Archive for January, 2012

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.]