Saturday, June 25, 2016

To Be Generous - Homily for the 13th Sunday in OT (C)

 At every Holy Mass, our God brings us here and we are given a moment to reflect.

This evening, Jesus tells us that he “has nowhere to rest his head” (Lk 9:58). He, who is the almighty God, the second person of the Trinity, whose dwelling is the glorious throne of heaven, has left all of the supreme treasures of heaven and the riches of earth behind and has become poor, so poor that he has nowhere to rest his head.

Such is the radical extent of His total love. When the Word became flesh and dwelled among us (cf. Jn 1:14), He left behind everything—the glory, the treasure, the ninety-nine (cf. Lk 15:4)—even if it would make Him poor, so as to go in search for the one.

The story in our first reading, of Elisha leaving his father and mother behind, is a veiled image of Jesus’ commitment. In the first reading, Elisha takes his oxen, the very means by which he sustains his way of life, and he slaughters them. That can’t be undone. And then he burns his plowing equipment. He can’t undo that either. Why does Elisha do this?

Because he is committed: he is so committed to walking as a prophet that he literally destroys any possibility of going back. There’s no going back, no looking back “to what was left behind” (Lk 9:62).

Such is Jesus’ commitment to us: Once the Second Person of the Trinity, the Word, becomes flesh, He can never undo that. Jesus will always be joined to our humanity for all eternity. Even when that means becoming poor and suffering death. He loves with a love that does not count the cost.

This Jesus goes throughout the countryside, calling all people to Himself, "follow me" such as to know Him, and to know His love for us, and to love Him in return.

*          *          *

This morning, I was privileged to attend the Holy Mass of the Solemn Profession of Perpetual Vows for Sister Gemma Rose at the Carmelite Monastery on Clayton Road. It is a Holy Mass where the young sister offers her total commitment to God and begs Him for His grace to love as He loves. Sister Gemma had left everything for Jesus.

As she professed her vows, the words of today’s Psalm came to my mind: “You are my inheritance, O Lord” (Ps 16:2).

Why was she doing this? Because of love. She had discovered Love and loved Him. Sister Gemma wasn’t simply committing herself to the Carmelite Community because it was radical. St. Paul, after all, warns us of such things when he says, “If I give away everything I own and even hand over my body that I may boast, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor 13:3). For Sister Gemma, this was a matter of love. So much so that she called this Mass her wedding day, the day she would be married to the One who loves her and left everything so as to find her.

I recalled the words of St. Paul: “For this reason”—that is, for love—“for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh” (Eph 5:31). We often think of that line in terms of husbands and wives. But Paul is firstly speaking about Jesus who leaves all so as to be joined to us.

This joining, the consummation of this spiritual marriage, happens at the reception of Holy Communion, where Jesus offers His body and blood to become one with our body and blood. Sister Gemma reminded me of this spiritual marriage that is offered at every Mass, where Jesus approaches with nowhere to rest His head.

Today He would find a place.

As I drove home, I couldn’t help but think that the Eucharist which I receive is the same Eucharist that had strengthened Sister Gemma to respond with such love. Every day, every Mass, it is the same Eucharist. I just simply and so often forget about the Jesus who is there. Jesus, who has leaves everything behind so as to come to me here, today.

*          *          *

The example of Elisha and of Sister Gemma remind me, that while not all of us are called to be an ancient prophet of Israel or a religious sister (although some definitely are!), the common thread is that Jesus invites us to the vocation of love-- to love and not look back-- and it’s a call from Jesus who is generous, who loves and does not count the cost, who loves us and doesn't look back.

For my part, I pray that, the next time He comes to me, there will be a place in my heart for Him to rest His head. And so I pray:

Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward,
save that of knowing that I do your will.

-          St. Ignatius of Loyola

Sunday, June 19, 2016

God the Father and Fatherhood - Homily for the 12th Sunday in OT (Father's Day)

Most of you probably know of the Catholic scholar Scott Hahn. He’s brilliant and he’s charitable. Good combination, that.

He tells the story about how he found himself sitting at a restaurant eating breakfast with a scholar of Islam. They were eating breakfast because they were going to have a public dialogue and they wanted to set some basic parameters and starting points for that dialogue.

Four or five minutes into the breakfast, Scott Hahn referred to God as Father, Abba.

Now, that seems innocuous enough. But the Islamic scholar slammed his hand on the table and said, “Do not blaspheme!” Dr. Hahn was taken aback—calling God “Father” is a blasphemy? I mean, Jesus told us to call God Abba and to pray “Our Father…”

So Hahn asked the scholar why? The Islamic scholar explained: because Allah is not Abba. Allah does not love as a Father; Allah is an owner, a master.

In this moment, Dr. Hahn came to “a great clarity” about how our religions are different: they differed on this point of God as a loving Father.

*          *          *

There is a lot of talk today about what Islam is and what Islam is not. Is it a religion of peace or is a religion of terror? The reality seems to be that it can legitimately be both.

How so?

The brief answer: Islam has no overarching authority or power to resolve disputes in doctrine, nothing to say “yes, this peace is It” or “no, this terror is not It.” In other words, they have no Magisterium. As such, any interpretation of Islam—peace or violence—can be advanced as valid.

Catholicism, on the other hand, believes that there is a capital-T Truth to Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” and Catholicism further believes that there is something that helps us to arrive at that answer, namely the Magisterium.

In fact, the existence of the Magisterium is a hallmark of our God’s Fatherhood.

What I mean by that is, if you are a dad, you don’t want your children to have to guess about how to live: about what is right and what is wrong. Even less do you want them to guess about who you are and about how you love them. So, you teach them and you make things clear.

Our Heavenly Father loves us and, through His Son, Jesus Christ, established the Catholic Church and promised the Holy Spirit to guide Her, such that whoever heard the Church heard Him (cf. Luke 10:16). This Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church, was given by our heavenly Father through Jesus Christ and He promised He would guard and preserve His teaching through the Church while also presenting and interpreting His teaching in every age and in every place so that all nations would know Him beyond a shadow of a doubt and know how to Love Him and our neighbor in the Truth.

*          *          *

The Father goes so far as to say, when giving this power to His Church, that the “gates of hell will not prevail against her [the Church]” (Mt 16:18).

He said this because He knew that the Church would be under attack.

In the winds of secularism that are blowing (secularism being the belief that God doesn’t matter or doesn’t care and that there are no overarching moral Truths by which we are to center our life and so on)—In these winds of secularism, every religion is under attack. Islam included.

Islam, however, has nothing to protect itself, nothing to defend itself from devolving into secularism—except itself and however it wishes to do that, by peacefully being silent or by being violent.

Our brothers and sisters in the Protestant communities also face the same battle; but without a Magisterium, they too can easily devolve.

Indeed, the same can be said about every Catholic that protests against the Father’s Church. All who separate themselves from the Father’s protection in the Church open themselves up to the corrupting and terrifying forces of secularism where nothing really matters, where Truth really isn’t real, where God is no longer seen as caring or as a Father, and where disunity and hatred reign.

St. Cyprian of Carthage, when he saw the North African church tearing itself apart in 251 AD, wrote, “You cannot have God as Father without having the Church as Mother.”

What he meant was: If we do not have the Church to protect us, then we will lose the Truth about who God our Father is, about how He is loving and merciful and provident and creative. And what’s more: if we do not have God as Father, then we will never be a child of God or see others as children of God either. That’s the perfect storm for violence. But we know we are called for and made for love.

In a secular kingdom, those who lead will have no idea how to battle radical Islamic terrorism precisely because the objective moral grounds on which we could battle are lost. Instead, the battle would come to any person who is not secular. Secular Muslims and secular Protestants and secular Catholics don’t have to battle. Rather, it’s those who hold to Christ and to His Father who will have to battle (like the Little Sisters of the Poor who have to battle against mandates that try and force them and us to violate our conscience and our Father’s teachings in the Church). To think: the Little Sisters and us are seen as radical precisely because we love Jesus and His Father’s Church—radical precisely because we are not secular.

That day is now. And Jesus wants to know: who do you say that I am? Each group in our society has an answer… but Jesus is asking you and me: who do you say that I am?

The radicals are the ones who respond by "taking up their cross" and following Him.

*          *          *

Why do I mention this on Father’s Day?

Fatherhood is connected to God the Father, the one who is creative and the giver of life, the one who is strong and who uses that strength to pardon, to be patient. and to bless.

Fatherhood was not something that just happened biologically (we aren't fathers just by growing older); rather, it was something bequeathed. Before becoming a father, a boy would have to become a man and a man would have to be man enough to be a husband. Only then could he have the right to have the same title as God the Father. Exhibit A should be the priest: we call him Father not because of biology, but because by grace the priest participates (or, at least, should participate) in the one Fatherhood of God.

In short, fatherhood is supposed to be passed on, bequeathed, by our fathers: and that's our dads, our priests, and any male role-model.

When our secular culture attacked us with doubts of faith, Fatherhood was quickly disconnected from its divine roots. We were faced with having to redefine Fatherhood. And redefined it was! Dad didn’t have to be like God the Father; he could simply be a bread-winner or a sports coach. When contraceptives and cohabitation were thrown at us, fatherhood was redefined again: fathers could be boys without ever having become men or husbands first. The winds of secularism blew and fatherhood was even separated from being male. We were just. like. everyone. else. The reason for our strength didn’t make sense anymore….

We had become Adam in the Garden, quiet and weak as Eve was attacked by the devil himself.

And notice: the secularization of Fatherhood resulted in a massive vulnerability and attack on Motherhood and Women.

*          *          *

Where do we go from here?

If we are men who have fallen prey to this and been rendered impotent by our secular culture, the Church is here to help us rediscover our strength and our authentic Fatherhood. I will admit, it is a battle, but the Church is with us, giving us the strength of God in the Sacraments and the witness of 2,000 years of saintly men who have stood up in battle against the devil himself.

For my part, I ask you to pray for me who am called “Father.” It is so easy to fall into the two camps opposed to true fatherhood: the one camp that simply turns fatherhood into a job, a way of owning; and the other which is simply boyish and afraid to stand up in the winds of danger. This is when I have to go to my heavenly Father and say, “Father, help me. I’m afraid” or “I need your help” or “I’m not good enough, please help me to be a good Father.”

Please pray for me and for all fathers—priests up here and for the men in the pews.

And fathers, let us band together like a band of brothers and pray for each other: an Our Father every day. We are in this together. We need each other.

Let us pray for all our brothers and sisters, including those of the Islamic faith, who do not yet know this loving Father, that they may see Him.

I truly believe that, the more we encounter God our Father, the more we will grow to be like Him: loving, merciful, provident, patient—a good Father. He will bequeath on us all of His treasures, His kingdom—indeed, His own dignity as Father. Let us go to Him now, therefore, He who loves us and let us ask Him for His blessing. Amen.

Monday, June 6, 2016

From Death to Life - Homily for the 10th Sunday in OT (C)

Do you remember the story of the Prodigal Son?

It’s the one where the young man spends his inheritance on sinful living, but then comes to his senses and returns home where he is welcomed by his merciful father.

But do you remember what the father says when his son returns home? He says: “My son was lost and is found. He was dead and is now alive!”

He was dead…!

The father’s words were expressing how far the young man had strayed from love: he was so far from love that he was dead to it. That’s what sin does.

Hence the father’s joy when the son returns: it is such a miracle that love has sprung anew: he has come back to life. Love has been miraculously restored—yes, it is a miracle that the son is home again! “He was dead and is now alive!”
Paul, I think, feels a certain connection to the Prodigal Son. Hear Paul’s words as he writes to the Galatians. He says,

you heard of my former way of life…
how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure
and tried to destroy it…
But… God… called me…

In other words: I was one of the worst of sinners, but God has given me another chance. I was dead in a world of sin, but now I am alive! It's a miracle!

*          *          *

Certainly we see the connection. But did you notice the readings that bookend Paul’s testimony?

The first reading and the Gospel both speak of times when God raises a young man not from spiritual death, but from physical death—literally, from the dead. What is the meaning of this?

In short, God is more powerful than any kind of death—whether it be the physical kind that claims our mortal bodies, or the spiritual kind that is the result of grave (or mortal) sin. No matter how grave our sin, God is more powerful; and no matter how long we have been dead, God has the power to raise us up.

And note: both are miraculous: being restored to a new life of grace is just as much a miracle as if He should raise us from the dead!

*          *          *

But I also want us to take a moment and notice the woman, the widow.

She has lost her husband; he has died. And her only son; he has died, too.

Is there anyone else in Scripture—someone very close to Jesus—who has mourned her husband and her son?

It is Mary.

I think this is one of the reasons why Jesus “felt pity for her”—a phrase which means more than simply “feeling sorry for” her. It means that Jesus was moved to the core for love of this widow. He saw His Mother in her.

I hope this is a consolation to all of our widows here. Jesus sees Mary in you. Your prayers and intercession are very powerful and move His heart!

And who does the widow bring to Jesus? Her son: the one who is dead.

This is what Mary does. Mary is the Mother of Mercy. Anytime we are dead because of sin—mortal or otherwise—she weeps over us and brings us through her maternal and loving prayers to her Son, just as we have asked when we say, “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

Jesus is moved to the core. How could He leave to the dead His Mother’s child? In His love for her, He is moved to heal the one who has died.

Indeed, if we should enter into the confessional, it is because Mary—and so many holy widows who are praying for us—it is because of her that Jesus visits us there and gives us His mercy.

*          *          *

Consider for a moment those old fashioned confessionals. Have you ever noticed how the old ones resemble a kind of coffin?—the wooden door, the cramped quarters, the darkness inside, the stagnant air…. It was as though they were made to remind you of your mortality—both of your physical mortality, but also the gravity of sin.

And when we come out of that confessional, there is that breath of fresh air, the beauty of the stained-glass windows and the light, the stretching of legs that were once cramped within—all throughout there pulses the feeling of new life.

All of us have been in that coffin by our sins—the Prodigal Son, Paul, me—but then in that absolution it is as though Jesus is calling us forth, saying: “Young man, I tell you, arise!”

Arise! Receive new life! Start walking in grace again, put away your old ways, start a new life of love and holiness!

And just like each of those young men; just like Paul; just like the Prodigal Son—when we come out of the confessional, there is rejoicing. Our Father’s words can ring in our ears:

“My son was lost and is found. He was dead and is now alive!”

It is a miracle!

*          *          *

I encourage all of us, therefore, to go to confession this summer—and bring your children. Receiving new life isn’t just for Advent or Lent or at school. It’s for any time that we come to our senses and realize we need a new beginning, a new life.

At this Holy Mass, therefore, let us entrust ourselves and all of our parishioners to the care of Mary, the Mother of Mercy. Let us in a special way entrust all who have been a long time from confession—those spiritual “walking dead” in this world—let us entrust them in this special Year of Mercy to our heavenly Father’s care; that God may visit us and rescue us (cf. Ps 30), calling us forth from our old ways of sin and death, and to arise to walk in newness of life!