Thursday, September 17, 2020

Homily for Ordinary Time 25 - September 20, 2020

 

Homily for Ordinary Time 25

September 20, 2020

Life is Christ

 

            If you knew that you were going to die tomorrow, what would your reaction be? Would you be at peace, knowing that you would join Jesus – or would you beg the Lord for a few more days, or a few more years?

            Blessed Chiara Badano faced a similar choice. Growing up in Italy in the 1980s, she was a normal, fun, popular teenager – she played guitar and tennis, had crushes on boys, and loved to hang out with friends. She also had a deep relationship with the Lord Jesus through her local youth group, and grew active in her Catholic Faith. At the age of sixteen, she was playing tennis when a sharp pain in her shoulder forced her to drop her racket. After a series of tests, she was diagnosed with bone cancer – a particularly painful trial, but she accepted it with great faith, saying, “This is for you, Jesus – if You want it, then I want it too.”

            She underwent chemo, and every time a clump of her hair would fall out, she would hold it up and say, “For You, Jesus.” The chemo made her tremendously weak, but she would use a walker to get around. She befriended one particular fellow patient who suffered from depression, and would go on walks with her through the hospital garden, which were agonizingly exhausting for Chiara. When her family urged her to rest more, she said, “I will rest in Heaven.” She even refused morphine because she wanted to consciously offer her sufferings to God. At one point she said to her parents, “There's only one thing I can do now: to offer my suffering to Jesus because I want to share as much as possible in His sufferings on the cross.”

            After a two-year battle with cancer, it became clear that she wasn’t improving. She was more than resigned to death – she longed for it. When the doctors told her that she had no hope, she responded, “If I had to choose between [being healed] and going to heaven, I wouldn't hesitate. I would choose heaven.”

            News of this remarkable dying girl began to spread, so much so that Cardinal Saldarini, the Archbishop of Turin, Italy, visited her and remarked, “The light in your eyes is splendid. Where does it come from?” Chiara responded, “I simply try to love Jesus as much as I can.”

            As she was dying she gave two instructions to her mother: first, to bury her in a wedding dress, because her death would be her wedding with Jesus; and secondly, not to mourn, because union with Jesus would be a time of great rejoicing.

            How many of us would have faith like that? For Chiara, as for St. Paul, life was Christ and death is gain. What powerful words St. Paul uses: “I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Yet most of us do not desire Heaven as much as we desire a long life here on earth! We’d often rather enjoy the passing pleasures of this world to the endless joys of the life to come!

            How can we change so that “life is Christ and death is gain”? Two practical thoughts.

            First, we must pray! If we do not enjoy spending fifteen minutes with God every day, we will not want to spend eternity with Him in Heaven! Prayer is how we become accustomed to breathing the air of Heaven. He has shown us manifold signs of His love: the beauty of nature, the love of family and friends, His mercy on the Cross…prayer is our response of love to such a generous God. We cannot say “life is Christ” if He is just an afterthought in our day. Rather, our time with Him must be our bedrock, our foundation. It’s more than just “reciting prayers” – it is spending time in silence, with His Word (the Bible), speaking to Him from our hearts and listening to Him.

            Then, ask God daily what He wants you to do. When I was at Trinity High School, I used to ask the kids, “What college do you want to go to? What career do you want to have?” But I realized that was the wrong question – I should have been asking, “Where do you think God wants you to go to college? What career is God calling you to?” Our lives are not ours to do whatever we want with them. As we heard last week in the readings, “None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. Both in life and death we belong to God.” So ask the Lord daily, “How do you want me to use this day? How can I glorify You today?”

            This past week I had lunch with an old friend who was recently baptized. He had been raised without faith, but due to God’s grace and the example of his wife, he embraced the Catholic Church and was baptized right after the quarantine. He was telling me that his wife, a devout Catholic, wanted to purchase a second home on a beach somewhere. But this man, despite being a newly-minted Catholic, said to me, “I just don’t think that’s what glorifies God! It just seems so self-indulgent. Can’t we do something better with our money, for God?”

            If life is about Christ and not about us, then we cannot live it self-indulgently! Self-indulgence is the American vice, because in many ways we see it as the culmination of the American dream. We work hard, earn money, and then we think we earned our right to relax and enjoy the good things in life. If that’s the case, then life’s not about Christ, it’s about you – your wants, your pleasures, your time, your money. My friends, to say that “life is Christ” means that our time, our money, our talents, our health all belong to Him – we are not free to do what we want with them. St. Paul says, “Christ will be magnified in my body” – every last breath, every last minute, every last dollar of Paul’s belonged to Christ. What does the Lord want you to do?

Then we will be detached from the things of this world, and attached to Him alone. Back to my original question, the reason we don’t want to die is because we love this world more than we love the Lord. But our lives cannot be about the things of this world. Life is Christ, and death is gain.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Homily for Ordinary Time 24 - Sept. 13, 2020

 

Homily for Ordinary Time 24

September 13, 2020

Paybacks

 

            “I’ll make you pay for this!”

            How many times have we thought this? Someone cuts us off in traffic, so we find a way to get back at them. A person insults us, so we find a way to insult them. When we see some misfortune befall someone who has done us wrong, we say, “Ah, finally they get their paybacks!”

            We may justify such thoughts and desires by saying, “Well, they’re only getting what they deserve” – as if the paybacks were justice. But what would we receive if we were treated with strict justice?

            Because of our sins, all of us deserve to be separated from God. St. Paul says that “the wages of sin is death.” Consider – one unrepentant mortal sin is enough to condemn a soul for eternity! A lot of times we think, “Oh, I’m a pretty good person.” But if a prisoner were to appear before a judge and say, “Judge, I know I murdered that guy, but look at all the good things I’ve done too!” – do you think the judge would let him walk free? On the contrary! It says in Isaiah, “all of our good deeds are like filthy rags”. Just as one drop of poison makes a whole meal sickening, so our sins make our entire souls unfit for the glory of Heaven.

            And when we consider Who we have turned out backs on: the All-Holy God, Pure Love Himself, the One whose purity and holiness is so great that even the angels must shield their eyes…how good God is! How not-good we are! Although we were meant to become radiant saints, all too often we have chosen to wallow in the corruption and filth of sin! Even the smallest sins – the lack of charity, the unkind word, the unchaste glance – are offenses against the infinite goodness of God.

            So, according to strict justice, we could never pay back our debt to God. In today’s parable, the servant owes the king “a huge amount” – the actual Greek says it was 10,000 talents. This would be approximately 200,000 years’ wages! It would have been impossible to pay that off in a thousand lifetimes. In the same way, because of our sins, we owed a debt to God that was literally unpayable – how could we make up for rejecting God’s goodness? We cannot – and that is the point of the Gospel.

            Jesus alone can pay back the debt that we owed God. He took upon Himself the punishment for our crimes, wiping them away on the Cross. And look how easy it is to be forgiven now! A simple Confession to a priest forgives even the most heinous sins. You could have a thousand mortal sins and be one step away from Hell, and in ten minutes be washed as clean as a baptized baby and regain your citizenship in Heaven. Amazing! We don’t have to fast on bread and water or walk a hundred miles barefoot on sharp rocks – no, all we have to do is ask for mercy, and it is given. What a gift – freely given, gratefully received!

            One of the main reasons why people find it hard to forgive is that we forget how much we have been forgiven for. If you struggle to forgive, look at the Cross – as He was hanging there, thinking of you, loving you, He said, “Father, forgive them.” Not just his executioners, but all of us down through the ages who need His mercy. When we realize just how much we need to be forgiven, then it is easier for us to extend that mercy to others.

            Please understand – forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. It is a choice to acknowledge, “What you did was wrong, it mattered, it hurt – and now I release you from my anger and I do not wish you harm.” We often have to forgive over and over again – every time the anger boils up within our soul, we make a choice to forgive again. Pray for the person who offended you – pray with your lips and mind, even if your heart’s not in it, and eventually your heart will come around.

            Back in the early 1940s, a young, talented girl from Paris named Marie Girtanner was on her way to becoming a famous concert pianist. She had been giving concerts from the age of 9, and was playing before concert halls at age 18. But when Hitler’s Nazis invaded France, she decided to use her talents in a unique way – she would play concerts for the Nazis in order to spy on their activities and gain information for the Resistance.

            Such a daring plot worked for a while, but in 1943, her ploy was uncovered and she was arrested with several other Resistance members. In custody, she was tortured by the Gestapo so badly that she lost the ability to play piano.

            She was finally rescued the following year, but was devastated that she could no longer play music. Turning to her Catholic faith, Maria became a Third Order Dominican, and for the next forty years, prayed to forgive the man who tortured her. It was a daily struggle. As she would later write, “Forgiveness does not come about in the abstract; it calls for someone to whom it can be addressed, someone to whom it can be received.”

            Finally, in 1984, the doctor who tortured her reached out and asked for a visit. What would you say to the man who ruined your life? When she walked into his house, Maria embraced him, and granted him forgiveness. Later she said, “Forgiving him has liberated me.”

            Many times we want justice for those who offend us, while we desire mercy for ourselves. And mercy has been granted to us through the death of God on the Cross. But how we ever pay back the Lord Jesus for His incredible sacrifice on our behalf? We cannot pay Him back. But we can pay it forward – by extending that same mercy to others.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Homily for Ordinary Time 23 - September 6, 2020

 

Ordinary Time 23

September 6, 2020

Tough Love

 

            One day during the summer of 1852, a wealthy young man named Francois Dorel was approached by a friend who asked him, “Have you heard of the priest in the nearby town of Ars? He is rumored to work miracles. I intend to go to Confession to him tomorrow – will you come with me?”

            The young man Francois had no faith, but he replied, “I will go with you, for perhaps I can go bird hunting in the ponds near Ars, while you go to Confession!”

            So the two of them set off on the two-day journey – the friend making a devout pilgrimage, while Francois brought his gun and his dog for hunting. When they arrived at Ars, they saw crowds of pilgrims surrounding the church, as the priest, St. John Vianney, was out blessing the people. Out of curiosity Francois wanted to see what all the hubbub was about, so he drew near with his dog.

            Immediately the saint stopped blessing the people and looked directly at the young man and exclaimed, “My friend, I wish that your soul was as beautiful as your dog!”

            Francois was cut to the heart. His dog was faithful, loyal, and living as a dog should – but he, a baptized Christian, was unfaithful to God and living in sin! He quickly ran away to a quiet location where he reflected on those words; then, he gave up his dog and gun and made a good Confession to St. John Vianney. The saint urged the young man to become a monk, and Francois died as a holy Trappist.

            One might say that those words of St. John Vianney were harsh or cruel. What an insult! Or…what an act of love. What motivated St. John Vianney to speak such words? He loved souls and wanted them to come to conversion.

            St. Paul tells us that “love is the fulfillment of the law” and that the only debt we should owe to one another is love. But what is love?

            Love is NOT just being nice to people. Love is NOT letting people do whatever they want. Love is NOT affirming people in every choice they make.

            Rather, St. Thomas Aquinas defines love as “willing the good of the other.” We desire the other person’s benefit – even if it is costly, difficult, or uncomfortable. What is the ultimate good of every human being? The salvation of their souls. All the riches, pleasures, comfort, and success of this world cannot compare with the Ultimate Good of possessing God for eternity.

            So if we truly love someone, we should seek their True Good – the salvation of their souls.

            Why is this important? Because our culture completely misunderstands the nature of love. You have probably seen those yard signs around town that have a misunderstanding of love. One yard sign says, “Love is love” – implying that if you do not support homosexual marriage, you are a “hater”. Another yard sign says, “Hate has no home here” – implying that if you support legal restrictions on immigration, you are motivated by hatred. But both of these are based on serious misunderstandings of the nature of love.

            In fact, one of the biggest lies that our culture tells us about love is that if you love someone you have to support every decision they make. This is false! If a child is about to touch a hot stove, you say, “No!” and grab their hand away. Will they cry and be upset? Sure. But is it loving? Absolutely. In the same way, when we see our family members engaging in behavior that is sinful or self-destructive, do we not have an obligation to speak – out of love?

            Jesus instructs us how to do that in the Gospel. He says that first we must go directly to that person (how often do we, instead, go and tell others about a person’s fault, instead of telling the person directly?). If that doesn’t work, join forces and approach them. If that doesn’t work, get the Church involved. Why? Isn’t it easier not to speak up, to live and let live? Should we just let the guy continue cheating on his wife, or let your son keep living with his girlfriend, or let your uncle continue to drink and be abusive to his spouse? Yes, it’s easier – but it’s not loving. If we truly want to love, we must “will the good of the other” – even when it’s difficult.

            But – we must make sure we are motivated by love; that is, by a genuine care and concern for the well-being of others. It is too easy to be motivated by judgment, or self-righteousness, and thereby lose a soul. When we give careful, prudent, discreet advice to help someone change their life, we must also make it clear that we want what is best for them, and that we love them even if we do not approve of their choices.

Love is often tough – Jesus said some very tough things to the scribes and Pharisees – because He loved them. Personally, Jesus has said some very tough things to me in prayer, because He knows I need to change and repent. Perhaps you’ve had the same experience, when God convicts you of sin or shows you how He wants you to change. Yet along with those tough things, we know that we are still His beloved sons and daughters and He wants what is truly best for us.

            So here are the three takeaways from today’s homily: first, love does not mean just being nice, but truly willing the other’s good – and the highest good is eternal salvation with God. Second, to truly love someone might mean to offer them “tough love” in word and deed, because we desire their deep and everlasting happiness. Third, we must make sure that any “tough love” we offer is covered in mercy and compassion, following the example of Jesus.

Monday, August 31, 2020

September 2020 Youth Group Events

 

Youth Group Activities in September! Before youth group "officially" starts, please join us for three pre-youth-group activities this September! Two are for families, and one is for older kids only!


Saturday, September 5 - Youth Group Family Hike - Please join us for a day in nature! All families are invited to join us as we go to Topstone Park in Redding. Meet at 9am at the Park & Ride on High Ridge Road by the Merritt Parkway to carpool (or meet us at 10am at Topstone Park in Redding if that's more convenient. All families are welcome! No drop-offs, please - a parent must attend! Please RSVP if you're coming.


Saturday, September 19 - Saint Movie Night (For Grades 8-12) - All young people in grades 8-12 are invited to join us as we watch "For Greater Glory" about the Mexican Martyrs. Pizza will be served! It'll be at Holy Spirit Church from 6-9pm on September 19. We will eat outside (weather permitting), and masks will be required when we go in for the movie. Please RSVP so we have enough food, and bring a snack to share.


Friday, September 25 - Family Backyard Adoration - Our final Family Backyard Adoration will take place at the Sturhahn's house (74 Valley View Drive, Stamford) from 7-9pm. Come and join us; bring lawn chairs and food to share!
God bless you!
~fr joseph

Friday, August 28, 2020

Homily for Ordinary Time 22 - August 30, 2020

 

Homily for August 30, 2020

Twenty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Living Sacrifice

 

            A British World War II fighter pilot named Vivian Rosewarne, having successfully flown many missions, was still always amazed at the grandeur of the earth and sky as he would maneuver his plane – and also conscious that he could die at any moment on these dangerous missions. He was tragically shot down at the young age of 23, but as his commanders were going through his possessions, they came upon a letter that he wrote to his mother but never sent. One line from this letter has always stood out to me. This fighter pilot writes: “The universe is so vast and so ageless that the life of one man can only be justified by the measure of his sacrifice.”

            This echoes the powerful words of Pope John Paul II: “Man can only find himself in a sincere gift of himself.”

            Do you ever feel like your life is routine, mundane, boring? Do you feel like you’re just going through the motions? Getting up, going to work or school, watching TV…kind of an empty existence? What is the point of it all – to get another paycheck, get another “A” on a test, and then do it all over again the next day? Doesn’t it just seem hollow?

            When the first Lord of the Rings movie came out in theaters, my sister and I went to see it together. After the movie, we were driving home in silence, still drinking it all in. Looking off into the setting sun, my sister sighed and said, “I wish life could be like that! An epic quest, a thrilling battle, an adventure to live!” It is written deep in the human heart: a desire for our lives to have meaning in a story bigger than us and our mundane existence.

            And we can! We are part of an epic story – God is bringing about the healing and restoration of the human race, and we have an irreplaceable role to play in that mission! We are living in a battlefield between good and evil, between God and Satan - and souls are being lost and won because of our words and deeds!

So if we are living in something more than just a mundane, humdrum, ordinary world, then the measure of our lives and our existence is in what we are willing to sacrifice for. St. Paul tells us to “make of our bodies a living sacrifice.” Our everyday, commonplace life can be a living sacrifice of love for God. Nothing is wasted when it is given to Him – doing the dishes, walking the dog, working out – all of these things gain eternal consequences when we make ourselves a living sacrifice. The crosses we endure – whether they be small like a traffic jam or large like a cancer diagnosis – these sufferings, when made into a “living sacrifice”, become torrents of grace for our souls and for the healing of the world.

            One beautiful way to do that is to make a “Morning Offering”. This is a prayer that we pray at the beginning of the day to offer our day to God. A classic one goes like this: “O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, in reparation for my sins, for the intentions of all my relatives and friends, and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father.” Thus, your whole day and everything in it becomes an act of love.

            The other way to make yourself a “living sacrifice” is to offer up everything to God. When you suffer, when you study, when you play sports, when you work, when you sleep – a ten-second prayer beforehand to say, “God, I give this to You, help me to do this for Your glory and in a way that pleases You” will elevate those actions from ordinary to momentous. They are no longer insignificant, because they are given over to the Lord, who uses our offering to sanctify ourselves and change the world.

            Too many people are miserable because their life is meaningless, because it is all about themselves. Your life only matters when you live it for something greater than you. Want to make a difference in this world and in eternity? Offer your life as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Homily for Ordinary Time 21 - August 23, 2020

 

Homily for August 23, 2020

Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time

The Powers of Hell Will Not Prevail

 

            I know a priest from Savannah, Georgia, who told me that one day, two ladies showed up at his parish, asking him to come bless their house. They explained that they thought their house was possessed. He went with them to the house, and they told him about all of the strange noises, cold winds, and a sinister presence. The ladies thought that the devil was involved in such creepy occurrences.

            After he blessed the house, he asked them what parish they attended, since he didn’t recognize the ladies. They responded, “Oh, Father, we’re Baptists!”

            Shocked, he replied, “Then why did you come to a Catholic priest, and not your Baptist preacher?”

            They replied, “Oh, don’t you Catholics deal with this kind of stuff?”

            He had to laugh, because it was true – we Catholics DO deal with Satan and evil head-on, because the Church has been given the authority to do so by Christ Himself.

            In reading this Gospel, what stood out to me is the line, “The gates of Hell will not prevail” against the Church. Often, we interpret that to mean that the Church will exist until the end of time – which is true. But it also means that the gates of Hell are going to try with all their might to prevail! We live in a spiritual battle, one with eternal consequences – and the gates of Hell, the powers of Satan, are trying to conquer the Church, your family, and your immortal soul.

            Satan tries to attack the Church through errors, heresy, scandal, and division. He likewise attacks the family through division, through family strife, or through sins like alcoholism or abuse or adultery. We have all experienced Satan’s power in our everyday lives through strong temptation, fear, confusion, and self-hatred.

            But thankfully God has given authority over Satan to the Church and to every baptized Christian. I want to look at three types of spiritual authority that God has given to us: in the Church, in the family, and as an individual Christian.

            The Church (through Peter) was given great authority. In the first century, not everyone had keys – the only person who had keys was the master of the house, the one with authority. And they would use those keys to lock the doors to keep out evildoers at night or when they were away on a journey.

            In the same way, the Church has been given the “keys of Heaven”, with authority over good and evil. Fr. Gabriel Amorth, the Vatican’s top exorcist who performed over 10,000 exorcisms in his lifetime, said that the two best weapons the Church has against Satan are…Confession and the Eucharist. If we stay close to these two Sacraments, we never need to fear the Evil One.

            But the Church also has other weapons. For example, its teachings are powerful weapons. Two of the tactics of the Evil One is ignorance and rebellion – so knowing our Church’s teachings and humbly obeying them will guarantee victory in the spiritual battle. The treasury of devotions in the Church such as the Rosary, Adoration, and Stations of the Cross are powerful means of grace, which is that supernatural power that conquers Satan. The Scriptures are also a powerful weapon (St. Paul calls it a “two-edged sword”), and the Church is the custodian of the Bible.

            Some people focus on things such as statues, blessings, and Holy Water in their fight against the Evil One. Yes, these are helpful, but only if you are serious about personally following the Lord and having a solid prayer life. One time a woman at another parish came to me with a five-gallon bucket, asking for Holy Water. I didn’t recognize her, so I asked her what she planned to do with the Holy Water. She said she wanted to give her children baths in it. I then asked if she attended Mass and she said no. So I refused her request and said, “Oh, my dear, going to Mass will do far more for your children’s soul than bathing them in holy water!” These sacramentals are meant to augment and not replace our living faith in Jesus.

            The Kingdom of Hell is not just trying to attack the Church, though – it is also trying to attack the “domestic Church” – which is what the Catechism calls the family! Satan hates families, because they are such a beautiful reflection of the Trinity – a life-giving community of love. But if the family is the Domestic Church, then parents are the priests of the domestic church, and they have authority to protect their children from evil and lead them on the path to holiness.

            In a particular way, you fathers and grandfathers are given a unique authority in the spiritual realm. A few years back I had the privilege of helping with an exorcism. It was a boy who had been adopted by Catholic parents who was struggling with full-blown possession. One thing that struck me deeply is how much the devil had to obey the authority of the father in particular. If the demon was manifesting itself, the mother could say, “In the Name of Jesus Christ, be silent!” but the demon would continue screaming and writhing around. But if the father commanded, “In the Name of Jesus Christ, be silent!”, then the demon would quiet down. Demons know who has spiritual authority over them.

            Parents can exercise this authority by blessing their children, interceding for them, bringing them to the Sacraments, teaching them about the Lord, and keeping evil out of their homes (how many of you parents have put filters or restrictions on your children’s cell phones? You need to do that to prevent tremendous evils from influencing them!).

Finally, every Christian is also given a certain amount of authority over Satan, by virtue of their baptism. Did you know that when you were baptized, you became a priest, prophet, and king? You are granted a share in Christ’s kingship, which means authority over the devil in your own life.

            So, if you find yourself in a particularly strong temptation, rebuke it in the name of the Lord Jesus! Every baptized Christian can say, “In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I rebuke the evil spirit of lust…greed…anger…and I command you to leave me.” If you are overtaken by a powerful sense of fear, sadness, or shame, command it to leave in the Name of the Lord Jesus. When I was writing this homily, my computer froze up many times and came close to crashing – I invoked Jesus’ Name upon this document, and all went smoothly after that.

            My friends, it is true that the gates of Hell are trying desperately to destroy the Church, the world, our families, and our souls. But we have been given authority over these evil spirits. We only need to use that authority and the weapons provided to us by God, and the victory will be assured.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Homily for Ordinary Time 20 - August 16, 2020

 

Homily for August 16, 2020

Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

God Who Embraces All Nations

 

            When I was a teen, I used to go on week-long retreats with my family to an amazing place that has a seriously embarrassing name: Catholic Familyland. Yes, that’s a real place, and things always got cringey when my friends asked where my family went for vacation…Catholic Familyland…but the place was actually really great, and I grew so much in my faith during those week-long vacation/retreats.

            For a few years, Cardinal Francis Arinze joined us there. One time, he led a question-and-answer session for all of us, both youth and parents. My brother spoke up and asked, “Being from Nigeria, did you ever experience racism within the Church?”

            The cardinal pondered for a moment and replied, “The Church is filled with human beings, who are sinners, and the sin of racism is certainly present in some members of the Church. But the Church is also universal and God’s love encompasses all nations.”

            Our readings today speak about a hot-button issue that is as contemporary as today’s headlines – racism and welcoming other cultures. Jesus has a powerful encounter with a Canaanite woman – a woman of another race, culture, and religion – whose faith in Him is strong. Is Jesus being racist by refusing her request? Of course not – rather, the Lord is trying to show His disciples that having Jewish heritage is not as important as genuine faith – which is open to people of all backgrounds. Jesus challenges the woman to show the strength of her faith, and she persists in acknowledging that Jesus is “the Master” – a contrast to the frequent faithlessness of the disciples!

            Paul, too, writing to the Romans, addresses the racial divide present in the early Christian community. Again, it’s between Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles), but Paul says that in Christ, God has had mercy on all – every race and tribe and tongue and nation – so the Jews had no reason to boast of their special status before God.

            We are now seeing racism again in the news. But most of the solutions that are proposed today, such as with the Black Lives Matter movement, are utterly ineffective at solving the issue of racism (and in many cases, they lead to deeper division and animosity). This is because such secular organizations are not looking at the problem through a Christian understanding of race. I want to make three points about how Christians should look at racism.

            First, racism is a sin. That seems simple, but many modern people don’t want to use that word. It’s often called “institutional racism” or “systemic racism”. But that misses the point – racism is a sin found in the human heart and soul before it’s present in any institution or system. So if it’s a sin of the human soul, the antidote is the same for any other sin: repentance and Christian charity.

            Second, the reason why we should treat others with equality and love is because we are all made in God’s image and likeness. This fundamental fact has been completely overlooked by the totally-secular Black Lives Matter movement! Yet this was the reason for the success of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s – Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders emphasized that we are equal before God since we were all created in His image. Without this fundamental principle, what unites us? All secular efforts to heal our nation’s divides will remain inadequate without a reference to God and our status as His beloved sons and daughters.

            Finally, what unites us most fully is our Catholic Faith. The word “Catholic” means universal, and truly this Church has the power to unite us! One summer, I hiked the Camino of Santiago de Compostella, the ancient pilgrimage route across northern Spain to the bones of St. James. Along those 498 miles, over 33 days, I attended Mass in six different languages (English, Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese…and Korean!) Truly a microcosm of the universal Church!

            Which is why it is unfortunate that some people have tried to destroy statues of Jesus or Mary, or St. Junipero Serra or St. Damien of Molokai, claiming that they were “too white” or symbols of white supremacy. Nothing could be further from the truth! Jesus came to unite all races into one Faith – the Catholic Church. Have you ever seen the Basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome? The colonnade, which is those pillars that surround the Basilica, were purposely designed by Bernini to look like arms, as the arms of the Church are embracing the entire world.

            When the Spanish conquistadores came to Mexico, they were accompanied by missionaries, who had very little success. After decades, only 10% of Mexico had converted to the Catholic Faith. But in 1531, one person visited Mexico and converted the whole nation – the Blessed Mother, who appeared as an Aztec maiden at Guadalupe. Within ten years, 90% of the country had converted to Catholicism. Since the Blessed Mother appeared as one of them, they realized that the Catholic Faith was not just a “white man’s religion”.  Rather, they too were welcome to become Catholic.

            Mary has often appeared in different cultures: In 1981, she appeared in Kibeho, Rwanda; in 1798 she appeared as an Oriental woman in La Vang, Vietnam. In 1973, she appeared in Akita, Japan, under the title of Our Lady of All Nations. I believe that Mary wants to tell her children that she is the mother of us all!

            My friends, it is tragic that racism is still present within our society. But it will not be healed through the secular, liberal Black Lives Matter movement. It will only be healed when we see it through a Christian lens: recognizing that racism is a sin that needs to be repented of, realizing that we are all created in the image and likeness of God, and encouraging all races to find their home within the Catholic Faith. God rejoices in the diversity that He has created, knowing that through Christ and His Church, we can be united in that diversity.