Along with St. John the Baptist

(In the past month my bishop has transferred me to a new parish. This is my first homily as their deacon.)

As you have already noticed our vestments are green again; it is now Ordinary Time.  This season will soon give way to Lent, the Sacred Triduum and Easter but will return after that. I like to think of Ordinary Time as the season of learning how to be a follower of Christ; it is, in a very real way, the School of Discipleship.  It is a time when Holy Mother Church proclaims the readings of Christ living His ministry among the people. The time in His life, from the River to the Cross, when he proclaims the Kingdom of God and reveals the Father’s plan; when He transforms those who follow Him to be living witnesses of His message.

It is most appropriate that this season starts with the words of our Patron, St. John the Baptist: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.[1]  Powerful words; words that we hear from our priests at every Mass while gazing on our Lord held high before Communion. Words that elicit from us the response: ‘Lord, I am not worthy…[2]’ which echoes the Baptist’s words[3]. These words are foundational in our walk with our Great Teacher. This proclamation is also a short description of our lesson plan for Ordinary Time as we start, once again, to reflect on just who Jesus is to us, what He does for us, what He brings us, and what He expects from us. It is obvious who Jesus is to St. John the Baptist: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.[4] Now it’s our turn to start to reflect on our understanding of Christ and our response. Maybe the best way is to make the words of St. John the Baptist our own.

Who Jesus is to us.
With these words we proclaim, along with St. John the Baptist, that we recognize Jesus as our savior. That He is the way to eternal happiness and salvation, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.[5] He tells us in John.

What Jesus does for us.
With these words we proclaim, along with St. John the Baptist, that we follow God who humbled Himself, who lowered Himself, who offers Himself for us. God-made-man who is our sacrifice. His great sacrifice will be celebrated more intensely in the Lenten season, Holy Week, and Easter season, but we will witness to His daily sacrifices of living among us in this great Green Season. He shows us how our daily sacrifices bring us closer to holiness.

What Jesus brings to us.
We proclaim, along with St. John the Baptist, that Christ Himself brings the light of God; the light that shines love upon all creation. Indeed, Jesus is the Light, the light that will penetrate us during our reflections on the readings during this season. The light that allows us to see clearly the path of joy and peace, as well as the evil that is around us. The light of truth that can guide us through our choices.

What Jesus expects from us.
We need to proclaim Christ’s message by walking the walk that St. John the Baptist did. The Baptist’s witness was not so much his words, but more by how he lived his life within those words, how he lived the Word of God, Jesus Himself.  How he stayed within the light of Christ, warmed by it, guided by it, strengthened by it, even in his time of doubt. He witnessed by his life how he decreased so that Christ would increase, allowing God’s glory to radiate through him. In short, Christ expects us to follow the life of the Baptist. 

Our challenge
Our parish has taken as their patron the greatest of all the prophets[6], and with that selection comes the great opportunity and obligation to proclaim to the world all we will reflect on this year. To make our own the Baptist’s words: ‘Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.[7] by how we live our lives in the Public Square.  Our faith isn’t one of secrecy, we don’t live it in private, behind our doors. It is a public faith, one that everyone should be able to see. One that shines with the truth of God and brings hope. By living our faith in the open means that both successes and failures will be open for everyone to see, and that is ok; it is by how we move on from them, especially our failings, that will mark us a real follower. With heads held high we witness that: ‘I am not perfect; I am sinner and I am trying not be. Yes, I didn’t do what I proclaimed but I am trying to. But, I am loved nonetheless by God; who loves you too.’

Brothers and sisters, this can be a daunting, scary journey if it was left up to us alone. But, we are not alone, we have each other on this journey, we have the help of all the saints and angels, we have our Blessed Mother. But most importantly we have the Lamb of God who defeated death for us and opened the gates of heaven for each of us. Let’s take our strength and courage from our Patron and herald the Lord through our lives, and to do this let’s make this year’s Ordinary Time a spiritually fruitful season for not only us but those we witness to.

Let’s do this together, you and me.
Let’s help each other radiate our Lord.
And most of all: Let’s start now.
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[1] JN 1:29
[2] Roman Missal
[3] MT 3:11; LK3:16; MK 1:7; JN 1:27
[4] JN 1:29
[5] JN 14:6
[6] LK 7
[7] JN 1:34

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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

Martha And Mary

Homily given at a Mass at St. John The Baptist Parish, Winfield IL. They are celebrating their 150 year jubilee year.

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Last week while serving at your Sunday morning Masses I learned that you were going to have a concert in the park on Thursday – and it would be big band swing music.  Since I have always liked this type of music I attended, and it was marvelous.  The music, your campus and the energy of the attendees made it a beautiful evening.  It was a marvelous way to help celebrate St. John the Baptist Parish’s 150 year jubilee.

This community can be proud of your journey and it is always good to look back at what you have accomplished, where you are today, and look towards tomorrow to where and what you will be in the future. A jubilee year celebration is always a special time to reflect on the journey of your parish.

A parish journey is one of community and as such it is made up of a multitude of journeys; as many as there are and have been parishioners. Each of us is on a journey; we are pilgrims, we are journeying through this existence to a goal. Each of our journeys are different but with the same future goal, the only real goal – eternity with our Heavenly Father.

Jesus Christ walks with each of us on our journey, and gives us helps through His bride, Holy Mother Church. We have the helps of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist to strengthen us and heal us.  We have each other, fellow Christians to walk with us and support us; and this extends to the Church victorious, the angels and saints in heaven. We have the revealed word of God to lead us; and on and on.

But one of these helps is little understood by most Catholics – the Liturgical Year.  Other than clergy and liturgists and few others, most don’t really understand the gift of the liturgical year.  Except for when decorations and music change, vestments turn a different color there is no notice. But there should be. The liturgical year is a great spiritual and catechetical tool; if we live with the liturgical year affecting us we can grow in our faith and our witnessing to the beauty of that faith.

Holy Mother Church gives us great seasons and feast days to teach us the many facets of our God and His people. Advent, Christmas, Lent, the Sacred Triduum and Easter celebrate the great acts of our God for His people; but the one season that seems to be mostly ignored is the ‘green season’, Ordinary Time.

Ordinary Time is a poor title because it is a horrible translation of the Latin; there is nothing ordinary about it.  A closer translation would be Ordered Time (thus the titles like today, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, next week will be the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time and on and on). I like to call Ordinary Time the ‘School of Discipleship’ because the readings in it teach us what it means to be followers of Christ, it trains us to be better witnesses for God.  Through honest reflection of the readings we can take stock of how we are doing.

Today’s reading is a great lesson in our journey as disciples.  We see Martha and Mary. Martha – she is busy doing; and Martha has the right of it. Jesus calls us to do things – calls to activity. In the gospel of St. John (known as the most Eucharistic gospel) the description of the Last Supper doesn’t mention the institution narrative as other gospels do. No, instead it relates to us the washing of the feet – action, service – this is what the Eucharist calls us to do. The final words of the Mass, the dismal, in the official Vatican text is Ite Misa Est – ‘Go you are sent’ a call to action. His final words to His apostles before His ascension calls us to action: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…[1]  So Martha is following the teachings and commands of Christ to do things.

Mary – on the other hand seems to be just sitting and doing nothing, letting her sister do all the work.  This is true, she is not doing, she is listening, and Mary has the right of it as well. But Mary has correct priority of things.  She is listening to our Lord. Another Mary, the Blessed Mother, tells the servants and us at the wedding feast of Cana to ‘Do whatever He tells you.[2] She calls us to action but first to listen.

Being a disciple means we have an apostolate – we have things to do for our Lord, but we need to listen to what it is that He has to tell us. We have to come to understand His directions first then do them; otherwise we are just doing our own thing, spinning our wheels in our journey to be more like Christ.

To listen to the Lord we need to participate in His dialog, the Mass of course is the summit of His dialog but we also need to dialog with Him in our prayer.  Mass is at best daily, usually weekly, but prayer is constant.

I would suggest to you that this gospel reading about Martha and Mary can be viewed not as two different people but what goes on with our journey. We are at times more Martha than Mary, then more Mary than Martha.  We need to prioritize our lives with Martha and Mary in mind. Martha and Mary teach us a very important lesson in priority; we need to use our ears first, mind and heart second, and last our hands and feet. Or as St. Josemaría Escrivá puts it: ‘First, prayer; then atonement; in the third place – very much “in the third place” – action.[3]

May the lesson of Martha and Mary help us be more fruitful in our apostolates.

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[1] Mt 28:19-20a
[2] Jn 2:5
[3] Josemaría Escrivá The Way #82

Truth in a Name

Today we pick up where we left off at Ash Wednesday, we are back in Ordinary Time.  Our time for intense celebration and reflection on the works of our Lord gives way to learning how to be His disciples. But first, we attend to two great celebrations next week we celebrate Corpus Christi, and today we celebrate the Holy Trinity.

The Feast of the Holy Trinity is unusual, indeed singular, in the celebrations of the Liturgical Year.  Whereas other feasts celebrate actions of Lord such as the Nativity, Good Friday, Easter; or the result of His action such as feast days for saints and our blessed Mother; today we celebrate the very mystery of God.  Today, we celebrate who God is, we celebrate the central mystery of the Christian Faith. CCC states:

The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the “hierarchy of the truths of faith”. The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to men “and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin”’[1]

That is what we are celebrating – the central mystery of our whole faith – it is that important.  Out of the infinite aspects we can reflect on – three points come quickly to mind.

First. God has chosen to reveal Himself to us.
He chose to reveal himself to us– this not something we can figure out ourselves. It is God who brought to us who He is. Through history He started to make us aware of who he is. But it is Christ, who makes whole the revelation of who He is.

Second – And reveals to us that He is a Trinity.
‘The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Because that is who He is; One God three persons. There is no other name by which He can go by. Creative as we can be there nothing we can do to repackage this.  God is a Holy Trinity, 3 persons in 1 God; He Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Christ said so, the whole bible speaks of this in hidden ways until Jesus proclaims it openly and clearly.

From the meeting of Abraham in Mamre:
The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oak of Mamre, as he sat in the entrance of his tent, while the day was growing hot. Looking up, he saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them; and bowing to the ground, he said: “Sir, if it please you, do not go on past your servant.[2]

To the words of Christ in John: ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.[3] And today’s Gospel and of course Christ’s great commission ‘Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…[4]

Three – He is relational.
As creatures we are limited in our ability to explain the unexplainable; but we try. There have been some rather clever attempts throughout history to try and explain what a Holy Trinity is like. We have all heard the comparison credited to St. Patrick of a three leaf clover; or the likening of the Trinity to a piano chord and so on.  These comparisons are good as far as they go to describing the unity within the Trinity; but recently, in past 60 years or so, there have other attempts to describe the Trinity; attempts that actually do damage to our understanding.

Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier or Creator, Liberator, Sustainer have been used. They have not only been used to explain the Trinity but they have, sadly, been used in the Sacrament of Baptism to replace Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These are very disturbing because they reduce the Trinity to actions or jobs, and most importantly, they erase the Trinitarian reality of God. For instance the Father is creator, and so is the Son and the Holy Spirit; The Son is the redeemer and so are the Father and Holy Spirit and the same goes with Sanctifier. Though we attribute some attributes to each of the persons for convenience, as in our opening prayer when we heard ‘the Spirit of sanctification[5], in truth all three hold all attributes, as evidenced by the prayer over the offerings we are about to hear: ‘Sanctify by the invocation of your name, we pray, O Lord our God.[6] These attempts have caused grave damage to the faithful to the point that Holy Mother Church is requesting those who went through a baptism with these ‘labels’ to be found, for they were not baptized. No, these names are not the same as what God Himself revealed to us – and for that reason alone we should not use them.  But, there is a deeper import, revealed to us, for using Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

God is love!!!!!!
Love is relational!  God, in His very being is self-giving total love, to be that means to love others just because they are other. The Father loves the Son, He does everything for the Son. The Son likewise, does everything for the Father. And this is so perfect that it is the third person the Holy Spirit. God’s revelation to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit allows us into the inner part of our creator – not what He does but who He is – Love.

Brothers and sisters, this is why the Catechism says the mystery of the Holy Trinity is central: ‘It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the “hierarchy of the truths of faith”.[7] God is Love, He offers Himself totally, and all of His revelation and His actions towards us should us bring us to the realization that this is what we should do as well. God has revealed His nature to us to allow us to strive for and participate in it – we are made in His image after all.  So, as we start into the great school of discipleship, Ordinary Time, let’s look within and ask ourselves how we are doing in trying to understand the great and central mystery of our faith.

How is our participation in this mystery doing?
How are we in living a life of self-giving love?
Our answers to these questions are the only and true gauge of our understanding this mystery of the Trinity.

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[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church ¶234
[2] Genesis 18:1-3
[3] John 14:9
[4] Matthew 28:19
[5] Collect from the Mass of the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity
[6] Prayer over the Offerings from the Mass of the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity
[7] Catechism of the Catholic Church ¶234

Making People Hungry

This weekend we are back in Ordinary Time; but in spite of the change in liturgical seasons we are still contemplating what was started in the Christmas season – the great epiphanies of Christ. Today, we finish with the last of the four great events that, by the way, the Feast of the Epiphany originally celebrated. The Nativity of our Lord, the Visit of the Magi, the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan River, and now the Wedding Feast at Cana.

We are also one month into the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy called by Pope Francis. There has been quite a lot of interest and activity already, which is a good thing. My worry, however, is that if we are not careful this celebration of the Year of Mercy might cloud the great initiative already in progress – The New Evangelization. This would be a tragedy because they fit so well together – indeed they have the same goal. The initiative of the New Evangelization is to bring Christ to those who have forgotten Him; to bring the Face of Mercy Himself to those who have forgotten what God has to offer His creation.

With any ministry and mission we are always looking for ways to implement them; the New Evangelization is no different. As faithful disciples we should always look to Jesus and see how He accomplished His mission on earth; in order to gain insight into how we should participate with Him. In this case – how do we continue to bring His face of Mercy, and what it involves, to those who have forgotten or never knew Him. With these celebrations of the four Epiphanies we can go back and look at how Christ brought Himself to the world.

The Nativity in Bethlehem.
Christ comes first to a family. His presence, the presence of divine mercy enters mankind through a family. It is true that the love and mercy of a mother and father to their child was always there, and Mary and Joseph come to know what this love and mercy is about.  They feel it well up in them and pour it forth on this little and defenseless baby. They knew He was God – but I have to believe that in Bethlehem that realization took a back seat to the love of a parent for their child.  But Christ’s presence brings a holiness to this relationship of parent and child, as well as to the relationship of a family. His presence, His love and mercy, elevates the dynamic of a family to something different, something holy, sacred.

The Visit of the Magi.
The world, in the personage of the Magi, comes to the great king, announced by an amazing cosmic display. But when the meeting happens, I can’t help but believe it is just three tired, worried and worn out journeyman visiting a poor rural family with a toddler. And yet their hearts are moved by what they see; they are fulfilled. The world comes face to face with Mercy Himself as they enter this house of a family filled with sanctity.  These outsiders are affected by what radiates from a family, they are changed; or as St. Matthew states more poetically: ‘they departed for their country by another way[1] Mercy is introduced through a normal encounter– not the extraordinary.

The Baptism of the Lord in the River Jordan.
Christ, now an adult, is shown to those at the river as a chosen one of God. Mercy is made known by God Himself. And though it comes in the form of a profound mysterious event it comes during an event with the townsfolk of the region. Christ comes to the river with them and comes out of the river as they do; He is one of them. Mercy is made known through a neighbor and human social activity.

The Wedding Feast of Cana.
Christ, now with a few followers makes His first outward act of a miracle. His changing the water into wine wipes away doubt from His disciples who came with Him that He is special. But, just what was the event that He used. Christ, used the event of a wedding, a special but still common occurrence; and not only that but He used six relatively common vessels used to hold water, to show that Mercy was among the people.  He took the ordinary and raised it to the Holy.

Our Model and Our Turn
Brothers and sisters, as we try to contemplate our part in this much needed New Evangelization let’s look to Christ’s actions in these epiphanies as our model. Christ, in all of these moments, took what he was experiencing, took His daily events and raised them, sanctified them by His actions.  Now, some you might be thinking that – well, He was God and He had special gifts that allowed Him to do this; but, I urge you to reread the second reading today. St. Paul tells the Corinthians and us that we too have been given talents to help the face of Mercy be made known. ‘There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.[2] St. Paul proclaims and then goes on to list a few of the inexhaustible gifts given to us. God has not left us without tools to reintroduce the face of mercy.

My friends – what these epiphanies show us is that our part of Christ’s mission to bring His face to everyone is to take normalcy and raise it to holiness – to always sanctify every moment of our day. This is our task, this is our obligation to He who showed us mercy first; not by clever words but by holy action. Sanctify the workplace, sanctify the home, sanctify the public square; with fearlessness and love. By these actions the people around us will hunger for what we have.

Out part is to make people hungry – Christ will feed them.

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[1] Mt 2:12
[2] 1 Cor 12:4

‘Family Time’

I don’t know about the rest of you but I always look at the Solemnity of All Saints as the winding down of the ‘School of Discipleship’ – Ordinary Time; only four more Sundays and then its Advent. We have Thanksgiving coming up in just four Thursdays. We are coming very close to the most ‘family oriented’ of times – Christmas.  I can almost feel the additional pounds just waiting for me.

But if we look closely, Holy Mother Church starts ‘family time’ today and tomorrow. The Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (All Souls) tomorrow are intense celebrations of our Christian family.

Solemnity of All Saints.
Today we look to heaven, to those of our family who have triumphed in their journey and made it home – the saints.  They have lived a life in pursuit of God’s design. They have taken the words of Christ proclaimed in the gospel today as meat to live on, and the Ten Commandments as guideposts to lead them.  They weren’t always perfect, they struggled and they were tempted and every so often failed; but they continued to offer themselves to the Father through Christ. Or as Dr. Peter Kreeft writes: ‘The saints, too, had wandering minds. The saints, too, had constantly to recall their constantly wandering mind-child home. They became saints because they continued to go after the little wanderer, like the Good Shepherd.[1] They knew who they were and who they needed for strength and help. They overcame their weaknesses by submitting to the mercy of God and receptive to His will.

Their lives are something we should always and everywhere reflect upon. Saint John Paul the Great wrote: ‘All the saints have ever been, and are, poor in spirit, meek, afflicted, hungry and thirsty for justice, merciful, pure of heart, peacemakers, persecuted because of the Gospel. They have been these things in varying degrees. We have to be like them. “God’s will” is our sanctification.[2] They are our big brothers and sisters who, by their examples and prayers, will help us home. They are the ones we should look to for intercession and guidance.

Our celebration today of All Saints isn’t really for them, they don’t need our praise. St. Bernard in a homily said: ‘The Saints have no need of honor from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs…. But I tell you when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning.[3]  It is a celebration to remind us of their value in our lives as example and help. St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote: ‘Saints spend their lives in this world loving God and other people, imitating Jesus Christ who “went about doing good.” And when they get to heaven, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says (no. 2683), they “constantly care for those whom they have left on earth… Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.[4]

All Souls
But this is not the only dynamic in this family of ours.  We are guided and helped by our big brothers and sisters; but, as in any family we are responsible for each other. Tomorrow, the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (All Souls) is where we take these gifts we have received and pass them on.  We are called to help those around us. It is easy to see the need among our living family members; but what of those who have preceded us from this part of the journey?  Do they need our help? Most likely.  Obviously, if a soul is in hell then no prayer can help; if a soul is in heaven then no prayer is needed; but a soul in purgatory can be helped by our intercession. How do we know who of our departed family needs help? Let’s pray for them all. In 2nd Timothy St. Paul writes about his recently deceased friend Onesiphorus, who was a model christian: ‘may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day.’[5] As Christians we are commanded, and as family we are obligated through love, to help each other; and for our departed that is through prayer – let’s pray for them all.

Brothers and sisters, I can’t help but wonder about the day of my judgement when Christ asks me about how I helped our family.  I have this picture in my mind that behind Him will be our big brothers and sisters eagerly waiting to see if I lived up to their example. Will they be proud of me?

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[1] Dr. Peter Kreeft, Prayer for Beginners
[2] Prayers and Devotions 365 Meditations
[3] Disc 2, Opera Omnia Cisterc. 5, 364ff
[4] http://www.josemariaescriva.info/article/the-intercession-of-the-saints
[5] 2 Tim 1:18

Seeds

We have moved into the next phase of our liturgical year – Green is back.  The liturgical year is half over and we have celebrated the major feast seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter – now we look to how to improve ourselves as disciples.  We start to learn how to bring understanding to those who don’t know what these great celebrations mean to us.   Today[1], Christ gives us a lesson in how God works His salvation and what part we play in His workings.

The parable of the sower and seed highlights three important lessons.

We shouldn’t think great things are expected from us – at least as far as the world sees great things.
The parable describes the actions of the sower as just sowing the seed.  God does the rest.  But Christ is making the point that that it is by our small part, our little actions, that great things happen. We sow – God does the rest. We witness – God does the convincing. We proclaim – God moves hearts. We introduce – God makes friends.  But as small as these actions are (as compared to God’s part) we need to know that our part is important. To think that for our actions to be important they should be great, awesome and grandiose is the work of pride, the manipulations of Satan. After all, there is nothing greater than love and love comes in small actions as well as large.

Today, Christ teaches us that it is by small actions that great things grow.  God’s action of love fertilizes and nourishes our seemingly small actions and they become large and bear fruit. Christ’s great action of climbing onto the cross began with a commonplace birth in a small town among farm animals.  And that birth was enabled by a small yes from an unknown maiden. Think back in your lives – how many times have you mentioned an impactful moment to the one who impacted you and they were surprised – little to them monumental to you.

Our small actions should be a constant and important part of our lives.
God expects us to be farmers/sowers all the time.  What isn’t as obvious in the parable to we who live in suburbia but was to those Christ told the parable to was the constant effort needed by the sower. Ask any farmer what is entailed in raising crops.  The sowing, the weeding, the fertilizing and so forth.  God, is growing the seed but we are to tend the field – our actions of discipleship are constant. Rarely does someone introduce two people to each other and then just walk away. Rarely do we give someone a new way of looking at something and then just drop it – let them digest this new viewpoint on their own.  We need to tend to God’s field.

We should be aware of the help we receive from God in our small actions.
The parable also assures us that though it might not seem like it God is working with the seeds we have sown.  We can feel comfortable that our seemingly small actions, if done within the Love who is God, will grow to greatness as the mustard seed. And most importantly we need to remember that we are seeds ourselves – God is working with and in us. We are not alone and we are not left to our own devices – God is there.  This is important for us, the sowers of today – it doesn’t depend only on us. Don’t let doubt, despair, desperation and frustration take over – if we have sowed with God’s love then we have done our part. Pope Benedict XVI addressed this in his first encyclical. These words I return to whenever I am tempted with doubt, despair, desperation and frustration over my part in His plan:

There are times when the burden of need and our own limitations might tempt us to become discouraged. But precisely then we are helped by the knowledge that, in the end, we are only instruments in the Lord’s hands; and this knowledge frees us from the presumption of thinking that we alone are personally responsible for building a better world. In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord. It is God who governs the world, not we. We offer him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as he grants us the strength. To do all we can with what strength we have, however, is the task which keeps the good servant of Jesus Christ always at work: “The love of Christ urges us on” (2 Cor 5:14).[2]

Brothers and sisters, let’s start to look at how we are as sowers.

  • Do we not sow at all and just rely on God to do everything?
  • Do we grudgingly sow a few seeds and then leave it up to God?
  • Do we sow seeds and get frustrated at the pace of growth?
  • Or do we sow with vigor, work with constancy, and rejoice in our participation with God in His field?

There is only one of those that brings God’s kingdom among us.  The rest of our schooling in discipleship depends on this choice.  Pray for the grace to allow the lesson of this parable to sink deep into your heart. Pray for the acceptance of our small part in God’s plan. Pray for the strength to resist the frustrations that can erode our actions. Pray and work for God’s glory.  Pray and work to help those are lost. Prayer and action.  St Augustine summed up this parable in one sentence “Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you.[3]

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[1] Mk 4:26-34
[2] Deus Caritas Est – Pope Benedict XVI #35
[3] CCC2834 (quoting St. Ignatius of Loyola)