John Henry Cardinal Newman.

God has created
me to do Him some definite service;
He has committed some work to me which He
has not committed to another.
I have my mission;
I never may know it in this life,
but I shall be told it in the next.
I have a part in a great work;
I am a link in a chain,
a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for naught. [4]

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[1] JN 1:29b-30
[2] LK 1:76-77
[3] JN 3:30
[4] John Henry Cardinal Newman, Meditations & Devotions Part III

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Light To See The Devil

There is a scene in the movie ‘The Passion of the Christ’ where Christ is walking the Via Dolorosa. The people are in an almost party mood as they watch the condemned carry their crosses to Golgotha. Both sides of the street are lined with people, revelers mostly but some sadden by the spectacle.  Mary is walking parallel to her son watching in agony. On the other side of the street is a grotesque figure, if not Satan then one of his minions doing the same as Mary, only it is enjoying the spectacle.  What strikes me most is that Mary is the only one that sees this creature for what it truly is. She is aware of the evil among us, Satan’s manipulations.

On this Holy Day of the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God I am reminded of two undeniable facts.

Satan is real, and he and his hoards do walk among us affecting evil in our world. Maybe by direct action but mostly by whispering in our ears to move us farther from God.

God is real, and he is calling us back towards His path and Heaven. But it is important to understand, as in the scene from ‘The Passion of the Christ’, that the closer we get to God the more clearly we see the world for what it is and what it should be. The more we are bathed in the light of Christ the more we see and understand God’s plan for us; but also see the manipulations of the evil one in our world. God’s light doesn’t blind us from evil it reveals it. The closer to God we become the more we see clearly both the good and the bad.  This is ok; it not bad. Though we might not wish to be aware of Satan, we need to be. To be blinded from his mechanizations is to allow him to succeed. We just need to be strong and call his actions for what they are, be heralds against Satan. This is especially important in our age where our society is pushing God from the public discourse – which removes him from the personal consciousness. His light is dimmer which means Satan is now in the background, in the shadows, hidden – making it easier for Him to work against us.

Brothers and sisters, this might seem frightening but we can rest assured that we have the better of him when we are living within the light of Christ, as Mary did. God’s light doesn’t protect us from evil but His love does, and where His light shines so does His love – in our hearts.

Merry Christmas!

He, Who Can Heal Us

One of the things that I have noticed over the years is that the secular holiday season of ‘Xmas’ has gotten more and more withdrawn. In spite of the increased decorations and festive environment the interaction among the people out and about has become less. People used to smile and wish each other good will; there were events that drew them together and they were well attended. There was fellowship, regardless of any religious meaning. This has seemingly diminished greatly – and I have to ask myself why.

There is a societal numbness today that is the result of a loneliness, an isolation that comes from, as Fr. Thomas White writes: ‘the negative peace of nonjudgmental tolerance.[1] Modern society has built itself into a great amalgam of views and attitudes, life styles and choices. This amalgam of life philosophies allows each of us to find our own path to happiness which is a false happiness – a false peace of heart. It offers a ‘peace through coexistence’ by allowing each of us to detach ourselves from those around us because they don’t adhere to our understanding of truth and happiness. In reality it is a false peace of coexistence by not co-existing. There is nothing to bring us together in a healthy fellowship. There is no internal fulfillment, because mankind is meant to be together. So, as evidenced in the holiday scene people pass each other by oblivious to anything except their selves – a social numbness.

As I just mentioned, this mindset of individual philosophies of life doesn’t bring us to fulfillment and mankind needs to be fulfilled in order to have real peace in our hearts. This is shown by the manic tint of the daily experience that comes from the hunger for wholeness not addressed by these individualistic philosophies of modern society. Why? Maybe because philosophies are cold, lifeless exercises of the mind not the heart. Maybe because philosophies look within and away from others. Maybe because philosophies don’t offer and accept human emotion. Maybe because philosophies can’t affect the soul. In short, maybe because philosophies don’t offer love. Men and women need to feel loved, they need to embrace and be embraced. Mankind needs to realize the true value of each other and celebrate it. We need relationship not philosophy.

There is a gap between what mankind is striving for and what they are meant for. This gap has been around since the fall of Adam and Eve. That our society has taken it to new and aggressive limits is worrying, but in varying degrees and intensities it has always been there. We can see it in the great and ancient O’Antiphons that we started to celebrate yesterday. We can also see in the O’Antiphons the answer to this philosophical malady – Jesus Christ. Christ is the love that brings all other love together and makes it healthy. Christ is the fulfillment of mankind’s needs and goal to their journey. Christ is the center of what mankind needs the most – relationship – love! It shows us the realization of what is important – Jesus Christ – a person, not a philosophy. When we proclaim the O’Antiphons we are calling out to a person who is the:

Guide of creation,
Giver of law,
Sign of God’s love,
Opener of gates,
Splendor of eternal light and sun of justice,
King and keystone.
Who is: God with us.

We call to Him who are these things, and we ask Him to do something for us, to:

Teach us,
Rescue us,
Save us,
Free us,
Shine on us,
Come to us,
Be with us,

Brothers and sisters, we have now reached the time in the Advent season when we turn our minds and hearts to the great medicine for modern society. We start to focus on the start of what gives us hope and shows us total fulfillment – Christmas. When the transcendent God, aloof from mankind and almost an abstract indifferent ideal, made Himself present to us, real. When the true philosophy of life, the one that makes everyone whole, became touchable and touching, lovable and loving.  Let’s prepare ourselves to allow His touch, His love, tangible and real, to affect our hearts, to affect our minds, and maybe just as important to do the same, through our witness, to those we encounter. The O’Antiphons, after all, are not just titles of Christ and petitions to Him, they are also charges to each of us and actions required of us. Because, Emmanuel, God with us, is more effective, more fruitful, when we bring Him to each other as gift.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

May your Christmas be a blessed one.
May the infant Christ reign in your hearts and minds, and guide you in your witness of His love.

 

The O’Antiphons

December 17
O Come, Thou Wisdom, from on high,
and order all things far and nigh;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

December 18
O Come, O Come, Thou Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times didst give the law,
in cloud, and majesty, and awe.

December 19
O Come, Thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,
from ev’ry foe deliver them
that trust Thy mighty power to save,
and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.

December 20
O Come, Thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heav’nly home,
make safe the way that leads on high,
that we no more have cause to sigh.

December 21
O Come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death’s dark shadow put to flight.

December 22
O Come, Desire of the nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid every strife and quarrel cease
and fill the world with heaven’s peace.

December 23
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
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[1] Catholicism In An Age Of Discontent, Thomas Joseph White, O.P., First Things, November 2016

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

Election Advice

We are coming up to another monumental national decision, election of a president. Maybe, this time it is more defining for our country than ever before. Maybe, this election will have more impact on how we live our lives than any other election in recent history. Maybe, as faithful who have seen many attacks and manipulations against our beliefs the aftermath will bring more? At the very least I have felt this angst in many people, and to a degree in myself.

As American citizens, elections, especially national elections, should give us a little anxiety. After all, as citizens we have a vested interest in how we would like to see our country move forward. In a societal way, this is healthy; to not feel anxiety means that we don’t care. But there is a religious angst that isn’t healthy, a fear that we are losing in the national discourse; that our faith is disappearing from society.

During my weekly scripture reflection, a passage from scripture came across my eyes, Matthew 16:21-24. I was struck by how much it spoke to my mind and heart on this religious angst we might have and why it is unhealthy. Again, this religious angst we might have is useless for followers of Christ. 

‘From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”[1]

This all too familiar event in the life of Christ points out a very important part of being a follower of His, a disciple.  In times past I viewed this passage as another example of impetuous Peter once again sticking his foot in his mouth, but it is much more. We see Peter try to move ahead of Christ, take the lead. We see He won’t accept what the Lord is telling Him; he tries to alter the outcome. Peter wants his discipleship to be on his terms.

Christ tells Peter and us that to be His disciple is to follow Him. It is that simple and that hard. Christ tells us that following of Him will entail suffering, carrying our cross; but it is the only way. As uncertain and scary as this might seem we do have the reassurance that if we stay close to God, follow Jesus, then He will stay close to us, lead us on the true path to heaven – which after all is perfect closeness with our Triune God. We saw this today in the first reading from 2 Maccabees[2] about the seven sons being put to death. A very graphic and horrible example to be sure, but a witness to the most important part of faith – faith in our Lord – complete trust regardless of what is happening.

Brothers and sisters, let’s move forward into and then out of this national election, keeping close to Jesus; not in front of Him but behind Him. He will not fail us.  The election might bring sadness and maybe persecution or it might bring celebration; but these results are only short term – Christ brings us peace and joy that is eternal.

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[1] MT 16:21-24
[2] 2 MC 7:1-2, 9-14

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

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