Saturday, May 30, 2020

Pentecost Homily - May 31, 2020

Homily for May 31, 2020
Pentecost Sunday
The Lion’s Roar

            Medieval biologists believed that lion cubs were born dead, but that they were awakened by the roar of the father-lion. In the same way, the Church was born “dead”, as it were. Jesus had ascended into Heaven, but there was no life in the Church until the Spirit roared into it, bringing it to life.
            The Church roared to life that Pentecost, beginning with such fervor that three thousand people were baptized on the spot. And now, more than ever, we desperately need that dynamic fervor of the Church to save a world falling into ruins.
            My friends, the world itself is dying. This past week, we saw race riots in Minneapolis and across the nation. A federal suicide hotline reported a 1,000 percent increase in calls this April, due to coronavirus. This past week, the UN Secretary General declared that because of coronavirus, we were facing starvation of “historic proportions” as sixty million people are pushed into extreme poverty. Because of coronavirus, there has been an 18% increase in porn usage. Our world is dying – spiritually, physically, emotionally, socially.
            I am willing to make the claim that the only thing that can save us from utter destruction as a society, as a nation, and as individuals is the exact same message that Peter proclaimed from the balcony on Pentecost morning: “Jesus Christ is alive!” Our world today is now reaping the bitter fruit of our sins, but we know One Who has conquered our sins on the Cross. He alone can heal us, if we turn to Him; He alone can forgive us, if we repent.
            And the Church must come alive to this good news! To a world that is dying, the Church must roar her undying message – Jesus Christ! He alone is our hope! Our hope is not in science, as good as that is; it is not in politics, which promises much but delivers little; it is not in our own self-help efforts where we seek our own salvation. No, these are empty and offer no salvation – so the Church must proclaim in every age that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, and it is only through repentance from our sins and faith in Him that we find salvation.
            The Vietnamese martyr, St. Paul Le-Bao-Tinh, who was captured and killed for his faith, wrote this letter from prison: “The prison here is a true image of everlasting Hell: to cruel tortures of every kind—shackles, iron chains, manacles—are added hatred, vengeance, calumnies, obscene speech, quarrels, evil acts, swearing, curses, as well as anguish and grief. But God has made these torments sweet, for his mercy is forever. In the midst of these torments, which usually terrify others, I am, by the grace of God, full of joy and gladness, because I am not alone —Christ is with me.” His hope was in nothing else but in the message Peter preached – Jesus! A message that the world desperately needs today.
            And this has been the Church’s mission down throughout the ages – to proclaim that Jesus is our only hope. But the Church’s roar has grown quiet lately, as we hear competing voices telling us to put our hope in this world alone. The Church must rise up once again and roar throughout the world, bringing a dying world back to life!
            But the Church is not just priests and bishops – the Church is you, the faithful! You have an indispensable role to play – you have a “mission field”! That mission is the evangelization and sanctification of your sphere of influence: your spouse, your family, your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers. This is where God has called you to evangelize. How do we do it? Live your life for Christ, for eternity. Be open to life in your marriage, and raise your children in the Catholic faith. Invite your neighbors to church, share with them how Christ has changed your life. Pray for the conversion of sinners and all those estranged from the Church. Give out good Catholic literature and pamphlets.
            In a particular way, I want to encourage the young people listening this morning to consider whether God is calling them to be a missionary. There is a world in need of the saving message of Jesus – are you the one to bring it to the Amazon, to Africa, to China, to New York City? St. Francis Xavier, the great missionary who baptized tens of thousands during his missions to India and Japan, wrote back to his friends in Paris, “Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: “What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you!” So, my young parishioners, consider – is God calling you to become a missionary to the far corners of the globe?
            Regardless of whether our mission field is our neighborhood in Stamford or some far-flung land, now more than ever, the world has a desperate need of a Savior. The Church was established to bring Jesus to a dying world. If the Church has seemingly lost its dynamic power, we must ask for a new “roar” of the Holy Spirit to fill it – beginning with you and I, who have our own mission to bring Christ into the spiritually dying world around us.
            I conclude with this thought from Pope John Paul II’s personal spiritual director, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa: “Writing to a cardinal of her day, Saint Catherine of Siena said that such a “bellow,” that is to say, so loud a roar, should be uttered over the body of Holy Church as would awaken the sons lying dead within her. I do not know what the word was that Saint Catherine in her day thought ought to be shouted over the body of Holy Church. But I do know the word that ought to be shouted today to wake up those of her children who have fallen asleep. The word is “Eternity!” This is the shout of Christian awakening; the word that, like the ploughshare, can open the furrow for a new sowing of the Word….”
            Jesus Christ is the Savior both in time and in eternity. The Church exists to bring Jesus to a dying world. You and I, as part of the Church, have our own “mission field”. Let the Spirit roar in your soul, and fulfill your duty as a member of the Church for the salvation of the world.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Homily for Easter 7 - May 24, 2020

Homily for May 24, 2020
Seventh Sunday of Easter
Not of This World

            GK Chesterton once said, “When you choose anything, you reject everything else.” There are certain choices that are all-or-nothing. When John decides to marry Suzie, that means he can’t marry Lisa or Janet or Anne. Or imagine if a professional athlete says, “I know I play baseball, but I also want to play lacrosse this season, so I’m only going to make it to half of the games of each.” The coaches won’t be too happy!
            Likewise, Jesus makes a clear distinction between being His follower and being “of the world”. He says in today’s Gospel, “I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me.” He goes on to say that we are “in the world” but clearly not part of the world.
            What does He mean? Well, what does the world value? Money, pleasure, popularity, success, good looks, getting lots of Instagram likes. Some may say, “Oh, but these things aren’t bad in themselves.” Perhaps, but how can one pursue Heaven and this world at the same time? Eventually you will have to choose.
            One may try to pursue both money and Heaven, but Jesus says “you cannot serve both God and mammon.” If one seeks after success and Heaven, Jesus would respond, “Seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” If someone desires pleasure and Heaven, they must hear the words of St. Paul in today’s second reading: “Rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ.” All of us will eventually have to choose – will you serve this world, or make it your aim to pursue Heaven alone? A Christian cannot straddle the issue! Christ, or the world!
            A young man once asked me if it was a sin to work out for three hours each day. I just asked him in response how much he prayed. It was less than ten minutes per day! Our bodies, our money, our success will all rot in our graves – but as disciples we are not living for those things, but for Heaven alone.
            So what should we seek? Jesus tells us in the Gospel: “I glorified You on earth
by accomplishing the work that You gave Me to do.” We should seek to do the will of God at every moment. In fact, St. Alphonsus Liguori said, “It would be the greatest delight of the angels to pile up sand on the seashore or to pull weeds in a garden for all eternity, if they found out such was God’s will.”
            Doing God’s will means that we do our daily duties to the best of our abilities. If we are parents, we love our children – if we are children, we obey our parents. If we are students, we study hard for the glory of God – if we are employees, we work, not just to make money, but to serve and sacrifice for the Lord. We use our time wisely, we set our thoughts on what is above, we offer our daily sufferings to Christ.
            St. Benedict is a man who realized the emptiness of living for the world. He was born to a noble family just outside of Rome in the late 400s. He studied in Rome for many years. But as he grew through his teen years in the heart of Rome, he became more and more disillusioned with the lives of his compatriots. He was disgusted with the political intrigue, the lust, and the greed of both his classmates and the leading men of Rome. His teachers were corrupt, and his classmates were worldly men. It just struck Benedict as so shallow and meaningless – why live in such chaos? Why pursue such useless goals as pleasure and money?
            So Benedict, horrified by the situation, sought God by fleeing from the world. He first went to a cave in the mountains, and lived there for several years, seeking God first. Eventually his reputation of holiness attracted others, and he began a monastery. He ended up founding over a dozen monasteries, and is called the Father of Western Monasticism. In fleeing the world, he found the peace he was looking for – the peace of a rightly-ordered life in God.
            We might not be able to physically flee the world. After all, many of us work secular jobs and go to public school. But we can live a life that is not steeped in worldly things. We can choose our TV and internet viewing wisely, only selecting that which glorifies God. We can avoid those people who we know will only force us to speak of worldly things. We can spend our time on holy pursuits, instead of wasting time. We can turn our homes and our lives into sanctuaries where God is loved and praised.
            We must live in the world, but we are not of the world.

Monday, May 11, 2020

The Plan, Part 3


            Yesterday someone asked me, “Didn’t every age think they were in the End Times? What makes this age different from every other age?” I thought that was a very good question – one that deserved a response.
            I do think that there are fundamental differences between life as we see it now in the twenty-first century versus life throughout history. It’s not simply a matter of “more sin” or different kinds of sin – there was always lust, greed, violence, and even drugs throughout history. Various cultures have been equally depraved; atheism has been around for a long time; the devaluation of human life dates back to Cain and Abel. So it’s not just a matter of the “sex, drugs, and rock & roll” being the defining factor of our age.
            No, I think there are philosophical and anthropological trends which are far more prevalent that makes this a profoundly unique time in human history. Here are some of the differences:
1.      Globalization. Never before in human history has the world been as small as it is today. I can send an email to someone in India in a matter of seconds. An event that happened in Australia might be posted online in minutes, for the rest of the world to see. For the first time in human history we truly live in a global village. This is important because it means the exportation of ideologies can happen at a rapid rate. Popes Benedict and Francis both warned against an “ideological colonization” – first-world countries that are sending out their ideologies to developing and third-world countries (for a humorous take on this, see the music video by Rammstein called “Amerika”).
2.      Technology and Mass Media. Never before in human history has mass media been able to so thoroughly shape and form a culture. From radio to television to the internet, the ability to form minds and souls has been concentrated in the hands of a few elite. For millennia prior, cultures were passed down through communities – one grew up listening to the stories of grandparents, to witnessing the histories of your town, to being a part of celebrations and grieving rituals and the whole gamut of human life filtered through a community. Now, however, culture is self-defined through one’s media consumption. One chooses what culture to imbibe. This becomes problematic when cultural values are exported through the mass media (this ideological colonization again). Never before could a person, born and raised in a certain culture, seek out a completely different set of ideals through the mass media. This is why parents find that, despite raising their kids in the Catholic Faith, watch their children jettison the Faith – because the young have often willingly chosen a culture through the technological mass media that is at odds with how they have been raised. No longer are parents and other adults the main influential factors on a young person’s cultural, intellectual, and moral development, as had been the case for the vast majority of human history – now souls are formed through technology and mass media. In addition, we view the world through the lens of the screen – there is a dearth of interaction with the “stuff” of the world (dirt, plants, humans, tools, etc) – now most interaction is through a device. This has fundamentally changed the way we relate, the way we receive and form culture, the way we interact with the world.
3.      Scientism & Secular Humanism. Closely related to technology is the undying belief that science holds the answers to all of life’s problems, and that scientific truth is the only truth that exists. Very few people examine the philosophical, anthropological, and spiritual implications of suffering or problems – they just want it gone, through science. There is a belief that there is no need to turn to a deity but to turn, instead, to human beings for answers and solutions. This is the first time in human history that man has been so exalted.
4.      Relativism. Throughout human history, truth has been seen as something worth fighting for and dying for. I think of the bitter fights – which sometimes ended in bloodshed, exile, and imprisonment – during the Arian controversy, which debated whether or not Jesus was truly divine. There has always, in every culture, been a belief that truth was knowable, that is was important, and that one should seek it. For the first time in human history, however, truth is seen by many as a subjective experience. “Live your truth,” as one member of the transgender community put it. No longer is there any idea that truth exists in reality; rather, all truth is subjective and therefore cannot be scrutinized by others as to its actual correspondence with reality.
5.      Irreligion/Thorough Secularism. The tribesmen of the Amazon, the aborigines in the desert, the high Anglican in the cathedral, the barbarian in the Norse lands – all cultures of all times have always had some sort of religion. Whether it was the polytheism of the Greeks and Romans or the Persian Zoroastrians or the ancestor-worship of ancient China, every culture (from the Latin “cultus” meaning “worship”) was based upon adoration of a transcendent deity/deities. But for the first time in history, we are forming a culture that is purposely irreligious. Religion is often scorned, seen as illogical or superstitious, and viewed as something passé. There is a concerted effort to build a world that is completely secular, which has never been done in human history before.
6.      Sheer Magnitude of Sin. Even in the most barbaric days of the ancient Mayan empire, they were still not able to slaughter the 600,000+ babies killed each year in America alone through abortion. A teenage boy can see more sexually explicit images in one hour than even the most hedonistic Roman emperor would see in his lifetime. There is a sense in which those sins which have always existed have now reached such vast proportions that we have become numb to their horror.
I believe that our modern age is one that is indeed different from every other age. We have abandoned the idea of God and instead replaced Man in His stead. This expresses itself in the way we see Truth (subjective to man’s perception), the way we solve problems (Man’s power through science can end all suffering), the way in which we have crafted a society without God. Indeed, the seeds of this have been planted all the way back centuries ago, from the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution to Communism. But in the past 70-100 years we have seen a rapid growth and a full flowering of these seeds. For this reason, I believe that we truly are living in unprecedented times. Where will this end? Where will this lead? I do not know – but God knows, and my trust is in Him.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

The Plan, Part 1 & 2


            Last year, I wrote about a book called “Don’t Let the Culture Raise Your Kids” by Marcia Stegelstein. It was your typical “the culture is going to Hell in a handbasket” diatribe against many of the usual suspects: sex, drugs, the LGBT agenda, disrespect for authority, devaluing of human life, violence, etc. All of what she said is profoundly true – many aspects of the culture-at-large are pretty abhorrent and sinful.
            But I took issue with the fact that she speaks of all the branches, but misses the root. The root cause of all this disorder is one thing, and it’s the one thing that our world’s reaction to this Coronavirus has been revealing to me. It’s also the end-game for Satan’s plan.
            A society without God.
            Salvation without a Savior.
            Mankind has the power in its grasp to do all things, cure all things, heal all things through the power of science and rationalism.
            This is the insidious plan of Satan which is being put on full display during this virus crisis.
            I am realizing more and more that Satan is not going to attack the Church in the same way now as has happened in the past. In Communist Russia, for example, the State made laws to outlaw religion…which caused it to thrive underground. The ancient Romans put Christians to death, and “the blood of martyrs” became “the seed of Christians”. Everywhere that overt attacks on the Faith has happened, it only strengthened the Church.
            So a different tactic is being used now. No longer are the halls of the government, the classrooms, and the media going to be filled with frothing atheists, as they were during the French Revolution or the Communist Revolution. The Evil One will not close church buildings, put people to death, or have academic debates between atheists and believers.
            Rather, his plan is much more subtle. His plan is to refashion a society that is so thoroughly secular that the only hope of salvation is through human beings.
            When we remove God from the pedestal, we set up an idol. We are now worshiping the greatest of all the idols: humanity and its (seemingly) unbridled power. Why do I say that?
            - I believe the reason why so many politicians, who are so pro-abortion and even pro-euthanasia, are up-in-arms about the coronavirus is not because of a genuine love for human life, but rather the realization that they cannot control it. The Culture of Death says that we should be able to control who lives and who dies – the coronavirus has upended all that illusion of control.
            - I believe that there is a massive fear of death, brought on by a massive lack of faith. For the vast majority of human history, death was a regular part of life. One never knew when their last day would be (consider how St. John Bosco had his boys, as young as eight and nine years old, praying “An Exercise for a Happy Death!”). It was accepted, and prepared for. But for a century now, we have sanitized death. It only happens to “old people” and even then we don’t want to see it or consider it, with its existential implications.
            - I believe that we have begun to worship science in a way never seen before. For decades, science has been glorified as the pinnacle of human reason. All human problems can be solved with human means. Are you sad? Do not seek to resolve the existential crisis – take a pill instead! Are you physically suffering? Do not seek a meaning or purpose to your suffering, just make it go away! The rock-solid belief that science will see us through any and every crisis takes many people away from philosophical or theological considerations of why a crisis like this might be happening, what we can learn from it (except in the narrow scientific view), and whether there might be any sort of divine assistance to be gained.
            Please don’t misunderstand – science is a good thing, and science itself is not opposed to faith. But when we study creation without reference to a Creator, we run into trouble. We fancy ourselves the creator and “destroyer of worlds” (so said J. Robert Oppenheimer, the inventor of the atomic bomb). Science has now devolved into scientism, the belief that scientific knowledge is the only type of knowledge, which is an offshoot of materialism (the belief that the material world is all there is). Rarely if ever does science acknowledge the possibility of a spiritual world outside of its purview.
            - Closely related to this reliance on science is the reliance on technology. Replace the joy of communion (both communion with others, and Communion in the Blessed Sacrament) with a virtual experience – and try to pretend it is the same. Entertain, distract, form addicts to technology. This prevents a real encounter – with oneself, with others, with God.
            This coronavirus has exposed, to me, the profoundly disturbing undercurrent beneath our modern world. It is a world that is so thoroughly secular that man believes he is God and can do all things through science, technology. It’s not about a virus, and it’s not about the hard-working people on the front lines. It’s about a philosophical poison that we didn’t know we were drinking.
            Many believers in God are so imbued with this cosmological poison that they approach every problem as if mankind alone can provide the solution. This is precisely what Satan wants – people who acknowledge that there is a God, but who live as if there isn’t. The true idol of modernity is staring at us in the mirror: we are entranced by the power and control of humanity itself.


            It was Francis Cardinal George who said, “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”
            With all due respect to the late Cardinal, I do not think that he is correct. None of us will die in the public square in America during the upcoming persecution. No, the persecution will be all the more insidious because it will be absolutely non-violent, executed in measured tones with a semblance of reason and rationality. No, our Catholic Faith is under attack but the attacks will look very different, and I think they will fall under two categories: marginalization and shame.
            Remember, Satan’s plan is to get people to ignore God, and blur God so that He cannot be found. Bloody martyrs force people to wrestle with the question of God. As the Canadian author and prophet Michael O’Brien wrote, “Blood washes away all ambiguity.” We are approaching a civilized, compassionate totalitarianism – if not in government, at least in ideology. So what will this persecution entail?
            - One will lose one’s job, or not be hired, on the basis of one’s beliefs. This could extend to other sectors, such as who will be accepted into graduate programs. One’s social media posts – and perhaps even church attendance or interviews with associates – will be used as evidence against them.
            - In education, religion will be greatly ignored. If it is brought up, the most sordid events in Christianity’s history will be used as fodder for mockery.
            - There will be an ever-more forceful attempt to separate parents from their children, since education is the way to form young minds to accept a thoroughly secular mindset.
            - Christianity will not be welcome in the public square. Their voices will not be consulted or respected. This will be under the guise of “separation of church and state”.
            - There will be an endless multiplication of distractions through better technology, greater entertainments, more community activities that are not evil in themselves but serve as an intentional (at least from Satan’s perspective) effort to draw people away from churches and prayer.
            - There will be a further desensitization of people’s consciences by a constant stream of normalizing more and more aberrant types of sin.
            - Clergy and people of faith will be mocked. False charges, mainly of sexual sins, will be levied against them. Some will be jailed, others will be defrocked and silenced. The world will see this as justice and “protecting children”.
            - Frivolous lawsuits will be levied against individual churches, dioceses, and institutions, for the purpose of bankrupting them and smearing their images.
            - Sadly, many in the clergy will not speak up against these but will want to keep an uneasy peace with the State. Bishops will abandon priests they know to be innocent because of fear of bad public relations; to avoid lawsuits, they will insist on further guidelines and protocol which will handicap ministry and not allow the Gospel to be preached in its fullness.
            The incessant drum-beat of secularism has reached fever pitch. These are some of the ways in which the persecution will occur – although some might note that this is already occurring. Indeed, remember, this will not be an all-out war that is in the headlines.
            Some of you might remember the atrocious movie “God’s Not Dead”. They were “dead”-wrong (pun intended) about how persecution is going to take place. It will be far more subtle than a blatant atheist versus a Christian. No, Satan does not want people to wrestle with atheism, because that means they are giving serious consideration to the question of God. Satan would rather them not ask the question to begin with, and keep people satisfied (and stultified) with distraction, entertainment, and the numbness of conscience that comes when every base desire has been fulfilled. For many people, God is a nice idea that’s out there, and maybe if things get bad enough I’ll turn to Him, but for the most part I’m just too busy living my life to worry. Besides, if I have a problem, there’s an iFix to solve it…or science will do the trick (a new pill! a new machine!).
            Ignoring God, marginalizing religion, promising happiness through science – these are Satan’s aims. And these persecutions will come upon anyone who lives by a different creed.

Are We In "The End"?

Are we in the "end times"? That is a question that has been asked in every age. But we believe, as Christians, that human history is not just a series of meaningless, random events, but that we are part of a Larger Story - one that is being written by God and accomplishing His purposes. Every story has a Beginning (Creation & the Fall), a Middle (Christ's Incarnation and Paschal Mystery), and an End (Christ's triumphal return). So are we in the End? We are certainly well past the middle - about 2,000 years past the middle - which is about how far Abraham was from Christ, historically. The question that no one knows is how close we are to the end - it could be a year, five years, a hundred years, a thousand years. But "the end" is not just a moment, it is a process. In a sense one could trace the beginning of "the End" back to the 1400s with the rise of the Renaissance, because it was a system that began to take the attention off of God and put it back on Man, seeing the creature without a relation to the Creator.

Thinking of ourselves in "the end" is, to me, just situating ourselves in the Larger Story. You talk about the mundane and the boring - and certainly all of our lives are full of mundane, boring things. But not unimportant things. I'll never forget what my sister said to me one day many years ago. We had just watched the first Lord of the Rings together in the movie theater, and I'll never forget that we were driving home and we were looking out into a brilliant sunset when she sighed deeply and said, "Oh, I wish life could be like that! An epic quest, a thrilling adventure!" I've often used her quote in talks that I've given, because I think she had a profound insight into the human heart. Human beings want to know that their life is not just a random chance accident, that our presence here on this planet isn't just unnoticed and unimportant. This desire of the human heart was placed there by God, because we do play an irreplaceable role in a grand epic - the epic of Salvation History. So those mundane, boring tasks, when seen through that lens, take on monumental significance. Consider: when you clean a dirty diaper or make dinner for your kids, you are taking care of the physical needs of immortal souls who will someday spend eternity as an eternal triumph of glory or an everlasting tragedy of horror. These immortal souls in your house will someday either advance the Kingdom of God here on earth, taking back ground for the King, or will participate in the Kingdom's further destruction. For all of the mundane tasks that we do have ramifications in history and into eternity. We are part of an epic tale, a battle between good and evil, which is fought in every soul, in every home, in every nation, in every age.

And so I do find it spiritually helpful to be aware of what role we might be playing at this critical juncture in history. One thing that such reflections have taught me is how much of the stuff I worry about on a daily basis won't matter in the grand scheme of things. I mean, that traffic jam, that jaywalker, that worry about money - will it matter if the end is near? Because, after all, whether or not the end of the world is near, the end of my world is near and guaranteed. It's just a memento mori writ large, I think. It helps me to remember that life is bigger than my petty worries and that I have to focus on the truly important things - being ready for when Christ comes for me.

One thing that has always struck me being a priest versus being a layman is how much our liturgy talks about Christ's Second Coming. I never really noticed it until I started celebrating Mass, but all of the Eucharistic prayers and the Memorial Acclamations - and even much of the New Testament - is all about awaiting His return. We are an eschatological people, always looking for the culmination of all things. In a sense, Christ's death on the Cross was an incomplete redemption - not that He has to add anything to it, but sin continues to multiply even with the tremendous outpouring of grace. The Cross allowed us to be reconciled to God if we respond to the grace - but He has not yet exercised His full dominion over creation. The dominion is His, but He awaits the fulfillment of all things in order to display His full might and power. That is why the Church has cried in every age, "Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!" As Catholics we are all longing for that day when His redemption will be complete, when "the last enemy to be destroyed is death" (1 Cor 15:26).

As we await that final victory, Christ calls us to be vigilant and to observe the signs of the times. Every age has had to wrestle with the question, "Is the end near?" Our age is no different. And so, prophets and wise men and those who have the mind of Christ would do well to continue to discern that question. I do think there are some fundamental differences between our age and the ages past (that's a whole 'nother blog post...) but every person in every age is called to discern wisely the signs of the times. Although we can't draw any solid conclusions yet, we should always prayerfully consider the evidence in geopolitics and the philosophical winds that blow. I think it can be quite helpful, spiritually. The number of times we are called in Scripture to be vigilant, watchful, keeping our spiritual eyes open - it's a constant theme in the New Testament. Rather than taking us away from the duties of our state in life, consideration of "the end" can help us to perform them with more diligence, knowing that if we are half-hearted or sleepy, the Bridegroom will return and leave those foolish virgins outside. If I (wrongly) believe that my life is just full of boring, meaningless things, or that Christ's coming is so delayed that I will always have time to repent and draw close to Him, then He will arrive like a thief in the night. This is true not just for each individual but for the world as well. Is the Church ready? Is the world ready? If not, what do we need to do to prepare ourselves for His coming?

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Homily for Fifth Sunday of Easter - May 10, 2020

Homily for May 10, 2020
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Prayer Changes Us

            When I was a senior in college, I had some free time in my schedule, so for a year I volunteered at a local soup kitchen that served lunch every day. It was sponsored by a Protestant church led by a dynamic lady-pastor. Every day, before distributing free lunches to seventy or so poor people, she would give them a ten-minute sermon about Christ. Her rule was: no sermon, no food! The hungry people usually grumbled about the sermon – they were there for soup and bread, and they didn’t want to listen to a Jesus-talk!
            Whether or not the message got into their souls, I’m not sure – but I think this Protestant pastor had her priorities in the right order! These people came for bread and soup, but they really hungered for more than that – they hungered for God, for His love, for His mercy and hope.
            Today’s first reading shows a very interesting dichotomy springing up in the early Church. The Apostles notice that people are having legitimate needs – the widows need a daily distribution of bread and money. But the Apostles do not do that task themselves – they delegate it to the deacons. As important as it is to feed people, the Apostles knew that they had a higher mission – prayer and the ministry of the Word.
            A lot of people – even Catholics - consider prayer and the Word to be almost a waste of time. Every day when I pray in St. John’s Church, I go up to the choir loft to pray. I have to go up there because, during prayer, I have frequently been interrupted by parishioners who have said to me, “Oh, I’m so glad you’re not busy with anything important. Can we talk?” Nothing important? Prayer and preaching the Gospel are the most important things we do as a Church!
The last 150 years have seen a rise in a heresy that you may have never heard of but which has been hugely influential: a heresy called Modernism. Modernism is the denial of the supernatural aspect of religion. What does that mean, practically? Modernism says that religion’s goal is to make the world a better place, rather than to save our souls for eternity. Modernism says that doing good works are more important than prayer. Basically, modernism focuses on this world (our relationships with one another) and downplays or denies the importance of eternity (and our relationship with God).
Why is this important? Because many good people think that loving our neighbor is more important than prayer or spreading the Gospel. You may have seen a practical example of this during the Amazon Synod that was held in the Vatican this past fall. One of the attendees was a priest who had spent forty years in the Amazon. He proudly boasted that he had not baptized a single person in the Amazon, preferring instead to help them learn how to farm and practice hygiene. How sad! As good as those things are, receiving God’s grace would have been a better help!
Loving our neighbor should flow from our intimate union with God, and as we help our neighbor with physical needs like bread and medicine, we should also invite them to encounter the Living Bread and the Divine Physician. If I give a man a loaf of bread, he eats for a day; if I give him a newfound faith in Christ, his deepest hunger will be satisfied into eternity.
Here’s how this applies to us here and now. During this quarantine, many people are feeling like they want to “do something” – they have a real, good, legitimate hunger to make a difference. But prayer is the most powerful way to do something. Intimate union with Christ and sanctifying ourselves is actually the most important thing we can do during this time of pandemic. Jesus says in the Gospel that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – our intimate connection with Him is what gives us the grace to do good works.
In addition to prayer, the Apostles valued the “ministry of the Word”. What can that mean, practically? A couple suggestions. With all of this free time on our hands, have you picked up the Bible or other spiritual reading? Have you watched any good religious movies or videos about our Catholic Faith on Youtube? You have the duty and obligation to form your own soul. So many Catholics leave the Church and say as an excuse, “Oh, I didn’t feel like I was being fed.” Well, the mark of a mature Christian is that they feed themselves! Through the internet, we have an incredible library at our fingertips for learning more about our Catholic Faith. Go form yourself – and form your family!
Now that religious education is cancelled, are you parents living up to the promises you made at your child’s baptism to be the “first and best teachers of your child in the Faith”? You must use this time profitably, to benefit your soul and the souls of your family!
It can feel like we’re not “accomplishing anything” when we pray or learn more about our Catholic Faith. But the Apostles considered that to be the most important work in the world. Currently, we have lots of time on our hands - don’t waste this unique opportunity trying to be busy with a thousand Zoom meetings or painting rocks when prayer and the ministry of the Word should occupy your life!