Monday, November 24, 2014

First Sunday in Advent Homily - November 30, 2014

Homily for Advent 1

November 30, 2014

New Year, New Spirit


            So, happy new year! Yes, you heard me right. Happy new year! As we begin Advent, we begin a new church year, a year in which God is going to do something new in our parish and in your life, if we are open to Him.

            But I’d like to start this new year off with a story about a boy named Michael Magone. He was a student at a Catholic boarding school for poor boys in Turin, Italy in the 1800s. Although he enjoyed living at the school, getting an education, and certainly enjoyed all the sports they played, he had no use for the religion classes or the mandatory time of prayer. He found it all to be rather boring.

            He hadn’t been at the school long, though, before all of the spiritual talks and prayers started to make an impression on him, and he began for the first time to think about where he was headed in life – and he realized that he had been wasting his life. He wasn’t a bad person, just one who got up, ate, went to school, had fun, and did it all over again the next day – without a single thought of God or seeking holiness.

            This realization hit him like a ton of bricks, and he began to become withdrawn and his conscience was troubled. Thankfully the head of the school was a priest named St. John Bosco – a saint who spent his entire life working with youth – and the priest urged Michael to make a good confession. Then once he was right with God, he would be filled with the joy that he lacked.

            So Michael heeded the saint’s advice and made the first honest, sincere confession of his life. All of a sudden, it was as if a light had dawned in his life – he realized what he was put on earth to do – to become a saint. He wrote of that night after his first truly honest confession, “If [only everyone could] experience for even a single minute the great joy that being in the state of grace brings, they would all go to confession to experience peace of heart!” He had made a definitive turn in his life at age 14 – and although he died a mere few months later, the rest of his life was so filled with the joy of pursuing Christ that he is now being considered for canonization (becoming a saint).

            Most of us don’t think of Advent as a time to repent. We think of Christmas trees and gifts and good cheer. But our readings today offer us a sober warning – that this is a time also of repentance, of turning away from our sin to the mercy of God.

The true joy of Christmas means coming before Christ with a pure heart, a heart that repents of our sin. Of course it is always a custom to bring someone a gift on their birthday. Well, Jesus doesn’t need a new sweater or a new toy. There is only one gift that He desires – He desires your life, cleansed of sin. You don’t want to appear before the throne of God empty-handed.

Jesus instructs us in the Gospel that we must be awake and alert, because many of us have been living life half-asleep. We get up, go to our jobs or school, come home, lounge around, watch TV or play video games, eat, and go to sleep, without any thought of God. We were made for so much more than just the routine of daily life! We were made to become a saint, which means pursuing a relationship with God and turning away from our sins!

So this is my challenge for you. Since it IS a new year, and it’s customary to make New Years’ Resolutions, let’s make a resolution to give up one of our sins for Advent. Maybe it’s giving up greed and being more generous. Maybe it’s giving up gossiping or complaining. Maybe it’s finally breaking the addiction to alcohol or pornography. Maybe it’s remaining pure and chaste with our girlfriend or boyfriend. Maybe it’s forgiving that family member who we hold a grudge against. Maybe it’s laziness. Whatever it is, pick one sin to work on overcoming this Advent. Then, we can give a gift to Jesus at Christmas – the gift of a pure conscience.

It’s a new year, and God wants to do something new in you!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Catechesis on the Mass Part 3/3 - Epic Battle

Catechesis on the Mass Part 3/3

Epic Battle

November 13, 2014


            A few weeks ago, I popped into the sixth grade religious education class at St. Benedict’s and was talking to them about the Mass and how it’s not entertainment, but it’s worship. One boy commented, “Yeah, the Mass is great and all, but I’d rather just watch the Avengers.” So I replied, “Oh, so you want to see an epic battle between good and evil with heroes and villains and with the hero saving the world from eternal destruction right in the nick of time?” He said, “Yeah, of course.” I replied, “Great. I just described the Mass.” He paused for a long minute before muttering, “Well, when you put it THAT way…”

            This is the last installment in my sermon series about how to get more out of the Mass. Today I want to focus on the epic battle that is Christianity. You see, Christianity isn’t a religion for the weak. Our faith is not about how to make us nice people and be kind to animals. No, the story of Christianity is an epic tale, and it is played out here at Mass.

            Think about the plots of the movies we love so much – things like “Avengers” or “Lord of the Rings” or “Man of Steel” or any one of those action-adventure movies. The plots are rather simple – there is a being (an alien, Loki, Sauron, etc.) who wants to take over the world and enslave or destroy it. Against such an evil, an unexpected hero arises. This hero fights a battle against the evil, often at great cost to himself. Finally, when all hope seems lost, the hero somehow manages to defeat the mortal enemy and restore peace and harmony to the world.

            I think the reason why these movies resonate with us is because they describe what is actually going on in the spiritual realm. We have an enemy – Satan – who has had a hatred for humanity from the very beginning, because we can love God and inherit Heaven as the Beloved Sons and Daughters of the Heavenly Father. This fills Satan with rage and jealousy. So he set out to enslave us and destroy us – and for a long time, we were willing participants in this slavery. We chose the corruption of sin over the life of freedom. So God knew He had to do something radical to ransom His people. So, in the dark of night, God staged an invasion – He entered enemy territory (the world, which was under the dominion of Satan), and faced our mortal enemy upon the Cross. Face-to-face with the one who hates humanity, Jesus Christ offered to pay the ransom for us, who were slaves. The ransom, of course, was His life, which He willingly laid down on the Cross. But just when Satan thought he had triumphed, when all hope seemed lost – the day that God was killed, proving that death wins, or so they thought – Jesus Christ rose up again, triumphing over death and sin once and for all, setting us captives free.

            But even after this resounding defeat, the forces of evil have not been silent. They still impact my life and yours, tempting us to fall away from Christ. So the battle between good and evil continues to be fought in your soul. That’s why we come here today – to gain the strength we need to do battle in our everyday lives.

            When a priest gets vested for Mass, it’s like he is putting on armor. For example, he wears an alb as a symbol of the purity of soul that he must have in order to make it to Heaven. He lays over his alb a stole which is a sign of the priest’s authority having come from Christ. And over it all he places a chasuble which is a symbol of the love of God which covers everything. A pure soul, authority over the spiritual realm, covered in the love of God – sounds like we’re ready to do battle here against the forces of evil.

            And we are aided and assisted by the many thousands of angels who attend and worship at every Mass. Many saints have said that there are thousands, millions even, of angels who are present to adore the Majesty of God at every Mass, and whose job it is to bring our prayers to God and God’s mercy to us. The unseen angels who are present here are filled with a holy jealousy of us, for they bow down and worship Christ’s true Body and Blood, but we ourselves are blessed to actually receive Him!

            It is this Body and Blood that gives us the strength to carry on the battle. The last Holy Communion that someone receives in their lifetime has a special name – it is called “Viaticum” which means “Food for the Journey” – the food for the journey from death to life. In a sense, every Communion we receive is food for the journey. Coming to Mass is like coming back to camp after a battle – we get healed from our battle wounds, we take food to strengthen us, we learn about how to fight more effectively – before we head back out there to take on another week of fighting against laziness, gossip, temptation, lust, all of the other evils that we must overcome if we are to win the victory.

             You know, when we look around at society, it’s easy to get discouraged by all the evil and darkness that is out there. We come here today, and every Sunday, to fight evil with love – with the love that Christ showed us on the Cross, which enters our souls in His Word and in His Holy Communion.

            There is much, much more going on here at Mass than we can see. Christ is coming to rescue His people again. Invisible angels kneel to worship the Most High. Divine grace is being poured out to hold back the tide of evil. We, His soldiers, are receiving the strength to fight against the darkness with the Light of Christ.

            What is happening here at Mass is an epic battle, the battle for the destiny of the world and for the eternal destiny of your soul.