Saturday, June 27, 2015

Homily for 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 28, 2015

Homily for Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 28, 2015

Redefining Marriage


                I am originally from Frederick, Maryland, which is kind of an obscure town in the foothills of the mountains in Maryland. But there were a few famous people from Frederick. For example, Francis Scott Key was from there, who wrote the Star Spangled Banner. So was Patsy Cline, the famous country singer. But perhaps one of the most notable Frederick natives was the Supreme Court Chief Justice, Roger B. Taney.

                Justice Taney was famous –or infamous – judge who handed down the famous Dred Scott decision. The Dred Scott decision in 1857 declared that black people had no ability to become citizens, or even to have basic equality and rights. The Supreme Court redefined human dignity, based upon being born in the right race. This terrible decision led to hundreds of years of suffering for the African-American community, much of which is still being felt today.

                So people from Frederick are not particularly proud of Justice Taney. With hindsight, we can see the devastating effects of his decision.

                Fast-forward a hundred and twenty years. The Supreme Court is called upon to decide another case, one which will define personhood. In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled in the Roe vs. Wade case that human beings were not persons with basic human rights until they were outside of the womb. Another terrible redefinition of personhood – and this time, the result was over 50 million babies killed by abortion in the 42 years since the decision.

                This past Friday, the Supreme Court once again attempted to redefine something fundamental in our society. The Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage is now legal in all 50 states, redefining the very definition of marriage from “a union of man and woman ordered to building a family” to “a commitment of two people who are attracted to one another”. This redefinition disagrees with God’s own definition of marriage. Such a redefinition will have long-lasting consequences.

There are many reasons why homosexual marriage is an impossibility. First, let’s consider who created and defined marriage. Is marriage an invention of man, or of God? Of course, it was God, who wrote within the human heart – and body - the desire for union with a member of the opposite sex. So if God has already defined what marriage is, then who are we to redefine it?

Second, let us consider the purposes of marriage. Marriage was created by God so that a husband and wife could enjoy companionship, so they can help each other get to Heaven, and so that they could bring children into the world, new souls to love God and reach Heaven. Gay marriage cannot do any of these three things. They cannot truly enjoy real companionship, because any companionship that is not based upon a mutual seeking of virtue is only a false substitute – just a quick cure for loneliness, instead of deep love. They cannot help each other get to Heaven, because homosexual actions are gravely sinful, and they would be a constant source of temptation for one another. And, of course, they cannot be open to children. Even gay adoption is immoral because it deprives a child of his or her natural right to have two parents of opposite genders – and besides, it would be a grave scandal to teach a child that this type of relationship is natural.

Please do not misunderstand me – we love and respect everyone, including our gay brothers and sisters. Everyone is welcome in this church, regardless of sexual orientation, and we condemn any hatred or violence or discrimination against those who struggle with same-sex attraction. But it is not discrimination, it is not bigotry, to insist that marriage was created by God with a specific definition and a specific purpose.

My friends, if someone were building a house with bricks and they started to replace some of the bricks with Styrofoam blocks instead, could the house stand tall? It would be weakened. If too many bricks were replaced, the house would collapse. In the same way, the building block of society is the family. If we start redefining the family, weakening it, changing the very nature of it, then we risk weakening society as a whole. The impact is felt by everyone.

My friends, when the Supreme Court attempted to redefine personhood, millions upon millions of people suffered as a result. Now that the Supreme Court has attempted to redefine marriage, the consequences will also be dark, and long lasting. Pray very hard that this country may regain our respect for God, Who created marriage as a beautiful and holy vocation!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Homily for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 21, 2015

Homily for Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time

June 21, 2015



            Awesome! That’s a word that, if you’re of a certain generation, gets tossed around a lot. That Frisbee game was awesome. Pizza is awesome. The St. Mary’s Family Fair is awesome. But perhaps we use that word so much that it’s lost some of its power!

            Awesome means that we are filled with awe in the presence of greatness. I’ve had some good pizzas in my time, but none filled me with awe in their presence. Awe is a reaction that we should have when we ponder truly great things – deep truths, heroic men and women…and the works of God.

            The disciples are filled with awe when they see this man, Jesus, command the winds and the storm, and they obey Him. And rightly they should have awe, because standing in the boat with them was the Creator of this vast and magnificent universe.

            Consider this: by recent scientific estimates, there are over 70 billion trillion stars in the entire universe. That’s seven with twenty-three zeros after it. It’s hard to even fathom such immensity – but we have a Creator who has not just created them, but knows every single molecule, every flame that engulfs these stars. Closer to home, the average adult human body contains about 37 trillion cells – each one created by God, Who promised that not a hair on our head falls to the ground without His notice.

             The grandeur of the mountains, the unexplored depths of the oceans, the beauty of human love, the delicate intricacy of a spider web – all of this comes from the Hand of our all-loving Creator. His works are magnificent – and we too should be filled with awe at them!

            As Catholics, we can certainly believe in evolution. In fact, Pope St. John Paul II called it “more than a theory,” and popes all the way back to Pope Pius XII in the 1940s encouraged studying evolution. The Big Bang theory was actually proposed by a Jesuit priest, Fr. Lamaitre, in 1927! But as Catholics we do not believe that evolution or the Big Bang happened by random chance. Everything came to be and unfolded and evolved according to the plan of God, the Divine Designer.

            Even atheists have to grudgingly admit that evolution could not have happened on its own. Stephen Hawking, one of the most brilliant astrophysicists in the world today (and a confessed atheist) said recently, “We don’t know how DNA molecules first appeared. The chances of a DNA molecule arising from random [chance] are very small.” He recognizes that science cannot explain how life (DNA) came to be. Creation proclaims the awesome majesty of the Creator!

            But creation is only one part of God’s greatness. Creation has fallen – we believe that we share a fundamental corruption called original sin, which makes us inclined to choose evil. We need to be saved from our weakness, our temptation, our separation from God! So God shows His greatness even more radically by sending His Son to die for our sins, to reconcile us to God.

            If it was a magnificent action to create us, it is even more remarkable that we are a new creation in Christ, as St. Paul declares in our second reading! Because of what God’s grace has done in us through baptism (which heals us from original sin) and the Eucharist (which unites us to Christ), we now live no longer for ourselves but for Him. My friends, grace is even more remarkable than creation, because creation made us mortal, weak human beings…grace makes us like God!
            Creation, redemption, being transformed by His grace…these things are truly awesome. I pray that we will always remain awestruck at what God has done.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 14, 2015

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 14, 2015

Small Choices Have Big Effects


            St. Anthony the Abbot became a saint almost by accident. He was going through a tough time – eighteen years old and both of his parents had died suddenly, leaving him in charge of his younger sister and a large farm. He was wandering through town one day, his mind and heart in turmoil, unsure of where his life was going. On a lark he decided to stop into the local church. Stepping inside, Mass was going on, and the priest was reading the Gospel where Jesus said, “Go, sell all that you have, give to the poor, and come, follow Me.” At that moment, God’s grace penetrated his heart, and Anthony went and did just that – he gave up all of his earthly possessions, entrusted his sister to relatives, and went to live as a hermit for the rest of his life.

            From that small beginning, God was able to form a saint. If he hadn’t made that choice to walk into that church, his life would have been completely different. It looked like a small choice at the time, but it impacted him – and everyone who has been inspired by him throughout history!

If we cooperate with God’s grace, even in the smallest things, our choices will have huge – even earth-shattering - ramifications!

            Jesus gives us two parables in today’s Gospel. One is of the mustard seed – the small seed grows into a huge tree, just as God’s grace, when we cooperate with it, will do great things in our lives. The other parable is about how God’s grace is mysterious – like plants grow in silence and mystery, so we grow in holiness when we cooperate with God’s grace in the little things.

            Every choice we make, to cooperate with God’s grace or to reject it, to love or to sin, forms us. It shapes who we become. It either makes us more into the image and likeness of God, or deforms the image of Him within us. All of the simple, small good things we do – giving a smile to someone, holding the door open for another person, making a sacrifice and giving up the last dessert for a family member – it seems small at the time, but it will have a huge impact on who we become…and it will have a huge impact on other people, as well. By the same token, even our small sins – an impure glance, an unkind word, a little white lie, a hateful thought – corrupt us and prevent us from becoming the saints that God wants us to be. The good news, of course, is that God is merciful, and He understands that we mess up in small ways every day – all we need to do is repent, turn back to Him in Confession, and keep striving for holiness.

            As Catholics we believe that after death, we are judged immediately based upon how well we have loved God and our neighbor, and by our choices we are then ushered to Heaven, Purgatory, or Hell. This first judgment of our soul is called the particular judgment. But the Church also teaches that at the end of time everyone who ever lived will be gathered again in the presence of Jesus, Who will then reveal to us how our actions – both our virtues and our sins – impacted the course of the world. This is called the general judgment – not that we will be “judged again”, but that we will be able to see how every single action of ours affected the course of world history in some way! I’m excited to see this – but I pray that my actions may have always influenced the world for the better!

            From our vantage point, we often don’t see how our small choices, to love or to sin, affect the world. When I was in my first year of seminary, I had a friend who lived across the hallway named Clinton. He complained about everything – the food, the professors, the homework, the dingy building – nothing was to his liking! One day, I had been listening to another one of his complaint sessions when I was finally fed up with it. Frustrated, I exclaimed, “Clinton, I’m tired of listening to these complaints. I’m going to go pray.”

            He offhandedly commented, “Okay, well, say a prayer for me.”

            Still angry, I shot back, “No, Clinton, go pray for yourself.”

            Later on, I felt really bad about that comment; I came across as such a jerk! But we never talked about it. Fast-forward three years – Clinton was now preparing to be ordained a priest in a few months, and he came to me one day and said, “Hey Joe, thank you for saving my vocation. I never would’ve been a priest without you.”

            I was quite taken aback, and said, “What do you mean?”

            He said, “Remember that conversation three years ago, when you told me to go pray for myself? Well, I realized you were right. I hadn’t been praying – that’s why I was so miserable in seminary. So that night I started praying – really praying – for the first time in seminary. And it’s what saved my vocation!”

            And I thought to myself, “Gee, I thought I was just being a jerk!”

            All of this is both a hope and a challenge. It’s a hope because we realize that no good work, no prayer of ours, is ever wasted. God uses even the smallest acts of kindness and love to build us into saints and to impact the world. It’s a challenge because it means that we can’t give ourselves a break on the “little stuff” – we can’t say, “Oh, that sin’s not so bad, it’s just so little.”

            You see, in God’s economy, everything matters. Whether or not we cooperate with God’s grace and become a saint will change the world!