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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St. Teresa of Calcutta

Today, the world is given a new person to look up to; to admire; to emulate, or so the press is proclaiming.  Today, the media is feeding us a large dose of saccharine about this person St. Teresa of Calcutta. In every online article I read and TV news segment I watched I was informed about this sweet, energetic and sort of tough old lady who helped people no one wanted to help. And this is true, but it is not the fully written icon of this wonderful saint.

What was missing was the reason for her life – God. Sure God was referred to, how could he not be, after all, it is the Church who declares her a saint. But, in most presentations God was referred to quickly and the church even more quickly; of course they did mention Pope Francis frequently; after all, he is the darling of the mainstream media – he makes good copy – especially if they parse and cut his words to fit their agendas. No, these watercolor-type news stories kept far away from what drove St. Teresa – love of God and the cross.

St. Teresa of Calcutta has been proclaimed great by the media, not by the Church.  St. Teresa of Calcutta has been proclaimed the doer of astounding things by the media, not by the Church. What the Church proclaims, is that great things sprouted up from St. Teresa’s little acts of love. What the Church proclaims is that her ‘greatness’ is that her life was one of decrease as her love, Jesus Christ increased. What the Church proclaims is that her daily, constant, decision to love Jesus, and those He loves, was a constant cross that she resolutely carried. What Holy Mother Church proclaims is that by her self-surrender to the Lord, He was allowed to be fruitful through her.

Today, we celebrate the proclamation of another example of love which in this case is a verb not a noun. Today, we celebrate the proclamation of St. Teresa of Calcutta’s sainthood not by reminiscing and reveling in warm feelings, as if we are sitting together looking at family photos; but by following her daily choices and offering our own efforts to carry the cross, our cross, as she did so that our true love Jesus can be fruitful through us as well. Today, along with Saint Teresa of Calcutta we hold the Cross high.

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.

The love of Christ urges us on

Seventh Thursday in Eastertide (5/12/16)

Today, we have heard the final part of Jesus’ prayer to His Father at the Last Supper (of which we have been hearing for the past few days). Many call this chapter (chapter 17), or at least the first part of it, the High Priestly Prayer.  The next line in John’s Gospel, after today’s reading is: ‘When he had said this, Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to where there was a garden, into which he and his disciples entered.’ [1]. Jesus has finished His last meal with His apostles and now moves towards His passion. His greatest act as a priest; His sacrifice of Himself to atone for our sins.

Now some might think it strange that Holy Mother Church chooses to revisit the Last Supper so soon since the last time we celebrated it; after all, it is only about seven weeks since the celebration of the Sacred Triduum where we dived deeply into His passion, death and resurrection.  There might be the temptation to think: ‘We have been through it already, why bring it back up during our celebration of Eastertide?’

Because it is that central, that foundational to Christ. His words to His Father, in front of His disciples brings a degree of clarity to what He is about and what we should be about also; which will be made totally clear to them in a few days during Pentecost – when His Holy Spirit comes.

Today’s gospel, contains the explanation why His mission is so important to Him. ‘Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world.[2]  Christ loves each and every person, and His whole being desires that we see what He sees; the ultimate joy of creation – the creator.  How do we know this? He tells us so at the beginning of His High Priestly Prayer: ‘Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.[3] Christ knows what mankind is made for.  He understands that we won’t be complete and at total peace until we enter into that eternal life. He knows that we can’t find rest until we are completed. Or as St Augustine says, so beautifully, in the very first paragraph of His Confessions ‘…You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.[4]

Brothers and sisters, why does Holy Mother Church urge us to go out into the world and proclaim the good news of Christ?  Why have so many men and women throughout the last 2,000 years offered their talents, their time, their energy and, yes, their lives (as today’s celebration of the martyrs Sts. Nereus and Achilleus highlight)? Because we understand how empty a life can be until we allow our hearts to rest in Christ. We can’t help but let others know what we are feeling.  It can’t be contained. This is who we are, what we are made of and for.

But, as humans, letting those around us know the good news can still be daunting. We might tend towards inactivity in regards to proclaiming the Gospel because of fear of reactions; fear of unworthiness; concern about our talents. But take heart and remember what the martyrs understood: ‘Emmanuel’ – God is with us. He is our eternal companion. We show our joy, introduce its reason and allow God to do the rest. I would like to finish with a quote that is always in my mind and heart, especially in times of doubt or being overwhelmed; it is from Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love):

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).[5]

The love of Christ urges us on[6]

With firm resolve let’s respond with the pilgrims’ exhortation heard on the road to the shrine at Santiago de Compostela, Spain for almost 1,200 years: ‘Ultreya!’ onward!

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[1] Jn 18:1
[2] Jn 17:24
[3] Jn 17:3
[4] St. Augustine, Confessions, paragraph 1
[5] Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI, paragraph 35
[6] 2 Cor 5:14

Widen the Path

This morning we continue listening to the Last Supper discourse and we hear the Lord speaking/praying to His Father – out loud. Throughout the Gospels our Lord always takes the time to converse with His Father, most of the time He removes Himself and goes away to pray.  But those times that He does converse out loud – with people around Him – it is to teach them something. This morning we hear Him say to His Father: ‘I glorified you on earth[1]. And just how does He do this? How does Jesus glorify His Father? ‘by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do[2] He finishes saying. And what work was that – Divine Mercy!

Christ’s ministry on earth was to bring Divine Mercy to us.  His working of miracles were, to a great degree an act of mercy; they healed the sick, drove out demons, brought hope out of despair. But they were primarily used to announce the Father’s ultimate mercy; to show mankind that God is aware of their plight, He is concerned with their situation, He came among them to remedy this separation; in short – He came to show His love for us. Christ’s acts of mercy were true love towards those whom He gave it; but He knew that He was not long for this world – He was human and His life limited – especially since in a few hours He was going to climb up on His throne and die for us. He needed to teach us how to continue His mission of Divine Mercy after He ascended. We see in the Acts of the Apostles that his lessons were listened to. The apostles, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, at Pentecost, took up the challenge and went forward with the Good News of Divine Mercy. For two millennia saints, both known and unknown, have taken up that challenge and added to it and then passed it on.

Now it is our time to pick up this mission. Not by great miracles and events; even if we could do them they would be dismissed as spectacles, as were Jesus’ miracles by most of His contemporaries. No our ministry is by small steps; little actions that day-in and day-out radiate the Love of God to those around us. Our proclamation of Divine Mercy, shown by each of us in these little things we do might seem small and ineffectual but they grow in their effect. They expand to fill the voids in those that we witness to. They are a beacon of hope in our cynical world and they attracts others.

Brothers and sisters – our path is clear – let’s increase our small steps of Mercy and widen the path of Love so others can follow.  This is how we make our own the words of Christ to His Father in today’s Gospel: ‘I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do.[3]

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[1] Jn 17:4
[2] ibid
[3] ibid

Media Morsels

Friday, the United States woke up to the first wave of editorial headlines about the Holy Father’s Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laeticia. For those who haven’t take the time (a lot of time) to read the exhortation what they know about it is what they have heard and read in the media.

  • USA Today editorial website: ‘Pope has good news for divorced, but not for gays
  • LA Times editorial website: ‘Pope Francis eases the way for divorced Catholics, but reiterates opposition to gay unions
  • Wash Post editorial website: ‘Pope Francis offers hope to divorced Catholics, says no to gay marriage
  • Boston Globe editorial website: ‘Pope offers ray of hope to divorced Catholics
  • NYT editorial website: ‘Rather Than Rules, Pope’s Document Gives License to Adapt
  • Chicago Tribune editorial website: well… they just used the Washington Post’s headline and article.

It is getting old to say, but once again media is driving the discussion. These headlines focused in on about ten out of 325 paragraphs (I did mention a lot of time).  Ostensibly the media is watching out/caring for society but it isn’t really their main goal; and in this case their desire to pass judgement on the church takes them to the opposite ends of the continuum. The usual scenario is that one day they are blasting the Church for various wrongs (actual, perceived or just made up) and the next day they are blasting them for perceived long-overdue changes – in most of these headlines they are doing both!

First, let me say that some parts of the Exhortation have some ‘edge’ to them; I am still in need of a reread of the eighth chapter. There are legitimate questions to some of what the Pope wrote. There are in any Apostolic Exhortation, after all, they are reflections on discussions that happened; in this case in the past two synods (extraordinary and ordinary). But what is striking is that the worldwide media if focusing on only these ten or so paragraphs. But the greatest parts (both in size and importance) of Amoris Laeticia are ignored. The majority of the exhortation, is a wonderful and inspiring proclamation on marriage, family and their issues.  It is a well written and insightful reflection on what our families, in all parts of the world, have to deal with, and it offers choices to help them, as well as, reassure them that Holy Mother Church walks with them. However, these parts don’t fit with the media’s idea of how the world should work; and besides, the media is all about ratings and the bottom line. They have no time for participating in addressing the ills that challenge families; it takes too much time, is boring, and it doesn’t bring them those ratings and dollars.  They are concerned with tantalizing the viewers/readers with exciting morsels of controversy – making a name for themselves.

For us, however, there is exciting value in this document, and one of the most exciting aspects of Amoris Laeticia is that it is a clarion call for Catholics to proclaim these good ideas about the good news. And can we do this:

  • By our words, as we talk about the whole document. Which means we need to read it.
  • By our lives, as we try living as the family that God intended us to be. Which means we should to read it.
  • By our embracing our extended families, which include the marginalized. Which means we should to read it.

In other words, we owe it to our faith journey and to the world to understand just what the synod fathers and the Pope distilled from the two synods. We need to be familiar with the document’s ideas so that we can both live the faith more fully and defend the teachings of church more knowledgeably. But first we need to start with prayer. We need to pray for our Pope and his bishops and clergy, especially our priests; because like it or not, thanks to this exhortation they will be on the front line. And we need to pray for ourselves, as we read this document and try to implement those ideas it contains that strikes our heart. Finally, we need to pray for the ability to help undo the damage done by appetizer-like headlines and editorials that do no more than tease us with partial truths and colored opinions.

The media will tantalize the world with tasty headlines, but it is the Lord and His followers that will feed them with sustenance.

 

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