2nd Sunday of Easter

April 14, 2012

Today’s Gospel begins with an unusual scene, if we stop and think about it.  Jesus appears to the disciples but one of them is missing: Saint Thomas was not there.  This scene is unusual in the Gospel, because all the other times that Our Lord appears to the Apostles they are all together.  Why was Saint Thomas missing from this first appearance?  Why did Our Lord not wait for Saint Thomas to be there before He appeared to them?  Certainly Our Lord knew that Saint Thomas was not there.

The doubt and then later faith of Saint Thomas was a gift that was given to us.  Saint Thomas was allowed to doubt to show us that faith was never easy.  Sometimes we might be tempted to think that faith was easy for the Apostles; we might be tempted to think that it was easy for those who saw Our Lord during His lifetime on earth to have faith, but that it is difficult for us now who cannot see Him in a bodily way.  If we are tempted to think that way, we need to realize that Saint Thomas saw Our Lord and followed Him throughout Our Lord’s public ministry; Saint Thomas listened to Our Lord teach and he watched Him perform miracles.  Saint Thomas witnessed Our Lord call Lazarus back from death to life, and Saint Thomas heard Jesus predict that Our Lord, Himself, would die and three days later rise from the tomb.  Saint Thomas had all of these benefits and yet still was unable to believe that Our Lord had risen from the dead: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail-marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”  Faith was not a given, even for those closest to the Lord during His public life.

The doubt of Saint Thomas shows us that faith requires that we have hearts that are open to belief; the transformation of Saint Thomas’ doubt to faith helps us to believe.  Our Lord allowed Saint Thomas to be absent at His first appearance to the Apostles to show us that faith was not automatic for them: they came to believe because they encountered risen Christ.  Our Lord allowed Saint Thomas to touch the nail-marks in His hands and feet and place his hand in Our Lord’s side so that we, too, might come to believe.  Our Faith is based on eyewitnesses: eyewitnesses who saw Jesus after the Resurrection: they saw Him and talked with Him; they touched Him and ate with Him.  Our Lord’s Resurrection was a physical Resurrection: Our Lord rose in the flesh and this encounter between the doubting Thomas and the Risen Lord helps us to know the reality of the Resurrection.

After Saint Thomas professed His faith in Jesus, Our Lord then says something to him that might sound strange, he says: “Have you come to believe because you have seen Me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”  Our Lord is speaking there about us: you and I.  We are not able to see and yet we believe and we are blessed in that belief.  It almost sounds as if we are more blessed than Saint Thomas because we believe without seeing.  How could we be more blessed than Saint Thomas, who was able to see and touch the wounds of the Risen Lord?

Again, we should remind ourselves that faith is never easy.  Just because people saw Jesus as He walked the earth two-thousand years ago was no guarantee that those who saw Him would have faith.  Our Lord looked normal.  He did not have a halo following Him around.  He did things that other people did.  He got thirsty and tired; He ate and he slept.  Those who knew Him from His childhood rejected Him: He performed few miracles in His hometown because people there did not believe in Him; they said things like: “Is this not the son of the carpenter?”  It is true that He performed miracles, but then so did the Old Testament Prophets; and even those who saw the miracles did not necessarily come to believe in Him: when the Pharisees saw the miracles it only made them persecute Our Lord all the more.  Even when Our Lord raised Lazarus from the dead, the Pharisees, instead of coming to believe, only became eager to kill Him and they decided to kill Lazarus too because people were coming to believe in Our Lord because of him.  The Gospel tells us that even the soldiers who were at the tomb were willing to accept a bribe and lie about the Resurrection.

Saint Thomas needed a special grace from Our Lord in order to believe, and we all stand in need of that grace.  That grace is not refused to those who ask for it.  A great prayer to repeat frequently is the prayer uttered by a man in the Gospel: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”

Saint Thomas and the other Apostles did not understand all that Our Lord meant and did; in fact there are many examples in the Gospel where we see the Apostles often misunderstood Our Lord; only after they received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost did they receive the wisdom, courage and power to go out and boldly bear witness to the Resurrection even at great personal risk and eventual martyrdom.  And their preaching transformed the entire world.

We are very blessed to live at a time when we have the benefits of two-thousand years of Church Teaching and Tradition which help us to understand all that Jesus Christ has revealed.  Our Lord promised to send the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles to lead them into all truth; the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit and we have the benefit of two-thousand years of Church Teaching that has been guided by the Holy Spirit.  Thanks to the internet we have easy access to all of that wisdom: we have access to early Christian commentaries on Scripture as well as access to all of the Church’s teachings and explanations of those teachings.  There are many sources of information which can help us to learn about and grow in our Catholic Faith.  May we take advantage of them.  The more we understand our faith, the more easily we believe; the more we believe, the easier we put our faith into practice in our daily lives.  May Our Risen Lord fill our hearts with Faith; may He give us the wisdom and the courage and the power to live our faith with boldness everyday and everywhere.


3rd Sunday of Lent 2012

March 13, 2012

Last week we began to reflect upon the Gospel passage that Fr. John asked us to focus on for Lent this year.  In this passage Our Lord says: “If anyone would come after Me, let Him take up his cross and follow me.”  This reminds us that discipleship is intentional: it involves our free will—we must make a choice to follow Jesus Christ.  If you would follow the Lord: this implies that you can choose to follow or not follow Him.  I mentioned last week that we became Christians at our Baptism: through our Baptism into the death and Resurrection of Christ you and I began to share in His divine life, we became members of His mystical body, we became co-heirs with Christ to the Kingdom of Heaven.  That being said, being a disciple requires our choice to faithfully follow Christ.  Each moment of every day we are free to choose or reject God.

Discipleship, in this sense, is much like marriage.  On the day that two people come to Church and receive the Sacrament of Marriage, they begin to be married; yet being married is ongoing and it involves choices and effort.  Both husband and wife must make an effort for a marriage to be successful.  On the day that a couple is married, they made certain promises to one another.  They promise to love one another, they promise to honor one another, they each promise to put the other ahead of themselves, and they promise to be faithful to one another for the rest of their lives despite whatever difficulties might arise.  Keeping these promises from day to day is a choice.  The couple can either grow in their love and deepen their relationship or they can drift apart.  The love that the couple promises to each other is a choice, it is a commitment; it is not a feeling.  That kind of love has to do with what is done, not what is felt.  On the day that the couple promises to love one another for the rest of their lives, they are filled with excitement and joy.  It is easy for them to make those promises to one another.  It is important to note that by promising to love one another for the rest of their lives the couple is not promising to feel the same emotions that they feel on the wedding day for the rest of their lives.  We cannot control our emotions; we cannot promise to always feel a certain way: we might as well promise to never have a headache again for the rest of our lives—it is a promise that we cannot keep.  When the couple promises to love one another, they promise to put the other ahead of themselves: to truly wish the good for the other and do what they can to bring that good about.

All of these things that I have been saying about marriage is true of our Christian discipleship.  On the day that we were baptized, we began to be Christians, but like the wedding day, that is only the beginning of the rest of our lives.  Like the couple on the wedding day, when we were baptized promises were made: we promised to faithfully follow the Lord.  Our Baptismal promises, like wedding vows, must be lived throughout our lives.  We have to choose to love God: and that love is a choice, not a feeling.  When Our Lord calls us to follow Him He asks us to take up our cross and follow Him.  Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not always easy.  We have a fallen human nature which is inclined towards sin.  Our fallen human nature is inclined towards selfishness, pride, laziness and the other deadly sins.  Faithfully following Our Lord means that we have to take up our cross: it means that we have to put our selfishness to death and choose to follow the Lord.  Following Christ requires that we choose to root sin out of our hearts so that we can do what we know is right despite how we may feel.

In our spiritual journey, we either deepen our relationship with God or we drift away from Him.  God is always there for us: we have to allow Him to act in our hearts and in our lives.  We have to do what we can to grow in our love for Him.  We grow in love by learning about our Faith and by putting it into practice.  Through Jesus Christ God has revealed how we are to live.  He calls us to live a life of love: He calls us to love Him above everything and He calls us to love others.  We are called to put God first in our lives: to put His will ahead of our own, and that is not always easy.  Loving our neighbor is not always easy.  That is why we talk about denying ourselves or putting self to death.  When we talk about it in the abstract, it can sound very daunting.  Yet this is how we were created.

We were made in the image of God and God IS love.  Christ shows us what true love looks like by His death on the Cross.  Love pours itself out for the beloved.  Love gives everything that it has to the beloved; Christ gave all that He had for love of us and He calls us to respond to His love in the same way: He asks us to make a total gift of ourselves—He asks us to imitate Him and to pour ourselves out for love of Him and for love of others.

Pouring ourselves out is the only way that we can be truly fulfilled.  That is the paradox of the Christian life.  A paradox is a seemingly contradictory statement that in reality expresses truth.  It seems contradictory to say that the more we pour ourselves out the more we will be filled: but that is the truth.  We were made for love: we were made to pour ourselves out for others; if we do not love, we remain unfulfilled.  The more selfish we are, the more unhappy we will be.  The more we deny ourselves and put God and others ahead of ourselves, the more joy we will have.  We have probably all had some experience of this at some time or another.  Have you ever helped someone else and then felt happy because of it?   We were made to love and we experience joy when we show love.  May we use this time of Lent to put our selfishness to death so that we can live as true disciples and more faithfully love God and others.

2nd Sunday of Lent 2012

March 13, 2012

Keeping with the theme of the parish mission, Fr. John has asked Fr. Stanley and me to preach on discipleship during Lent.  (If you weren’t able to attend the parish mission, the talks are available on the parish website.)  The Gospel passage that Fr. John has asked us to specifically preach on immediately precedes today’s Gospel reading in the Gospel of Saint Mark.  If anyone would be His disciple, Our Lord says, they must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him.  Our Lord says this to a multitude of people and to His disciples.

Picture the scene: there is a crowd around Our Lord.  Some people are there because they have heard that Our Lord performed miracles, some are there because they or someone they love is in need of healing, some are there because they are looking for the Messiah who will bring freedom to Israel and establish an earthly kingdom.  Some of the people in the crowd were His disciples, they already believed in Him; undoubtedly there were some in the crowd who were there merely because they were curious about Him; there were probably even people there who did not believe in Him—perhaps some of the Pharisees or scribes.

To all of those people Our Lord said: “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  In other words, to be a true disciple, one has to do more than simply be in the crowd around Jesus.  To be an authentic disciple we have to do more than merely listen to the words of Our Lord.  Being a disciple means making a choice to follow Jesus Christ even when following Him is not easy.

Being a Christian is rooted in our Baptism.  Baptism unites us to the Body of Christ.  On the day that we were baptized we became members of the Body of Christ, the Church, and the Holy Spirit filled our souls for the first time.  Through Baptism all of the baptized began to live a new life in Christ—but that was only the beginning of that new life.  Living a Christian life from day to day is a choice that has to be made: I have to choose to follow Jesus Christ each day and at every moment.  At Baptism you and I received a share in God’s own divine, supernatural life; yet we continue to have free will and we can either grow closer to God and increase in that divine life, or we can turn away from God and reject that life.

Our spiritual life is a journey that began on the day of our Baptism, but that journey is a life-long journey.  As long as we are alive we must choose to follow Christ.  Discipleship requires our commitment to following Christ.  On the day that we were baptized there were certain promises made: if you were baptized as an infant, those promises were made on your behalf; if you were baptized as an adult, you made those promises yourself.  Either way, those promises are renewed explicitly each year at Easter.  Each year when we renew our baptismal promises we reject sin and recommit ourselves to God.  In fact, every Sunday we renew the second half of our baptismal promises when we affirm our beliefs in the Creed.

When we say that we renounce sin, when we say that we believe in God these are more than mere words.  It is easy to get through the Creed on Sunday without actually thinking about any of the words that we have just rattle off, but the Creed is supposed to be a prayer by which we acknowledge what we believe and commit ourselves to it.  What we believe ought to influence the way that we live our lives and the way that we think, act and speak.

If we really believe that God is our Almighty Father, that He created everything and that everything that we are and everything that we have is a gift from Him, it should influence us: we should be filled with great gratitude to Him.  If we really believe that the Eternal Son of God set aside the glory that He had from all eternity and was born of the Virgin Mary so that He could take the punishment that you and I deserved upon Himself—if we believe that He suffered and died in order to save you and me from sin and death that should have an impact on how we live.  How should faith impact my life?  If I realize that Jesus Christ hung on the Cross for me, because I needed to be saved from my sins the Crucifix takes on a whole new significance for me.  You and I are completely incapable of saving ourselves.  The Cross is what Jesus endured for you and for me.  When you look at a Crucifix remind yourself that He did that for you.  Jesus Christ gave everything He had to give for you.  He gave His very life.  You and I were bought with a price: Jesus Christ paid for us with His Precious Blood; and He asks something of us in return: He asks for our all.  God has given everything to us as a free gift; and we are called to offer it back to Him.  Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means following Him wholeheartedly.  He doesn’t want part of your heart, or part of my heart; He wants all of it.  The greatest commandment is to love God above all things: with all of our mind, with all of our heart, with all of our strength.

The temptation can be to think that if we turn our lives completely over to God that we will have nothing left for ourselves.  Sometimes the Christian life is seen as less.  The opposite, of course, is true: Our Lord tells us that He has come to give us abundant life.  When we turn our focus onto the things of this world, we might be entertained or distracted for a time, but the things of this world can never satisfy us.  We were made for God, and until we give our lives to Him, until He is at the center of our hearts, our hearts will always be restless.  God and God alone can give us the abundant life that we all seek.

May God give us the grace and strength we need to be ever more faithful to our baptismal promises.  Let us strive, this Lenten season, to allow God to reign more fully in our hearts and in our lives so that we can experience the abundant life that Our Lord promised to those who faithfully follow Him.

Homily for the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

February 19, 2012

“Who but God alone can forgive sins?”  This statement of the scribes in today’s Gospel is true, but why is it true?  Why is it that only God can forgive sin?  Sin, at its root, is a turning away from God and a rejection of the law that He has written on my heart.  Scripture tells us that the wages of sin is death, and of course the death referred to is spiritual death, not just physical death.  Through the sin of our First Parents, physical death entered into the world, but God told Adam and Eve that if they disobeyed Him and ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil they would die on that day.  They lived for several generations after being cast out of the garden, so the death that they died that day was not physical death, but rather spiritual.  Because of the original sin, death is part and parcel of our lot as human beings.  None of us can escape death.  Even worse than that, however, is the separation from God that is caused by sin: as seen by Adam and Eve being cast out from the garden–they lost the friendship of God, they were separated from Him on account of their sin.

God desires to share His divine life with us: He created us to know Him, and to love Him and to be united with Him.  He does not, however, force us to share in His divine life.  Jesus Christ became one of us to free us from sin and death and to offer us abundant, supernatural life.  But it is an offer that we are able to refuse.  When we were baptized, we received the Holy Spirit: we began to share in God’s divine life.  When we sin we reject God, we push Him away.  Sin damages or destroys our relationship with God, depending on how grave the sin is.  Mortal sin is the spiritual death of the soul because sin is the rejection of God and therefore a rejection of His divine life within us.

To answer the question asked at the beginning, then, why is it that only God can forgive sins, it is because only God can restore His divine life to us.  When I sin against my neighbor, I act against the love that God calls me to have towards them.  Even if my neighbor forgives me, I still need God’s forgiveness: I still need to be reconciled with Him.

Jesus Christ proved His divinity by proving to have the authority to forgive sins.  In today’s Gospel Our Lord first forgave the man’s sins and then, to prove that He had this divine power to forgive sins, He commanded the man who was paralyzed to get up and walk and the man was miraculously restored to health.  Christ also shares His authority to forgive sins with His Apostles (the first leaders of the Church: the first bishops and priests) by breathing the Holy Spirit upon them.  After the Resurrection, Our Lord appeared to the Apostles in the upper room and breathed on them saying “receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you forgive will be forgiven them.”

The Holy Spirit was given to the Apostles to give them the authority to forgive sins because through sin it is the Holy Spirit that is pushed away by the sinner.  The prayer of Absolution that the priest prays over the person who comes to Confession alludes to this: the priest says “God the Father of mercies, through the death and Resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.”  Sin damages or cuts off our relationship with God.  The Sacrament of Confession restores and heals that broken relationship.

In order to grow closer to God (which is the very purpose of our existence) we have to detach our hearts from sin.  The first and greatest commandment is to love God above all things.  When we sin, we put something or someone ahead of our love for God.  We know that we are supposed to love God above all else, and we often have the experience that sin leaves us empty and unhappy, yet it is hard for us to give up sin.  We have a weak, fallen human nature that is inclined towards sin.  We need divine assistance in overcoming sin.

Lent starts this coming Wednesday.  Lent is a time of year given to us by the Church to help us overcome sin.  During Lent the traditional practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving help us to grow in self-discipline so that we can overcome temptation and sin.  Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting and abstinence.  Abstinence means not eating meat and it is required of everyone who is over the age of 14.  We are to abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday as well as on all Fridays of Lent.  Fasting is also required on Ash Wednesday of all from the age of 18 through the age of 59.  On a day of fasting, one meal is permitted and one or two smaller meals may be taken if needed.  The sum of the two smaller meals should not be more than the full meal.  That is the minimum.  Fasting helps us grow in self-control; it is also a way to imitate Our Lord, Who Himself fasted.

Fasting from something for forty days or giving up something for Lent is probably the most widely known Catholic Lenten practice.  It is good to deny ourselves legitimate pleasures so that we can more easily say “no” to temptation when it arises.  Extra prayer is another thing that many do for Lent.  During Lent it is particularly good to meditate on the Passion of Our Lord.  Meditating on all that Our Lord suffered to redeem us reminds us that Salvation is freely offered, but it was not free: it cost God His Only Begotten Son.  Finally, almsgiving is recommended.  Acts of charity help us to overcome selfishness (which is the root of most of our sin).  Almsgiving, acts of charity help us to turn our focus away from ourselves and on to others.  Remember, Our Lord has said: “What you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me.”

If you don’t already have a plan in place for Lent, it would be good to begin thinking about it.  Use this Lent to focus in on one sin or fault that you know that you need to overcome.  Direct your prayer, fasting and acts of charity to obtaining the grace and self-control to overcome that sin or fault.  The more we rid our hearts of sin and attachment to sin, the more we make room for God.  Let us use this Lent to make of our hearts an ever more suitable dwelling place for the Holy Spirit.

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

February 7, 2012

This week, Fr. John asked all the priests here at OLGC to preach about the recent HHS mandate. He specifically asked each one of us to read the statement from Bishop Earl Boyea (the Bishop of Lansing). That statement can be found here under the heading: Diocese of Lansing responds to HHS mandate

On our parish website you can find the statement of the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan:

Our pastor has asked us to pray for our country, for our bishops, and for our elected officials. This HHS mandate is a direct attack on our religious liberty in this country. In addition to praying everyday, Fr. John has asked that all of us here at OLGC offer a day of prayer and fasting for this intention. He has asked that all of us fast and pray on President’s day, February 20th. If you are unable to fast from food, fast from something else. There will also be exposition of the Blessed Sacrament throughout the day followed by solemn evening prayer and Benediction at 7:00PM.

In addition to prayer, it is also good to get involved. Contact your elected officials and let them know that this mandate is unacceptable. Here are some links to help you get involved:

On the White House web page you can find a petition to rescind the mandate; at Catholic Vote you can find an email address for Secretary Sebelius (the one who signed the mandate).  The most recent statement from our own Archbishop will be in our bulletin next Sunday, but you can also find it here.

I will close with a quote from Saint (Padre) Pio:
“Pray, hope, and don’t worry! Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer. Prayer is the best weapon we have; it is the key to God’s heart.”

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2012

January 30, 2012

“If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” Today’s responsorial Psalm instructs us to do two things to do: we are to listen for the voice of the Lord and we are to follow His voice when we hear it. We must both hear God’s voice in our lives and put it into practice. How do we hear the voice of God in our lives?

One way in which we hear the voice of God is through our conscience. The Catechism tells us that deep within each one of us we discover a law that has been written upon our hearts by Almighty God. The conscience is that secret core of our hearts wherein we hear the voice of God. (cf. CCC 1776) Oftentimes when we are faced with a moral choice we hear two voices: in other words we experience two contrary pulls within ourselves. The Holy Spirit speaks through our conscience and calls us to avoid sin: that is the feeling that I get when I know, deep down, that I ought not do something. It is sometimes referred to as the “sting” or “pain” of conscience. At the same time I might hear another voice attempting to justify the sin that I am being tempted towards—this is the voice of the tempter, or the voice of my own fallen human nature trying to convince me that the sin is really not so bad, that it won’t hurt anyone, and so on. We need to learn to recognize the origins of those thoughts so that we can better avoid temptation. Temptation is always a lie: temptation tells me that if I sin, I will be happy. Yet sin separates me from God and apart from God I can never be happy. Sin may afford a momentary pleasure, but in the end sin always leaves me empty. Sin cannot satisfy your heart: sin is a guaranteed recipe for misery.

It is also important to remember that after a sin has been committed, the role of the Holy Spirit and the role of the tempter are reversed. Prior to committing a sin the Holy Spirit causes my conscience pain and the temptation tells me that it is “not so bad”; once a sin is committed, the Holy Spirit calls me to repentance and the tempter wants me to despair. Sometimes regret at having committed a sin can lead people to discouragement and even to despair. There isn’t a sin that you can commit that God will not forgive, provided you turn away from the sin and seek His mercy.

God has written His law upon our hearts and yet we must work to form our consciences. We must train our interior ears to hear God’s voice in the depths of our hearts and we have to make an effort to live accordingly. Our conscience must be formed: we must educate our consciences according to reason and truth. We also need to do what we know is right and do all we can to avoid evil. It is one thing to know what the right thing to do is: it is another thing to do it. In order to live an authentic Christian life, I have to prayerfully form my conscience according to the light of the Gospel and in accord with the teachings of the Church and abide by my conscience. Being an authentic Christian means knowing my faith and putting it into practice.
A large part of the Christian life is growing in virtue. Our Lord says that if we love Him we will do what He commands—and He commands us to love. The kind of love that Our Lord calls us to is a choice and it is a choice that we have to make again and again. The love that Our Lord calls us to is a choice that we make because we know that it is the right thing to do, even when that choice is difficult. Our Lord calls us to love our enemies: that is not something I do because I feel like it, I try to love my enemies because Jesus Christ, Who IS God has told me to love them. The way to grow in virtue is to exercise the virtue when I am most tempted in the opposite direction. How would you exercise bravery? Are you acting bravely right now? You might think that listening to a long homily is brave—well, it’s not. In order to do something brave, there has to be danger and would you have to choose to act bravely in the face of the danger, despite any fear that you might feel. A brave person isn’t brave because they don’t feel fear: the brave person feels fear but acts bravely regardless of their fear.

The same is true of every virtue. In order to grow in patience I have to act patiently when I don’t feel like it. If there isn’t anything challenging my patience, I am not acting patiently: I am just coasting along. We develop virtues by choosing to act virtuously when challenged. When we choose to act in a virtuous way it becomes easier to act in that good way again. If I continually choose to practice a virtue, eventually it will form into a habit and I will have grown in that virtue or developed that virtue. Sin acts in exactly the opposite way: once I have committed a sin, it is that much easier to commit the sin again. A sin that is repeated becomes a habit and a habitual sin is known as a vice. I have to be aware of the choices that I make, I have to be aware of the habits that I am forming and have formed. If I am aware of bad habits, I ought to work to break them.

Let us look to Our Lord on the Cross. He is the image of true love (cf. Col 1:15); there is no greater love, than to lay down your life for those whom you love. (Jn 15:13) Let us examine our consciences before the Cross of Our Lord; Our Lord died to save us from sin. He freely chose to lay down His life for us, so that we could have abundant life. When we look at the Crucifix we see the depth of God’s love, we also see the consequences of our sin. Let us ask Our Lord to show us what we need to change in our lives, and beg Him for the grace and the strength to be able to change it—so that we can grow in our love for Him and in our love for others. “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time 2012

January 22, 2012

In the Gospel today, we hear of the call of some of the Apostles. Jesus called Simon and Andrew, James and John and they left what they were doing and they follow Jesus Christ. These four as well as the other Apostles became the foundation upon which the Catholic Church is built: that is what we refer to when we say in the Creed each Sunday that our Church is Apostolic—the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ upon Peter and the Apostles. The Church that Christ founded comes down to us today through Apostolic succession: through an unbroken chain of successors to the Apostles (what we today call bishops).

The word “Apostle” means “one who is sent” and the Apostles were sent by Jesus Christ: they were sent to teach all nations all the Jesus had taught them. Jesus did not hand the Apostles a book—He gave them authority to teach and preach in His name. He told the Apostles: “who hears you, hears me.” That is no little amount of authority, because Jesus Christ is God. He gave the Apostles the authority to speak in His name because they were entrusted with the most important message ever delivered in the history of the world: the message of the Gospel. Jesus Christ entrusted the Good News that through His death and Resurrection sin and death are powerless. The Apostles were sent to all the nations, they were to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth, so that people could know Jesus Christ and through Him have access to the Father and to Heaven. The message that the Apostles were sent to preach was so important that Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth. Our Lord promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church. The Holy Spirit protects the Church, the Holy Spirit guides the Church—so that the message of the teachings of Jesus Christ can be correctly understood and faithfully followed.

We believe that the Church was founded by Jesus Christ, we believe the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, in the Creed we also say that we believe the Church is holy. We can say that the Church is holy because it is the mystical body of Christ and Christ is holy. The Church is holy by virtue of its union with Christ. The Church is holy and at the same time it is full of sinners. The Church continually calls us sinners to repentance, and it offers us the means to become holy (through the Sacraments).

Those opposed to the Church like to point to the scandals in the Church’s history as an argument against what we believe about the Church. There have been bad things in the Church’s two-thousand year history, and those things are certainly regrettable, and not to be lightly dismissed (although they are rarely as bad as many like to make them out to be). Scandal in the Church is a reminder that the members of the Church continue to stand in constant need of conversion. One important thing to remember is that those negative instances that are pointed to in Church history were always caused by people in the Church who have failed to practice what the Church actually teaches. The Church has never taught error, even though some of the people and ministers in the Church have acted in a less than Christian way.

When the Catholic Faith is authentically put into practice great things result. The Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world. The Catholic Church has established hospitals, schools and universities, and has organizations and programs that help people all over the world. The Catholic Church has commissioned and preserved some of the greatest works of art in history. The Catholic Church compiled the New Testament and throughout the centuries has made copies of Bible as well as other great literary works so that people could have access to them. The Church and members of the Church have made great contributions to science: including inventing the scientific method. We have reason to be proud to belong to such a great institution.

Today’s Gospel is a good reminder to take time to thank Our Lord for establishing His Church upon the Apostles so that we can have access to His Teaching and to His grace. Let us also take today’s Gospel as a reminder to pray for our bishops the successors to the Apostles as they continue to lead our Church. They stand in special need of our prayers as they lead the Church in these difficult times. Two days ago, the department of health and human services passed a mandate which will require Catholic institutions to provide their employees with insurance which will cover sterilizations and contraception—some of which are abortafacients—which, of course, are all against the Church’s Teaching. Many Bishops in our country, including the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, have said that this is a direct attack on religious liberty in this country and that they are committed to fighting this law. The department of health and human services have given the Catholic institutions one year to comply. I say all of this not to cause alarm, but simply so that you are aware of this threat to religious liberty. You can see the Bishop’s statement on their website: USCCB.org—it’s only a minute and a half long, but it sums up the issue quite clearly. Fr. John has also said that he is going to bring in a quest speaker to address the parish at large on this important topic: be sure to watch the bulletin for information. Please pray for our country, for our government leaders and especially please pray for our bishops that they will have the wisdom and the courage to faithfully guide the Church in our day.

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time 2012

January 15, 2012

“What are you looking for?” That is the question that Jesus puts to the two disciples in the Gospel today. What were these two disciples of Saint John the Baptist looking for when they encountered Jesus Christ? Many of the Israelites of that day were looking for the Messiah: they were looking for the One Who would come and deliver the people of God from their enemies. Some of the Jewish people of that day initially thought that Saint John the Baptist might be the long-expected Messiah, but Saint John set them straight immediately and told the people that He was not: that One would come after Him—One Who would Baptize with fire and with the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus appeared on the bank of the Jordan that day there was already great expectation in the air on account of the Baptist’s preaching. Saint John had been preaching repentance: He called the people to turn away from sin and prepare their hearts. Many people came to hear Saint John preach and as a result of his preaching many people turned away from their sins and were filled with great hope: they were looking for the Promised Messiah to come and deliver them from their enemies.

Then, Jesus came along and Saint John pointed to Him and said: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him Who takes away the sins of the world.” We are all very familiar with that phrase: we hear it every time we go to Mass and we can easily take it for granted that Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world. To the Jewish ear of that time, that would have been an astonishing statement. To the Jewish person of that time a lamb that took away sin was a common statement. If someone committed a serious sin in Jesus’ day a sin offering had to be made. A lamb was taken to the temple where it was slain by the priest in order that the person’s sin could be atoned for. For Saint John to say Jesus was the Lamb that would take away sin was to say that He would be slain in atonement for sin—the sin of all the world, no less—that would have been a shocking idea to those heard it. We are used to the Crucifix. We can easily take it for granted. We can walk into Church and not even notice it. But imagine what it must have been like for those two disciples to hear those words: “Behold the Lamb of God.” Essentially Saint John was telling them that man, right there, he is going to die for you and as a result of His death your sins, and the sins of everyone in the world, will be able to be washed away.
In order for one death to take away the sins of the entire world that Person must be a lot more than a mere human being. Only by virtue of His divinity, only because Jesus is God, is His death able to take away the sins of the whole world. The disciples probably didn’t understand all of that the first time they saw the Lord, but they certainly knew that this was someone they needed to know more about and so they approached Him. And He asked them “What are you looking for?” They might have been looking for a prophet; they were probably expecting the Messiah; they were certainly astounded by Saint John’s statement about Him. They didn’t answer His question, rather instead they asked Him where He was staying: they wanted to learn about Him and He invited them to follow Him.

Those disciples followed Him and they learned from Him: they witnessed His miracles and they came to believe in Him. They remained with Him and grew to love Him as their Lord; and then they were sent on a mission by Him to the ends of the earth. Whatever they were looking for, whatever they expected, they certainly did not expect all of that. Yet Jesus gave them so much more than they looked for, so much more than they hoped for, so much more than they ever could have imagined. He made them fishers of men; He told them light to be in the world; He sent them to preach the Good News to all the world and now they reign with Him in the glory of Heaven.

Jesus addresses these same words to us today: “What are you looking for?” What do you desire most in this world? What are your hopes? What are your dreams? What do you think will make you truly happy? If you answer has to do primarily with material things, I hate to tell you, but these things will not bring true, lasting happiness. We were made for God and unless we love Him above all else, we will never be truly happy. Jesus Christ invites you and me to follow Him, to remain with Him. He wants us to grow in our knowledge and love of Him. He wants you and me to be light in this world: He wants us to make Him known by our words and by our deeds. He wants us to live the Gospel in this life and to be happy with Him forever in Heaven. That is the goal and purpose of our existence and we ought to keep everything else in perspective with that end in mind. Everything in the world will disappoint us: there isn’t anything that this world has to offer that we wouldn’t eventually get bored with. It is impossible to have so many things in this world that you don’t want more: the reverse is usually true- the more you have, the more you want. God and God alone can satisfy our hearts. Let us seek Him first: let us draw near to Him and do all we can to help others come to know and love Him. By pouring ourselves out for Him and for others we will gain more than can be looked for or hoped for from this world; by seeking God first we will gain more than we can even imagine: no eye has seen, no ear has heard, our minds cannot comprehend the glory that is prepared for those who love the Lord. May we seek Him and serve Him with all of our hearts. Amen.

Epiphany Homily 2012

January 9, 2012

Today we celebrate the Epiphany of Our Lord, that is to say the manifestation of Our Lord to the nations. We have just a short time ago celebrated the Nativity, the Birth of the Eternal Son of God in time, and today we celebrate the fact that Our Lord and God came to earth to fully reveal God to all people of all nations. He is the True Light of the World: the Light of the entire human race. He was in the world, and the world came to be through Him, but the world did not know Him. He came to His own and His own did not receive Him. But to those who did receive Him, He gave power to become children of God.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites are referred to as the chosen people or the people of God. These terms are used to refer to the Jewish people: people that shared a certain bloodline. In the Book of Genesis we hear about how God had entered into a Covenant with Abraham and made certain promises to him and to his descendants. The people of God in the Old Testament were descendents of Abraham; they were God’s people because they were in the bloodline of Abraham and therefore they inherited the promises of the Covenant that God had made with Abraham. God set Abraham’s descendants apart: he made them a holy people, a people set apart. God set them apart so that they would be a priestly and intercede with Him on behalf of all the nations and help the other nations come to know, love and serve the Lord. Yet the people of the Old Testament were not faithful to God. Again and again in the Old Testament we hear the Prophets calling the people to repent, to be faithful to God. In the fullness of time, God sent His own Son into the world: Christ came to fulfill the role that the people of God were intended to fulfill: He came to be Light for the nations: Light for all people of every time and place. Through Christ the world is offered light: for He is the Light of the world. Christ gives light to our minds: He reveals God to us so that we might know Him and He gives light to our hearts: He sheds Light on the great Love that God has for us. When we talk about someone “shedding light” on some subject, we are talking about someone helping us to know it. Christ helps us to know God and the love that He has for us. He reveals God to us because He is God incarnate: in the flesh.
This manifestation of Christ to the nations of the world is prefigured in the adoration of the Magi. The three wise men from the East were not members of the chosen people: they were pagans from a pagan nation. The wise men were not members of the people of God yet they were given a special knowledge, knowledge that most of the chosen people did not have: they were given the knowledge that the Lord of Heaven and earth had been born. Filled with joy at the birth of the Savior of the world they embarked on their long journey and traveled all the way to Bethlehem in order to offer their gifts and to adore the newborn infant Whom they recognized as the King of kings. In that little child, they recognized God-made-Man and they prostrated themselves before Him and offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These three non-Jewish men were given a gift that most of the chosen people were not given and their adoration foreshadowed the fact that all nations would come to know Christ, not just those in the bloodline of Abraham, but those who (like Abraham) believe and faithfully follow God.

Christ came into the world so that everyone would have access to the Light: so that everyone would have access to God. The Eternal Son of God left the glory that He had in Heaven from all eternity and came into the world for you: to give you light. The Eternal Son was born in time so that you and I could come to know and love God. He is the Light of the world, yet this Light can be rejected, this Light can be ignored. God is Light: He wants to reveal Himself to us; He wants us to know Him and to love Him. That is the reason that He created you and me. Yet He does not force us to love Him: if He forced us to love Him it wouldn’t be real love. He offers us His love, He offers us His friendship, He offers us a share in His own divine life—but we have to accept His offer. He created us with a free will and He will never take our free will away from us.

Each and every day each one of us is faced with choices. From moment to moment throughout my life I either choose to follow God and allow His light into my heart, or I choose reject it. Like the chosen people of the Old Testament we, Christians, have been set apart by our Baptism; but we have been set apart so that that we can make God known to the world. Again and again we are all faced with the choice: will we allow God’s light to shine through us, or will we refuse? Being a Christian means following Jesus Christ: being a Christian is a choice that I make not once but again and again. God leaves us free to follow Him or reject Him. As Christians, we are in a relationship with Our Lord; we are called to imitate Him; we are called to love Him we are called to make Him known and loved in the world. Christ gave us the power to become sons and daughters of God—yet how often do we ignore that gift? He wants us to give us a share in His divine life—yet how often we prefer the things of this earthly life? May this Epiphany remind us of the great gift that we have been given and may it remind us that we are given the gift of faith in order to share it. Like the Magi let us eagerly seek Him. Like the Magi let us give Him gifts: the gift of our adoration, the gift of our lives, the gift of our whole heart, and the gift of our love. May we allow His light and His love to shine through us that He may continue to manifest Himself to the world.

[This was the homily I used at the 4:00PM Mass on Saturday. I used a simplified homily at the 5:00PM on Sunday, but that one was hand-written and therefore will not be posted on the blog. Sorry.]

Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

December 31, 2011

[I’m on vacation, but I am covering one Sunday Mass. This homily will be preached at St. Joseph Church in Lake Linden, Mi.]

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. In many ways, today’s Solemnity is the most important Solemnity that we celebrate in honor of Our Lady. All of the other extraordinary graces and privileges that were bestowed upon Our Blessed Mother were bestowed upon her precisely because she was to be the Mother of the Eternal Son of God made Man. Mary was preserved from all stain of sin at her Immaculate Conception because Our Lord and God was to take His human nature from her and dwell within her womb for nine months. Mary had to be perfectly preserved from all stain of sin in order for her to be a worthy dwelling place for the all-holy Son of God. The Immaculate Conception is necessary when we consider the absolute holiness of the Eternal Son of God Who became Incarnate within her; it also simply makes sense if we stop and think about it: if you were all-powerful and all-wise and you had the opportunity to create your own mother, would you not make her perfect in every way; would you not bestow upon her the greatest gifts imaginable? Of course you would. And Jesus Christ is God: He is all-powerful and all-knowing; and He in fact did create His own Mother and He did bestow upon her many extraordinary gifts: one of them being the gift of preserving her from all sin right from the very first moment of her existence: right from her conception in the womb of her mother Saint Anne.

The Assumption and the fact that Our Lady reigns in Heaven as Queen follow from that most intimate relationship that existed between her and Our Blessed Lord: while on earth they shared that intimate relationship between Mother and Son. No one loves Jesus as much as Mary, His Mother. As His Mother, Mary shared in an absolutely unique way in her Son’s mission on earth. When Mary presented her Son in the Temple Simeon prophesied that a sword would pierce her soul. And a sword did pierce her Immaculate Heart: as she stood by Our Lord as He hung upon the Cross for us. As Jesus defeated sin and death upon the Cross, Mary stood at His side and united the suffering that she endured in her heart to His suffering for the redemption of the world. Mary cooperated in our Redemption: she gave Our Savior the human nature that He would offer to the Father upon the Cross, and she shared in His Passion as the sword of suffering pierced her maternal heart. The early Christian writers (known as the Church Fathers) saw in the Blessed Virgin Mary the New Eve: just as Saint Paul spoke of Christ as the new Adam. Saint Paul explains that the entire human race lost God’s friendship as a result of the disobedience of Adam, but through the obedience of Christ, access to God was once again made possible. Adam stretched out his hand to a tree in disobedience and as a result sin and death entered the world; Our Lord stretched out His hands on a different kind of tree, upon the Cross, and conquered sin and death. The Church Fathers further point out that Adam was not alone: Eve, too, played her part in the Fall. Eve was led into temptation by the instigation of a fallen angel, the devil, and said “No” to God. Mary, at the invitation of the Archangel Gabrielle, said “Yes” to God, and thereby became of the Mother of the Savior of the world. In order to redeem us from sin and death the Eternal Son of God became one of us, like us in all things except for sin; in order for Him to assume our human nature, Mary had to cooperate with the will of God: she had to say “Yes”; Mary cooperated with God’s plan in bringing about our Salvation by allowing Our God to become one of us in the Incarnation. Our Lady cooperated with Our Lord in our redemption and now she continues to be at His side in Heaven; she is already receiving the reward of her fidelity. As she shared uniquely in Our Lord’s Passion, so too, she now shares uniquely in His glory. The Church teaches us that Mary was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory at the end of her earthly life. This, also, is a teaching that makes sense when we think of it in terms of our own experience. Mary loves Jesus more than anyone: she is His Mother; why wouldn’t Our Lord give this privilege to her? Wouldn’t you give your mother such a gift if you were able to do so? Why would Our Lord do less for His Mother?

For Our Lady, her divine Motherhood is the cause of all of the other countless graces and blessings that she received; and those graces were not for her alone. The graces that she received were for our good as well: Mary’s divine maternity is the source of grace and salvation for us, because through her we received the Author of all grace Himself. Mary cooperated with God in His plan of Salvation when she consented to be the Mother of Our Lord and God, and she continues to intercede for us from Heaven. Our Lord chose Mary to be His Mother and He gave Her to us to be Our Mother as well. Let us rejoice this day for all the many blessings and benefits bestowed upon Our Blessed Mother; and as we begin this New Year, let us renew our confidence in her to obtain for us all that we need from Her Divine Son. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.