Sunday, March 5, 2017

Of Trees and Temptations - Homily for the 1st Sunday of Lent (A)

One of the great joys of my priesthood is to be the director of the RCIA program here at St. Joe’s. The RCIA program is for those who wish to learn more about the Catholic faith and discern whether they wish to enter the Church. And we praise God that over 30 of our brothers and sisters will join us in the Eucharist for the first time at the Easter Vigil. (May we have 60 next year!)

During our months together, the RCIA participants ask a whole host of questions. And I’ve found that many questions are asked about today’s first reading from the book of Genesis. One of the popular questions I’ve heard is: “Why did God make the tree and then tell Adam and Eve not to eat from it?” As parents and grandparents, we know that if we have cookie jar and tell our children not to eat from it, what will they do five minutes later? They will be eating from the cookie jar! So, why this tree?

First, we must note that the tree is not evil. God does not make bad things. Even the serpent—he was once a good angel, Lucifer, who chose evil and who subsequently “devolved” (that’s what sin does). God makes everything good—this tree is good. But what God has done is used it as a means to teach Adam and Eve about the nature of Love. Love, if it is really love, must choose; it must choose between self-centeredness and self-sacrifice. God, when He makes the tree, is giving Adam and Eve the space to choose what kind of Love they will have: an obedient, self-sacrificial love or a disobedient, self-serving love.

Notice: do Adam and Eve have to eat from the tree to know the difference between good and evil? No. God has already told them: eat from all of those trees over there (obedience)—that is good; do not eat from this tree here (disobedience)—that is bad. He has already given them the wisdom. They don’t need to grasp for the fruit to have wisdom—they already have been given the gift!

But that’s the trick of the devil: he convinces Adam and Eve that God is holding something back.  That’s how the devil often gets us, isn’t it? Convinces us that God is not a good God, that He’s keeping something good or better from us. And so, we do our own thing and grasp for something—often at the expense of love.

So, why did God create the Tree? For love. To give us a chance to love. And, here’s the kicker: not only to love Him, but also each other; because, if we can’t trust God, then the love and the trust between spouses will quickly fail—which is precisely what happens to Adam and Eve. They cover themselves because they are now afraid—of what? Of each other. Of being used. Of not being loved.

*          *          *

This brings us to a second, often-asked question: Whose fault was it—Adam or Eve’s?

(With a smile) It was all Eve’s fault. *Closes Gospel book*

No. There’s more to it than that. Remember: who was with Eve? Adam was. And what mission did God give Adam? To care for everything in the Garden. This included Eve. Yes, Adam and Eve are equals, but God gave Adam the strength to care for Eve—knowing that there would be danger lurking about.

That danger came when the devil went after Eve—as the devil often does: attacking the woman. Adam was supposed to fight for his love, the one that was “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!” But what did Adam do? Nothing. He was quiet. And when the husband, the man with the strength, is quiet and doesn’t use his strength to fight for the family, the wife gets anxious, she grasps for what she things will make her secure. “I’ve gotta have this,” she says. And the devil’s got her.

You see, when we love something, we have to fight for it. In our culture, we have divorced loving and fighting—people think love happens without a fight. That’s naïve. We’re going to have to fight if we are truly going to love.

That’s the point of the second reading. Through the disobedience of one man, Adam, sin entered the world (notice where Paul puts the blame: on Adam!). But through the obedience of the other man, Jesus, life entered the world and forgiveness (“acquittal”). In other words: whereas Adam did not fight the devil, Jesus did. Jesus fought for us. He fought for His bride. Jesus stood up to the temptation. And why? Because of love. Jesus loves His Father and He loves us. So Jesus fought for us. Forty days in the desert: fighting the pain of hunger, fighting the urge to give in, fighting against the devil himself. “The Lord is a warrior. The Lord is His name!” (Ex 15:3).

*          *          *

What does this mean for us? In Lent, we are invited to enter into the battle for love. We have opportunities for fasting, for sacrifice, for giving, for praying—and in all of that there is the choice, the battle, to fight for what and for whom we love. Just like Adam and Eve, God has given us this blessed time of Lent—just like that tree—so that we may choose between self-centeredness and self-sacrifice. To love or not to love.

There will be temptations in this, just like there are throughout the year. In these, perhaps it may be good to become like Mary, too—Mary who is the New Eve—who also does battle. Have you ever noticed how many statues of Mary have her stomping on the head of the serpent? That’s taking from Genesis 3:15, where the Scriptures prophesy how the Mother of God will crush the head of the serpent.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have never tried to crush the head of a snake. I’d probably use a shovel. Mary is depicted using her bare feet. Which means that she is doing this quickly—you can’t crush the head of a snake daintily. Otherwise, you get bitten. Mary crushes the tempter quickly, with force! *bam!* That’s Jesus’ mother. That’s the one who taught Him from her lap. If the Lord is a warrior, I have a hunch that to some degree, His mother is, too. Kind, gentle, mild—yes. But when it comes to the devil, Mary’s not gonna have any of it.

That’s what we need to be this Lent and, really, whenever we face temptation.

Because, when the devil comes bartering for our soul, we must remember that there are only two outcomes: life or death, heaven or hell, good or evil. We can’t mess around with the devil. Think of it this way, if someone came to you saying, “Hey, do this for me—do this and I will pick a nice spot for you in hell. You know—with the fires and the grinding of teeth and the wailing and the anger and loneliness and stench.” Who among us would say, “Yeah, let me think about that for a moment… that kinda sounds like a good idea….” No! We would say, “You’re crazy! Get away from me!”

But, let’s be honest: when we entertain temptation, we are seriously pondering that this hell is a good idea. This is why sin is stupid. (That’s my definition—that’s not Magisterial…) Sin is stupid.

This is why the devil coats the evil with some kind of good. The devil, for the most part, doesn’t just simply come out and say “Deny Jesus. Deny Jesus and make me king.” No, the devil is more subtle. The devil will say something about how God understands, and that it isn’t so bad. Just a little bit of doubt.

We have to fight against this.

If we are not actively fighting against temptation, we will start buying the devil’s lies. If we are not crushing his head, then we will start to doubt. We will start to think that God is holding something back. And we’ll grow resentful and bitter—especially when we are told that we can’t do something. And we’ll grasp—we’ll make our own way—and we’ll rationalize it by saying that God doesn’t see, because God doesn’t love us. And then that becomes God doesn’t matter. And, then: God doesn’t exist. So, we’ll establish our own way. And we’ll make our own gods. And when those don’t fill us, we’ll make ourselves god.

Which is what the devil promised: “if you eat… you will become like gods.”

And therein is the greatest lie of all. Because we already were. We were already like gods. Adam and Eve were made so as to never die; they were eternal; they could love like the angels and share the mind and heart of God. A share of divinity had already been given them. But they doubted it. And so they lost it.

*          *          *

We have been given that share—we just have to receive! Which means we have to battle the urge to grasp. That urge to doubt and cry out: “Lord, why are you keeping this from me?” “Why can’t I have just this one thing? Just this once?” We sometimes make it a holy crusade: “Lord, all this time I served you and never did you give me this one thing…” (that’s the older brother of the Prodigal Son, by the way).

But we must believe that God is good. That He’s not holding anything back. If there would have been a greater gift that Jesus, God would have given it. But this is the greatest gift.

In fact, do you remember how many named trees there were in the Garden? There were two: The Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life. We’ve talked about the first one; what about the second? Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden before they could eat from the Tree of Life.

We, however, get to eat from this tree. The Tree is the Cross and the Fruit of this Tree of Life is Jesus. On the night before Jesus died, He gave us this fruit in the Eucharist—His body and blood, the Bread of Life (“whoever eats will live forever”). And that’s perfect when we think about it: Jesus undoes the first, the Original, Sin (which was accomplished by eating) by giving us something to eat: namely, Himself. His body and blood, soul and divinity, to be united to our body, blood, soul, and humanity—to elevate our humanity, by grace, to His divinity. In this way, we really do become “like gods.”

Do you see? Jesus has loved us to the end! He has held nothing back. He loves you! Come, let us love Him in return!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Two Transformations - Homily for the 6th Sunday in OT (A)

Ok. Can we take a moment and pray about what we have just heard? I mean, I know that for many of us, Jesus’ words hit us right in the heart—and some of those words may have been hard to listen to or understand. And I think we just need to take a moment and pray and ask for the Holy Spirit to guide us here…

*          *          *

In my life, I have come to realize that God is not simply in the business of getting people to “fall into line.” God is firstly in the business of transforming us. Let us never forget this: God is in the business of transforming us.

And I’ve found that there are two major kinds of transformation.

The first transformation that God wants for us is that transformation from being adrift in the world to being chosen— from being pagan to being religious—from being just like everyone else in the world to being His. This is why God gave the Commandments: He gave these to choose and to transform a people that would be His own. “This people,” He says through the Commandments, “This people will not be stealing and killing like the others out there. This people will not be marrying many wives or worshipping many gods like the pagans. This people will be different.” That’s what the Commandments do. This is the first transformation.

And I liken it to a kind of fence. I know many of you have seen the movie The Sandlot. It’s a story about kids that play baseball in this field—the sandlot—and there is an old wooden fence that separates this lot from the house next door—a house that has a mean dog called The Beast (very apropos!). So there is the Sandlot on one side of the fence and on the other side of the fence there’s the beast. The fence separates the play and fun and children from what is dangerous and menacing. In much the same way, the Law of God acted as the fence separating and thus initially transforming an otherwise ordinary people into the People of God.

Hence, Jesus upholds commandments like “you shall not kill” and “you shall not commit adultery.” Because that fence is still needed! Cultures—even historically Christian cultures like our own—forget these very basic truths. This is why Jesus doubles down saying, “whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

So, keeping the law is important. That’s the first part of this Sermon on the Mountain.

*          *          *

The second part reveals the second transformation: where our “righteousness [must surpass]… that of the Pharisees.” This second transformation is about being not simply a follower but a lover—specifically, a lover who loves as Christ loves.

What this means is that Jesus doesn’t simply want us to “not kill,” but He wants to have our hearts transformed in such a way that we avoid the beginnings of that—that anger and resentment and disdain for others. The new transformation—that of charity—is so important that Jesus says that “If you… recall [at the altar] that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there… and be reconciled with your brother and then come and offer your gift.” In other words, in this second transformation we see that we cannot approach the God of love at the altar when we refuse to love another. This why Catholics have the Sign of Peace. At the Sign of Peace, we are really supposed to reconcile with others such that, if there is someone that we are at odds with, we must first be reconciled with them before we can receive communion. Reconciliation before Communion. That’s how much God wants this transformation for us.

Notice, then, the next lesson in the Sermon on the Mount: Jesus continues: “You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust
has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Notice the need for transformation: Jesus doesn’t simply want us to “not commit adultery”—that is important—but He even wants our eyes and hearts transformed in such a way that when we see a beautiful person, we don’t lust over that person as though they were an object—because treating a person as an object is not love. Fifty Shades of Gray is not love. Pornography is not love.

And notice how much Jesus wants this second transformation for us: “If your eye causes you to sin… if your hand causes you to sin…” He says, get rid of it! It’s hyperbole, of course, but it is to prove a point: the transformation to charity is so important that it is worth losing even your limbs over.

*          *          *

Now comes the sensitive part of Jesus’ Sermon. He says: "[In the past] It was also said, Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife—unless the marriage is unlawful—causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

What is going on here? Ironically, the Pharisees were allowing divorce because, as Jesus points out, “the hardness of their hearts.” I say this is ironic because our culture, when it sees a person upholding laws, the culture calls that person a Pharisee. So, for example, I’ve seen article after article calling Cardinal Burke a Pharisee for upholding the law of marriage. But such articles forget that Pharisees didn’t uphold marriage at all! This is the oddity of the Pharisees: they uphold certain laws, but not the divine ones—and even less do they live them out (as Jesus points out later). The Pharisees allowed divorce for pretty much whatever reason.

To call Cardinal Burke a Pharisee is therefore really rather ignorant. Our world is like the Pharisees. Many Christian ministers, for example, have become like our secular (read: oftentimes pagan) courts and allow divorce for whatever reason (Pharisaical), not remembering that “what God has joined, men must not divide.” They even go so far as to marry previously divorced people.

The papers write about how the Catholic Church is “opposed to divorce.” The reality is, we simply don’t have the power to undo what God has joined.

Clearly, we are dealing with the first transformation here: from the pagan to the People of God.

The question may be asked: then what about annulments? Obviously, this is a question that requires more than a homily to answer, but the principle for them is found in the Gospel when Jesus notes “unless the marriage is unlawful”—implied: an unlawful marriage is not joined by God; it is null. (Hence “annulment”).

When Jesus talks about a marriage being unlawful, it is understood that He is speaking about those who are going through the first transformation: that is, about pagans who have entered the Jewish faith but have three, four, or possibly even more wives. Anything beyond the first is unlawful. That’s what Jesus is talking about. Or when someone was forced to marry—that’s unlawful. The Catholic Church simply applies the principle Jesus gave. So, if someone enters into marriage with no intention of being faithful—then, yes, that could be a problem. But that’s different than someone “falling” out of love. The marriage is lawful—meaning, God has joined it—and man cannot divide that. Here, the second transformation is imperative: “love one another as I have loved you.”

*          *          *

Here we arrive, then, at the primo problem of our culture. The problem is not only that our culture does not embrace the first transformation (law), but precisely because it no longer embraces law, it no longer understands love. Love, in our culture, is erroneously reconciled with killing an infant or an elderly person. But that’s not love!—we cannot both love and kill a person. Love, in our culture, is erroneously reconciled with disregarding the Sabbath (“I don’t need religion to love God”); and so on. The “love” that our culture passes off is a contradictory house built on sand.

This is why our Lord has come. This is why our culture needs a Cardinal Burke out there. For both law and love are united in Jesus. This Jesus who comes to transform us in both. Hence: “I have come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill” and “unless your righteousness exceeds that the of the Pharisees”—in sum “love one another as I have loved you” and “Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.”

So, we who struggle with sins against the law and against charity—it is for us that the Lord has come: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” He wants to transform us. That’s His business. That’s His saving grace. And He is making that offer to you today.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Our Lady of Lourdes - Homily for 1st Solemn High Mass

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Flores apparuérunt in terra nostra. The flowers appear on the earth.

These words are from the Song of Songs and we heard them sung this morning during the Gradual. They tell us that as Jesus approaches, the winter comes to an end. As Jesus passes by, it is as though His every step melts the snow and He frees the flowers that were somehow hidden underneath. The flowers appear on the earth.

At the heart of the apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes is the miracle of the spring, the flowing waters that renew the earth. Holy Mary asked Bernadette to kneel and in faith to dig beneath the surface of the Grotto. As Bernadette acted in faith, the pure waters came forth and that which was hidden underneath became visible.

The spring would prove miraculous and a source of healing for many—the snow and winter of illness would melt away and the joy of health in body and soul would bloom.

Since Bernadette’s child-like trust in Mary’s love, thousands if not millions of pilgrims have visited the shrine at Lourdes. I am blessed to be one of them.

And I have found that there are two ways to visit this (and every Marian) shrine: the first is from faith, that humble approach that may not necessarily understand all of the mystery, but which believes something is there; and which so opens itself in receptivity for whatever God has in store for it. The experience is peaceful and often sublime.

The second way is everything else: the curious approach that comes to take something away and a picture of the event; the simply rational approach that comes to solve a mystery; the modern approach that wants a miracle on-demand and leaves wondering why it didn’t happen for them.

For ourselves, I know that there are many who are here who are attending their first Solemn High Mass. For me, I am offering it for the very first time. It is very beautiful and yet a very interesting thing. So much seems to be hidden beneath the surface. Indeed, many will at some point say, “I’m lost. Where are we? I don’t understand." This is totally ok and should be expected—for are we not celebrating “divine mysteries”?

The key is to approach with a faith that is ok and humbled by hidden-ness. That is to say: to spend time at this Holy Mass not trying to simply understand it and in a way conquer it, or even less to be like a tourist that tells Facebook friends of the novelty—but to say to Jesus, “I trust you. Even though I do not understand. I know you are here. And I am here with you. I long to see your face.”

In this way, the waters of Lourdes heal us even now; for they remind us of Bernadette’s simple, child-like faith that trusted in the Motherly guidance of Mary, and which in turn led to the opening and freeing of the miraculous spring. Yes, there is something hidden beneath the surface here. And it is faith that tells us that as Jesus approaches, what is hidden shall soon be seen: The flowers appear on the earth.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Light in the Cosmos - Homily for the 5th Sunday in OT (A)

This homily borrows heavily from Peter Kreeft's Lecture, "Lost in the Cosmos"

On the ancient temple of Apollo at Delphi there was an inscription made famous by Socrates: it said: “Know Thyself.” This inscription presupposed two questions: first, who are you? And, second, how would you know who you are?

*          *          *

In our modern world, it is a strange paradox that many people know more about the arts and sciences than they do about themselves. Some astronomers, for example, know more about the universe than they do their soul. The same can be said of any profession, really. What is interesting is that, today, many people know more about current events than they do themselves. Many can tell you all about the complicated dynamics of the Middle East, but when asked whether they have a soul, they respond: “I don’t know.”

Often, we in the modern world think we are smarter than those who came before us. Ancients, for example, made the mistake of trying to understand the cosmos by myths instead of science. They turned things (like the sea) into persons and so personalized the universe. We know better: the sea is a thing, not a person. But modern man took those conclusions too far and deduced that persons are simply things.

This deduction overlooked a very simple truth that we learned as children, that while there are similarities between things and persons, there is also a fundamental difference: a Person is a “you,” a “me”—and not simply an “it.”  We are a part of nature—and there is something about us that is separate from it—something that is super-natural (literally, something above the regular order of “things”).

And so Jesus tells us: “You are the light of the world.” This is not simply a moral exhortation. It is also a statement about who we are. You are the light of the world—you are not simply another object or another thing in the world. Indeed, there is something about you that illuminates the world. Hence, you are its light.

The discovery of who you are, therefore, is predicated upon having a way to illuminate the illumination. We need more than the scientific method to tell us who we are, because that can only tell us about the natural side of things. We need a way of thinking that can know the supernatural light found in Persons. This higher way of thinking is called wisdom.

It is wisdom that helps us to know who we are. It is wisdom that tells us “You are the light of the world.” It is wisdom we are looking for when we are trying to process, understand, and judge current events. However, it is precisely wisdom that is lacking in our world. Because many lack wisdom, many see the human person and the solutions to his problems as a great unknown.

*          *          *

In his fictional book, “Lost in the Cosmos,” Walker Percy weaves a tale of a post-apocalyptic world where a remnant of humanity departs Earth in a space craft towards the system Alpha-Centauri, looking for a new home. Upon reaching the system, the space craft is told to halt. The Alpha-Centaurians wish to judge the danger that the Earthlings may pose to them.

In their wisdom, Alpha-Centaurians have found that the cosmos contains three species of intelligence which they call C-1s, C-2s, and C-3s. C-1s are innocent, unfallen, and harmless. C-2s are fallen—alienated from themselves, God, each other, and nature, and prone to selfishness, competition, and violence. C-3s are simply C-2s but who have come to know themselves, become of aware of their predicament, and asked for help—C-3s realize the need for repentance, and humility—which is the beginning of wisdom.

The Alpha-Centaurians determine through some significant and probing questions that Earthlings are not C-1s. Then they ask: “Have you asked for help?” The Earthlings have no idea what that could mean. Then the Alpha-Centaurians realize that the Earthings are C-2s, not C-3s. Permission to land is denied. The last humans die in orbit.

*          *          *

I tell that story not as an attempt to address the immigration issue by some kind of back door. Rather, it is an attempt to address all of our current issues: gender confusion, the definition of marriage, the determination of when life begins, the world’s tendency towards war… All of these stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of who we are precisely because it is wisdom—that supernatural help to our supernatural person—that has been rejected by modern man.

The modern-day philosopher Peter Kreeft rightly points out: the road to hell is not paved with good intentions, but with self-help—to say, “I don’t need a Savior, I don’t need anyone telling me what I need to do. I don’t need anyone telling me who I am.” And that’s a bad position to be in because another wise man, Jesus Christ, said ““I didn’t come to call the righteous, I came to call sinners.” Wisdom reminds us, therefore, that the only people that Jesus didn’t come to save are those who think they don’t need saving. Ironically, those are precisely the ones who are lost.

*          *          *

When I consider, therefore, the current issues and surrounding world reaction, I turn to wisdom and she counsels me, saying: “Fear not him who is only able to destroy the body. I will tell you who to fear: fear him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell.” In other words, do not fear the bombs of terrorism—for bombs only destroy the body. Rather, fear the philosophies of this world that lead to the destruction of the soul.

I mean not to take anything away from those authentic and productive conversations that are being had concerning immigration and other civic matters, but I think Americans—and really, the world—at large should be all the more concerned about its blind assimilation of philosophies and moralities that are foreign to our dignity and which extinguish our supernatural light (or, as Jesus notes: salt losing its flavor). The most destructive of which are secularism, doubt, and practical atheism. These are the bombs that are destroying souls.  And these are particularly insidious because they aren’t, for the most part, carried in by terrorists or immigrants—they are carried in by high school and university professors. And sometimes, God forgive us, by priests and parents and close friends.

*          *          *

You are the light of the world. This means, 1) you have a supernatural dignity that can only be revealed and known by a higher order of knowledge called wisdom. And 2) this light will point out to the world the narrow way through our current problems—and that the ways is indeed narrow and that to navigate it successfully, humanity needs supernatural light, needs wisdom, needs God. In other words, we need to ask for help. This asking is called prayer and is accompanied by the humility of repentance. You’ll notice that this approach is dramatically different than the riots, rash judgments, and emotional reactions swirling out there. Wisdom is a light shining in the darkness—and that is who you are. Wisdom for the Gentiles, light of the world.

In a particular way, I pray for our youth, that you will surround yourselves with good friends whose light of faith is bright. I pray that our Lord protects you from secularism. And I pray that He give you the fortitude of the Holy Spirit to let your light shine before all to see—and especially when the world has grown dark.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Amazing Grace - Hour-Long Talk Given to MOMs (2017)

Good evening! It is a pleasure to speak to the MOMs group again and on such a wonderful topic as “Grace.” Actually this really speaks about the quality of this group: you are wanting solid food. That’s awesome and it makes me a proud papa.

Grace Defined

Grace, simply defined by the Catechism, is:

favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God (CCC 1996).

Grace is something that “perfects the soul” (CCC 2000) and thus enables it not only to live with God (cf CCC 2000), but to actually make us “partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life” (CCC 1996).

In other words, grace is a gift that God gives; it is a gift that we receive; and this gift, in its highest form, can result in us becoming like gods—or as Paul says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me” (Gal 2:20).

The Image of Water

Perhaps an image will help us here. The best image to describe grace (that I know of) is that of water. I have a few plants sitting on the windowsill in my office. Sometimes, they get very droopy. And why? Because I haven’t watered them. So, I get a glass of water and I pour water into the soil. At that point, the water disappears into the soil. Nothing happens.

Or, at least, not immediately—not typically. Usually, it takes a few hours and my plants start perking up again. But how did this happen? We know it was the water. But when it was in the soil, there was something invisible going on in there. So it is with grace; it is invisible how it works, but we see its effects. That’s what Jesus is talking about when He talks about “bearing fruit”—He wants to see the effects of His grace. That’s why He had the conversation about the fig tree—it was being watered but not bearing any fruit; the soul is receiving grace, but where are the effects?

Now, I said that we usually don’t see the effects immediately. Usually, the effects in the soul is a slow, habitual growth—like the trees in front of the church here. We don’t see them grow every day, but come back in ten years and you will notice the growth. So too, the soul: typically, we don’t see our growth in holiness day-to-day, but look back on your life after a year or so, and you’ll likely notice a change.

Sometimes, however, the effect of grace is immediate. If my plants have become very, very dry, when I pour water into them, they perk up immediately. Sometimes the effect of grace is similar: St. Paul and his horse; St. Augustine and his book; …

Scriptural Considerations: The Well and The Vine

One of my favorite stories is the Samaritan Woman at the Well (John 4). She is coming to the well to draw water—perhaps for bathing, perhaps for cooking, perhaps just because she’s thirsty. There, she meets Jesus. And what does He ask of her? He says, “Give me a drink.”

What is He asking for? Sure, it’s water. He’s thirsty. But, ultimately, He is asking for humanity’s love—for a response to His love. (He will ask again when He is on the Cross). The woman doesn’t understand why He is talking to Her and Jesus responds: “If you knew the gift of God”—huh, grace!—“and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

In other words, Jesus is saying, “I am God. I am asking you for your love. And all you need to do is ask me and I will fill you with the gift of my divine life”—living water—grace.

So, Jesus reveals Himself as the source of grace. Please note, then: grace comes because He gives it, not because we earn it. We must be very careful of the heresy of Pelagianism—that’s the heresy that says that our salvation depends entirely on us. Salvation is not entirely dependent on us. Indeed, it is firstly a gift of God. Even more, if we should respond, that response too is a grace: “Beloved: if we love, it is because God loves us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19).

There is a tension, then: salvation is tied up with God’s initiative (His grace) and with our response. I like the image that Jesus gives here. He says, “I am the vine, you are the branches” (Jn 15:5). He then says “remain in me” and that the one who remains in Him will “bear much fruit”—why? Because the one who responds to God’s gift will continue to receive the water of grace that flows from the vine to the branches.

A branch that is not connected to the vine will die. So too, every branch that is, first came from the vine. And, even more, every branch bears fruit does so precisely because it remains connected to the vine and the waters that flow from it. Therefore, Jesus summarizes the role and need for grace by saying in that very same image: “Without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).

In other words, everything is grace. God’s initiative, our response, this moment, this breath, … everything. It is all a gift. This is actually one of the fruits of being “poor in spirit.” When we are poor in spirit— that is, when we are humble and realize that God is King and Father and GOD (and we are not)—when we start to realize how dependent we are on Him for everything, we start to realize that everything is a gift. This is why God promises the poor in spirit: theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

What Grace Does & The Power of the Sacraments

What does grace do? Well, we have already noted that it leads to salvation, to love, and to bearing fruit. Let’s unpack that a little more.

Grace illuminates the mind—wisdom, understanding, knowledge. It strengthens the will (we start to love from Love). It helps to tame the passions and give us victories in temptation. (Grace is connected to victory over sin—as we see with Mary who is full of grace. Precisely because she is full of grace, she is empty of sin). The more grace we have, the less sin. And, grace upon grace (!): “where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more” (Romans 5:20). That means that, just when we think we and the world are doing more sin than is reversible, God shows that He is all the more powerful and generous. There is always more grace than sin! And that’s awesome—because we can often think that the world is really, really sinful, and we start to lose hope. Well, there is never a reason to despair. We can always hope! (And that’s a grace!)

Grace helps us to live the moral life. Oftentimes, I hear people talk about the Ten Commandments as though they were ideals or as though they were impossible. When the disciples were faced with the fact that Jesus had raised the bar on the Commandments (Mt 19)—eg. not only to avoid stealing, but that it was even easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven—they cry out: “Then who can be saved?” Living it out seems impossible! (Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, had the same thought when the angel told him how Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife, would have a child in her old age: Zechariah said in his heart “that’s impossible!” (cf Lk 1).

How does God respond to this? “Nothing is impossible with God” (Mt 19:26 and Lk 1:37).

We often think the same way: “I can’t do this!” Often, when I am talking to engaged couples during their marriage prep class, and I tell them about the new life that God is calling them to, they get this look of fear on their eyes as though to say, “I can’t do this!” And they are right! They can’t do this!

They need God’s grace. They need the Sacrament of Marriage.

I like to remind people about the graces of their sacraments. We often forget how much grace we have received. Have you ever thought about that? How much grace have you received from the Sacraments? Think for a moment about all of the Holy Communions you have received. … That’s a lot of grace, isn’t it? I mean, we are receiving God there, right?

When we are feeling like we can’t do it, like we can’t “adult” very well, we need to call on those graces. Call on the grace of your Confirmation. Call on the grace of those Holy Communions. Call on the grace of your baptism.

Do you want to know how powerful the grace of your baptism is? Look at a holy religious sister—imagine her for a moment.  … Was there a special sacrament that she received to become a sister?  … No. So, where does this come from? What makes her a religious sister? … It’s her baptism. She is simply responding to and living out all of the graces that she received in her baptism.

The Four Waters & Walking in Grace

There is so much more we could talk about tonight. Let’s talk a little about receiving grace.

St. Theresa Avila gives a great image that connects God giving grace and us receiving grace. It is her image of the Four Waters. In each case, there is water to be had and the person is going to receive that water. But the amount that they receive is based on God’s initiative and the person’s capacity. It is ultimately an image of the soul’s development in a life of prayer. Here’s how it works:

In the First Water, a person draws water with a bucket. It’s a lot of hard work and they only get a bucket-full. So, too, when a person first begins to pray, their disposition or capacity may be small and prayer seems like a lot of hard work for so small a grace.

In the Second Water, a person draws water from a small brook by means of a water wheel. It’s a lot less work and there is more water to be had than a well.

In the Third, a person draws water from an aqueduct—gravity pulls the water from a great reservoir. Very little work and even more water to be had.

In the Fourth, a person simply stands in a downpour: so much water and no work at all.

What we are getting at is that as we develop in our life of prayer, so too will our ability to receive and the ease to receive; so, too, God will give according to however He wishes to give. But there is a superabundance that awaits.

That said, our disposition—that is, our attitude, our approach—to receiving grace is so important. Being open to God’s grace may bring us a greater return. For example, there is a place in Europe called Medjugorje. You may have heard about it as the place where Mary may be appearing. I’m not going to comment on that because we wait for the Church’s judgment there. Whether Mary is appearing or not, there have been many people who have made the long journey there, a very long pilgrimage, and as they walk the grounds and pray at Holy Mass, there is a very real sense that they expect the miraculous to happen. Their hearts are wide open for something great to happen. Many people have come back from those pilgrimages not talking about how Mary appeared to them, but how they felt a great sense of faith and a much, much greater love for the Holy Mass: “I’ve never gotten so much out of Mass," they say.

Many will say that this is the result of Medjugorje and Mary’s apparitions. Again, I will not comment on that. But I will say this: when we are at Holy Mass, where are we? We are at Calvary; we are at the gates of heaven; and so on. There is only one Mass, after all. The graces don’t come from the city “Medjugorje” any more than they come from the city “Cottleville.” So why do so many people come back from the pilgrimage saying they got so much out of Mass?

Expectation. They are disposed. They want it; they believe that it is going to happen; they are wide open and expecting miracles.

I tend to think that if we approached Holy Mass at our local parishes in the same way as we would if we were on pilgrimage at a holy site, we would see many of the fruits—miraculous fruits, even—that we see at those places. For, isn’t the place of Mass—whether Fatima or Cottleville—holy?

Walking in grace, therefore, means to be expecting grace. Not presuming, but confident. Open and knowing that the miraculous is at our feet.

Getting More Out of Holy Mass

A good disposition, therefore, is very important. For Holy Mass, this means arriving early—at least ten minutes—and quieting down before Mass. You can’t turn a freighter around on a dime. So too, if we’ve been going all week a hundred miles-per-hour, we can’t expect to turn that off in an instant and “be present.” The freighter’s momentum continues pulling it in the same direction, even though the rudder is turned. Thus, we get easily distracted at Mass: “Gotta hit Dierberg’s…” and so on.

(This same principle applies in daily prayer. It’s really hard to stop on a dime and be totally recollected. We have to be patient here and realize there will be some distractions. Note them and then let them go. But, also, it means that we need to cultivate a more peaceful presence throughout the day. And perhaps in order to do that we must admit that we are too busy. Or that we fill our day with too much noise. …)

When we receive the Sacraments, we must therefore take our time. We can’t rush.

Also, in preparing, we need to do our homework. For Holy Mass, take a moment to read the readings sometime in the week and soak with them. If you get distracted at Mass, follow along with the readings and prayers in the book. Sing—especially if you don’t feel like it (singing can change and open a soul in an instant!).

A word about children: I know children can be distracting (personally, I think they're great and I think it's totally ok for them to be running up and down the aisles like they do in some parishes in Mexico City), but I know it is hard in the pew to be prayerful and trying to keep them from spontaneously combusting. Sometimes, we need to leave the little ones (pre-K) home with dad and go to Mass, and then switch: he goes, you stay. Sometimes, however, we just need to be ok with inconveniencing our culture which doesn't like kids very much....

Ok, back to disposing the soul to be more open at Mass.... Have a prayer to say when you walk down the aisle before communion. If you wish to receive kneeling, go ahead. If you are distracted when you are back at your pew, have a holy card to look at and pray with. And, for all that is good and holy, do not leave early. In fact, stay late. No one, when they are on pilgrimage, quickly leaves a church. They linger. And they pray. And that’s where the real fruit starts to grow and mature.

People have received thousands of communions, but very little grace because they don’t linger. The soil has become so hardened that simply pouring water over it no longer means that the water will sink in. Those souls will have to be tilled—broken—before they will receive again. Let us pray!

For Confession, take several moments and read through a good Examination of Conscience. Mechanically-confessed confessions are definitely forgiven (so long as there is at least some sorrow for sin). Those confessions that have been well-prepared and reflected, however, the soul having opened itself to receive the downpour—those will bear lasting fruit. And probably the tears that heal.

Hidden Graces: They Were There All the Time!

Use sacramentals: kiss crucifixes, don’t simply have them hanging on walls; kiss medals, don’t just simply have them as another piece of jewelry; use Rosaries, don’t simply have them as another thing that says “Hey I’m Catholic” swinging from your car’s rear-view mirror. Use it. Have holy water fonts in your house; use them and keep them filled. Sprinkle your children’s rooms and beds with it and blessed salt. Bless your children with holy water. Listen to Gregorian chant (it’s a sacramental).

Respond quickly to promptings of the Holy Spirit. Strike while the iron is hot. When you ask your children to do something, you expect them to do it now. So, when your heavenly Father asks you to do something, shouldn’t we, His children, respond with even greater expedience? This is especially important when it comes to fighting temptation. Jesus always gives us the grace to fend off temptation. Reality, however, is that we dally about it. Remember: so many statues of Mary have her—bare footed, mind you—crushing the head of a serpent. Have you ever tried to do this? I haven’t, but I am certain that you can’t be dainty about it. You have to be decisive and quick. Crush the head of the serpent! - Bam!

As we grow, we will come to realize that Crosses are graces. This is hard, especially when we are living a more comfortable life. For a person who lives an uncomfortable life, however, Crosses are easier to carry. Crosses are blessings because Crosses win salvation. When I visit the sick or the homebound, I remind them that they are sitting on a winning lottery ticket. They just have to cash it in. So too, when we are suffering or experiencing a frustration or disappointment, we simply have to turn to the Father and do what Jesus does on the Cross: make an offering of love. That offering wins grace—just as Jesus won grace for us. Indeed, we “complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions” (Col 1:24)—and what was lacking? Nothing—but our participation in them.

That said, when others receive a blessing or a grace, rejoice in that. It is a grace to rejoice in others’ blessings and exaltations and so on. In our culture, however, people are envious when others receive something good and we say, “Well, why didn’t I get that?” I think of Mary and Elizabeth: when Mary visited Elizabeth, did Elizabeth become envious and say, “Why did you get to be the Mother of the Messiah? I only get to be the Mother of a Prophet—and the last prophet at that! Why wasn’t I chosen… It’s always Mary… first she’s full of grace and now this….”

We are part of the same body. Let us a rejoice in the graces God has given to us. This means, too, that we must stop comparing. We must stop comparing where we are in the spiritual life and where others are. Be as holy as God calls you to be. Ask for that grace. Don’t get discouraged. Ok, so you are not a religious sister. That doesn’t mean that you’re not holy. God has given that sister that grace to be a sister—what is the holiness God is calling you to? Ask Him.

Amazing Grace. Not Cheap Grace.

Finally, let us remember that there is no such thing as cheap grace. Grace is won by the Cross of Jesus Christ and the suffering of His saints. “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church,” said Tertullian. If someone gave you a million dollars, you would thank that person. Well, God’s gifts are even greater treasures. So, let us thank Him. For, “where your heart is, there will your treasure be” (Mt 6:21).

Because we know that there is no cheap grace, that every grace is a great treasure beyond price, we must never grow indifferent, cold as if this didn’t matter. Ask for that grace to be grateful. We must never grow thankless, too selfish as if it’s just presumed. Ask for that grace to be grateful.

And then we will understand the words that are said at the Mass: “thanksgiving itself is your gift” and “in heaven, we give you thanks with all the angels and saints…”

The Wonderful World of Indulgences

A handout and a brief explanation on Indulgences was given. This video provides a good explanation.

Here is that handout:

General Requirements to Receive a Plenary Indulgence:

1)   Do the work of the indulgence (see examples below)
2)   The person must have received Holy Communion within 20 days (before or after) the work of the indulgence;
A person must receive Holy Communion once per every indulgence to be received
3)   The person must have received Reconciliation within 20 days (before or after) the work of the indulgence;
Only one (1) sacramental confession is required for multiple indulgences when those indulgences are being received within twenty (20) days of each other;
4)   The person must offer prayers for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff (the Pope). Saying the Our Father, the Hail Mary, or the Creed is sufficient—once per each plenary indulgence
5)   The person must have the interior disposition of complete detachment from sin, even venial sin;
6)   There is a limit: only one per day*
7)   Indulgences can only be applied to one’s self. However, they can be given to another but only when that person has died.

Examples of Plenary Indulgences:

General activity:
1)      adoration for ½ hour
2)      devout reading of Sacred Scripture for ½ hour
3)      devout praying of the Stations of the Cross
4)      praying the Rosary in a church with a family or association (partial if at home)
5)      spending three days on a retreat
6)      listening to preaching at a parish mission (partial when at the usual parish mass)

Special Activities
1)      Renewing your Baptismal Promises on the anniversary of your Baptism
2)      Devoutly attending a First Communion Mass
3)      When you make your First Communion
4)      When you devoutly attend a Priest’s First Mass
5)      When you receive the Apostolic Pardon (typically near death)

Connected to Lent:
1)      Prayer before a Crucifix after communion on Friday’s in Lent (partial on days throughout the year)
2)      Praying the Tantum Ergo on Holy Thursday
3)      Adoring the Cross on Good Friday
4)      Renewing your Baptismal Promises on the Easter Vigil

Connected to other liturgical dates:
1)      Praying the Te Deum on New Year’s Eve (Dec 31)
2)      Praying the Veni Creator on New Year’s Day (Jan 1)
3)      Making a public act of Reparation to the Sacred Heart on the Sol. of the Sacred Heart
4)      Making a public act of Dedication to Christ the King on the Sol. of Christ the King
5)      Visiting a cemetery and praying for the dead at any time during the first week of November (all other days throughout the year, this is partial)

Connected to Parish Churches
1)      Visiting any parish church on its feast (name) day. Eg: Go to St. Joseph on any feast of St. Joseph; go to Immaculate Conception on Dec 8; etc.
2)      Visiting any parish church on August 2nd (Feast of the Portiuncula… google it :)
3)      Visiting any parish church on the date of its dedication (for St. Joseph Cottleville, this is October 24th)—typically, the church’s cornerstone gives this date.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Light of the Nations - Homily for the 3rd Sunday in OT (A)

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…”

What is this light? It is a two-fold light: on the one hand it is the natural light of reason, of logos (Logic); on the other hand, it is the divine light of Christ, who is also called the Logos.

This light is given to the Church, to us, who in turn is—as the Second Vatican Council put it—the Lumen Gentium: the “Light of the Nations.” Because this light of Christ is given to us, Jesus in His great Sermon on the Mount said: “You are the light of the world” and that we must not hide that light “under a bushel basket” (Mt 5:14).

Yet, it is a struggle to let the light of Christ and of natural reason shine in the world today. Let’s talk about that.

The Light of the Nations

In our American culture, one of the reasons why we sometimes shy away from talking about Church teaching in the Public Square is because there is an exaggerated idea of what “Separation of Church and State” really means. Most people think it is absolute—that is, that the Church may not say anything or have any impact on politics. But, as we saw in the inauguration exercises on this Friday last, the separation of Church and State is not absolute: we head the name of God almighty being invoked; we saw prayers being offered in public; we listened as Sacred Scripture was read aloud. This wasn’t simply because a Republican was being sworn in, either. Those who know their history will know that Democratic presidents have also invoked the name of the Lord and His blessings. So, we must not be afraid of the “Separation of Church and State.” It is not absolute. We can shine the light of Christ in this land.

Another reason that Catholics sometimes struggle to let their light shine is from a well-intentioned heart that doesn’t want to offend others or to “impose our morality.” I understand that: we want people to be able to choose for themselves. But what parent, if they saw their child about to place its hand on the hot stove, would simply remain quiet? What parent would say “I’m personally opposed to my child placing its hand on the stove, but if it really wants to, then who am I to say otherwise?” We would all say something! Pontius Pilate was personally opposed to crucifying prophets and what did his silence bring? Many Southerners were personally opposed to slavery and what did their silence bring?

This arrives at a crucial point: many Catholics don’t think they have the moral authority to speak objectively about what society at large is to do or not do. Who are we to say? But that’s precisely what Jesus has given us the authority to speak about; the Church’s voice is not one among many, but is truly the Mother for our world

And here is another crucial point: the laws of Christ and His Church are not simply prohibitive and restrictive—they are liberating. Take, for example, the 7th and 10th commandments: “You shall not steal” and “You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.” What would our culture look like if we disregarded these? Our culture already kind of does: there is rampant envy; keeping up with the Jones’; fraud; stealing—we have become enslaved to the pursuit of comforts and goods. And are people joyful when they are envious? Is the possession-enslaved culture joyful?

Our culture needs the light of the Church. In a way, she has a right to it. When Jesus chose the Apostles, He commissioned them as ambassadors of His Kingdom—a Kingdom with laws and citizens just like our own—and commanded that they “Go… and teach all nations…” To bring His light. For, where the light of Christ is, there is freedom. And where there is freedom, there is joy!

We must never be afraid or ashamed to speak authoritatively about morals in our culture, brothers and sisters. This light that we have is the Way, the Truth, and the Life—and our world needs it!

The Light of Reason and the Magical Scissors

And not only does it need the Light of Christ in the Church, it also needs a restoration of the Light of Reason.

You have seen the recent protests and the barbaric expressions of anger. We have seen the Woman’s March saying that an essential part of a woman’s right is the right to kill a child. I have had many conversations with people who support such things and they fall into two camps: the emotional and the rational. The emotional cannot be reasoned with. Thankfully, the rational are still open to dialogue. To them, I asked why: why can we kill innocent humans?

The underlying argument for most is that becoming human and having the right to life comes as a “gradual process”—in other words, only as a human develops does it receive the full right to life. A not-yet-fully developed human, like that in the womb, as it is not fully developed, does not yet have those full rights. The underlying argument speaks of it as a gradual process and not as “sudden” because, if it were sudden, then the sudden change must either be at conception or at birth. And it is hard for them to argue that the change for rights comes suddenly at birth because we can easily point out that at T-minus 30 seconds before birth and T-plus 30 seconds after birth, the only change in the “thing” is that a scissors has cut it from its mother. So…. does the scissors have a magical power that suddenly gives the right to life?

So they say that we gradually become a human and therefore gradually have the right to life.

To which I respond: so when does that fullness happen? Surely it doesn’t happen in infancy, right, because the infant is not fully developed. So… we can kill infants then, right?

Or what about teenagers? Let’s be honest: they aren’t fully developed; what with their disproportionately long legs and arms, rollercoaster hormones, and ability to sleep for 14 hours at a time, I wonder whether they are more mutant than human. They aren’t fully developed—so they don’t fully have the right to life either, right? So we can kill them, too, right?

So, when does it happen? When does a person fully have the right to life? Is it age 33? Is that when we have the most right to life?

And what happens when we “grow old” and start to “lose it”? Are we becoming less human? And, because of that, do we have less a right to life? Should the elderly be able to be killed? And not just the elderly, but can’t we euthanize any adult that has “lost it”? Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, wanted to kill the mentally disabled, calling them the most urgent problem of her day.

So where is the line to be drawn? And who gets to draw that line? And why does that person get to draw it?

Some have an answer to that. I’ll come back to that.

In full disclosure, our culture draws the line wherever it wants because then it can do whatever it wants.

But…. saying that we are killing a human being is inconvenient. After all, it’s hard to kill people we know as people—people that we know are innocent. (We would have to have a pretty hard heart to do that). So the culture has to dehumanize them. (This is why pro-choice lobbyists and lawmakers absolutely hate it when pro-lifers show sonograms of babies doing baby things in the womb. It humanizes them. See last year's Dorito's Baby SuperBowl commercial. Drove them nuts!).

So, dehumanize babies. Or infants. Or elderly. Or Jews. Pick any group you want. Or individual. Pick a President-- Trump or Obama-- or their followers. None are fully human. So.... eventually it can be justified that any of them can be killed.

Much, much more can be said here, but I’ve found that in order to abort the young or the old, a person must have to abort his intellect first. To hold on to euthanasia and abortion and any kind of killing of innocent human life requires not only a person to plug their ears when the Church speaks, but to blind themselves to the light of reason. (Admittedly, this is the primary reason why I am very concerned about the wave of emotionalism and group-think that is plaguing our land).

Peter Kreeft’s Deer Hunting Analogy

I said that some have an answer to my question about where the line should be drawn. They say, “Well, we don’t know either way. We just don’t know. So you can’t be so black-and-white. Because of that and because of the situation of the mother, we need to let them abort.”

Two things. First: notice that the pro-choice person is saying “The mom has no choice but to abort.” So, if she has no choice, then how is that a choice? Abortion, de facto, admits a hopelessness. And that’s a dark, dark landscape. Catholics admit and indeed must continue to cultivate a much brighter and hopeful option.

Second: notice the logic: “We don’t know… therefore, we need to let them abort.”

Peter Kreeft has a great answer to this. It’s his deer hunting analogy. It goes like this:

Say you and your buddy are out hunting deer. And while you are out there, a bush moves. And you see a brown shoulder like a deer. Do you shoot? … Now, you remember that your friend was wearing a brown coat. (You had laughed at him for this. Hunters wear orange, after all, but here he is, wearing brown). So, wait: maybe it’s him. Maybe he’s that brown shoulder in the bush. Do you shoot?  …  Of course you don’t shoot! You don’t shoot precisely because you don’t know. When you don’t know, you don’t shoot. The hunter’s principle, like the moral principle, is that we are to always take the safer course. Likewise, then, a person who claims that they don’t know when a human life begins, precisely because they don’t know, shouldn’t abort.

President Trump and the Inadequacy of a Purely Political Solution

A final thought: I know that there is some talk that the recent change in the Executive Branch of our government will bring about a change in the legality of abortion. If President Trump finds a way to overturn Roe vs. Wade, that would be wonderful. But it still would not alter the reality that we would need to change minds and hearts. If minds and hearts do not receive the light of reason and the light of the Church, then those hearts and minds will continue to walk in darkness—and they will elect political leaders that will change the laws back again.

This is why the separation of Church and State cannot be absolute and why the Church will always speak on matters of law: because the issue of the right to life (and others like it) does not and indeed cannot have a purely political solution. The solution will ultimately require conversion, repentance, open arms to receive them all, and the light of grace to accompany the effort.

This grace and its challenge to change minds and hearts falls to us. That’s part of being a citizen in God’s kingdom, a kingdom meant for all—hence the name “Catholic” which means “universal.” Jesus has given us the light. We must not hide this light under any of the bushel baskets I have mentioned above. This is not a political thing; this is not a personal thing. This is a light “Lumen Gentium”—for all the nations.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…”

That light is supposed to be us.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Great Rescue Mission - Homily for the 2nd Sunday in OT (A)

Usually by this point in the year, I’ve become rather tired of winter. And seeing ice on the trees doesn’t help very much. I’m ready to go outside, ride a bike, and so on. For some of us, that tired, restless feeling is not just in the winter, but in life in general. I know of many who are feeling burned out or whose faith feels dry. Some battle the winter doldrums and feel a kind of blegh about things.

Beyond the environmental and sometimes psychological causes behind these things, there can be another reason: sometimes, we lose our meaning and mission in life.

Having a meaning and a mission in life is so important. It gives us direction, satisfaction, a general enjoyment about what we’re doing and where we are going.

But what is our mission? What is our meaning?

*          *          *

In our readings today, we see five men. Each are called, each are given a mission where they will find meaning. We see John the Baptist and Paul and Isaiah and David and… Sosthenes. (I don’t know… I assume his parents loved him…)

Each one of these were called. Paul was called to be an apostle; Isaiah, a prophet; John, the forerunner of the Christ. Notice: John the Baptist wasn’t called to be a writer of the Gospels, nor an apostle. He was called to just do one thing and do it well: announce and then point out the Messiah. That’s it. And there was great meaning in that mission.

For us, we often think that we have to do everything. We see the world and the Church and, to some degree our families—we see that some things are a mess. And we want to do something about that. And we also have our jobs. Aaaaand our responsibilities at home. Aaaand trying to pray. And who wouldn’t get burned out by trying to do it all?

Sometimes, we just have to return to the basics and ask, “For what purpose has God placed me on this earth?” And God has an answer for all of us. Each of us has a mission. And in that mission we will find great satisfaction and enjoyment in its meaning.

*          *          *

Before we can talk about our mission, however, let us for a moment remember that we are many parts in one body. Whatever our mission is, we must first recall that we will need to work together as one—as one body with many parts. In the body, a foot is not a hand and a hand is not a heart. But each is essential and has a mission. So, too, in our Church and the world, each of us is essential and has a mission—and we need to stop trying to do what God gives others to do and do what we need to do.

If there is going to be harmony and growth in our lives, our homes, our parish, and society, we need to see correct order and functioning of each person in the mission God gives them. Again: Paul an apostle, David a king, Sosthenes a humble worker, …

Consider for a moment those men as part of a great military force.

Any good and powerful military will have its proper divisions while remaining united. Each person knows their skill, their talent, and employs it well for the victory. Generals that try to be a common infantryman and a common infantryman that pretends to be a general are not only failing in their mission, but they are doing harm to the body at large. We can say the same about the Church.

For example: the religious are like the heavy artillery whose prayers and sacrifices come from the hidden waters or mountains and provide us cover and the ground on which to advance. Without the artillery—without the religious—there is no victory.

The priests are like the lieutenants who help lead and do so oftentimes on the front lines of the battle—and unto death.

The married and the single in the world—well, their roles are as varied and essential as the prophets, priests, and kings that we see in today’s readings. For example:

The man who sits in the boardroom and who advances an economic strategy for his company that upholds the dignity of the human person and the living wage of workers—or the scientist or the doctor who stand up for the eternal moral principles that guard the beginnings of life and its end… These men are the Navy Seals in this military: cunning, skilled, knowledgeable, and effective.

The man who works among the vulgar swearing or the sexual bragging of his coworkers—and yet remains pure and begins to pray the Rosary for them—that man is the Marine winning God’s glory for himself and his brothers.

The person who is in the hospital or at home, sick and suffering, but nevertheless turns to God and says, “Father, turn this suffering into grace for some soul out there in need of mercy”—that person is the medic bringing the saving grace and the strength of God’s healing balm to the weak, wounded, and in need of rescue.

The teenager—the teenager who invites a friend to the faith, who speaks the truth at school, who chooses virtue at the party, and then comes home and does their duty—this is the undercover spy that the world. Never. Sees. Coming. And you’re going to change the world!

*          *          *

This is the New Evangelization. At the heart of the New Evangelization is the call for us to return to the basics—to see the talents and the mission that God has given us and to faithfully live them out in our daily service to the Gospel and the Kingdom of God to which God calls us.

And to that call we respond as obedient sons and daughters: “Here I am, Lord! I come to do your will!”

At the heart of this is that priests become priests again and men become men again. Priests aren’t called to do everything. We aren’t called to be business men or orators or psychologists—although we will make use of such things. Priests are called to bless their people, to absolve, to offer sacrifice, to teach, to protect, and—if necessary—to die for the flock. His mission is clear and simple: be a shepherd. And what great meaning there is there!

So, too, for the Catholic man. His mission is simple: to bring his family and his co-workers to heaven; to stand up for the True and the Good; and to die for it if necessary. In other words: to pick up the Cross in life and to carry it into battle. And there is a great battle before us—it is already claiming so many of our families and our faith!

*          *          *

Let me throw out a stat: right now, some 80% of our brothers have been neutralized on the battlefield of life. For 80% of our brothers, the battle has been overwhelming. They have lost the faith. They have lost their mission and their meaning. Radical feminism and its Gospel of Contraception have rendered them impotent. Porn and selfish pursuits have alienated them not only from the lady in their lives but from their children and even their brothers here. Poor education and absent fathers have rendered them ignorant and powerless to pass on the faith to their sons and daughters—even less to defend them. Yes, they send their kids to Catholic School or PSR, but where are they today when their General is calling them to arms? In conversation with them and as I see their skeptical look upon me, I know that they can no longer distinguish friend from foe.

This is No Man’s Land.

No Man’s Land is the middle of the battlefield where the wounded lay howling and where the dead lay rotting. That’s where our brothers are. I have many beautiful young ladies asking me: “Father, where are all the good men?” That's where they are: in No Man’s Land.

I point this out not to critique or condemn or judge or lament. But to spur us on. For, we have a great rescue mission before us today. This is our mission in the New Evangelization: to seek out and to save what was lost. Yes, this is a great rescue mission!

And it doesn’t require much from us. It just requires us to put our talents to the service of this goal. If you are good at economics or science or law, simply do that-- and do it to advance the Gospel and to witness at your work! If you are good at sitting for an hour or two in adoration of the Eucharist, then simply do that! Not everyone can sit or kneel for two hours—so do that for the glory of God! If you are suffering, suffer well for the salvation of souls. If you are a teacher… a teen… a priest… a widow… Everyone here has a talent and a mission! You are not too young nor too old to stand up and say, “Here I am, Lord! I come to do your will!”

And His Will is that we bring home that 80%.

*          *          *

And can you imagine what it would be like with them here? We would need a bigger parish church—and that’s saying something!

Take this under consideration: each one of those who are not here—each one of them has talents and a mission too. Out there in No Man’s Land, there are Apostles and Navy Seals, Scientists and Prophets, Marines and Medics, Religious and Husbands, Priests and Kings….

All of them and all of us are called to that holiness of life that shines in the darkness. A life that inspires by its virtue and its proclamation of the True.

And please note: This is NOT an ideal. This is NOT an ideal. This is NOT an ideal!

This is our duty.

It’s not Mission: Impossible. It is a mission that is already guaranteed victory by Jesus Christ, Our Savior, in whom nothing is impossible!

*          *          *

And please, please, always remember: You are not alone.

Never let yourself fall into the devil’s trap where you think that you’re the only one out there… The only one who is remaining faithful.... That you're the only one who actually believes everything that Jesus and His Church teach about fertility and family and marriage. You are not alone! You are not the only one who is praying the Rosary and going to Holy Mass. You are not the only one who is praying for you and your family.

Do not let yourself think that you’re the only one battling in this life. Because, if you start thinking that you’re the only one, you’re going to get discouraged. And you’re going to start thinking that you have to do everything. And you’re gonna get burned out. And your faith will become dry…

Remember, therefore, that by your side, you have brothers and sisters in the faith here with you now. I am with you. He *pointing to the Crucifix* is with you. The faithful at ICD and J&A—all of the parishes here in St. Louis—they are with you. In all 50 States, in all the countries of the world—from England to India, from Nigera to Korea—Catholics are praying for you and you for them. Holy angels and your guardian angels and the Archangels… the Saints, our friends!... the Blessed Mother! Ask them all for help. For they are with you!

Let us begin again this great mission. Let us use our talents for the glory of God. It is a great and glorious thing, this life is. So let us begin! Pray for me. I am praying for you.

“Grace to you. And peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”