Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Coins of Our Assent - Homily for the 29th Sunday in OT (A, 2020)

In the 1920s and 30s, G.K. Chesterton was one of the most impressive Catholic intellects in the English world. During that time, he travelled from his home in England and made two visits to the United States, even visiting our own Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in 1931. After those visits, he wrote a book entitled What I Saw in America. It is a delightful book and in the first few pages, he makes an astonishing observation.

In What I Saw in America, Chesterton observes that America is one of the few nations—if possibly the only nation at that time—that is both democratic and dogmatic. Democratic in that it is not a monarchy. Dogmatic in that its foundation—the Declaration of Independence—proclaims that there is a God from which all men are created equal and to whom men and government are responsible. 

There is, therefore, a peculiarity about America: that while there is separation of Church and State and, indeed, while there is no religious test to assume public office (as is written in Article VI of the US Constitution), America is nevertheless religious—religious not in that it holds to one particular religion or even that its elected officials and citizens believe and are affiliated with a religion, but that, at our American heart, we hold to a Creed. And that American Creed begins: “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” As that Creed focuses on God, the Creator, as the source of our rights, the American Creed can be said to be religious. 

American Catholics, for their part, hold to that American Creed while also saying another Creed that begins: “I believe in one God.” 

The important part here is that Chesterton observes that America is founded upon a Creed that has a religious tone. 

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To understand why this is important, we need to take a moment and reflect upon the nature of a Creed. 

One of the peculiarities of a Creed is that it can include everyone and yet can exclude anyone. In Catholic terms, the Catholic Creed is the fisherman’s net that can bring in fish—people—of any kind. The Catholic can be a white person or a black person, a rich person or a poor person, an old person or a young person, and so on. But the net brings them all in. Yet, that net is defined: you are either in the net or you are not in the net (you can’t be simultaneously entangled in it and also free from it). That definition or shape of the net is determined by the Creed—the Creed which is said at Mass and which is clearly articulated in its more precise definitions through the perennial teaching of the Church (readily found in the Universal Catechism). It is that definition that consequently determines who is in the net and who is not. To be Catholic, therefore, means to be in the net—which necessarily means assent to the Catholic Creed. 

In American terms (and to use Chesterton’s analogy here), to be an American means to be in the great Melting Pot. Like the fisherman’s net, anybody can be in that Melting Pot: white or black, rich or poor, old or young, foreigner or national. But to actually be in the Melting Pot means that such a person must fall inside the limits of that Pot’s shape. The shape of the Pot, like the shape of the fisherman’s net, is defined by the American Creed. Thus, to be an American, you must believe the American Creed upon which the founding of our country is based: that God created us and made us equal and so on. Interestingly, the “rite of Citizenship” to become an American citizen is, in many ways and degrees, akin to the Rite of Christian Initiation to become a Catholic. Both require the person to assent to a Creed. 

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The problem facing our culture today—both in our Nation and in our Church—is that there are those who think that they can change the Creed—Catholic or American—or, worse, to think that assent to a Creed is no longer deterministic of being a Catholic or an American. We hear people saying, “I can be a Catholic while also approving actions that are totally outside of and contrary to her Creed.” Or, in the case of an American, we hear some saying, “I can be an American while also approving actions and political systems that are totally contrary to the country’s founding.” 

These problems are, at root (whether people know it or not), an attempt to not only deform the shape of the melting pot and the fisherman’s net, but to discard them altogether: in effect, to melt down the pot itself. A simple but most important conclusion can be made here: America without her Creed is no longer America, just like Catholicism without her Creed is no longer Catholicism. 

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Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, when faced with a malicious crowd who was trying to ensnare Him in the religious and political events of the day, took a coin and said those famous words: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. And repay to God what belongs to God.” 

The key words here are “repay…” and “what belongs…” To repay means to give back what was given. And “what belongs” implies that, what was given, wasn’t mine. 

In saying this, Jesus holds up a coin. It had an image of Caesar. And because it has the image of Caesar, it goes to Caesar. But what has the image of God? You do. I do. Imprinted on your soul and on my soul is God’s image. And so the coins in good citizenship belong to Caesar; you and I, however, belong to God. 

In the case of America, where Her Creed assents to God, what we give here in good citizenship and in good faith are necessarily and closely aligned. The Roman Empire of Caesar wasn’t founded upon God; so, coins to Caesar. But our America was founded as “one nation under God.” So: the question needs to be answered: what are we to repay to America? 

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I, as a Catholic and an American, who have received these great loans of faith and country, must pay back what I have received by offering the coins of my own assent. 

This is the requirement of those who call themselves Catholic and American. Catholic Americans give assent to two Creeds which have at their founding, God. 

In that assent, we pray for our country and we also pray for the holiness of our brother and sister Catholics—most especially those who are called to bear the Cross of public service. 

But, in addition to our prayers, we are called to help our brothers and sisters—both in their task of being good citizens of this country and of being good citizens of God’s Kingdom. As such, Catholic Americans have always held accountable our elected officials, but we have always and especially held accountable our Catholic elected officials; for, a Catholic American elected official bears the weight not only of serving our country, but also of serving God. Indeed, given the nature of America, only in serving God (ie, repaying what belongs to Him) does the official well-serve America. This is the point of the first reading about Cyrus and God telling him, a leader of Israel, that Cyrus’ position comes from God—and there is no other. 

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Here, we may conclude by answer what authentic Catholic American assent looks like. 

First: authentic assent requires that we not only know our Catholic faith and our country’s laws and foundation (which itself does require sacrificial effort on our part—or great trust), but also that we give an actual and not mere nominal or notional assent. That is, we must go beyond being Catholics—and Americans—in name only. 

Second: we pray for good Catholic Americans to persevere in the faith in the discharge of their office and we pray for more good Catholic Americans to undertake the cross of public service for the greater glory of God. We also pray for the conversion of elected officials who are not Catholic but who nevertheless uphold the American Creed that our Lord may direct their governance to his greater glory and the salvation of their souls. 

Third: as simply good Americans who assent to her Creed, we also avoid supporting those running for office who do not similarly assent; for we know the exercise of their office would deform the melting pot and thus America. 

Fourth: most especially, as good Catholic Americans we avoid supporting those Catholics running for office who do not assent to the Catholic Creed and all its impacts upon morality, the dignity of the human person, and, by extension, our God who upholds our nation; for, if a Catholic official cannot repay what belongs to God here, how are they going to repay what belongs to America? 

This is the challenge of the Gospel. And it is a challenge. But the coins of our assent are what you and I owe to God.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

How the West Was Won - Homily for the 22nd Sunday in OT (A, 2020)

Today’s homily comes with a warning label: it will be a little more heady than usual. I hope you find it edifying and timely. 

You, as an American, having come from our mostly Judeo-Christian background, and Greek and Roman ideals of government and thought at that—you think differently and value different things than, say, a person living in Iran or Russia or China. To some degree, you are a product of and part of Western Civilization and are different than Eastern Civilizations. As such, you have been taught and naturally tend to collaborate, to cooperate, to compromise. You are more apt to pluralism and to tolerance and, as a fruit of that, to enjoy a public square that is open to the discussion of varying ideas and even opposite opinions—although, this part of our Western civilization is quickly closing. 

Indeed, in that public square, our Western civilization sometimes encounters ideologies that are totally opposed to that civilization—for example: anarchists who oppose foundational building blocks of civilization that are called laws or Marxists who oppose another societal building block which we call personal liberty. Yes, in the public square, we sometimes encounter ideologies that are impossible to compromise with. 

And we are faced with a very difficult question: what do we do then? This is the question our culture at large is facing, whether it knows it or not. 

Before the Second World War, in the European Theater, Western Civilization was confronted with Adolf Hitler. (As an aside: in our 21st century, the name, Hitler, and the label “fascist” are thrown around rather indiscriminately and have, in many ways, become empty caricatures of their very real evils and the novelty of that evil at that time). But in the late 1930s, the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, thought he could talk some sense into Hitler. Chamberlain had no idea of what we know today. Indeed, when he had met with Hitler in September, 1938, Chamberlain believed that Hitler could be appeased. He thought that Hitler didn’t really actually believe those bad things he said about Europe. He didn’t really want to conquer the Anglo world. Hitler, like the Marxists and communists, Chamberlain thought, simply wanted economic betterment. And so, he thought their so-called evils could be avoided by negotiation and compromise. This is what Chamberlain did and he came home to England, celebrating the Munich Agreement, literally telling the British people, even, to “go home and get a nice quiet sleep.” One year later, Germany would invade Poland and, a few months after that, Chamberlain’s own Britain. 

This same dynamic is occurring today. 

In an effort to understand better this dynamic, I sought an objective, outsider’s perspective. I believe I found such an objective look in an interview given by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Ali is a woman of the East, a Somalian immigrant to the United States, and has had endured the scourge of political Islam. After coming to the US, she has become a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School. During an interview with a Stanford think tank, she made the following observation about us in the West. She notes: 

[T]hose to whom freedom came late [like the Polish after the fall of the Soviet Union]—those are the ones who are willing to fight…. For them, it is not some vague story in history, they still know what it was like to be … behind that Iron Curtain. To have no freedom. They know what a totalitarian ideology is. They recognize it and they are willing to fight for the core principles of freedom.… Northern Europeans, to some degree Americans, who have been free for so long, they don’t know what freedom is anymore, they are the ones who are… wringing their hands and thinking… “what is western civilization? Is it white supremicism?” And if our elites… cannot tell the difference between white nationalism and western civilization… then we are in big trouble. 

The interviewer quoted a speech by one of our Presidents during his visit in Poland. That President said: 

The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? … Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?” 

The interviewer then asked Ali: “Is that the fundamental question?” 

“Yes,” she said, whether we have the will to survive, “that is the fundamental question.” 

The error in our current day, then, is to think that, after WWII, we would never have to go to fight for our civilization again. 

CS Lewis, in his book, “That Hideous Strength,” outlined how, in the years after World War Two, the populace would become duped and even welcoming of such evils and would fail to fight against them. He notes with special and truly incredible foresight the following steps. He notes, first, that there will exist a comfort culture that enjoys a false sense of security; then there is a loss of journalistic inquiry and integrity; this will be accompanied by the use of celebrities as a means of persuasion and to cover for ignorance; there would be a doing away with the police force; and there would arise a tribalism of Left and Right political movements; and then, finally, a loss of the plot itself. Sound familiar? He wrote that nearly eighty years ago. 

The last step, the “loss of the plot”—what does this mean? It means to forget the real sources of evil and how we are all of us—left and right, American citizen and immigrant, black and white, Catholic and Protestant, West and East even—we are all in a raging battle against Satan himself. 

Precisely because we have been conditioned to collaboration and cooperation and tolerance, our Western sensibilities often balk against such a fine point and we wonder whether intolerance is ever a holy—or even approved—action. 

Indeed, that’s the heart of Peter’s argument with Jesus. Peter, in his rebuke, voiced a very Western thought, that somehow evil could be conquered without the Cross. To this, Jesus responds in what is quite possibly his harshest and most intolerant rebuke: “Get behind me, Satan.” 

Now, Jesus loves Peter. Thoroughly loves him. He gives Peter the keys to the kingdom. But Jesus says what he does to alert Peter about the gravity of the situation. And the gravity is that Peter’s ideology is totally incompatible with Jesus. In other words: there is no compromise, Peter. The Cross is it. If you do not have The Cross as your foundation of life and as your focus and priority and meaning for everything you do—if rather comfort and appeasement is your thing, then you are playing for the other team. And so: “Get behind me, Satan.” 

Paul, in a little softer language says, “I urge you… do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” 

Such a transformation embraces the Cross of seeking the Truth and the facts and which demands such, and not echo-chamber narratives from your preferred sources of information. 

Such a transformation carries the Cross of calling our leaders—especially our leaders who claim themselves to be Catholic—to condemn without qualification riotous Marxists and Anarchists and those who undermine the dignity of this land’s laws and her people—including the unborn, the elderly, and the poor. 

Such a transformation would not be content with the phrase “systemic racism” and would even question its validity and its usefulness. It would carry the Cross of investigating the motives that drive anger and would remind the culture to seek real solutions to black-on-black crime, drug culture, absentee fathers, and the destruction of the family. 

True transformation is not content with virtue signaling, but with the real carrying of the Cross even unto the point of unpopularity in our Western World. Virtue signaling is simply appeasement to the mob. Carrying the Cross, however, means to stand in such a way as to voice intolerance of evil and therefore face the ugly titles that come with it, even though we love the West and are standing up for her and fighting the evils that threaten to destroy her. 

Yes, to be a Christian means to have somewhere in our souls Jesus’ own words. And while those words are always “love your neighbor” and “do good to your enemies,” sometimes those words are also “Get behind me, Satan.” They shock our Western sensibilities. But nevertheless we are to have them and say them when we are tempted from within and as a society from without. 

That is the Cross. This is the power of God and the wisdom of God and the victory over evil. And the one who claims the victory brooks no compromise. 

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

Monday, August 17, 2020

The Exception - Homily for the 20th Sunday in OT (A, 2020)

A favor. A pulling aside of the velvet rope. Entry into a place where you would typically have no business entering. Being given an… exception. 

I was in the sacristy at Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Two of my brother priests and I were on a kind of pilgrimage, offering Holy Masses throughout the city and the country, really, and at various significant places: the altar at Saint Catherine of Siena’s house; the Portiuncula in Assisi; Padre Pio’s parish in San Giovanni Rotundo. And on this day we were at Saint Peter’s. And we had made a request of a friend of ours—requested a favor, really—to be able to offer Holy Mass where I would typically have no business entering: at the very tomb of Saint Peter.

My brother and his wife were with me and I remember us passing a security guard and then the velvet rope and then the stairwell downward into the crypt. An exception had been given to us. And, because of that exception, that favor, I got to offer Holy Mass in one of the most beautiful and memorable places on earth. 

At the heart of the readings today is this reality of the exception. The favor. 

Exceptions and favors are wonderful—unless we presume them. At that point, we lose the sense of the greatness of the exception.

So, for example, when we approach Jesus in prayer, we simply presume that He is going to give us what we ask. While this is good (we should have great confidence in our Lord), the temptation is that we turn Him into our slave—like a candy machine that gives so long as we have paid—instead of remembering that He is also our Master. He doesn't have to do what we ask.

We can also lose the reality of a favor when we think there was no plan at all.

So, for example, it is easy to believe that Jesus is purely reactionary. What I mean is: we think that He only responds to our prayers and that He really doesn’t have a proactive plan. But Jesus is and indeed calls Himself “the Way”; He says He comes to fulfill the Father’s plan.

When we lose that sense that God actually has a plan and that Jesus doesn't have to answer in the way we want and that, when He does, He is extending mercy-- when we lose that, it is easy to lose the sense of gratitude that comes with knowing an exception was given to us.

Here we can discuss the odd reaction Jesus gives to the Canaanite woman. 

She has asked Him to help her daughter who is possessed by a demon. And the odd thing is that Jesus says nothing. Why? Why is He being rude—or so it seems? 

At the heart of the Father’s plan is the salvation of His Chosen People, the Israelites, the Jews. This is the mission that Jesus is given: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In other words, “I wasn’t sent to help that woman. It’s outside the Father’s plan. The Father's plan is to save the Children of Israel first. That's the order of things. So, I’m neither her master nor her slave." Hence, silence. 

Despite this, the woman draws closer and says, “Lord, help me.” 

In a word, the woman understands, by Jesus’ silence, that her request is outside the bounds. She is literally asking for an exception. 

To this, Jesus responds in a way that seems even more rude: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Did He just call her a dog

Here, a little history serves us well. 

At this time, there were two kinds of people in the world: Jews and Gentiles. Jews were the Chosen People and the Gentiles were seen as everyone else. The Jews were the Children of God, the Chosen, the Light—and the Gentiles were not (or so it seemed). As a result, there was a condescension: some of the Jews looked upon the Gentiles as dogs. The Canaanite woman is not a Jew; she's a Gentile.

So, when Jesus says “… and throw it to the dogs,” it appears as though He is continuing the Jews’ way of thinking. 

He’s not. 

On the one hand, He is alerting the woman that she is correct: she is asking for an exception and, for Him to grant it would be seen in the eyes of those around them (there was a group of Jews there)—it would be seen in their eyes as wasting food on dogs. “You are correct, Woman. You are asking for an exception.” 

But on the other hand, Jesus is also alerting the onlookers that, yes, to reach out to her would scandalize them: “I understand that you look upon her like a dog.” 

Why does He alert them like this? Because He is going to make the exception. 

In the first reading, you heard from Isaiah. And in the prophecy it says that “foreigners... [will] join themselves to the Lord”—foreigners were Gentiles—and that “I [the Lord] will bring them to my holy mountain… for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” 

In the prophecy, Isaiah is saying that God has a plan for the Gentiles. And this plan, in the time of Jesus, had been forgotten. 

For example, in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, there were several gathering areas for prayer, like extended courtyards. The outer courtyard of the Temple, for example, was in Jesus’ day famous for gatherings of money changers and their tables and the selling of animals for sacrifice. When Jesus enters into the Temple, you recall that he makes a whip of cords and drives out all of the money changers and flips over their tables while saying: my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. 

Do you know what that outer courtyard was called? It was called the Court of the Gentiles. 

It was the part of the Temple that was made especially for the Gentiles. 


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 And so, when Jesus says what He does to the woman, He is alerting her to the very real fact that, if He does this healing for her, it will mean more than just a healing of her daughter. It will mean involving her in a greater plan than herself: she will become a reminder to the Jewish people about God’s plan for the Gentiles; the healing will become the beginning of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy; it will inaugurate the restoration of God’s plan for the Gentiles; and it will involve her in a greater conflict. This isn’t just about healing her daughter. 

To this, she responds with great respect for Jesus, with deference to the Jewish people, and with self-deprecation: “… even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.”

 It is the feminine complement to the centurion’s “Lord, I am not worthy….” 

And her reward is not only the healing of her daughter and the praise of the master, but even the reception of the archetypal name given to Mary, “O woman.” 

The exception is granted. And it becomes the rule.

Indeed, the Church that Jesus Himself established on this earth is called Catholic—meaning "universal"—precisely because She is a Mother who embraces all Jews and Gentiles, "all peoples," in all places, and in all times. 

So…. What does this mean for us? 

Unless you were born of Jewish parents, you are Gentiles. You are able to enter the Father’s House because that exception has been granted to you. As Paul, the “apostle to the Gentiles,” says in the second reading today: “… you once disobeyed God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience”— 

Who is he talking about there? The Chosen People, the Israelites. Because they had rejected Jesus, the Gentiles were invited in. 

You are here because God wants you, He has chosen you, but it started out as the exception. 

And why does God allow this exception? 

So that “by virtue of the mercy shown to you, they too may receive mercy.” 

In other words, when we—when that woman—realize the great generosity of God; when we realize that He didn’t have to extend His gifts and His call (which are “irrevocable”); when we realize that the velvet rope has been pulled back and we are granted access into places that we have had no right to claim as our own nor to enter on our own accord—the Holiest of Holies being communion with the very Son of God, Jesus Christ, in the Eucharist— 

When we, like that woman, see that this was an exception and not something that should be presumed, we start approaching the Father’s House and these Sacred Mysteries and even heaven itself with a greater humility, a greater appreciation of the generosity, and thus with a greater joy at having been so called. It will necessarily lead to a proclamation to others about Him who has been so good to me. 

I am here today, about to receive Jesus and His many gifts, because He has made the exception for me. Because He wanted me. 

Sit with that for a while and I promise you will be changed. 

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



Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Flesh and the Rind - Homily for the 17th Sunday in OT (2020, A)

On a hot summer day like this, I occasionally remember playing soccer over at Soccer Park. And I remember my dad bringing to the field orange slices for me and the fellas. At a break during the hot practice, there was nothing better than a juicy orange. Dad cut them into wedges and I’d bite into the flesh of the orange. It would be sweet, refreshing, and its juices would be dripping everywhere. Of course, I would also take the rind of the orange—that hard, outer skin—and put it between my teeth and my lips and make an orange smiley face. What can I say? I was twelve. 

You may be wondering what oranges have to do with today’s reading. Stick with me through one more story. 

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Recently, I finished a book by C.S. Lewis entitled Perelandra. It has become one of my favorite books. (You know C.S. Lewis from the Narnia series or the Screwtape Letters). In this fairy tale for adults, there’s a scene where two men—a bad man and a good man—start talking about really big questions, existential-crisis questions, like: what happens after death? And what is the purpose of this life? 

These were important questions in Lewis' day. He was writing during a dark time not unlike our times.

During the conversation, the two men come to the agreement that life is like an orange—there you go—and, like the orange, life has two parts: the outermost edge (the rind) which is thin and tough and bitter, like the short, bitter years of earthly life; and then there's the innermost fruit (the flesh) which is thick and is like the many, many years of eternity. 

Do you follow me so far? 

Now, here’s the juicy part (… a-hem). 

The two men debate what the inside of the fruit is like—that is, what is eternity likeonce you have gotten through the rind of life. The good man says it is sweet: there is an afterlife and there is a heaven. The bad man says that it is rotten and perhaps even empty: there is nothing after life on earth, just death. And ghosts. And no resurrected flesh. Once you have gotten through the rind: nothing.

Here we arrive at a most important question: which one is the Truth? 

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C.S. Lewis will spend the rest of his book, Perelandra, articulating the answer (and if you read it, note the hint he gives with all of the fruit trees in the book). 

But, for those of you who would like to know the answer now, Jesus tells us in the Gospel: Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” 

[Stop there for a moment—commercial break. 

There is something very, very important that you need to know when you read Jesus’ parables: they are NOT firstly about what we must do (like, “what’s the moral of the story?”). I mean, they kind of are. But only because the parables tell us firstly about who Jesus is. That’s important. 

So, for example, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, while it exhorts us to be a good Samaritan, is not firstly about us being called to be good Samaritans. It is firstly about who Jesus is: He is The Good Samaritan. Only when we have understood that can we ourselves do the same. 

End of commercial.]

Ok, so when Jesus talks about the buried treasure in the field and the man who sells everything for it, the first take away is not about what we must do; our first take away needs to be about who Jesus is. And who is Jesus? Jesus is the buried treasure. 

Buried treasure? Yes. After all, what happens after Jesus dies? – He is buried. 

Buried treasure. 

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The question is: is the treasure worth selling everything for? Or, to use the orange analogy: after Jesus passes through the bitter rind of death, is the flesh rotten or is it sweet? 

Thomas the Apostle poses that very problem when he says: “I will not believe until I see the wounds in His hands and place my fingers in His sides.” That is: “I’m not gonna sell anything of my life until I know it’s worth buying.” 

Fair enough, Thomas. 

And you know how the story goes. Jesus, on the next week following His Resurrection from the dead, approaches Thomas. And Thomas places his hands in Jesus’ hands and in His side and declares: “My Lord and my God!” Why the exclamation? Because Jesus was gloriously alive. After the bitter rind of death, the flesh was still sweet. Thomas had found, under the rind of life, the buried treasure. 

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Now we can address Jesus’ moral exhortation to “sell everything” so as to buy the field containing this treasure. 

So, practically, what is Jesus asking us to do here? 

In a word, He is asking you to give your life. And He is saying it is worth giving your life. 

It’s why saints—like Francis Assisi—would literally sell everything to go and pursue Jesus. It’s why many Catholics have freely chosen celibacy and poverty and obedience—in religious life or priesthood, for example. Or in married life: the couple freely chooses children even at the sacrifice of personal aspirations. Riches in this bitter rind are nothing in comparison to the riches in eternity. 

King Solomon didn’t want power or riches or vengeance on his enemies. He knew that, if he obtained all of that stuff, great, but it wouldn’t last beyond the seventy years of this life. In fact, some of the power and riches and vengeance would just make more problems—and thus make the rind all the tougher and bitter. 

Instead, King Solomon asks for wisdom, to know what is true and good and everlasting. He wants the sweetness, the thicker flesh of the fruit. He is willing to give his life for that. 

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And here’s the deal (Truth Bomb ™  alert): You are already selling your life for something. 

You are. With each second, each minute that ticks away, you are spending your life, selling it for something. 

The question is: are you selling it for the bitter rind or for the sweet fruit of eternity? 

What Jesus is telling you is that the time in prayer that you spend will be much more worth the time you waste on your phone. The time you spend in study or adoration will be much more profitable than the time you spend worrying about the news. The treasure you freely give away to others will be much more well spent than the treasure you hoard for yourself. 

The clear imbalance of heaven’s worth as vastly superior to the rind of life is what motivated St. John of the Cross and the Carmelites to have a healthy detachment from the things of this world. It’s what motivated the saints to stand up for the faith and for God and for His Church when mobs throughout human history have spat riotous and profaning volleys through the air. It is this most basic principle that has brought joy to those who were given the blessing—blessing—of being martyred. 

And, brothers and sisters, martyrdom—and I mean not a spiritual one, but an actual physical martyrdom—is now very possible in our lifetimes. 

The only way that you would be ready for that is if you start selling your life for Christ. 

You’re already selling it for something.

It’s just: are you buying the tough, bitter rind of thin years of earthly pleasure or are you buying the forever-abiding and sweet, eternal life which is the buried treasure, Jesus Christ?


Sunday, July 19, 2020

The Long Game - Homily for the 16th Sunday in OT (A)

(Audio can be found by clicking here)


When I was a seminarian, I had the privilege to know a very holy pastor, a pastor who had inherited a very messy parish. There were so many fires to put out, so much evil to address, and, Lord help us, a ton of politics and infighting that polluted the spiritual lungs and heart of what should have been a very vibrant parish. This holy pastor, zealous as he was, seemed to me, a zealous seminarian, to be making a grave mistake: for all intents and purposes, he appeared to be doing nothing about it.

I was a little scandalized. And a little frustrated. Why was he doing nothing? Wasn’t he a holy pastor? Wasn’t he zealous? Didn’t he love God and his people?

Perhaps you have had a similar experience with a boss at work. Or maybe you’ve thought such things of your spouse and whether they care for the house or the discipline of the kids. Why won’t so-and-so do something about it?

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Years later, another holy pastor told me a parable. He appealed to my love of the mountains and said, “If you had a bunch of snow and you wanted to change the mountainous landscape, how would you do it?”

Well, I thought to myself, there are two ways: either by avalanche or by glacier.

The avalanche is fast and dramatic while the glacier is slow—yet, they both change the landscape. But, consider what a mountain looks like fifty years after an avalanche. Yes, an avalanche takes down all the trees and some rocks, perhaps some unfortunate skiiers, too, and after it all you can see the chute down which it ran. For several years, in fact, you will be able to see the avalanche chute simply because the absence of the trees. But come back in fifty years and all the trees will be back. Hikers may never know that an avalanche once passed through here.

But consider the glacier. Yes, it is slow. But it takes everything with it. Slowly grinding, slowing sculpting—painfully slow. But when it is gone, the landscape will have been changed forever. The valley that it has made, the moraines, the lakes—the whole new landscape, hikers will see that for thousands of years and they will say, Wow, it’s amazing to think that a glacier did this….

I understood the pastor who had much to address but who took small steps to address it. He was taking the glacier approach. It wasn’t dramatic, it wasn’t sexy, but in the end it would change the parish forever. What I didn’t see in my zeal was the importance of the long game.

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And, admittedly, the long game is frustrating. Whether it is going to the gym and starting slow and just being consistent; or parenting and being calm and merciful day in and day out; or growing in a particular virtue; or saving money—the long game can be a struggle. Is it worth it? we may tend to ask. After all, we don’t want to lose. We don’t like losing and the humiliation that comes with it. We want to be good parents and not failures. And, well, in the long game, there seem to be so many instances of humiliation and failure that we then start to doubt the long game’s worth. It would be easier, we think, to just take the reins, be in control, and win the battle now—save for the fact that it may just cost us the war.

This is particularly evident when it comes to God. Our heavenly Father clearly operates by the long game. Although He is the “master of might" and “power attends [him]” such that He can call on it “whenever [He] wills,” says the Book of Wisdom, God judges “with clemency” and He governs us “with much lenience.” When the servants ask the Master if they should pull up the weeds, Jesus tells them to wait. The time will come, but not now. Later. Long game.

And that’s frustrating. We want evil to be remedied now. We want darkness and sin to be gone now. We want the Coronavirus to be over now. Shoot, even the holy apostles (saints) James and John, when they saw a Samaritan village being unwelcoming to Jesus, begged Him, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven and consume them?” (Lk 9:54)

Not yet, Sons of Thunder. Not yet.

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But why not?

And doesn’t the Lord understand that He comes off as being… indifferent?

How many people now think, with great presumption in their hearts, that they can do evil and break the commandments, rationalizing it all by saying: “God will not see, He does not take notice” (Psalm 94:7)? Some have even grown so disillusioned that they think God simply does not exist; for if He did, He would intervene—and now. Some even blame God for the evil, unheeding of Jesus when He says, “An enemy has done this.”

Which brings us back to the question: Why doesn’t God uproot the evil now?

Hear the answer from the Book of Wisdom. It says,

            You taught your people, by these deeds
            That those who are just must be kind;
            And you gave your children good ground for hope
            That you would permit repentance for their sins.

So there are two reasons why God seemingly waits. First, to give us an example of forbearance and kindliness. And, second (stemming from that), to provide an opportunity for evildoers to repent.

“Do not pull up the weeds,” says Our Lord, “for you may pull up the wheat with them.”

That is to say, do not pull up the weeds right yet, for if you do, you may actually be pulling up their opportunity to convert. Give them time.

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And yes, to wait like this is frustrating. And it makes us vulnerable. And, oftentimes when evil seems to be winning all the battles, we feel out of control and humiliated. The question Will we really win the war? may even enter our hearts.

But do you remember the story of the avalanche and the glacier? Think for a moment: what are both made of?

They are made of small, light, fluffy, harmless little flakes of snow….

The very thing that causes a great change and what has tremendous force and power—can be laughingly caught and held in the delighted palms of children.

Hence the parable of the mustard seed immediately follows the parable of the weeds and wheat. It is as though Jesus is saying: I know you doubt my power and the effectiveness of the long game, but you would also misjudge the significance of the mustard seed, too. But don’t you see? That little, insignificant seed grows into a formidable tree. Do you not think that I, who appear insignificant—even becoming a little babe at Christmas or the small host in the Eucharist—do you think that I am not formidable?

Do you not think that I will outlast evil? I am the Alpha and the Omega—evil will not out-persevere me, it will not out-last me. So take heart!

Indeed, Lord, “you show your might when the perfection of your power is disbelieved.”

There will be vindication. There will be judgment. The weeds—the evildoers and those who cause others to sin—they will find their fiery reward. But for those who persevere to the end, you will find your glory!

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So, yes: be in it for the long game. Run the race—the marathon—of faith, as Paul calls it.

Repent of your temerity: your mistrust, your presumption, your lukewarmness, and your doubt.

And start again to do the small things—the seemingly insignificant things—day in and day out. That small Act of Faith, or that small sacrifice, or that little prayer, or that unnoticeable growth in virtue that only your heavenly Father can see-- that seed of starting-small and slowly growing from there…

These and all those around you and the grace of God-- it will all add up like the little, seemingly insignificant fluffs of snow, into a great and powerful glacier. Mountains will be moved, valleys filled, and all will be changed forever!

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

Saturday, July 4, 2020

And There Was Rest - Homily for the 14th Sunday in OT (2020)


Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.

Recently, the Lord blessed me with some time away in the remote mountains of Western Colorado. There, nestled among the sublime, snow-capped peaks and a valley of pine trees, He gave me rest along a small, snow-fed stream with my small orange tent beside it. Each afternoon, typically after a morning hike, I would sit beside the clear waters of the stream and pray, meditating as the cool waters poured and bubbled past. I had my book of prayers with me and, during one of those afternoons, I reflected upon the words of St. Gregory of Nyssa.

Here are the words I reflected upon: “Jesus is like a pure, untainted stream. If you draw from him the thoughts in your mind and the inclinations of your heart, you will show a likeness to Christ, your source and origin, as the gleaming water in a jar resembles the flowing water from which it was obtained” (Office of Readings, Tuesday, OT 12).

In other words, the clarity which Jesus brings will dispel the murky waters in which we often live. Are you troubled or confused by these days? Come to the Lord, come to Him and rest. And in that rest, reach down into the stream of His holiness and draw the clear and cool water of His holiness, His Wisdom, His Charity. The jar which is your soul, murky by the mud and fog of the world, will be made clear again. “Gleaming,” radiant, bright—says St. Gregory. You will be able to see and find joy again.

And so Jesus says, “Come to me.” “Come to me and I will give you rest.”

To rest with Jesus is not a luxury, but a necessity. So necessary that He even commands it: rest today, Sunday; it is the Day of Rest. Else you will become like machines: hardened, stressed, broken, discarded. You are made to be refreshed. I want you to have joy. So come to me, come to me and rest. Put aside the worries of the world and its news cycle. It will be there tomorrow; those things will not change in one day. Do not worry about tomorrow. Rest in me today.

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I have found that when I rest on Sunday and when I take time in nature or on a retreat—and all are necessary and not luxuries—when I rest with Jesus, I receive such a greater perspective and a greater clarity about who I am, about who Jesus is, and what He wants me to do and say in this world.

May I give you just one point of clarity that I received while I sat and prayed along the stream?

Here it is. Topics of race, religion, and politics are oftentimes perceived as very murky. For the Catholic, we take seriously the example of Jesus when He says, “You who are without sin, cast the first stone” and “Why do you worry about the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not address the wooden beam in your own?” I reference these particular words of Our Lord because, at their heart, Jesus teaches that a person is not defined by their worst action. Rather, they are defined by their final action. Saint Dismas—you know him as the one who was crucified next to Jesus-- was a criminal, a thief, a revolutionary, and (it was believed) a murderer. But he was not judged by Jesus before his death. Indeed, at the very hour of his death, Dismas was given a chance for repentance. And when Dismas repented, he was transformed from being one of the worst sinners into one of the greatest saints. “Today,” said our Lord to Dismas, “you will be with me in paradise.”

Jesus’ prohibition for us to condemn our neighbor and instead to address our own need for conversion was done not simply because He wants us to be kind to our neighbor. Jesus additionally wants us to believe in the conversion of our neighbor—to have hope for his or her salvation.

This was the point of clarity I had: In our culture, would Dismas truly be afforded the opportunity and hope of conversion—or would he simply be written off?

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There is a very fatal error being made in some of our attempts to make sense of the various opinions, rebellions, and riots of our day. The fatal error is to have an attitude that judges, defines, and then discards a person or a group of people based on a particular fault, oversight, crime, or sin—and to do so indiscriminately and without any real and consistent standard of judgment—and thus to cancel out any hope for conversion and, likewise, any gifts they may have to give for the benefit of our community.

This is called Cancel Culture.

For example: cancel culture sees a black person stealing something and cancels out all black people by concluding: “All black people are thieves.” Or cancel culture sees a police officer being brutal to another person and concludes: “All police officers are racists.”

This list goes on. “All priests are pedophiles.” “All politicians are corrupt.” “All baseball players are steroid users.”

Judgments of an entire people based on the worst actions of a few, without any hope of conversion and without any desire for their salvation, are totally contrary to Jesus Christ. Indeed, in our humility, we must all of us add: “But for the grace of God, there go I.”

Sure, we know better than some of the past. But, if we are honest, many of the reasons why we know better is because of the mistakes—and conversion—that our forebears experienced. We should have a humble gratitude towards our past, not vitriol.

Indeed, cancel culture is not immune to mistakes. In focusing on the past, it forgets the future. It forgets that the future will judge us! And will our future generations be gentle or brutal in their judgments?—of the way we treated babies in abortion, for example, or women in pornography and the sex-slave trade, or the elderly in our neglect of them? How long will a statue of any Twenty-First Century American stand if it should stand in a Twenty-Second Century cancel culture?

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Personally, while I find the tearing down of statues lamentable for various reasons—more historical, educational, and symbolic than sentimental—I also realize that all statues come down. All nations come down. And all will be judged at the Return of The King according to their deeds and not according to the courts of popular opinion.

The battle is not simply with racism—for few, I have come to understand, are truly such. The battle is within: to fight against the devil’s temptations to judge all as racist; to fight against attitudes that cancel out people as enemy; to battle the temptation to live in a hopelessness that does not afford another conversion; to battle and refuse the temptation that says it is my right to sit as judge over all in the murkiness of it all.

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Such were my thoughts as I prayed along the stream with Jesus Christ. And I surrendered all to Him: to Him belongs the judgment, He who made the mountains and fashioned the valleys, He who gives the growth and who numbers our days.

And I resolved there and then that should I see a black man or a white man, a police officer or a politician, a baseball player or a priest, a rich man or a poor man—that I would approach them as Jesus would approach me: as a man in need of rest, of conversion, and a little hope along the way.

And as I gave all to Him, I found that there was a great victory in the battle of my heart. And there was rest. Finally.

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Sunday, June 14, 2020

Present in Our Hunger - Corpus Christi 2020

"[T]he LORD, your God, 
has directed all your journeying in the desert,
so as to test you by affliction 
and find out whether or not it was your intention
to keep his commandments.
He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger,
and then fed you..."

Homily for Corpus Christi can be found here.