Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Homily 2016

Christmas Homily

December 25, 2016

God So Loved The World


            As World War II broke out in Europe, a young devout Catholic journalist named William Halloran enlisted in the Navy Reserves to fight for his country. He was assigned to the USS Arizona, docked at the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, William was one of the ones killed in action.

            His heartbroken mother, Stella, could have mourned and grieved in silence, or spoken against the terrible war. But instead she spoke up – in favor of the war effort. She began to lead a war bond drive, raising about five million dollars for the construction of a new warship, which the Navy named after her son – the USS Halloran. She then encouraged her other son, Larry, to join the military to fight for the country. Eventually Larry joined the Navy too and was assigned to serve on the USS Halloran, named after his older brother. Larry survived the war and is still living.

            For Stella’s tremendous effort, she was invited to the White House three times, and called a hero – for giving up both of her sons and for sacrificing so much for our country. What would cause this mother to send both of her sons on a mission that led to one of their deaths? Her love for her country must have been great if she was willing to sacrifice those most precious to her!

            Why am I talking about World War II on Christmas? Because as I was reading the story of the Halloran family in a magazine, I was moved by Stella’s example, and realized that what she did was a beautiful parallel of God’s great love for us.

            Consider this for a moment – would you be willing to send your son, your only son, on a mission that would likely end in his death? Most of us would say, no, that is too great a sacrifice! Who could require such a thing? And yet this is precisely what God does. He sends His only Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, the perfect reflection of the Father…and He sends Him on a mission that will lead to death. What could possess someone to make such a sacrifice? Only love of something greater than life – “God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son.”

            What we see here at Christmas is the beginning of that mission. The Son has taken flesh. He has exchanged the glory of Heaven, where His radiance was so bright that even angels had to veil their eyes, and instead became a humble baby. He Who owns all the riches of the universe chose to be born into poverty, without even a house or a bed. He Who can create a universe with just a word chose to become so helpless that He needed to be fed and clothed by His Mother. The mission of sacrificing His life had begun – a mission that would culminate in a complete self-gift on the Cross.

This sacrifice was done out of love for us, pure and simple. The heart of the Father was so grieved that we were separated from Him that He knew He needed to reconcile us. In Jesus Christ, that reconciliation is accomplished. God has bound Himself to the human race forever, now that God has taken flesh and become a man.

So how do we respond? Before William Halloran went off to war, he wrote a letter of resignation to his employer, in which he said, “We who have benefitted [from America] should be willing to sacrifice.” To receive great blessings requires a response.

In Jesus Christ, we are saved. Our response, then, is to live for Him. He gave us His very life, every drop of His blood – can we do any less for Him?

A couple practical ways to make that happen. I run a faith-study for a group of teens in Bethel monthly, and we were talking about the first Commandment last month – “I am the Lord thy God, you shall have no other gods besides Me.” I asked the boys, “How do we know that our lives really worship God, and not make an idol out of something else?” One boy responded very insightfully, “I think a lot has to do with time. How much time do you spend with God?” Very true! Our loving response to God’s infinite love must include spending time with Him – an hour a week at Mass, five or ten minutes a day (at least) in daily prayer, and time spent reading Scripture and spiritual books. He has given us everything – we give Him back our time.

A second way is to conform our lives to His. Jesus Christ was loving, humble, patient, kind, pure…in a word, He was holy. And to life for Him is to live like Him, imitating His holiness. That involves following His teachings, which we can find in the Gospels and in the teachings of the Church. That involves surrendering our will to God and seeking His glory, not our own. That involves making the goal of our lives Heaven, and not riches and comfort and being popular.

God so loved the world that He sent His only Son on a mission that would end with His death. Well, not really – it didn’t end with His death because He arose on the third day. But this mission began here, today, on Christmas morning – the mission of ransoming the souls of men and women from the power of Satan and sin and despair. Christmas demands a response – as the Father loved us and gave us His most precious love (the Son), so in return we ought to give Him our entire lives.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Advent - December 18, 2016

Homily for December 18, 2016

Advent 4



            Back in 1995, Joan Osborne released a song called “One of Us” in which she asked, “What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us?” (Anyone remember that song? It did make #2 on the Top 40 back in ’95…). That song always bothered me, and not just because she called God “a slob” – but rather because she was asking a question that had already been answered.

            God DID become one of us. That is precisely what the Incarnation means. God took on human flesh. That means that God was happy, He was sad, He got hungry and thirsty and tired and lonely, God went to parties, God had friends, God played games and laughed, God suffered and was rejected and died. We call Him “Emmanuel” – God with us, as the angel says in today’s Gospel.

            Why is this important? Because there was a fatal wound within human nature. You and I suffer under the effects of sin – original sin, our personal sin, and the sins of others. This wound of sin is a part of our nature – we were made for eternal happiness with God, but our wound has disfigured that. So Christ had to take our nature in order to remake it, refashion it, restore it to its original beauty.

            Back in the mid-1800s, there was no cure for the disease of leprosy. Those who contracted that disfiguring, deadly disease were sent away into leper colonies in order to die in isolation, surrounded only by those who have that disease. The Catholic Church was moved to help, but had trouble finding volunteers who would go work with the lepers. Many people wanted to help from afar, but who would go and actually live with them – live like them – to offer them medicine and aid?

            Finally, a Dutch priest named Fr. Damien de Veuster volunteered to go. He traveled from Holland to the Hawaiian island of Molokai, where the largest leper colony was located. For sixteen years he ministered to them – he brought them medicine, cleaned their ulcers, ate food with them. Unlike many others who wanted to give help from afar, Fr. Damien was willing to get his hands dirty and actually live with the people. Eventually he succumbed to leprosy himself, dying in 1889. He is now St. Damien of Molokai, one who put love into action.

            In the same way, Jesus did not come to save us from afar. His name, “Jesus”, means “God saves” – His mission is to save us. But not by sitting on a distant throne, giving us instructions. No, He knew that He needed to become one of us – to heal our human nature from the inside out. Just as St. Damien was able to win the hearts of his people by living alongside them, so Jesus Christ lived alongside us in every way. He was truly human in every way, but without sin.

            What does that mean, practically? When we suffer, we are often tempted to say, “God, You don’t know what I’m going through!” You don’t know what I’m going through when I have physical pain! When I’m lonely! When I’m afraid! When I lose someone close to me! When my family doesn’t understand me! When my life doesn’t make sense! We are always tempted to cry out, “God, where are you? You don’t understand!” But the Incarnation means that He does understand – because He has been there. There is nothing we can go through in this life that Christ hasn’t gone through. Are you grieving? So did Jesus. Are you tired? So was Jesus. Are you in pain, afraid, lonely? So was Jesus. He entered into the mystery of humanity – ALL of it, the good, the bad, the ugly – so that He could redeem it.

            We hear that word a lot – “redeem” – but what does it mean? Well, let’s look at another thing we redeem – coupons! My mom used to clip a lot of coupons; I remember often seeing her going through the paper, seeking to save 50 cents or 75 cents on boxes of cereal or pounds of meat. A coupon is something that, in itself, is worthless – it’s just a piece of paper. But if you redeem it – if you bring it to the checkout counter at the store – it becomes valuable, as it saves you money.

            Jesus came to redeem us – take our lives, our joys, our sorrows, our relationships, everything - from being meaningless to being richly valuable in the sight of God. Now, because Jesus took on flesh, our daily activities have meaning, because, united to Him, we are able to become saints by them. Going to school or work, when united to Christ, can help us grow in holiness. Suffering, when we offer it up to the Lord, becomes a means of sanctification. Our struggles become opportunities to grow in virtue. Everything we do becomes a “living sacrifice”, a small step along the path to holiness, because in Christ our lives have been redeemed. Our lives have gone from “meaningless accidents of chance” to “meaningful, because we are loved and destined to love.”

            All of this is possible only because Jesus took on flesh, entered into the messiness of the human condition, and redeemed it, elevated it, and made it holy!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Third Sunday of Advent - December 11, 2016

Advent 3

December 11, 2016

Our Need for God


            Last week as I was walking back from St. Benedict’s along Cove Rd. while praying the Rosary, a car pulled up beside me and the passenger side window rolled down. A woman leaned out the window and said, “You’d better be praying hard. Lots of crazy stuff happening in the world today!” Then she rolled up the window and the car drove off.

            That’s a theme I hear regularly – people who are concerned about the state of the world in which we live. There’s a lot to worry about: the economy, the breakup of families, terrorism, getting sick, corrupt politicians, and so much more. Back in October, TIME magazine ran a cover story about the steadily-increasing rise in teenage depression and anxiety – attributing the cause to be increasing pressures at school, social media bullying, and broken families. But I would attribute it – and a lot of our own anxieties – to a lack of faith in God.

            We were not made to live life on our own. If we were on our own, we would literally be at the mercy of so many forces beyond our control – our boss could fire us, we could get sick and die, we could get our identity stolen and lose all our money. Without faith, all of that becomes just meaningless suffering. But with faith, we are in the hands of a merciful God. Negative things can happen, but He brings great good out of them for those with faith.

            Thus, the encounter of today’s Gospel. Let’s break down this story a bit. First, John the Baptist tells his disciples to ask Jesus if He is the Christ. Whoa, wait a minute! Didn’t John already know? Of course he did – he is the one who pointed out, “This is the Lamb of God!” when Jesus walked by, and who was ashamed to baptize the Lord because he insisted the Lord should baptize him instead. Clearly John knew who Jesus was! Then why did he tell his disciples?

            The key is, he wanted his disciples to become Christ’s disciples. They were still hanging around John, when John wanted them hanging around Jesus. John’s role was to point everyone to Jesus, because the answer to the desires of every human heart is Jesus.

            And who is Jesus? What was His mission? Was it, as our Gospel lists, to give sight to the blind, healing to the lame, hearing to the deaf? All of those things were for one purpose only – to bring others to faith that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is less interested in providing free health care than He is in providing faith in Him! Ultimately the free health care is nice, but it doesn’t solve the deeper thirst of our souls – thirst to know God!

            Pope Benedict in his book, “Jesus of Nazareth”, asks a very important question – what did Jesus come to bring? He answers that Jesus came to bring God. In fact, we call Him “Emmanuel” – God with us. When we see Jesus Christ, we see the Face of God. We understand that we are loved by Him, we come to know who we are and what our purpose is in life (to become holy and spend eternity with God).

            My friends, John’s prophetic role is the same as ours. John said, “He must increase; I must decrease.” John existed to glorify God and to lead others to Him. We, too, should glorify God with our life and lead others to Him.

            We’re probably smack-dab in the middle of Christmas shopping season. But why would you buy someone a new tie and neglect to give them the faith that leads to eternal life? Bring souls to Christ – through your prayers, your example, and sharing what your own faith in Christ means to you. The world needs hope, so the world needs Jesus Christ – He is the only hope for the salvation of the world!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Advent 2 - December 4, 2016

Advent 2

December 4, 2016

Clean House


            A man was going about his daily business in his house when, all of a sudden, he heard a knock at the door. Upon opening it, imagine his surprise to find that Jesus Himself was standing there! “May I come in?” the Lord asked.

            The man was flabbergasted, and stuttered his response, “Oh…uh…of course, please, come in!” The man began to quickly think about all the rooms he needed to clean before Jesus could see them. He ushered Jesus into his living room and nervously said, “Please, make yourself comfortable. I just need to prepare for your visit.”

            So Jesus sat down on the couch, and picked up a magazine laying on the coffee table. Immediately the man grabbed it out of His hand, embarrassed at how impure it was. “Oh, Jesus, this isn’t the type of thing You should be reading,” he said. Instead he handed him the Bible, which was crisp and pristine – obviously never opened. “Here, read this instead.”

            The man went into another room to start cleaning, when he heard the TV on. Coming back into the room, the man was horrified to see that Jesus had turned it on – it was showing the last TV show the man had watched – and he was embarrassed to have Jesus see it! He quickly turned it off and told the Lord to stay just in this one room.

            He went into another room and prepared to clean, but he heard a creak and a crash. Hurrying back, he saw that Jesus had opened a closet which was a wreck – dirty, full of trash and garbage. Again, the man was embarrassed, and he started to show Jesus to the door. “You know what, Jesus, perhaps it’s better if You come back later. I have some cleaning up to do beforehand!”

            What if Jesus came to visit your house? What if He came to visit the house of your soul? Would it need some cleaning? Are there closets full of stuff – memories, bad decisions, hidden sins – that are so dark and ugly that you couldn’t let Him see it? What about your senses – have you replayed on the TV screens of your mind and imagination things that you would gladly show Him? Or would we be embarrassed to let Him into every part of our house – all our thoughts, emotions, words, actions?

            We are often so busy this Advent season, preparing for Christmas, that we don’t think of Advent as a time of repentance. But that is precisely the message that John the Baptist preaches in the Gospel. He is the prophet who prepares the way for the Lord precisely by calling all to repentance. The Lord cannot dwell in a soul that is still dirtied by sin.

            Of course, it is only through His grace that we are able to repent at all. But we must cooperate with that grace, and abandon our sins.

The Pharisees prided themselves on being sons of Abraham, thinking that their bloodline and their genealogy was enough to save them. But John deconstructs their pride and says that God can even make sons of Abraham out of rocks! They were not imitating Abraham’s faith or his righteousness. They were sons of Abraham by blood, but not in their actual lives – where it really counted!

Likewise in today’s world, some people believe that they are saved simply by being a Catholic. But being a baptized and confirmed Catholic cannot save us – even being a Sunday Mass-goer cannot save us – if we still cling to our sins and prevent the Lord from invading our life! We may be Catholic in name, but are we followers of Christ in reality? That requires living the type of life Christ offers – a new life, far from sin, seeking Him alone.

So – let’s start by taking advantage of Confession! And not just confessing the same things over and over, but really examining our lives and asking Christ into those “dark closets” that we’ve kept hidden for so long. We have to want to change – and He will change us. We have to want a friendship with Him – and He will become our most intimate friend. If we just go through the motions, nothing will happen – we must genuinely seek Him, and we will find Him.

I hated cleaning the house for visitors. I always got stuck with the vacuuming job, which I hated, because our house was never that dirty and it seemed like my vacuuming never made much of a difference. But, of course, I realized that a clean house shows respect for the dignity of our guests, even if it was just our aunts and uncles. A clean soul shows respect to the Divine Guest who resides there.

As we consider what parties to have this Advent season, we will be cleaning our houses for guests to arrive. But the whole point of this season is to remember the coming of THE GUEST – Jesus Christ – Who dwells in our souls through grace. Only a clean soul is a fit dwelling place for the Lord!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

First Sunday of Advent - Nov. 27, 2016

Homily for Advent 1

November 27, 2016

About Time


            Recently I’ve been reading a great spiritual classic by St. Alphonsus Liguori called, “Preparation For Death”. Not exactly light reading, one might say! But a sobering thought and reminder for all of us.

            One point that he draws out quite a bit is that at the end of our lives, if we have lived life poorly, we will be begging for more time. If the point of this life is to become transformed into Christ through faith and grace, and we have yet to learn to love like Him, then we will be begging God for more time! Our greatest regret at the end of our life will be all the time we have wasted on unimportant things, while we should have been seeking Him instead.

            Our Scriptures are filled with urgency today. “Now is the time! Our salvation is close at hand!” Compared with eternity, our lives are so short, just like a blip on a radar screen…so we must use our lives well to prepare for eternity.

            And yet we waste so much time! Consider the amount of time we spend surfing the internet or watching TV compared to the amount of time we spend praying or reading Scripture. Instead of spending time talking to members of our own families, we waste it playing games on our iPhones. I ask teens in the high school if they pray, and they tell me they say an Our Father and a Hail Mary before they go to bed. That takes all of 20 seconds – yet they think nothing of spending 2 hours playing Call of Duty!

            Time is the one gift of God that He has given to all equally. All men may have different talents and abilities, different bank accounts and jobs – but everyone has 24 hours in the day, and it is up to decide how we wish to fill those hours. Every day is a blank slate – will we use this day to become more like Christ, or will we waste it away on frivolous things?

            Back in 1985, Neil Postman wrote a famous book called “Amusing Ourselves to Death” – making the case that our world had become so obsessed with entertainment that we lost the ability to have rational discourse. I can only imagine what he would say if he wrote it in 2016! We might want to rename the book, “Amusing Ourselves to Spiritual Death” because wasting time on frivolous amusements prevents us from spiritual growth. One might even say that wasting time is sinful, since it is a waste of one of God’s most precious gifts, a gift given to us so that we can become holy.

            Of course, we are allowed to enjoy recreation and down-time – not every waking moment needs to be filled with work. But recreation is precisely that: re-creation, becoming refreshed so that we can grow even deeper in our faith and in our love for our neighbor. That is a far cry from the vast amounts of time-wasting activities we engage in, such as overconsumption of TV or internet.

            The fact is, we will have to give an account to the Lord of how we have used our time. Perhaps He wanted to make us a saint, but we frittered our lives away with “The Walking Dead”. Perhaps He wanted to do great works through us, but we were too busy on Facebook.

            Already when I look back at my life, my greatest grief is all of the time I wasted while I could have been loving God and my neighbor, being a friend and a good son and brother, finding ways to bless and serve others. I pray that I may make better use of my time, because there is an urgency to our life – TODAY is the day to start seeking the Lord! NOW is the time to turn our lives over to Him! Do not procrastinate or waste time, for the days we waste, we will never get back. “Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed – the night is far gone, the day draw nears!” as St. Paul reminds us.

            We only have today – let us begin.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 13, 2016

Ordinary Time 33

November 13, 2016

Fear of the Lord


            My first year here at St. Mary’s/St. Benedict’s we ran a Vacation Bible Camp for over 60 kids. I was helping with music, which was fun but by Thursday I had run out of ideas of how to keep them interested. So, I decided to do an in-depth church tour where we got to see the sacristy where the priest gets ready, and to see up-close the vessels we use for Mass, and to explore the sanctuary. The climax of the tour was when I opened the tabernacle for the kids to see inside. There was utter silence when we opened the tabernacle, and after a moment, one of the older boys whispered, “This is the first time I’ve been in awe!”

            He was experiencing what is known as fear of the Lord – being in awe in the presence of God, filled with wonder, trembling at the presence of the Almighty. This is a good virtue to cultivate frequently.

            Fear of the Lord requires us to recognize that God is God and we are not God. God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-just…and we are weak, frail, ignorant of so much. God created the world with only a word…and we cannot even guarantee that we will take another breath. Fear of the Lord is closely related to humility – we recognize how great God is, and how small we are.

            The first reading makes it clear that only those who have fear of the Lord will be saved. Not the arrogant, not those who think they can “do life” without God, not the prideful or boastful or those who think they’re “all that” because of their bank accounts or their good looks or their PhDs or their talents.

            Scripture says that “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” since humility and fear of the Lord is nothing more than recognizing the truth about who we are in the sight of God. We gain wisdom when we live according to the truth!

            Now, some may say, “Why should we fear God? I thought we were supposed to love Him!” Of course we are, and St. John says that “perfect love casts out fear”, so in Heaven we will not need Fear of the Lord – just like in Heaven we won’t need courage, since there will be no obstacles to overcome, and we won’t need patience, since there won’t be anything to annoy us…all virtues, except for love, are solely for this-world alone. But none of us here have perfect love – thus, we need Fear of the Lord.

            When my dad went away on a business trip, we kids at home used to take advantage of mom so much! We knew that mom wouldn’t punish us as much as dad, so we pushed the limits, we misbehaved, we acted up. Of course we loved our mom – but we didn’t love her perfectly! Our love was mixed with childish mischief – and so we needed “Fear of Dad” to keep us in line! I knew – and still know – that my dad loved me very much, but I needed to respect his power and authority…otherwise, I’d be tempted to abuse that love!

            In the same way, because we do not love God perfectly, we do still need to grow in the virtue of fear of the Lord. We trust that He loves us very much…and because He is the King of the Universe, we must obey Him. We want to get to the point where we love Him so much that we would never want to offend Him…but until that happens, we should obey Him out of awe and wonder at His power and justice.

            How do we grow in this virtue? Honestly, for me, I experience awe at God’s majesty mostly through nature. This past summer our youth group was having one of our Tuesday night bible studies, and right after the bible study ended, we went outside in time to see one of the most magnificent lightning storms I had ever seen. There was no rain, and the clouds were far away, but we could see these incredible bolts of lightning dancing around in the clouds, sometimes stretching down to the ground, and illuminating the dark evening sky. All of us were amazing! It was breathtaking, it was magnificent…and it made all of us recognize the power of God. We were in awe!

            In the Gospel, Jesus describes some natural phenomena that will accompany the end times: earthquakes, famines, plagues, signs in the sky. All of this is God’s way of showing us our place in the cosmos – we are profoundly loved by Him, but we are also not God. Our response to this ought to be wonder, awe, and fear of the Lord!

            In addition to nature, we can grow in this virtue through beautiful liturgy. I remember a powerful moment in my own life was when I was a high school teen and went on a weekend retreat with thousands of other teens in Steubenville, Ohio. The Mass had reached the point of the distribution of Communion, and there were about twenty-five priests on the altar preparing to distribute the Lord to the huge congregation. As they began to march off the altar in pairs, holding Jesus in their hands, the music swelled, and all of a sudden I was struck with awe at the priesthood – here were these 25 soldiers for Christ, men who have laid down their lives for Jesus, bringing Jesus to a broken world through the Eucharist. The whole dignity and beauty of it all moved me to tears.

            Ultimately, fear of the Lord should lead us to love of the Lord, because the Lord’s power is always used for our benefit. We marvel at His power – the power that is used to redeem us. If God is so powerful as to be able to destroy the world, then His power can also destroy my sin. If God can create the world with a word, then He can create a new heart in me. If He is so powerful that He can break open the tomb and rise again on the third day, then He can break open Heaven’s gates to let me in. It’s good to be the beloved son of a mighty Lord! Because He is so powerful and loving, I can trust myself to Him completely. As our first reading says, “For those who fear the Lord, the son of justice will arise with its healing rays.”

Thursday, November 3, 2016

November 6, 2016 - Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for November 6, 2016
Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Choose Our King Carefully

            Today’s first reading picks up in the middle of a much larger story, one that sheds a great deal of light on our own situation as a nation. The book of Maccabees tells the story of what happened in the Holy Land around the year 160BC. The Jewish people had been living in their own land for four centuries, but always under some other nation’s rule. First it was the Persians, who were pretty tolerant of the Jewish customs and way of life. But the Persians were soon conquered by the Greeks under Alexander the Great. When Alexander died, his empire was divided up, and the area of the Holy Land fell under the wicked ruler King Antiochus Epiphanes.
            Antiochus had the goal of Hellenizing the entire world (in other words, make it all Greek). He wanted to unite the known world under one language, with one religion, one set of customs. While this was a good ideal, he enforced this unity through bloodshed and oppression. When he came to the Jewish people, he forced them to sacrifice to pagan gods, he demolished the Temple and set up a false idol in its place, and he put to death anyone who observed the ancient Jewish traditions.
            Today’s first reading details the deaths of seven brothers, all of whom were killed because of their faithfulness to God’s law. They kept their faith despite political and social pressure to cave in, and paid for it with their lives. In the end, there was a major Jewish revolt which eventually overthrew the power of Antiochus Epiphanes, cleansed the Temple, and restored freedom of worship – but not before many, many Jews died as religious martyrs.
            Our first reading demonstrates some of the painful consequences of living under an evil ruler. We are blessed, in America, that we have the duty to elect our rulers – but that also lays a heavy burden and challenge upon us.
            We stand, as a nation, at a crossroads. In two short days, we will have the duty to choose our next President. But this election is about more than just two people. In a sense, it’s about the soul of a nation – who are we, and who do we choose to become?
            I’ve seen a lot of debate over the past few months about whether or not America is a Christian nation. Interestingly enough, the Supreme Court already solved that question – in 1892, in the court case Church of the Holy Trinity vs. US, the Supreme Court unanimously declared, “this is a Christian nation.” In an earlier 1844 Supreme Court ruling in the Vidal vs. Gerard’s Executors case, the Supreme Court unanimously declared that it is beneficial for the public schools to “both read and be taught as divine revelation” the Bible. Moving to Congress, the Senate Judiciary Committee report in 1853 declared, “We are a Christian people…not because the law demands it, not to gain exclusive benefits, but from choice and education. And in a land thus universally Christian, what is to be expected, what desired, but that we pay due regard to Christianity?” Even our Founding Fathers agreed – Washington once said, “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.”
            One might argue, then, that times have changed. Perhaps they have – we are far more pluralistic of a society now than before. But have they changed for the better? As we have lost our Christianity, have we as a society and a nation become more just, more kind, more loving, more upright, more hard-working? I would hazard that we have lost much of our virtue that made us great. America is only the best nation on earth if its citizens are virtuous – without virtue, there is no greatness. And it is very difficult to be truly virtuous apart from Christ.
            And thus we come to the crisis that is this upcoming election. I don’t think we’ve ever had a perfect candidate, but this election proves to be a difficult choice because both candidates are profoundly flawed individuals.
            Yet some flaws are more grievous than others. There are certain non-negotiable issues that we, as believers in God, must agree with. Some things are grave moral evils that cannot be tolerated or advocated for. Prime among these are abortion, the redefinition of marriage, and the erosion of religious freedom.
            This is not to say that the other issues are unimportant. They certainly are – but people of good will may have different ways of tackling the issues. For example, all candidates want to eliminate poverty – no one in their right mind would advocate for increasing poverty! But we can disagree about how to do that – do we increase welfare? Provide better jobs? Encourage small businesses through tax breaks? Increase tax breaks for families that stay together? We are allowed to disagree about how to fix these problems in society. Or, for another example, there is an issue with the need to balance immigration with national security – here, too, we can disagree on how best to welcome newcomers while still enforcing the laws of our nation. Both must be held in balance, but there can be different plans on how to do that.
            With the grave moral evils, however, there cannot be any compromise. People of good will cannot be in favor of abortion – it is an “intrinsic evil,” which means that there is no possible reason why that could be a good thing, no matter what positive consequences might result, because it is a taking of a human life.
Please don’t misunderstand me – God is immensely merciful, and if there is any woman here who has suffered the trauma of abortion, the Lord is always ready and willing to forgive. There are many reasons why women go through with an abortion – fear, pressure, lack of knowledge – and the Lord knows your regret, and comes to heal you. But abortion itself is something that a society ought never to allow.
Unfortunately, we have many candidates for public office who support such intrinsic evils like abortion – and when a candidate supports the right to murder an unborn child for all nine months of pregnancy, can they be trusted with our nation? If a candidate had come out in support of the Holocaust, we would have dismissed them immediately as unfit for office. But many candidates support an even greater holocaust – the holocaust of abortion, which has claimed the lives of over fifty million children – five times more than the Nazi Holocaust!
            We might say, “well yes, but they have other good qualities.” Can any amount of good qualities wash blood off the hands of those who support such a barbaric practice? What good qualities can there be that can answer for the death of the innocent?
            In moral theology, we make a distinction between material and formal cooperation in evil. Material cooperation in evil means that we do not intend the evil that is committed – for example, a kitchenware salesman may sell someone a knife, and that person may end up committing murder with it. But the kitchen salesman is not guilty for participating in the crime – he is only “materially cooperating” with evil. On the other side we have formal cooperation, which means that we intend the evil action as well – like the person who drives the getaway car in a bank robbery is still guilty of participating in the crime. In the middle, however, we have proximate material cooperation – that is, we cooperate with evil by assisting it, even if we don’t intend it. For example, if the kitchenware salesman knew with certainty that the man buying the knife was planning to murder someone, then he has the moral obligation not to sell the man the knife.
            I apologize if that distinction is confusing, but it is critically important. We are faced with the choice of voting for a candidate who supports intrinsic moral evils such as abortion and the redefinition of marriage. To vote for them would be considered proximate material cooperation – in other words, even if we ourselves are pro-life, to vote for a certain pro-choice candidate would be cooperating in their evil – it would be enabling someone who has already publicly and consistently proclaimed that they would do everything in their power to allow the merciless destruction of human life. In such a case, we ourselves would be morally guilty for participating in their deaths. To put it far more bluntly – if a person thinks they have a good reason for voting for a pro-choice candidate, I hope they are able to explain that reason to all of the babies who will suffer because of our choice!

            This has been a particularly contentious election – and it is necessary to choose our leaders carefully. Those candidates who do not respect the dignity of human life, who try to eliminate religious freedom, and who support intrinsic moral evils cannot be voted for. This election is about the soul of our nation – we must pray and fast, that we may be under good leaders, leaders who have the heart of God. Let us return to our Christian roots – let us develop virtue once again as a nation – let us raise up good and holy leaders to lead us in the path of peace.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 30, 2016

Homily for October 30, 2016

Thirty First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Fool for Christ’s Sake


            St. Philip Neri was a sixteenth-century Italian priest who worked hard to bring souls to Christ. He started “The Oratory” – basically the first youth group in history – and through his personal holiness, started to lead thousands of people back to the Lord. But as his personal fame started to spread, he realized he needed to find some way to stay humble, even as everyone was noticing his holiness.

            So he decided to make people think he was crazy instead of holy! He shaved off half of his beard and trained a pet squirrel to sit on his shoulder. One time a very rich benefactor heard about the holy priest and sought to see him and donate large amounts of money to his work. The rich man was told that he could find Fr. Philip in the sacristy, preparing for Mass. He went back there and found the holy priest reading joke books (with only clean jokes, presumably!). The rich man was offended – but Fr. Philip had to read joke books because otherwise his Masses could last up to eight hours long – he would often get lost in love with God and lose track of time! Even with reading joke books to distract him, his Masses were still notorious for being well over two hours!

            Here was a man who never really cared what other people thought of him. Same with Zacchaeus – he was desperate to do anything to see Jesus. What a silly sight that must have seemed – here was this rich and notorious man, climbing a tree to see! It would be as if we saw a Wall Street banker, in full suit and tie, climb a tree to see a Eucharistic procession. We’d think that’s a little odd, perhaps a bit extreme…and at the same time, we might marvel at their faith.

            The Russian Orthodox Church actually has a rich tradition of people who are “holy fools” – they call them “yurodivy” and they are esteemed as saints in their tradition, despite their often bizarre behavior for the sake of Christ. We have saints who have done equally radical, often strange things for the Lord. For example, St. Francis was one time so assailed by impure, lustful temptation that to rid himself of it, he took off all his clothes and rolled around in the snow. Wow – yikes – and at the same time, what a great love for God!

            Zacchaeus clearly did not care what people thought of him. He wanted Christ, and Christ alone. Having heard the Lord’s saving message of repentance, the tax collector was ready and willing to do just that, no matter the cost. It seemed extreme, not just to climb the tree, but also to offer back four times what he cheated others – that too would get an amazed reaction from the crowd!

            Notice, too, Zacchaeus’ reaction to the crowd’s murmuring and complaining – the Gospel notes that he “stood there” – he was unaffected, unafraid of the opinions of the crowd. This, after all, is the crowd that in a few short chapters, would be crying out “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” So what does other people’s opinion matter? Christ alone matters!

            So do not be afraid to be seen as a fool for Christ’s sake! Following the Lord has never been popular or the “cool” thing to do. For example, is it popular to tell people that you’re pro-life in today’s antagonistic climate? Will it be well-received to tell your child’s soccer coach that they will not be playing on Sunday morning when they will be at Mass instead? Will that cross around your neck become controversial at your workplace? If it isn’t at least a little bit uncomfortable to stand for Christ, we should consider whether we’re really living our faith with as much fervor as we ought!

            One final story of being a fool for Christ. I was teaching in a Catholic school one year and there was a kid named James who really loved the Lord. He was also one of the cool kids – an athlete, who everyone liked and respected. One day I saw him in the hallway with a sign around his neck that read, “LOSER”. I said, “James, take that off. You’re not a loser.” He replied, “I know, but I want to wear it so kids will make fun of me and not bully other kids.” I was impressed – someone not afraid of what other people will think!

            Better to be a fool in the eyes of the world than to give up the treasure of Christ!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Homily for Ordinary Time 30 - Oct. 23, 2016

Homily for Ordinary Time 30

October 23, 2016

Know Thyself


            One time a desperate mother made a long, arduous, three-day journey to meet Gandhi and ask his advice. Upon reaching the holy man, the woman begged him to help her with her son. “My son never sits still, he’s angry all the time and he’s failing in school and getting into trouble. What can I do with him?”

            Gandhi answered, “Come back in one month and I will give you your answer.”

            So the woman made the long trek home and the following month, made the arduous journey back to the holy man.

            Gandhi said to her simply, “All you need to do for your son is to stop feeding him sugar. He will be better off.”

            The woman angrily demanded, “That’s all? That’s all I have to do? Why did you make me come back, making that difficult journey? Why couldn’t you have told me that last time?”

            Gandhi replied, “Because last month, I was still eating sugar.”

            It was Socrates who often said, “Know thyself.” This is also the first principle in the spiritual life as well. To truly advance along the path of holiness, we first need to know who we are in the light of Christ.

            The Pharisee in today’s Gospel was completely deluded as to who he was. Yes, perhaps he was righteous, but he missed the fact that he was filled with pride, and that any virtue he had was a result of God’s grace and love. He deceived himself, thinking himself better than he truly was. Because of that, God’s grace could not work in his heart.

            In contrast, we see the tax collector, who knew himself well. He recognized that before God’s immense holiness, he was a sinner. But he also knew that he had the potential to be redeemed – thus, he could make that prayer for mercy confidently before God.

            So who are we before God? Two aspects we need to consider:

            First, we are infinitely loved and infinitely loveable. We don’t have to do anything to earn God’s love or “earn” Heaven – His love is a free grace, one that is bestowed upon us freely simply because He created us. We are not accidents, we are not merely here because of random chance. No – as Pope Benedict said so beautifully, “Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed. Each of us is loved. Each of us is necessary.” God doesn’t make junk – we’re here because He loves us.

            But we hold this reality in tension with the reality that we are sinners. We have all fallen short of what we could be. This is also where we must know ourselves – where our weaknesses are, where we could be more Christ-like, where we need conversion. We don’t consider these things to make ourselves feel bad or guilty, but to allow the light of God’s grace to shine on our sins so that we can repent of them and turn back to the Lord.

            Even twelve-step programs recognize the importance of this brutal honesty with ourselves. The fourth step of Alcoholics Anonymous is to “Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of oneself”. In other words, get to know your weaknesses and sins so that we can avoid them in the future. Athletes, too, know this principle – if you’re a football player and you’re pretty fast but you can’t catch well, you’ll want to work on that if you want to be elite.

            In the same way, if you want to live an excellent life – to truly be holy, and not just mediocre – we want to “know ourselves” well. For example, if I notice that when I’m hungry or tired I tend to be angry with people, then I need to be diligent about trying to not be hungry or tired – or when I am, I have to be extra careful about how I react to people. If I know that being around certain people will cause me to curse or tell dirty jokes, then I need to be vigilant when I am around them to make sure my language is clean. Often times when I’m doing my morning prayer, I mentally run through my upcoming day, to see where the temptations and pitfalls may be, and I ask God to give me extra grace to deal with them. Awareness of our weaknesses is half the battle!

            Once we know our weaknesses, we surrender them to God – we ask God to go there, to bring His light, His healing, His love. And like the tax collector, we too shall go home justified.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 9, 2016

Homily for Ordinary Time 28

October 9, 2016

Sacramentals – Seeing Is Believing


            Let’s go back to the first reading today. The prophet Elisha does an amazing miracle, healing Naaman, the Syrian, of his leprosy by bathing in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman, being a rich official of the Syrian king, offers fine gifts, but the prophet refuses. So Naaman asks for a very strange thing – he wants to take back two mule-loads of earth back to Syria.

            Why would he want hundreds of pounds of dirt? It’s very simple – God did something amazing in his life, and he wanted some way to remember God’s incredible works.

            Think about it – don’t we often take souvenirs from awesome experiences? If I go to a baseball game, I always hope to bring home a foul ball, which helps me remember the great game. If we go to the Eiffel Tower, we bring back photographs, postcards, maybe a little statuette of the landmark. Why do we do this? Because we want to remember the great places we’ve been, the amazing experiences that we’ve had.

             So Naaman wanted to remember all of God’s works – hence, he brings home some of the Holy Land.

            We, too, need things to help us remember the great works of God. Christ gave us seven specific ways in which we remember the great works of God – we call them sacraments. But many of the Sacraments are limited in time and space – we only get baptized once, and we have to come to church to encounter the Eucharist. We need more frequent reminders of the Lord’s mighty deeds!

            Thus, the Church gives us sacramentals. Sacramentals are things that remind us of our Faith. They include things like crucifixes, holy statues, the Rosary, holy water. These sacramentals can be used by all of us, anytime, to remember God’s mighty deeds.

            Many non-Catholics think that these sacramentals are superstition. And, certainly, they are not meant to replace faith and a righteous life. But we recognize the old truism: “Out of sight, out of mind.” If we aren’t constantly reminded about God’s great works, we will forget about Him!

            For example, the crucifix reminds me of Christ’s death on the Cross, and how His death purchased my salvation. Having holy water in my home reminds me of baptism, and how His Spirit now dwells within me. Seeing a statue of Our Lady reminds me that she is always ready to intercede for us. Wearing a scapular reminds me of God’s constant presence as my Creator.

            We all need things to remind us of “God’s wondrous deeds,” as our Psalm puts it. St. Jerome, for example, used to keep a skull on his desk at all times to remind him of the shortness of life (whose skull was it? I wonder!). St. Francis of Assisi was praying before a crucifix when he heard God’s call to “rebuild His Church.” St. Padre Pio would tell his friends, “Bring me my weapon!” when referring to his Rosary, as the Rosary is a powerful weapon against evil.

            We, too, ought to fill our homes and our lives with blessed Sacramentals. Every room in the house should have a crucifix and holy pictures in it. Consider this: let’s say you have a bad day. You come home from work or school and you crash on your couch. If you have an ocean landscape on your wall, you may start to dream about your next vacation, which is fine…but it doesn’t help you in the long run. But if you have a crucifix on your wall, you will be reminded that Christ loves you and is with you in your suffering, and you are able to offer your suffering up to Him as a sacrifice and thereby grow in holiness. All because of a sacramental!

            My friends, fill your lives with sacramentals – reminders of God’s mighty deeds!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Homily for Ordinary Time 26 - Sept. 25, 2016

Homily for Ordinary Time 26

September 25, 2016

Dead Conscience


            St. Dominic Savio, the schoolboy saint, one time came upon his friends all huddled in a corner of the schoolyard looking intently at a magazine. He came over to see what was up, and was horrified to see that the magazine contained impure images. Without a second thought, he grabbed it out of its owner’s hands and ripped it to shreds right there on the playground.

            The boys protested, saying, “Hey, that’s our book!”

            But St. Dominic replied, “Is that what God gave you eyes for? To look at bad pictures?”

            One of the boys said, “Oh, it was just for fun. What’s so wrong about looking at it?”

            To which the saint shot back, “If you don’t see anything wrong, that’s even worse! It means you’re used to looking at shameful things!”

            God gave us our consciences in order to lead us to right and wrong. But it’s very possible to ignore our consciences, or deaden them so that evil things no longer bother us.

            This is what happened in today’s Gospel. I’m sure that at first, the rich man felt a pang of guilt for completely ignoring Lazarus at his doorstep. He might have been embarrassed by his riches, maybe feeling ashamed for being so selfish. But after a while, as he continued to ignore his conscience, the guilt dissipated. It didn’t even register on his conscience that this human being, this child of God, was starving outside his door, having his wounds licked by dogs. The rich man had killed his conscience!

            Psychologists today often say that guilt is a neurosis; they say that to feel guilty is an unhealthy reaction. Although it is possible to have unhealthy guilt, most guilt that we feel is quite healthy indeed! Guilt is our conscience telling us that we need to change our lives and repent of our sin.

            CS Lewis once said, “If you live differently than you believe, then you will soon begin to believe the way you live.” For example, let’s say that a person knows that telling a lie is wrong, but does it anyway and feels guilty about it. He will soon be faced with a choice: either stop lying, or stop believing that lying is wrong. If it’s the latter case, then he changed his beliefs to fit his lifestyle.

            I see this all the time as a priest. People don’t go to Mass and feel guilty – so they have to rationalize it and say, “Well, I don’t believe it’s a mortal sin to miss Mass.” People commit impure actions and feel bad about it. They can either repent or rationalize it away, saying, “Oh, it’s no big deal, everybody does it.” If they rationalize it away, then they have killed their conscience!

            So, what are we to do to make sure our conscience is alive, leading us to God? First, we must form our consciences. We must study the teaching of Christ and the Church to know what is right and wrong. It’s not the role of our consciences to decide right and wrong for ourselves – rather, our consciences apply the teachings of Christ and the Church to specific situations in our life. An example might make this clear: Christ clearly teaches through His Church that gossip is wrong. Our conscience doesn’t determine that. But our conscience determines whether this particular incident where we had to speak about our friend to another friend was actually gossip, or whether it was a necessary conversation we needed to have to ask their advice. That’s the role of conscience – to apply moral teachings to particular situations.

            Secondly, we must examine our consciences daily. Usually done before bedtime, that means going over our day to see where we fell short of loving God and our neighbor. If we examine our conscience daily, we will sharpen our conscience and discover small faults that we never knew we had. If we take care of the small faults, they won’t grow into big ones! Our conscience is like a muscle – if we use it daily, it will grow stronger. But if we neglect it for a length of time, it will grow dull…and perhaps wither and die!

            Thirdly, we ought to be wise about what influences us. When I was a teen I fell in with a group of friends who were great people, except they cursed…A LOT. If I didn’t know better, I’d say they were all destined for the military with their foul language! The first few times I was around them, I found their language shocking…but little by little, I became accustomed to it, and soon I found myself indulging in their bad words. That wasn’t good! Our consciences can be dulled simply by what’s around us. If we play violent video games, we will quickly stop being horrified by violence; if we look at sexually explicit material, we will soon find it mundane. And that is a terrible thing, because it means we’ve become so accustomed to sin that it doesn’t shock us anymore! So, to keep our consciences alive and well, we ought to control what we watch, listen to, and who influences us.

            As evidenced by the Gospel, ignoring our consciences comes with a great risk…the risk of eternal damnation. For this reason, we ought to listen carefully to our conscience, as it is the voice of God in our soul, leading us along the path of holiness.