Monday, June 19, 2017

The Communal Life (Part II) - Homily for Corpus Christi and Father's Day (A)

A very blessed Father’s day to all of you dads out there. Thank you for your sacrifices and inspiration that you give to your family and to all of us. Be assured of my prayers for you in a particular way at today’s Mass. We also pray for our dads who have passed on from this life. May they be received by our heavenly Father into the joy of His kingdom. For those who did not know their dad or had a tumultuous relationship, may our Lord bring healing to all hearts. And, finally, to those dads who feel as they haven’t been good dads, may our Lord show you His graces in your life and give you a renewed strength in the life to which He has called you.

*          *          *

In addition to Father’s Day, today is Corpus Christi, a great solemnity in the universal Church and it is about this which I will speak today—and I’ll circle back around to Father’s Day.

This great celebration of Corpus Christi is a celebration of the Holy Eucharist: Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity given to us here at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. After three years with me, you have heard this message several times.

There is a teaching of the Church, however, that is often misunderstood and which, I think, we should spend some time exploring today—and that is the teaching about how some people cannot receive the Eucharist. It seems like it is a harsh and exclusive teaching, so let’s explore that. In order to do that, let’s look at an equally harsh-looking and exclusive-seeming scripture passage.

It’s the story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman (see Mt 15:21-28). The woman, who is not Jewish, has a daughter who is in need of healing. The woman comes to Jesus and begs Him to heal her. Jesus responds by saying “It is not good to take the bread of the children and feed it to the dogs.”

Ok, at face value, it seems like Jesus is being very harsh, cruel even. But I also know that Jesus is God and God is love. So, I’m conflicted: what is going on here?

I prayed hard about this and here is the light I received: the emphasis is not firstly on the dogs, but on the bread of the children. Our first reaction is to say, “Hey, Jesus, you called her a dog.” But, the first emphasis is on the bread of the children: when Jesus says this is “the bread of the children,” He is saying that this is bread that He’s worked for, bread that is for His family, bread that has value and for a family who is valuable to Him. In other words, the emphasis is on the value of the bread—it is not common bread; it is valuable.

Therefore, He says the dogs part. And by that, He means: “I don’t just give this bread to anyone, even less do I just throw it away—like to dogs. Because dogs consume without thinking. They don’t know the value of this bread. I want someone who will think and love me in return; someone who will become part of my family.” In other words, when Jesus says the dogs part, He is giving the woman a chance to respond to a very important question, namely: “Do you understand the value of this bread? Do you wish to become part of my family?” After all, she is not Jewish.

Thus, Jesus’ words are not harsh, but a loving teaching—a teaching about the value of the bread and an invitation to enter into a deeper communion with Him and His family.

Hence, when she cries out with understanding—that is, when she says “Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the children’s table” (yes, Lord, I understand that this is very valuable bread; I understand that I am not part of your family, but I long to be part of it)—when she responds with understanding and love, Jesus heals her daughter.

*          *          *

The Catholic Church follows the lead of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, when she too teaches her children the value of the Eucharist.  The Eucharist is not just the “bread of the children,” but the “bread of angels.” Heavenly bread greater than that miraculous manna bread. It is bread given on the night before Jesus dies, bread (as we hear in John’s Gospel) without which we have no eternal life. Truly, if this bread is from heaven and is connected to eternal life, this is no ordinary bread! Indeed, Jesus says it is His flesh for the life of the world.

Even the crumbs, as the Syrophoenian woman acknowledges, have great value. You will notice, therefore, that Catholic Churches have linens on the altar which are folded at the end of Holy Communion—these linens, called corporals, are to catch those crumbs. You’ll notice, too, that the priests and holy deacons take all of the chalices to the back credence table after Holy Communion and pour water in them and then consume that water. We don’t simply pour the water down the drain—even less do we pour the Blood of Christ down the drain. No, every drop is consumed, because it is Jesus! We have sacred vessels of gold to alert us that this is not an ordinary meal. We even have a special sink in the back of church called a Sacrarium that is used when we wash the chalices and ciboria. And the leftovers—we place all of the hosts (which are Jesus)—we place Him in the tabernacle. “This is my Body, given up for you” Jesus said as He held the bread at the Last Supper. No ordinary meal, no ordinary bread.

If it was ordinary bread, we wouldn’t care. We would do like many of our Protestant brothers and sisters—good people, very good people—we would do like they would do: we wouldn’t always have communion every Sunday. We would focus on the music and the preaching—both of which are very important, but a mere moon in comparison to the sun of glory which is the Eucharist. If this was ordinary bread, we would just gather the leftovers and put them back into plastic bags and store them in some drawer somewhere as non-denominational churches do. We wouldn’t have priests and lay faithful dying to protect the Eucharist from desecration. We wouldn’t have any care about who receives and in what manner they receive and so on. Yes, we could do whatever we wanted. 

*          *          *

But Jesus says, it is not good to take this bread of the children and to “feed it to the dogs.” In other words, “I don’t want you to consume without thought or without love. I love you. Do you love me? Do you hunger for me?”

Hence, the Church, for all of her 2,000+ year history now, has reminded us that if we receive without thinking or without desire, we profit little. We find this in Sacred Scripture, too, when Paul admonished the Corinthians in his first letter to them (chapter 11). So, we must spiritually hunger for this.

We must also desire to be in Jesus’ family—for it is the bread of the children. Jesus is saying to us: “I want you to be in communion with me, with my children, with my family.”

Following the Good Shepherd, the Church reminds us that two basic requirements for communion in the family of God are that we are not in a state of mortal sin and that we haven’t left His Body, the Church (cf. 1 Cor 11). Those who are in a state of mortal sin or those who have protested against her by being part of a denomination that protested against her, are not in communion with this family, the Church. If we are not one in this Body, we cannot receive The Body.

So, when the Church says that some people cannot receive, she is not doing so to be exclusive, but to do what Jesus did: 1) to alert us to the tremendous (indeed, divine) value of this unordinary bread and 2) to invite us into a deeper communion with His family, the one Body, the fullness of which is the Catholic Church (precisely because she has the Eucharist).

The Church, therefore, is not a social club, nor is the Eucharist the token of acceptance. No, the Eucharist is Jesus and the Church exists precisely to bring this uncommon bread to the world.

Those in mortal sin, therefore, need to come to their senses as the Prodigal Son did and return to the Father’s house—the confessional—and so be brought back into communion with the family. Our world is trying to convince us that we aren’t hungry for God. But, yeah, when kids eat junk food before dinner, kids feel that they don’t need dinner. A comfortable world doesn’t think it needs God. Intentionally skipping Mass (not for illness, but while on vacay) is mortal because we’re saying that we don’t hunger for God and that the world is enough. And that hurts. We need to repent. And our Father who loves us takes us back in an instant! He threw an uncommon feast for the Son!

On the other side of the coin, if a Protestant recognizes the value of this uncommon bread, the Eucharist, to them we say: Welcome Home! Come, enter into this family. Become Catholic. We have been praying for you and we cannot wait to be one with you at this great celebration!

*          *          *

Let me conclude, then, by returning to fathers on this Father’s Day. One of the principle duties of fathers is to show and teach their children by word and action the true value of things. I hope that, as a priest, I have done this for you in the way that I offer the Holy Mass and in the way that I live during the other days of the week. But, as good as I hope my example is, it is not enough.

St. Therese of Lisieux once commented that “I learned more about the Eucharist from my dad than I did from the priest.” She wasn’t talking bad about the priest—she was talking about how important her dad, her hero was to her faith. Her dad, St. Louis Martin, revealed the true value of the Eucharist to his daughter, Therese, by the way he kneeled, by the way he dressed for Mass, by the way He talked about the Mass, by the way he prayed and then lived the other days after Mass. He was a man of piety—that is, someone who loved and revered holy things—and a man of devotion.

Our Church as a whole needs to reclaim that word, “Devotion.” It means not simply to attend to or to occasionally think or love, but to be devoted—to be consumed by this, to be committed, thinking and loving God and neighbor day in and day out. It’s what separates us from the dogs.

We must not be afraid, therefore, to speak about these hard teachings or to kneel as we receive and so on. It helps us. And it helps the world and our children to see that Someone important is here. And that I need Him. We all need Him. We hunger for Him.

And, really, that’s all our heavenly Father asks of us—just like any father asks of his child—that we be devoted and love him. After all, our heavenly Father loves us. Loves us so much that He gives us His everything, day in and day out; He gives us our daily bread; He gives us Jesus, His very life. Like any father, all he wants are those simple words: “Thank you, dad. I love you.”

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Communal Life - Homily for Holy Trinity Sunday (A)

When we were in grade school, we probably heard the phrase: “God is love.” For those of us who have heard this throughout our lives, it may be easy to gloss over—but for someone who wonders about the goodness of God, this is quite the statement. “God is love”—He is good, goodness straight through.

But let us peel this back a little. When we say that God is love, we mean more than just God loves you. We are also talking about who God is. Love, by definition, is relational; it requires at least two persons (else it is not truly the self-sacrificial love that Jesus reveals love to be on the Cross). So, already, we know something about God: there must be at least two Persons. And this is true: there is the Father and the Son. And they love each other. The Son, for example, when He is dying on the Cross, dies not only for love of us, but also for love of His Father. And the Father, who is the inspiration for the father in the Prodigal Son story, receives His Son, Jesus, with great love.

And, together, their love is so perfect, so good, so eternal, and so divine that their love is God and a third person: the Holy Spirit. Together, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God: three persons, and yet one—the Holy Trinity. In common language, we would say that God is, in His very essence, family; community. And not “He is like a family”—no, God is the inspiration and the source for every family. We are the image—He is the source.

Everything about our faith redounds to this, that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son. And for what purpose? So that we may be in communion with Him. Yes, not only can we say that “God is love” and that “God loves me,” but also that God wants to be in communion with us—He wants us to be brought into one with Him. This is what Jesus prays on the night before He dies: “Father… may they all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us…” (Jn 17:21) Or, easlier, when Jesus promised the Holy Spirit, He said: “In that day [that is, Pentecost] you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (Jn 14:20). That’s pretty awesome. Indeed, we are made for this.

*          *          *

When God created us, going all the way back to Genesis, He said: “Let us make man in our image” (Gen 1:26). Notice the pronouns there. They are plural. (A nod to the Trinity). But notice, too, how we are made: we are made in the image of God. And who is God again? Love—a communion of persons whose life is love. In other words, at the heart of every one of us is the image of the Trinity—indeed, we are made for love and community. Hence, God immediately thereafter says: “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18).

This isn’t just a statement about how a man needs a women else the man will starve (haha!). It’s not simply a statement about marriage. No, it’s a statement about who we are: that is, it is not good for us to be isolated; we are made for communion and when we isolate ourselves, it is not good. And why is it not good? Because our hearts are most alive and are truly discovering the goodness of God when we love and experience love. Selfishness breeds a sadness in our heart—an isolation that doesn’t allow itself to be loved or believe that it can be loved.

In our world, the enemy is working overtime to isolate and divide us. There is the stereotypical scene at the restaurant as the people in the booth aren’t talking to each other, but texting on their phones. Choosing to be on our phones is a choice to be alone. In some ways, it’s easier. We don’t have to be creative and come up with conversation or use our imagination to discover the person next to us. Yes, it’s so easy to just be alone.

Our social structures are not helping much, either. So many of us live in subdivisions and the houses are close by and it gives the illusion that we live in a community. But, honestly, so many people do not actually know their neighbors. Have you had them over for dinner? Or they you? I give communion to the sick and I can tell you they are all throughout our subdivisions and yet very few people know that the sick and elderly are there and that they are suffering. Alone.

And we don’t mean to be—it’s just that, either from our youthful days or in college, we got caught up in the me-project: “I’ve got a paper to write… I have to study for my test…” And then it is about me getting into a good school; and then me getting a good job; and then me getting a good place to live—I don’t have time to get married. People are actually saying this. I don’t have time for a family. And that’s true when life is isolated in the confines of self. Phone calls to parents—much less letter-writing-- is all but dead.

These trends translate into religion as well. It’s all about “me and Jesus” or “I am spiritual but not religious.” Neither of these statements embraces community (community which is a hallmark of religion); it simply embraces the self. And that’s a shame, because I know of so many young couples that are overwhelmed by having a kid or two and they feel as though they are going it alone and re-inventing the wheel, when in reality all they need to do is seek the wisdom of some of the couples here in this community. But few do that. And for whatever reason. Sometimes, people don’t want to inconvenience others. Maybe it’s easier to go it alone…

And let’s be frank: the enemy tries to drive a wedge in communities. Must I mention politics? Yes, politics are important. But I had a funeral some time ago where the parent had died and a couple of the kids were alienated from their parent because of their differing ideas in the political realm. Thankfully, just days before the parent passed, they reconciled. But the kids expressed deep regret—regret that something so passing and oftentimes so juvenile as politics got in the way of one of the most meaningful of relationships: that of a parent and a child. Yes, dear friends, we often get divided by who’s on the left and who’s on the right and we forget that there is an up and a down—up is where there is communion and heaven and the saints and love; down is isolation and regret and hell.

You see: community is really hard. It takes work. And the fact of the matter is: people can be annoying. Priests can be annoying. I can be annoying. It takes practice and messing up and struggle and love to bite one’s own tongue and to listen and to not react, but to love. This is why we need community, else we live in echo chambers where, if our positions are threatened in any way, we don’t have the patience to be charitable and courteous. And to grow.

*          *          *

God is love. And it is not enough to simply note and fight against the isolating trends in our culture. We must also teach how to care for our community. This requires teaching our children not only about rights but also responsibilities.

I hear of so many people who talk about how their grown child lives in their basement, focuses on the electronics, and is a bear to get them to make a contribution to the family and the home. Something must be done to help curb this epidemic. I offer this humble solution—which is not mine, but which I have gleaned from my conversations with all of you. Here’s how it goes:

Say you have a little son, Johnny, and he’s eight. At eight, he adores his dad and loves whatever he loves.

Ok, so, “Johnny, do you see mom there making dinner?”     
            “Yeah, dad.”
“Mom’s great isn’t she?”       
            “Yeah dad!”
“You love her, right?”
             “Of course, dad.”
“Ok, if you love her, then go help her. Because if you love, you help.”

And suddenly little Johnny is connecting the dots: that if we love, we must respond. We cannot sit idly by and let mom do everything. Love requires a response. Great lesson. And eight year olds understand this.

Later, when Johnny is twelve, a new conversation is had:

            “Johnny, you’re becoming a young man, so I’m sure you’ve noticed something.”
                        “What’s that, dad?”
“Well, every week, mom and me do the same things over and over: take out the trash, fold the laundry, set the table, and so on. You’ve notice that, right?”
                        “Well, now that you point it out, yeah.”
“And know you love us, but you’re smart and you’re becoming a young man, so I don’t have to tell you what to do—I mean, I have to tell your sister to always help mom, but you: you’re becoming a young man, right?”

At twelve, young boys don’t want to be treated like babies (sometimes they do if they are hurting), but most of the time, they want to be seen as one of the big boys.
“Ok, so I don’t have to always point out what has to be done. You can see it and do it without me even having to tell you, right?”
                        “Absolutely, dad.”
            “Ok, I’m relying on you. So, from that list that you know of, what will you do?”

Johnny is starting to learn initiative. He wants to be a young man, a contributor, a leader. So, ok, let’s give him the reigns and tell him that he has them: “I’m relying on you.”

Finally, when Johnny is fifteen or so and he’s going by “John,” another conversation can be had—something from The Lion King:
“John, you’re becoming a man and I want to have an adult conversation with you. I’m getting old and some day this will all be yours—you’ll have a house of your own and family to take care of. And I won’t be around to tell you to love mom or to remember your list, but you are going to have to look around you and see what needs to be done and to do it. So, I want you to look around our home. You’ll notice that I’ve done work on it and made some improvements. Tell me: what do you think? What needs to be done around here?—something I may not have thought of.

And he starts to think about it. And you walk him through. And help him as he struggles to begin to contribute to the home and to the family—as he struggles to love. In other words, we are teaching him ownership, how to own and feel responsible for his community.

And this is precisely where he should be learning this. Too often, our kids are sent off to college and they have no idea not only how to take care of themselves (mom always took care of everything!), but they have no idea how to contribute to the community. Thus begins the me-project.    

*          *          *

Of course, I’m not talking about some fictional dad and his son. I’m talking about me and you. I’m that dad and you are my spiritual children. And I want us to grow in response, in initiative, and in ownership.

Response: I know you love the parish. And we have things to do around here. There is a parish picnic coming up. If you love, then help out. And, I know, some of you are saying, “I’m old, I’ve put in my time.” Ok, first: thank you for helping out so much. But we don’t retire from the community, we don’t retire from love. Teenagers in the basement say “I’m too old to be helping mom with dinner tonight.”

Initiative: I know you know the many things that go on at this parish beyond Sunday. Which ones are you going to do? Monsignor doesn’t have to personally invite you every time in order to do something, right? I mean, we are adults here, right? And we aren’t focused solely on the me-project—so we do have time, right? Take initiative.

Ownership: look out over the parish, and not only the parish, but the Cottleville area. What needs to be done? Again, I know there are many sick and elderly people in our subdivisions. We have to own that. When we own something, we feel responsible for it. We need to feel responsible that there are people out there who are alone and isolated and going to die alone and isolated. We have to own that. What else needs to be done? What can we do better?

Because it is not good for man to be alone. Because we are made in the image of God. God who is love. God who is Holy Trinity, community, family, unity. This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Whatever - Homily for St. Justin, Martyr

This morning, we celebrate and ask for the intercession of St. Justin Martyr. He lived in the 2nd century and was killed when he refused to worship the pagan gods of the times.  Justin was a philosopher, thus well-equipped to logically defend the faith, which he did—publically—in one of the still-recorded written works of the early-Church: his Apology (or defense) of Catholicism. In that defense, we have one of the earliest accounts of Catholic life and also, wonderfully enough, about the Holy Mass.

When I hear about the martyrs, I am tempted to think that such things belong to ancient days and don’t happen anymore. But, the reality is, is that in the past 100 years, there have been more people martyred for believing in Jesus than in all of the past 1900 years of the Church combined. Yes, more martyrs in the past 100 years than all of the past years combined.

What has been the cause of this?

Justin, a philosopher, would be able to point it out very clearly: the way that we think about the world—that is, our worldview—determines how we act in that world. Our “philosophy of life” will translate how we act in life. And in our world today, there is an insidious and violent worldview out there—and it isn’t simply radical Islam. It’s post-modernism.

Fancy word—but here’s the gist of it: post-modernism is a worldview that thinks and believes that nothing really matters. It is ultimately dismissive—of anything it wants to dismiss, really. It can be described by one little word: “Whatever.”

Whatever. It is such a dismissive word. “Do whatever you want”; “Do whatever makes you happy”; “Yeah… whatever.”

I say it is insidious because it can emerge out of good intentions: I don’t want to come off as a bigot or uncharitable or unfeeling, so can’t we just let people do whatever they want? Sounds good—but, then, what becomes of words? Do words really mean Some Definable Thing? … marriage… murder… heaven… Jesus…?

You see, words do matter. And Jesus is zealous about this. He says in the Gospel today: the Commandments matter. And if we act as though they don’t—and, worse, if we teach others by our words and our life that they don’t—then, yeah, we're not gonna make it into the kingdom of heaven. Contrary to popular belief, all dogs don’t go to heaven—because this matters and the world acts as though it doesn’t.

Now, I say that post-modernism is violent because, if we Christians stand up for the fact that Marriage means something and the Cross means something and that these things don’t just mean “whatever”—well, the Whatever-people out there aren’t going to like it. It is true: the post-modern worldview is diabolically opposed to Christianity (and, by the same token, Christianity is opposed to the post-modern worldview). As you are living out what Jesus says—that is to be “salt of the earth” and to be the “light of the world”—then, yeah, that’s going to buck up against those who say that you are bigoted, you who hold God’s Commandments or reality-objectively-defined-by-God.

But that’s the thing. Things matter. Words matter. The Gospels matter. Jesus' love matters. Justin died for this. He knew the worldview and he knew that you can’t simply acquiesce into the great Whatever and still hold on to heaven. We have to choose.

And that's the Truth: if we aren't different than the blasé Whatever of the world, then we are salt without flavor. We are already just as good as dead.

This is why I get more than a little upset when people, without emergency or without good reason such as to get to a job that puts food on the table, leave the weekend Masses early. I don’t judge them, but I do get upset that somehow, someway, the Reality of what is going on here at this altar has either been lost or dismissed. I hope it is the first and not the latter. Because there is nothing worse than realizing what is going on here—this great sacrifice of Love at the Mass—and then to dismiss it with the great early-exodus of Whatever. For us who come here every day, we have to have a little jolt in our lives so that we don't make this routine.

Like I said at the beginning , there have been more martyrs over the past 100 years than all of the years combined. Indeed, just last week, dozens of Catholics were killed while they worshiped at this very same Mass! Tens more were killed as they were driving to there. What would they say to us?

Jesus matters! This Mass matters! Our blood matters! You matter!

May we never take it for granted.

St. Justin, martyr. Pray for us.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.