20 August 2017

Islamic State Ongoing Updates - August 2017

15 August 2017
14 August 2017
9 August 2017

Homily - The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - 20 August 2017

The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

A growing number of people claim to be Christians even though they have not yet been washed in the waters of Baptism, a curious claim, to be sure. As we learn in the Acts of the Apostles, the appellation of Christian was first used at Antioch to designate those who had repented of their sins and were baptized; it was not used of someone who liked what Jesus said, but of someone joined to him (cf. Acts 11:26). Indeed, the very word “Christian” means “anointed,” and “derives from that of Christ himself whom God ‘anointed with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 10:38).”[1] To be a Christian, then, is to be another Christ and this of necessity requires Baptism because it is through the Sacrament of Baptism that we are made “members of the Body of Christ.”[2]

The Sacrament of Baptism “is the basis of the whole Christian life” and through it “we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission.”[3] This is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines Christians as “all those who have been anointed through the gift of the Holy Spirit in Baptism...”[4] One simply cannot be a Christian without being baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus (cf. Romans 6:3-4).

That Baptism is necessary for salvation is attested by the Lord’s own word. He said to Nicodemus, “unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). He also told the Apostles to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). For this reason, Wes and Alaina asked faith of God’s Church for their son, Beau William, who is to be baptized in just a few moments.[5] Though some contest the Baptism of infants, the Church and a child’s parents know they “would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.”[6]

The Lord says through his prophet Isaiah today that he will “bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer” those who “join themselves to the Lord, ministering to him, loving the name of the Lord, and becoming his servants” (Isaiah 56:7, 6). Is this not what happens in Baptism? Those who seek this grace are brought into the household of the Father and share in the priestly, prophetic, and royal mission of Christ Jesus. In these waters we are joined to the Lord in love and our lives become his, for we have been purchased at a very high price (cf. I Corinthians 6:20).

Yet to put too much emphasis on the decision of the one who is to be or who has been baptized brings a certain danger.

Becoming Christian is not something that follows a decision of mine: “herewith I make myself a Christian”. Of course, my decision is also necessary, but first of all it is an action of God with me: it is not I who make myself Christian. I am taken on by God, taken in hand by God and thus, by saying “yes” to God’s action I become Christian. Becoming Christians, in a certain sense is passive; I do not make myself Christian but God makes me his man, God takes me in hand and puts my life in a new dimension. Likewise I do not make myself live but life is given to me; I am not born because I have made myself a human being, but I am born because I have been granted to be human. Therefore my Christian being has also been granted to me, it is in the passive for me, which becomes active in our, in my life. And this fact of being in the passive, of not making ourselves Christian but of being made Christian by God, already to some extent involves the mystery of the Cross: only by dying to my selfishness, by coming out of myself, can I be Christian.[7]

Wes and Alaina, Kolby and Courtney, it will be your duty from this day forward to show Beau how to die to his self-centeredness and daily conform his life to that of Christ. In this task, you will not be alone, for you have the Christian community to support and assist you in this sacred task as we each seek to live in accord with our baptismal dignity by dying to our own selfishness.

Teach him to serve the Lord with humility by loving his neighbor. Teach him how to pray and converse with the Lord throughout the day. Teach him how to maintain communion with the Body of Christ, the Church. And teach him how to make an offering of his very life to God. If he does this, he will indeed be a Christian.

You have a magnificent tool to teach Beau the Christian faith in your last name. The medievals saw in the griffin, part lion and part eagle, a symbol of the two natures of Christ, human and divine. They also saw the griffin as a symbol of guardianship. Teach Beau, then, what it means that God became man and how Jesus guards us with his Cross. Teach him, also, to guard his own soul “from the poison of sin” and to “keep the flame of faith alive in his heart.”[8] If you watch over him as griffins to guard him against whatever is opposed to the Gospel, you will show him the way to the house of the Father where he will see the Lord face to face (cf. Isaiah 56:7; Psalm 67:2). Amen.

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1289.
[2] Ibid., 1267.
[3] Ibid., 1213.
[4] Glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, p. 871.
[5] Cf. Rite of Baptism for Children, 76.
[6] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1250.
[7] Benedict XVI, Lectio Divina, 11 June 2012.
[8] Rite of Baptism for Children, 93 and 100.

13 August 2017

Homily - 13 August 2017 - The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

We very often live with some level of discomfort, with some level of anxiety or fear, perhaps not all of the time, but often enough. When the Lord seems not to be present, we grow frightened. When we lose our way we grow afraid. When we lose a child or a parent or when we cannot find a way to pay the bills, our fear intensifies. The beginning of school draws near and we worry whether our classmates will be our friends or whether we will do well in our studies. We do not know the direction in which our lives are going and we agonize. Sickness, pain, and death come upon us and we find ourselves living with much uncertainty. In all of these situations, Jesus lovingly and serenely commands us, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27).

When we find ourselves in any one of these situations – and perhaps even all of them – our tendency is to cry out to the Lord and beg him to give us a sign. We plead with him and bargain, if only he will show himself to us. We cry out with St. Peter, “Lord, save me!” and wonder if he will come to our rescue (Matthew 14:30).

The Lord promised to come to the prophet Elijah, the man of God, saying, “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will be passing by” (I Kings 19:11). Elijah placed himself at the entrance to the cave in Mount Horeb, the very mountain where God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses and where the covenant was ratified and sealed in blood. Here, surely, the Lord would be found and Elijah might find comfort as his enemies openly plotted his death. He cried out, saying, “I have been most zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts, but the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to the sword. I alone am left, and they seek to take my life” (IKings 19:10). Indeed, Elijah wished to be dead and cried, “This is enough, O LORD. Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (I Kings 19:4). In his agony and anguish, he sought the Lord in the places he had previously manifested himself.

And then, quite unexpectedly, Elijah realized the presence of God not where he had previously shown himself, but in “a tiny whispering sound” (I Kings 19:12). Being now in the presence of the Lord, he “hid his face in his cloak and stood at the entrance of the cave” (I Kings 19:13). The original Hebrew of this text reads somewhat differently than our translation today. Where we hear “a tiny whispering sound,” but the original Hebrew says, “a sound that was no sound.” He did not seek the Lord here, in the silence. He wanted the Lord to speak in a powerful way, a commanding way, in the same manner he had always done. He heard the Word of God say to him, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Elijah did not hear the Lord amid the noise of this world and neither will we.

We might well ask why the Lord speaks in the silence of our hearts and not often in more impressive ways. To this question, Pope Francis reminds us that “silence is always more eloquent than words.”[1] We have largely forgotten this. The average American today spends some 1,642 hours per year watching television alone.[2] That comes down to four and a half hours per day. I say this not to completely condemn the television, but to raise a question. If we spend eight hours per day at work, eight hours per day asleep, and four and a half hours per day watching television, that leaves only three and a half hours for eating, for spending time with family and friends, for running errands, and for prayer. When do we allow ourselves to be still so we can hear the voice of God? When do we allow the sound that is no sound to be heard?

We must remember again that, as Pope Benedict XVI reminded us, “creatures must be silent, leaving space for the silence in which God can speak.”

This is still true in our day too. At times there is a sort of fear of silence, of recollection, of thinking of one's own actions, of the profound meaning of one's life. All too often people prefer to live only the fleeting moment, deceiving themselves that it will bring lasting happiness; they prefer to live superficially, without thinking, because it seems easier; they are afraid to seek the Truth or perhaps afraid that the Truth will find us, will take hold of us and change our life, as happened to St Augustine.[3]

Saint Augustine came to realize that, as he said, “although this ship is tossed by the storms of temptation, it sees the glorified Lord walking upon all the billows of the sea – that is, upon all the powers of this world.”[4] Do not be afraid of silence, but learn to rest in it. In the silence of our hearts, the Lord reveals our sins to us and calls us to conversion; this is why we do not like silence. But if we listen to his voice will hear him calling us to return to the confessional where we will hear him say to us, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid;” it is within the forgiveness of sins that “he proclaims peace” (Psalm 85:9).

We want God to come down and fix all of our problems. We want him to make us popular, to take our tests for us, and write our papers; we want him to make us wealthy and important; we want him to take away our sadness and pain and sickness. But Jesus did not come for any of these reasons, contrary to what is often heard today; he came to destroy sin and death. He came to show us the way through pain, through suffering, through heartache, and struggle, and strife. He came to show us the way out of lives of sin into lives of holiness, from death to new and eternal life. It was on the cross that he showed us the way to everlasting joy and peace.

If we return for a moment to the Gospel, it is curious that the boat “was being tossed about by the waves” already “when it was evening,” but that Jesus did not come to the Apostles on the water until “the fourth watch of the night” (Matthew 19:24, 23, and 25). Jesus made his appearance toward the end of night, towards the coming of the dawn. This is a significant and often overlooked aspect of this passage after the storm raged for several hours. “He did not come quickly to their rescue. He was training them … by the continuance of these fears and instructing them to be ready to endure.” This, says Saint John Chrysostom, “is the way he constantly deals with our fears.”[5]

When we cry out, “Lord, save me!”, Jesus says, “Come,” and only after we begin to go to him does he snatch us out of the waters (Matthew 14:29). Even as he assures us with this  comforting and powerful word, he stretches out his hand toward us to catch us as we sink into the waters of fear, into the waters of the unknown, into the waters of doubt. He calls us to place our trust and faith in him, to follow him without reservation or fear, even as he asks, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew14:31). “Did you not know that I am with you? Did you not know that I have walked this road before you? Did you not know that I have destroyed sin and death? You have nothing to fear.”

When Jesus said these words to Peter the “wind died down” and the storm disappeared (Matthew 14:32). Peter’s own fear subsided as he trusted in Jesus and climbed into the boat, into the heart of the Church, to continue his voyage after his Master and his Teacher. Let us, then, with Peter, place our faith and trust, and, indeed, our very lives, into the gentle yet mighty hand of Christ, who saves us from the waters of darkness and lifts us into his kingdom of light. Let us acknowledge our weakness and cry out with Peter, “Lord, save me!” When we do so, “kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven” and we shall come to see and know the Lord as he is (Psalm 85:11-12).

“Take courage, it is I,” he says to us; “do not be afraid.” When we hear his voice calling to us, “Come,” in the tiny whispering sound within the silence of our hearts, let us go, without delay, and without fear, “for he proclaims peace” (Psalm 85:9). Amen.

[1] Pope Francis, Amoris laetitia, 12.
[2] Cf. Philip Yancey, “The Death of Reading is Threatening the Soul,” The Washington Post, 21 July 2017.
[3] Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience Address, 25 August 2010.
[4] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 75.7. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Vol. Ib: Matthew 14-28. Thomas C. Oden, et al, eds. (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2002), 13.
[5] Saint John Chrysostom, The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 50.1. In ibid.

06 August 2017

Homily - 6 August 2017 - The Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

The Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

There is something about looking upon the face of another person that is of great importance for us. Is this not why we prefer to chat with our family and friends via Facetime than simply with the telephone? It is good to hear the voice of another, yes, but it is better to also see their face. For some three years, the Apostles lived with Jesus. They traveled with him, ate with him, watched him pray, listened to his preaching, and talked with him each day. Yet today they saw something in his face they had not yet seen: they saw his face shine “like the sun” (Matthew 17:2).

With the coming solar eclipse, we have heard a lot about the brightness of the sun, and of the danger of looking directly upon it with unprotected eyes. We have seen the faces of others illumined by the light of the sun, but never have we seen the face of another shine like the sun, as Peter, James, and John were allowed to see upon Mount Tabor, upon the only mountain in Galilee, a mountain whose name means “the coming light.”[1] Because the Lord himself prepared his chosen companions, they could look upon the brilliant beauty and splendor of his face; they were given the privilege of seeing what “many prophets and righteous men longed to see … and did not see it” (Matthew 13:17).

Mount Tabor
Throughout his Gospel, the Evangelist Saint Matthew repeatedly demonstrates how Jesus is the new Moses, the new lawgiver of the new Israel, which comes to fulfillment in his Transfiguration. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, “the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God” (Exodus 34:29); the light of the Lord’s glory continued to reflect off of Moses’ face so brightly before the People of God that “they were afraid to come near him” and so Moses “put a veil on his face” (Exodus 34:30, 33).

In the Transfiguration of Jesus, those three Apostles saw

visibly what happens when Jesus talks with his Father: the profound interpenetration of his being with God, which then becomes pure light. In his oneness with the Father, Jesus is himself ‘light from light’… Jesus, however, shines from within; he does not simply receive light, but he himself is light from light.[2]

When they looked upon the transfigured face of their Master and Teacher, they were, as Saint Peter said, “eyewitnesses of his majesty” (II Peter 1:16). In that moment, they looked upon the face of God and lived; the light of his face was not too bright for them. They received the fulfillment of the ancient longing of every human heart and so Saint Peter desired to remain before the Transfigured face of the Son of God (cf. Matthew 17:4). Our heavenly patron, Saint Augustine, recognized this common and universal yearning when he prayed in his Confessions, saying to God, “…you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[3]

The apse mosaic of the Basilica of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor
In that moment on Mount Tabor we see what Saint Irenaeus recognized so many centuries ago: “Life in man is the glory of God; the life of man is the vision of God.”[4] If the vision of God is our life and glory, if the sight of his face is the rest for which we long, how can we see his face? Is not his glory too bright for us to see? We can be sure that “one does not see the Risen Lord like a piece of wood or stone. He is seen only by those to whom He reveals Himself. And He reveals Himself only to someone whom He can send. He reveals Himself not to curiosity but to love.”[5] He reveals his face to hearts that seek him, to those who ask with the Psalmist, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God” (Psalm 42:1-2).

Today, then, is a good day for us to reflect upon the purpose of a parish and also of a pastor. Our word parish comes from the thirteenth century, when it entered into English from Latin via Old French. It comes from the Latin word paroceia, which is itself a Latinization of the Greek word paroikia, a word meaning “sojourning in a foreign land.” Its root in Greek is the word paroikos, meaning “dwelling place, stranger, sojourner.” It is really a composite word, being made of para, “beside, by, near,” and oikos, “house.” Fundamentally, then, a parishioner is a stranger dwelling near the house of God whose goal is not simply to dwell near the house of God, but to enter into his house, to enter into his presence and see his face.

The church of St. Augustine, Ashland, Illinois
The purpose of a parish is help our fellow strangers in this strange land grow in the theological virtues of faith, of hope, and of love and so to become holy, to become ever more like Christ (cf. Exodus 2:22; I John 3:2). If parishioners are not reflecting more and more of the light of the face of Christ Jesus, something is amiss and they are not moving toward the goal of their earthly pilgrimage. To encourage and nourish the pilgrim flock, Mother Church has divided the world into dioceses and parishes to ensure that every member of the baptized has a proper pastor, a shepherd, to lead them ever closer to the Father’s house. The pastor of a parish stands in the place of the Bishop, who stands in the place of Christ; a pastor, then, represents not himself, but Christ Jesus, in whose place he stands at the head of the flock to teach, to sanctify, and to govern (cf. canon 519).

When a new pastor arrives in a parish, many of the parishioners wonder what program he will enact. The only program, if you will, which I hope to enact is to help you prepare to see the face of Christ more clearly, to help you draw near to him and bask in the light of his face, a light which can transform us and make us like himself. I hope to help you seek the Lord not in curiosity, but in love, to not only hear his voice speaking in the quiet of our hearts, but to see his face and become witnesses of his majesty and to take your places within the Father’s house.

The Veronica, the Holy Face of Manoppello
Being but a frail human, I cannot do this on my own, and so I will rely upon the grace of God and upon the cooperation of a great many of you. I entrust myself to your prayers and to the intercession of Saint Augustine. As together we look to the Doctor of Grace as a sure guide on the path that leads to the face of God, let each of us make this prayer of Saint Augustine our own:

You have radiated forth, you have shined out brightly, and you have dispelled my blindness. You have sent forth your fragrance, and I have breathed it in, and I long for you. I have tasted you, and I hunger and thirst for you. You have touched me, and I ardently desire your peace.[6]

May the Lord illumine our faces with the light of his love and send us forth to reflect his light in a darkened world. Amen.

[1] Saint Anthony of Padua, Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent, 3. In Sermons for Sundays and Festivals, Volume I: General Prologue, Sundays from Septuagesima to Pentecost. Paul Spilsbury, trans. (Padua: Edizioni Messagero Padova, 2007), 102.
[2] Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration. Adrian J. Walker, trans. (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 310.
[3] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, 1.1. Henry Chadwick, trans. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 3.
[4] Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, 4.20.7.
[5] Joseph Ratzinger, in Paul Badde, Benedict Up Close: The Inside Story of Eight Dramatic Years (Irondale, Alabama: EWTN Publishing, Inc., 2017), 42.
[6] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, X.27.38.

30 July 2017

Homily - 30 July 2017 - The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

No farmer works the soil expecting to find a treasure buried there (cf. Matthew 13:44). Likewise, no merchant has high expectations of finding "a pearl of great price" (Matthew 13:45). When they do find such an item, the joy they experience comes from the unexpectedness of such a find in the midst of the ordinary pursuits of life; the discovery of a treasure – be it an ancient burial mound or the bones of a dinosaur - seems a pure gift from the heavens, a gift not found by others.

If a farmer is to find a great treasure in his field, if a merchant is to find a priceless pearl, or if a fisherman is to haul in a great catch, he must already be about the work of farming, of buying and selling, or of fishing; he cannot simply sit idly by in his house and hope such things come to him. The discovery of such a treasure, of such a pearl, or of such a catch is a gift, yes, but one that comes with some effort. As it is with these earthly treasures, so it is with spiritual treasures. Those who seek to grow daily in holiness may well stumble upon spiritual treasures in the midst of their daily pursuits to grow in faith, in hope, and in love; those who are not interested in growing in holiness, in living a life of faith, hope, and love, are unlikely to find a spiritual treasure.

Let us consider for a moment this pearl and this treasure of which the Lord speaks. Because Jesus speaks to us here in parables, we know these images must have a deeper meaning than the ones they have on the surface. If we look upon them with the eyes of faith we will see that the pearl and the treasure are nothing less than Jesus himself. Christ Jesus is himself the Pearl of Great Price and the Treasure Hidden in the Field, just as he is the net that has caught us in his embrace.

Both the pearl and the treasure were already present before the farmer and the fisherman set about their work. So it is with all who seek Jesus Christ and his kingdom; he is present to them even before they begin to search for him. Saint Augustine summed it up nicely when he wrote in his Confessions:

Saint Augustine of Hippo
Too late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, O Beauty ever new. Too late have I loved you! You were within me but I was outside myself, and there I sought you! In my weakness I ran after the beauty of the things you have made. You were with me, but I was not with you… You have called, you have cried, and you have pierced my deafness. You have radiated forth, you have shined out brightly, and you have dispelled my blindness. You have sent forth your fragrance, and I have breathed it in, and I long for you. I have tasted you, and I hunger and thirst for you. You have touched me, and I ardently desire your peace.[1]

As fishes must yield to the fisherman’s net, so must we yield to the net of the great Fisher of Men who longs to draw us into his Kingdom.

We see, then, that the Lord Jesus is often found in the most unexpected of places and wherever he is, there is his kingdom. He has already given himself to us in the Sacrament of Baptism in the profound gift that comes from the outpouring of water and the Holy Spirit. In these life-giving waters the pearl of grace and the treasure of faith has been entrusted to us to be guarded and increased; within these waters, his net has been cast over us (cf. Matthew 25:14-30). But how do we keep this treasure safe? How do we yield to his net? King Solomon points the way out to us.

When the Lord God addressed to him that surprising and risky command, "Ask something of me and I will give it to you," Solomon demonstrated by his words that he already possessed the gift he requested of the Lord, at least in a shadowy form; he could not have asked for the gift of wisdom without already being wise (I Kings 3:5). It may be that King Solomon intuited what Saint Paul wrote to the people of Rome: "We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).

The son of David knew that God's purpose for him was to "govern this vast people of yours" by being able to "distinguish right from wrong" (I Kings 3:9). But having asked for and received this gift of wisdom, Solomon did not always act wisely and found himself at times in serious sin. In this, we see that he did not always make use of the gift he was given, that he did not always yield to the Lord’s net. Are you and I any different?

How often do we likewise not make use of the gift of faith that has been given to us? Faith in the Lord’s goodness and care for us helps us to keep farming, buying and selling, and fishing as the men in his parables. When a time of difficulty comes, though, we frequently back away from the Lord. Having received the Ten Commandments, we too often live without reference to them. And when a doubt or question arises about the faith we have received we do not bother to study the faith more deeply and to know it - and Jesus Christ - more intimately. When we feel the Lord calling us one direction, we go the other way. I cannot help but wonder, if the Lord were to say to us, "Ask something of me and I will give it to you," what would we request?

Some centuries ago, the Lord said something similar to Saint Thomas Aquinas. Toward the end of his life, Saint Thomas, one of the greatest minds the Church has ever known, was writing a treatise on the Eucharist, struggling to complete it. In great frustration, the quiet man of God threw his text at the foot of a crucifix, asking the Lord what he thought of what he had written. The voice of God came through the figure of the Crucified Lord, saying to him: “You have written well of me, Thomas. What would you have?”

Saint Thomas Aquinas
Saint Thomas could choose whatever he wanted, whatever he desired. Would he ask for wealth, or fame, or power? Would he ask for love, or athletic skill, or simple pleasures?  He could ask for anything; what would he ask of the Lord? Like King Solomon before him, Saint Thomas asked neither “for a long life for [him]self, nor for riches, nor for the life of [his] enemies” (IKings 3:11). He answered the Savior with these profound words: “Nil nisi te, Domine, nil nisi te (Nothing but you, Lord, nothing but you).”The Angelic Doctor answered wisely and honestly. He “wanted nothing more than Christ, nothing other than Christ, nothing less than Christ.”[2] He knew that, as he had written earlier in his life, “God alone satisfies.”[3] Would we ask the same of the Lord?

If we ask the Lord for nothing but himself, we will yield to his net and have the joy of his treasure in our hearts, and find ourselves in his kingdom. But how do we keep this initial joy of finding that buried treasure and great pearl? How do we remain in the joy of yielding to the Lord’s net? Saint Damien of Moloka’i once said: “To have begun is nothing, the hard thing is to persevere. This is the work of God’s grace. That grace will never fail me, I am sure of that, provided I do not resist it. Pray for me. I will do all that depends on me.”[4]

This is true for us, as well. Once we have done our part the Lord will do his part. We need only look upon the crucifix to know he keeps his word. If we seek to grow daily in holiness, if we seek to live lives of faith, hope, and love, we will learn to yield to his net by relying on God’s grace and by desiring him above all else. If we do not resist his grace but yield to his merciful love, he will bring us to the point where we can say in honest and humble love, “Nothing but you, Lord, nothing but you.” Amen.

[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, X.27.38.
[2] Robert Barron, Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1996, 2008), 12.
[3] Saint Thomas Aquinas, Expos. In symb apost, I. In Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1718.
[4] In Vital Jourdain, SS.CC., The Heart of Father Damien. Francis Larkin, SS.CC. and Charles Davenport, trans. (Milwaukee, Wisconsin: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1955), 50.

23 July 2017

Homily - 23 July 2017 - The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Just a few moments ago, we collected our various intentions and presented them together to the Father, praying the Lord to “increase the gifts of [his] grace” so that, we, his servants, will be “ever watchful in keeping [his] commands.”[1] This prayer, then, presumes two things about us: first, that we desire to keep his commands and, second, that we know what his commands are.

The commands of the Lord Jesus are not always easy, this we know, but they are always simple for they consist in one thing. The Lord Jesus summarized his commands, saying:

You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).

We might say that the first and second commandment are really the same because both require love, first to God and then to neighbor; we might also say that they are not separate commands, but one command, since the one flows directly from the other. To love God is to honor him, for it is right and just for the creature to worship the Creator. To love our neighbors is to desire and to work for what is for his or her true and lasting good. Loving in this way is not easy, but it is supremely simple.

The gifts of God’s grace might likewise be simply summarized in one principle gift, a gift named in the final line from the first reading: the “repentance of sins” (Wisdom 12:19). The reality of sin and its consequences have fallen rather out of fashion in recent years and some now even deny any deed or thought can really be sinful. Even within the confessional, too many go so far as to say, “I haven’t really done anything wrong,” and think themselves alright, being, in their own estimation, “a good person.” This is due, in no small part, to the subtlety of the evil one who sows while men sleep and pay little heed (cf. Matthew 13:25). It is also due to our own pride, for we do not like to acknowledge we are not always very lovable and that we fail to love God and neighbor in ways both great and small.
Let me illustrate the Devil’s subtlety with a personal anecdote. One warm summer day perhaps ten years ago, I was returning home from a visit with a few friends dressed in what we priests call “normal people” clothes (this will be important). I stopped at a gas station and after filling up went inside to pay. As soon as I walked through the door, the cashier said to me, “Will you watch the store? I need to use the restroom?” and with that she was gone. A bit taken aback, I did not quite know what to do.
As I waited for her to return, my eyes caught sight of a Snickers ice cream bar, one of the greatest delectables known to man. In my pride, a thought occurred to me: I could take that ice cream bar and nobody would ever know about it. I justified the thought in three ways: first, I was doing the cashier a favor and it is good to be rewarded; second, it was a hot day and the ice cream would cool me down; and, third, I was hungry, and we all know that “Snickers really satisfies.” My argumentation was perfectly logical, but it was wrong.

Certainly, it is good to be rewarded for kind acts (so long as we do not come to expect to be rewarded); it is good to be cooled on a hot day; and it is also good to have our hunger satisfied. However, it is never good to obtain attain any of this through an evil act, through sin. This is way of the evil one, who presents good things to us but suggests we obtain them through an immoral manner; “the end justifies the means” might well be the motto of Satan. I was tempted to obtain three goods by forsaking that which is the greater good, the moral law. (For the record, I did not take the Snickers ice cream bar, nor – as a self-imposed penance – did I buy one that day.)

The evil one continually roams the fields of the Father sowing his seeds. These weeds grow and seek to intertwine their roots among those of the wheat and slowly they poison it. Once poisoned, the wheat produces little or no fruit and is worthless, good only to be collected with “all who cause others to sin and all evildoers” and cast into the fire (Matthew 13:41).

It sometimes happens that we accept the lies of the evil one and give in to his subtle tricks; we sometimes live, act, and think more like weeds than like wheat. The roots of his weeds have grown and spread so far that many who think themselves wheat in the Father’s fields no longer acknowledge right and wrong; they do not keep the Father’s commands and - worse yet – they do not think them important, but see them as something for a bygone era. In his or her pride, the false wheat – the weed -does not acknowledge his or her sin, that in deeds and thoughts, in things done and not done, he or she has fallen short of the mark and has not produced the proper fruit.

Several years ago, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger rightly warned of this danger:

Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be "tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine", seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires.

We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An "adult" faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.[2]

How, then, do we distinguish the true from the false? How do we love truly and authentically?

We do so by “be[ing] ready to preserve the grace received from the day of our Baptism, continuing to nourish faith in the Lord that prevents evil from taking root.”[3] It was in Baptism that we rejected Satan and all his works and all his empty promises, yet this rejection must be made time and again throughout our lives. This requires a regular examination of our consciences with one simple question: When and how did I fail to love today?

When we begin to ask this question at the end of every day, our sin will become apparent to us and we will have “good ground for hope” because the Lord is “good and forgiving, abounding in kindness to all who call upon [him]” (Wisdom 12:19; Psalm 86:9). Here we see that his kindness requires that we first call upon him, that we acknowledge our sin and pray, “Turn toward me, and have pity on me; give your strength to your servant” (Psalm 86:16). It is good for us to remember what Pope Francis has so often said: “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.”[4]

All of this, of course, presupposes that we desire to be “fervent in hope, faith, and charity.”[5] Put another way, it presupposes that the primary goal of our lives is that we grow in holiness, that we be true and faithful friends of Jesus, that we produce much fruit and yield a rich harvest (cf. John 12:24). When we think of growing of holiness, we often grow somewhat uncomfortable because we think it is something beyond us and perhaps not even meant for us. Nothing could be farther from the truth! The Lord desires this for each of us. He desires that we be righteous and “shine like the sun in the kingdom of [our] Father” (Matthew 13:43)!

We should not be afraid of holiness or shy away from it; rather, we should desire it with all of our heart! It is only by continual growth in holiness that we will find the satisfaction and fulfillment of our every yearning. And it is only by using the Sacrament of Penance well and regularly that this continual growth can come about. 

Just as at the end of each day we should ask where we failed to love, at the beginning of each day we should ask for the strength to love. We should keep in mind and heart this advice of J.R.R. Tolkien: “To ourselves we must present the absolute ideal without compromise, for we do not know our own limits of natural strength (+grace), and if we do not aim at the highest we shall certainly fall short of the utmost that we could achieve.”[6]

[1] Roman Missal, Collect for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 18 April 2005.
[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 17 July 2011.
[4] Pope Francis, Evangelii gaudium, 3.
[5] Collect for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
[6] J.R.R. Tolkien, Draft Letter to Eileen Elgar, September 1963. In The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien: A Selection Edited by Humphrey Carpenter with the Assistance of Christopher Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), 326.