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.”

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Science of Love and Miracles - Homily for the Epiphany (A)

Do you know the story of Segatashya of Kibeho?  (Say that three times fast!) Segatashya of Kibeho.

Recently, I was at dinner with a wonderful family and, sometime in the middle of dinner, the mom brought up the book she had been reading: The Boy Who Met Jesus. It’s the story of Segatashya of Kibeho, a young boy who lived before the Rwandan genocide. He came from a pagan family and he had never heard of Jesus; never knew Him, never stepped foot in a church. One day, while the young boy was sitting under a tree, a young man visited him. His name was Jesus—The Jesus. Segatashya was having a vision—much like St. Paul.

Long story short, Segatashya would have many more visions and conversations with Jesus. The young boy’s family would find out. So too would the villagers. And they would bring others to see if the young boy would have another vision. Eventually, doctors and scientists would come to the scene. And there’s a story where, as Segatashya was conversing with Jesus, one of them put an entire needle through his body—but the boy miraculously did not move; he didn’t feel a thing. There are more miracles to mention here and it may all sound fantastical. But scientists and the Church together instigated this matter. And while science could not come to an explanation, the Church approved the visions as of supernatural origin—that is, miraculous.

As our dinner continued, we talked about more miracles in the Church and their connection to science.

*          *          *

For example, there are miracles involving the Eucharist, like that of the miracle at Lanciano in the 700s. There, in the small Italian village, during Holy Mass, the bread and wine turned into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus-- just like it will today here. However, unlike most Holy Masses where we cannot see that change, in Lanciano, people could see the change: in the chalice, the blood had coagulated; the host appeared as flesh. That's pretty miraculous. What's more, scientists investigated the matter—in the 20th century—which is itself miraculous that these elements had lasted 1300 years. After the scientific investigation, the scientists concluded that the blood from the miracle at Lanciano was truly human blood and that the flesh really was human flesh—and, specifically, that it came from the muscle of the human heart.

That’s just one of the Eucharistic miracles. There's Orvieto in the 1200s (from which we get the Corpus Christi Mass); Santarem in the 1300s; Siena in the 1700s. All of these left physical evidence which is verifiable by personal visit and by science.

And not just Eucharistic Miracles, but other ones as well.

For example, a young man named Juan Diego, who lived near Mexico City, approached the local bishop (with much hesitation, mind you), to tell him that the Virgin Mary was appearing to him. And that this wasn’t just any apparition, but Mary’s image was emblazoned on his tilma. This tilma—that is, the outer garment made of cactus pulp and which ordinarily would have deteriorated in 20 years—still remains intact today, nearly 500 years after the event. Scientists were invited to investigate this miraculous tilma and could not explain not only how it still exists, but how it was painted. They also verified that the stars of Mary’s cloak actually depict the constellations of stars as you would have seen them on that night of the vision (December 12th, 1531). And here’s the kicker: the stars on the cloak are not as if you looked up in the sky, but as if you were from God’s perspective looking down. Scientists also verified, using a high-powered microscope, that in Mary’s eyes, there is the reflection of everyone who was in the room (including the bishop) when Juan Diego unfurled the tilma. Science was at a loss at how to explain this.

There's Lourdes, 300 years later, how a poor girl, Bernadette, was visited by Mary. How scientists put a candle under Bernadette’s hands during the apparitions to verify the authenticity and how she felt nothing. How a miraculous spring came forth, a spring that has since cured thousands—and with scientific and doctors’ verification.

There's Fatima in 1917, how 70,000 people—and not just believers, but atheists too—witnessed the miracle of the sun. And how people even many miles away, who knew nothing of the apparitions, witnessed the miracle too.

So many miracles….

And then, as we were discussing all of this at dinner, someone asked a rhetorical question: with so many miracles, why would a person remain as an atheist?

*          *          *

Of course, I have encountered many atheists and I have my list reasons. But I think our Solemnity today—the Epiphany—helps us with two of those reasons.

On the one hand, we see Herod and the Three Kings. All of them see the miracle of the star. For Herod, he dismisses this event out of hand. And who knows why. But for the three kings, they approach with wonder. Now, these three kings aren’t fools; they’re not fundamentalists or crazies. They are wise men, not wise guys. They want to know the Truth of things. This is the first reason of some people's atheism: for whatever reason, Herod has lost his sense of wonder and, subsequently, a loss of the pursuit of Truth. Or perhaps he never had it. Perhaps this was the moment that God was trying to give Herod wonder and a new lease of life.

On the other hand, I know of many atheists that have had wonder, but have fallen away from the faith. One of the reasons why is that they have been hurt or scandalized by those claiming to believe in miracles—that is, by Catholics (including priests). On multiple occasions, I’ve heard people say, “If you say that there is a miracle at Holy Mass—that bread and wine change into God—and that you literally receive God and all of His powerful love into your being, if you believe that, then aren’t you supposed to be changed by that?... I’ve seen many Catholics who go into Mass and come out of Mass the same kind of person—the bad kind. Why do I need that?”

And that’s a valid question, I think. Because, you see, whether atheists know it or not—and whether we know it or not—they are doing an experiment on us. 

They are asking where our wonder is. They are asking about our belief in the miraculous. They are looking at our lives and what we say we believe and they ask: “Ok, if that’s so, then where are the miracles of love?” "This is my experiment: if the miraculous is happening at your Mass as you say it is, then where is the proof?"

The proof is supposed to be how we live. We are supposed to be different.

*          *          *

After all, back in the Three Kings' pagan country, who is going to believe the Kings' story if the Kings return with just the same life as when they left? If the Three Kings  really met the King of the Universe and it was miraculous, then shouldn't they be just a little different?

After all, who from that country is going to travel the thousand miles they did? Who else could verify the origin of the star? No one but The Kings. Which means that the country would have to trust the words of The Kings. And the only way they could trust The Kings’ words was if The Kings’ lives were different than when they had left.

Which it was. It says they "went home by a different route."

The Kings had approached the baby Jesus—who is God and whose divinity and glory are just as hidden and just as small as the Eucharist here-- they had approached Him and opened their treasures just as we open our hearts here at Mass. And, like us, they say "Here is my gift, small as it is, I bring it to your feet."

And Jesus does not send them away empty-handed. The Kings receive new treasures: the gift of The Truth; the gift of divine grace to strengthen them in Charity; the gift of New Life. In other words, The Kings receive Jesus!-- the very same gift we receive here at this Holy Mass!

*          *          *

Did we come here expecting miracles? Did we come with wonder? Do we believe that we receive treasures here?… Will we go home by a different route—that is, will others see our change?

The world needs to see this divine light in us—for “you are the light of the world” says the Lord! We must be different! We must be like the Three Kings whose miracle of a new, loving life is the proof that miracles indeed happened at this Mass.

How do we do that? What does it look like to be one of the Three Kings in the pagan land of the East?

We need to be the first ones to forgive—especially to our children and our families. In ancient times, people converted to Christianity in droves because they saw how lovingly Christians treated their families. I know family is often the hardest to love, but as Christians they must be the first we love—and receive the best of our love. We must believe in that miracle and we must be the first to open that treasure.

We need to be first who are open to life. And not simply telling others not to have abortions. We need to believe in the miracle that God is going to provide for our families and that we can open the treasure of our fertility and family planning to the care of God. We must be different here—while all the world is contracepting, Catholics must have larger and more loving families.

We need to be the first to have faithful marriages. We need to believe in the miracle that God gives through the Sacrament of Marriage, where He makes the man and woman one flesh. While the world simply cohabitates and divorces, we must show the miracle of a free, total, faithful, fruitful and ultimately sacrificial love that lasts until death do us part. We must believe that God will get us through the good times and the bad—and miraculously so! The world needs us to open that treasure for all to see!

We need to be the first to help free people from the slavery of addictions. And we must be the first people who seek freedom if we are addicted to something. Our Lord came to set the prisoners free—we must be the first to believe in the miracle of such freedom and ask God all the more for it so that we too may open this treasure for the world.

We need to be the first who are generous—and not only in monetary gifts, but in our prayers, our sacrifices, the call to duty and responsibility. While all the world is saying, “it’s my right to do whatever I want,” we must be the first to fulfill our responsibilities.

And if we have failed in any of these. If we have had an abortion, gotten a divorce, used contraception, been greedy or selfish or disbelieving—we must be the first ones who know and who can declare the great miracle which is God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. How He has changed our lives that once dwelt in darkness—how He has changed us to be a light to the nations. That someone so lowly as you and me have been given a light and, indeed, have been transformed: God has made us to be the kings that proclaim and indeed witness to the miracles of His presence miraculously here given.

That is my prayer for us today. May the world in its science see the miracles of our love—and believe.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A.D. - Homily for the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God (A)

A blessed and happy New Year to you and your families!

As we turn the page on 2016 and look to 2017, it is good to take a moment and ponder in our heart all that has happened in this past year. In fact, if you were to place a title at the top of 2016, how would you describe it? In one word, what would you say? “2016 was the Year of  ______.”

For Cubs fans, 2016 was the Year of Miracles. For the politically minded, 2016 was the Year of Revolution. If you watch a lot of news, they will tell you 2016 was the Year of Tragedies. For some here, 2016 was the Year of New Beginnings and new springtimes in our families. For others, it was the Year of a Loss: loss of a loved one or a job, or a constant battle with sickness.

How would you describe this year?

*          *          *

For Catholics, we actually describe the year with two little letters: A. D.

Those letters stand for “Anno Domini”—that’s Latin for “in the Year of the Lord.”

Oftentimes, people equate this with it being 2,016 years since the birth of Jesus—2,016 since the year of the Lord. Or 2,016 years After Death of Jesus. That’s not what it means.

2016 in the Year of the Lord means that this year, right now, and this past one which we are closing—this year is in The Year of the Lord. There is only one year—The Year of God—in God’s Time.

And in That Year is God’s universal reign. The Year belongs to Him: the Year of the Lord.

What we are talking about is His universal reign: that whatever happened in 2016, God was there. No matter whether it was The Cross or the Glory, God saw all and acted—indeed—everything was within His providential reign.

Therefore, when we say that it’s the New Year, when we look back and give a title to 2017, we will say it’s 2017 A.D.: 2017 in the Reign of God; 2017 in the kingdom of grace; 2017 in the Year of the Lord.

*          *          *

What does this mean for the next 365 days?

Well, I look to Mary on this her Solemnity. On Christmas morn, there began Year One in the Year of the Lord. The Reign of God and His Kingdom of Grace began with humble beginnings, poor beginnings, hidden and seemingly imperfect and powerless. But the Year of the Lord began with an embrace and with contemplation: “Mary pondered all of these things in her heart.” In other words, Mary reflected upon the events happening in time, the events from the past day and week and month and year and could now present them to Our Lord and see them in a new light. The events of the past year were not beyond God’s power or direction; indeed, Mary ponders precisely because she now is seeing that the events of the past have led precisely to this moment. And Mary recognizes the importance and the beauty of this moment in God’s Time: life is never going to be the same—and in a good way—and that’s a good thing.

*          *          *

I think here of all of you parents. Parents, do you remember the birth of your first child? Not your fourth or fifth—your first. There was a moment (and maybe it happened when you were at the hospital or maybe it happened when you brought your little one home and it cried for the first time in the middle of the night), there was a moment when it all became real. Really real. So real that you might have wondered whether you had the mettle for it. Where you maybe said out loud, “Is it too late to take it back?”

And life was never going to be the same. You knew that there was a different life ahead of you where decisions were not just about you anymore, but about your family—your child. Once, when you didn’t care about school mission statements and car safety ratings, now suddenly you were booking up. And as that child cried, you were faced with the decision to be purified of your self-centeredness and become other-centered. And you would look back on those years in your marriage before you had children as “B.C.”: before children.

If we allowed ourselves to be softened and other-centered, then we look back on having children with gratitude. The new life that came about in the Year of Children, in the Reign of Family—that new life opened up to Crosses, yes, but to wisdom and love and—well—we ponder it all in our hearts with amazement.

This is at the heart of living in the Year of the Lord. Mary—and, indeed, all of us—have a new life before us, a new year: The Year of the Lord. And the only way this new life brings peace and joy and wisdom and love is to consent to this Reign. To say yes to becoming other-centered. To live each day—not just Sunday—but every day IN the Year of the Lord. Just like parents who are parents every day, and not just Sunday, who have their marriage and their children at the center, so too Catholics are Catholics not just Sunday, but every day, and they have God and His Reign at the center.

This is what will transform our 2017 from bring “just another year” or a “year of tragedy,” and so on, to being a year of faith and hope and love and peace—truly a Year of the Lord.

*          *          *

My personal prayer for all of my parishioners and for all of us here is that we may venture to the church more frequently. Not only more Sundays, but more weekdays. And not just for Mass, but to simply visit Our Lord in the tabernacle and in the adoration chapel. To kneel and to place our day and our week and our month and our year at His feet and allow His reign to illuminate our paths and strengthen our hearts. What a great source of peace it is to “ponder in our hearts” the events of our lives in the light of God’s reign. It really does transform us. This is my prayer for you, therefore, that 2017 A.D. will truly be for you a season of holiness and growth and joy for you dwelling in the Year of the Lord.