29 October 2006

Where's the homily?

Just in case you've been looking for my homily for the weekend, you will not find it. Originally slated to be away from the parish for the weekend to attend a wedding in Quincy.

The wedding I did attend but stay away I did not. However, since I already had a priest lined up to celebrate my Masses I let him celebrate as scheduled while I am working on catching up on work.

Because I was not going to preach this weekend I did not compose a homily.

On the Apostle Paul

His Holiness reflected on the person of Saint Paul of Tarsus during his Wednesday General Audience October 25th.

Referring to Paul as "a star of first grandeur in the history of the Church," the Holy Father noted that Paul's conversion "was not the result of nice thoughts, of reflections, but the fruit of a divine intervention, of an unforeseen divine grace."

So very often we try to amend our lives and change our ways simply through our own initiative, giving all too little attention to the role of God in the change of hearts, both of our own and of others. Paul shows us, then, that we must yield to the power and love of Christ.

Indeed, "What matters", His Holiness remarked, "is to put Jesus Christ at the center of our lives, so that our identity is characterized essentially by the encounter, by communion with Christ and his Word. In his light, every other value must be recovered and purified of possible dross."

When one considers that Paul "dedicated himself to make this Gospel known," and that "difficulties were not lacking in Paul's apostolate, which he faced with courage for love of Christ," His Holiness asked, "How can such a man not be admired? How can we not thank the Lord for having given us an apostle of his stature?"

Pope Benedict XVI closed his reflections with a prayer asking the Lord to "help us to live the exhortation that the Apostle left us in his letters: 'Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ' (I Corinthians 11:1)."

25 October 2006

The agony of defeat

It is a curious thing, competition.

We spend so much time, effort and energy in preparing for various competitions, fully expecting to win and to taste the sweet glory of victory, all the while knowing that one side must win and the other must lose and suffer the agony of defeat.

Last night our soccer team played fantastically in their match against the Rochester Rockets in Raymond. They played an excellent game, far better than they played last Thursday night. Nevertheless, they lost the match after double overtime to penalty kicks.

All day Monday I was quite beside myself. I was excited about the game; me, the one who never has enjoyed sports at all. I wanted our Bulldogs to win maybe more than they did. I was even fully prepared to cancel my weekend plans to attend a wedding in Quincy to travel with them to the match(es) in Naperville and even to buy their meal on the way home (there are 20 some players on the team).

The boys kept me on the edge of my seat the entire game (I sat down after a while and wrapped myself in my cape because it was warmer than sitting). At one point I apparently let out a, "What the h__l," which quite surprised the team sitting next to me.

Still this evening I am sad at their loss. I cannot say that I am disappointed, though, because they played an exciting and awesome game. They should all be very proud of themselves; I know that I am.

Well done boys!

22 October 2006

Homily - 22 October 2006

His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, has declared today World Mission Sunday. He has given this day the theme, “Charity: Soul of the Mission,” a topic near and dear to his heart. In his message to mark this eightieth celebration of this World Mission Sunday, the Holy Father reminds us that,

Unless mission is animated by charity, that is, unless it flows from a profound act of divine love, it risks being reduced to a mere philanthropic and social action. The love which God has for each single person constitutes, in fact, the very core of living and preaching the Gospel, and all who hear it in turn, become witnesses (Message for World Mission Sunday, 2006, 1).
The message of the Gospel must be proclaimed to each and every person; no one can be refused the message of salvation in Christ Jesus. This is the very purpose of the Church; without this mission the Church would not exist.

The mandate to spread the message of love was entrusted to the apostles by Jesus after his resurrection, and the apostles, inwardly transformed on the day of Pentecost by the power of the Holy Spirit, began to bear witness to the Lord’s death and resurrection. From that time on the Church continues this same mission which constitutes for all believers an indispensable and permanent duty (MWMS, 1).
In all that she does, the Church seeks always and everywhere to make known that “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God” (Hebrews 4:14).

Today Jesus warns us, “whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all” (Mark 10:43). “Every Christian community is called, then, to make God known, who is love” through service and charity (MWMS, 2). What greater act of service can there be than to make known Jesus Christ so that all people might “confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help”? (Hebrews 4:16). What greater charitable gift can there be than to help ensure that every person hears the Gospel to proclaimed?

Here, we would do well to recall how salvation first came to us:

“In the beginning, man came from the Creator's hands as the fruit of an initiative of love. Later, sin obscured the impression of the divine within him.

“Deceived by the Evil One, Adam and Eve, our first parents, failed to live up to the relationship of trust with their Lord, succumbing to the temptation of the Evil One who instilled in them the suspicion that the Lord was a rival and wanted to limit their freedom.

“So it was that they preferred themselves to divine love freely given, convinced that in this way they were asserting their own free will. They consequently ended by losing their original happiness and they tasted the bitter sorrow of sin and death.

“However, God did not abandon them. He promised salvation to them and to their descendents, announcing in advance that he would send his Only-begotten Son, Jesus, who in the fullness of time was to reveal his love as Father, a love capable of redeeming every human creature from the slavery of evil and death.

“In Christ, therefore, immortal life was communicated to us, the very life of the Trinity. Thanks to Christ, the Good Shepherd who did not abandon the lost sheep, human beings of all time were granted the possibility of entering into communion with God, the Merciful Father who was prepared to welcome home the Prodigal Son” (MWMS, 2).
Precisely in the love of Jesus Christ – the love that went to the Cross and beyond - we see

love in its most radical form. It is there that this truth can be contemplated. It is from there that our definition of love must begin. In this contemplation the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move” (Pope Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, 12).

“On the eve of his Passion, Jesus bequeathed as a testament to his disciples, who had gathered in the Upper Room to celebrate the Passover, the "new commandment of love - mandatum novum": "This I command you, to love one another" (Jn 15: 17). The brotherly love that the Lord asked of his "friends" originates in the fatherly love of God (MWMS, 3).

“The Apostle John noted: "He who loves is born of God and knows God" (I Jn 4: 7). Therefore, to love according to God it is necessary to live in him and of him: God is the first "home" of human beings, and only by dwelling in God do men and women burn with a flame of divine love that can set the world "on fire"” (MWMS, 3).
We are called to make our home in God so that we can announce to all people the wondrous truth that “God is love” (I John 4:16).

What then does it mean to be a missionary? What must one do to carry out the mission of the Church, a mission entrusted to each and every member of the baptized? It means simply this: “loving God with all one’s heart, even to the point, if necessary, of dying for him” (MWMS, 3).

Being missionaries means stooping down to the needs of all, like the Good Samaritan, especially those of the poorest and most destitute people, because those who love with Christ's Heart do not seek their own interests but the glory of the Father and the good of their neighbor alone. Here lies the secret of the apostolic fruitfulness of missionary action that crosses frontiers and cultures, reaches peoples and spreads to the extreme boundaries of the world (MWMS, 3).
Being a missionary means being “the slave of all” (Mark 10:).

Let us each, then, take up on the banner of the Cross and proclaim to everyone the truth of God’s love and salvation. If we truly know the Lord Jesus Christ, we will want everyone we know him, too, much in the same way we introduce one friend to another. Let us pray for the missions; let us contribute generously to the spread of the Gospel; let us not forget that we, too, are missionary persons. Let us make known the great love of God both to the far corners of the world, and to the corner of the nearest street. This is the “indispensable and permanent duty” of every Christian (MWMS, 1).

20 October 2006

An anonymous letter

Today I received what is, I believe, my first anonymous letter. The Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael coincided this year with what is known as “Dawg Days” at our high school. As part of the festivities, the students attend Mass and are given the afternoon free for games and contests.

This year, for one reason or another, it was not possible to celebrate Mass followed by lunch. I cannot now recall the reason, but circumstances necessitated that we eat first and then celebrate Mass, which was then followed by the games (which include a mud pit and tug-of-war match).

The anonymous letter I received reads as follows:

Dear Father Darren [sic],
I am writing this letter about Freshman and Senior day. It is my concern if these kids had a [sic] enough time between eating their lunch and recieving [sic] the Eucharist. Please check into this.

Let me first say that I do not appreciate the insinuation that I will not take their concern seriously, nor do I appreciate the author’s lack of trust. The anonymity of the letter seems to presume an ill intent on my part.

To answer the author’s concern, the Code of Canon Law states: “A person who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain for at least one hour before holy communion from any food and drink, except for only water and medicine” (canon 919 § 1). A further exception is given for “the elderly, the infirm, and those who care for them” (canon 919 § 3).

If this were the last word, I would indeed have acted inappropriately by offering the holy sacrifice of the Mass so soon after lunch. However, the law itself allows priests to dispense from the law in certain instances. Canon 89 states, “A pastor and other presbyters or deacons are not able to dispense from universal and particular law unless this power has been granted to them.”

Canon 919 itself does not grant me this permission, but the Diocesan Bishop has granted it. All priests in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois have been granted the faculty “to dispense the faithful from the Eucharistic fast in individual cases and for a proportionate reason” (Faculties and Permissions for Priests, 6).

On the day in question, many of the students would have been able to observe the fast because some were able to receive their food more quickly than others. Mass also started later than expected because of a few technical difficulties. Those who did not have the required fast, I dispensed from the Eucharistic fast, as I believe I stated day.

An anonymous letter

Today I received what is, I believe, my first anonymous letter. The Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael coincided this year with what is known as “Dawg Days” at our high school. As part of the festivities, the students attend Mass and are given the afternoon free for games and contests.

This year, for one reason or another, it was not possible to celebrate Mass followed by lunch. I cannot now recall the reason, but circumstances necessitated that we eat first and then celebrate Mass, which was then followed by the games (which include a mud pit and tug-of-war match).

The anonymous letter I received reads as follows:

Dear Father Darren [sic],
I am writing this letter about Freshman and Senior day. It is my concern if these kids had a [sic] enough time between eating their lunch and recieving [sic] the Eucharist. Please check into this.

Let me first say that I do not appreciate the insinuation that I will not take their concern seriously, nor do I appreciate the author’s lack of trust. The anonymity of the letter seems to presume an ill intent on my part.

To answer the author’s concern, the Code of Canon Law states: “A person who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain for at least one hour before holy communion from any food and drink, except for only water and medicine” (canon 919 § 1). A further exception is given for “the elderly, the infirm, and those who care for them” (canon 919 § 3).

If this were the last word, I would indeed have acted inappropriately by offering the holy sacrifice of the Mass so soon after lunch. However, the law itself allows priests to dispense from the law in certain instances. Canon 89 states, “A pastor and other presbyters or deacons are not able to dispense from universal and particular law unless this power has been granted to them.”

Canon 919 itself does not grant me this permission, but the Diocesan Bishop has granted it. All priests in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois have been granted the faculty “to dispense the faithful from the Eucharistic fast in individual cases and for a proportionate reason” (Faculties and Permissions for Priests, 6).

On the day in question, many of the students would have been able to observe the fast because some were able to receive their food more quickly than others. Mass also started later than expected because of a few technical difficulties. Those who did not have the required fast, I dispensed from the Eucharistic fast, as I believe I stated day.

Victory!

I am delighted to report that the St. Anthony high school boys soccer team won their match against Carlinville in Raymond last night 1-0. The winning point was scored in double overtime. They are now one of the sixteen remaining teams in the state of Illinois.

They will play in Raymond again Monday evening against . . . I cannot now recall against whom; sorry!

The boys have invited me to come with them to the game so this morning I will be rearranging my schedule to be with them. This will be no small feat!

Congratulations boys!

On Judas Iscariot and Matthias

During his Audience Address yesterday, His Holiness concluded his superb reflections on the Twelve Apostles with a few words on Judas Iscariot and Matthias, who replaced the Betrayer.

Peter’s successor noted that the very name of Judas arouses “an instinctive reaction of reprobation and condemnation.” He also point out that “the betrayal, as such, took place in two moments: first of all in its planning phase, when Judas comes to an agreement with Jesus’ enemies for thirty pieces of silver (cf. Matthew 26:14-16), and later in its execution with the kiss he gave the master in Gethsemane (cf. Matthew 26:46-50).”

The betrayal of Judas poses to questions to the faithful. “The first consists in asking ourselves how it was possible that Jesus chose this man and trusted man,” he said.

The second question concerns why Judas betrayed Jesus. This, the Pontiff said, “continues to be a mystery.”

Reminding the world that “the possibilities of perversion of the human heart are truly many,” the Holy Father cautioned that “the only way to prevent them consists in not cultivating a view of life that is only individualistic, autonomous, but in always placing oneself on the side of Jesus, assuming his point of view.”

While Judas, like Peter, repented, Judas’ “repentance degenerated into despair and in this way it became self-destruction.”

In all of this we should remember that “Jesus respects our freedom,” he said, and that “Jesus waits for us to have the disposition to repent and to be converted; he is rich in mercy and forgiveness.”

His Holiness spoke only briefly of Matthias, noting, “To the greatness of his fidelity was added later the divine call to take Judas’ place, as though compensating his betrayal.”

Through the lives of Judas and Matthias we can learn that “Although there is no lack of unworthy and traitorous Christians in the Church, it is up to us to counterbalance the evil they do with our limpid testimony of Jesus Christ our lord and savior.

19 October 2006

The game of kings

This year I began sponsoring a chess club at our high school. I'm quite happy to say that we about fifteen students in the club who meet each Wednesday and Thursday during lunch to play.
They are an energetic and enjoyable group of students with many great ideas.

Tuesday evening - after the soccer game - we met for our first tournament. They want to have t-shirts made and have a piece of the chess board put on the back of the shirts. In order to determine who gets what piece, they played for it. The pawns and knights were selected Tuesday and we still have to finish the tournament to determine who is the king and queen.

We have one young lady in the group and the rest are young men. They assured me that the young lady is not the Queen by default as I suggested (they told me at first that I was automatically a bishop but took that away from me; now I'm the Lord Regent). I was rather hoping that she would win the tournament and become king and one of the guys would have been queen. That would have been rather amusing, but it doesn't look a possibility now.

Onward . . . to victory?

Tuesday afternoon our soccer team won a game that they thought they would not even be playing, but - with a surprise victory Saturday night - they did.

This afternoon they travel to Raymond for a game this evening and I will again accompany them. Oddly enough, the last time I traveled with them we went to Raymond and the weather was not quite pleasant. It sounds as though it will be the same again.

At any rate, I am looking forward to both the game and the trip. I'm in great need of time away from the office to actually get some work finished, and perhaps in even greater need of a personal secretary!

15 October 2006

On Simon and Jude

During his Wednesday General Audience on October 11th, His Holiness reflected on the persons of the Apostles Simon the Cananaean (also called the Zealot) and Jude (called Thaddaeus). This was the first audience in which he reflected upon two of the Apostles at once. He did so both because the two are always mentioned together and "because there is not moch information about them."

The Holy Father prayed: "may both Simon the Cananaean as well as Jude Thaddaeus help us to rediscover always anew and to live tirelessly the beauty of the Christian faith, knowing how to give both strong and serene witness."

Simon was a zealot who was "interested in people, not is social categories or etiquette" who reminds us that "Jesus himself, in fact, was the motive for cohesion, in whom all found themselves united."

Jude asked the Lord why he manifests himself clearly to the disciples and not to the Lord. Reflecting on the Lord's response, His Holiness said, "the Risen One must be seen, perceived, also with the heart, so that God can make his dwelling in him. The Lord does not appear as a thing. The Lord wishes to enter into our lives and because of this, his manifestation is a manifestation is one that implies and presupposes an open heart."

Concerning the Letter of Jude, the Holy Father stated, "in all the existing temptations, with all the currents of modern life, we must preserve the identity of our faith." "It is important," he went on to say, "to keep very present that this, our identity is not to be toyed with on a simply cultural plane or on a superficial level, but requires strength, clarity and courage given the contradictions of the world in which we live."

A lesson on song

As I was setting the Sacramentary, unlocking doors, and otherwise preparing for Mass out at Annunciation Parish in Shumway last evening, I thought I was alone in the church (the parish of which I hope to be pastor one day although the Bishop has already informed me it will not happen). As I moved about the sanctuary and the aisles I was singing something that I cannot now remember.

When I returned to the sacristy there was a young man waiting for me who asked if I had been singing in Latin. I was surprised for two reasons: first, because, as I said before, I thought I was alone and, second, because I really didn't know the answer to his question! I was simply happily singing to the Lord; it may have been English or Latin - maybe even a combination - or maybe even a bit of Scandinavian for all I know :)

Moral of the story: When singing in a public place always pay attention to what you sing lest somebody ask you about it and you look foolish.

14 October 2006

Homily - 15 October 2006

We might well ask today why the rich young man says to Jesus, "Good teacher" (Mark 10:17). Each of us has surely known and experienced a teacher who taught us well, but I do not think we would every address them as "good." Why does this young man do so?

It could well be that he tries to justify himself and so flatters Jesus by calling him not just a teacher, but a good teacher. But - as is always the case with Jesus - flattery gets the young man nowhere. He questions Jesus simply as a teacher and nothing more. He refuses to recognize his divinity. As he prefaced his question, the young man knew the answer that Jesus would give.

"What must I do to inherit eternal life?" The young man knew the law well and he knew when Moses presented the Ten Commandments and the Law to the House of Israel he said to them:

Here, then, I have today set before you life and prosperity, death and doom. If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin on you today, loving him, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees, you will live . . . I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may life, by loving the LORD, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him (Deuteronomy 30:15-16, 19-20).

To his question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life," Jesus answers, "You know the commandments" (Mark 10:19). The implication is clear: follow the commandments and you will inherit eternal life; keep them and you will live.

And yet, somehow the young man senses that it is not enough to simply follow the commandments for he says in response, "Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth" (Mark 10"20). Notice that Jesus is no longer the good teacher, but simply the teacher; he has failed – or so it seems – to answer the longing of this man's heart and now Jesus no longer receives his respect, feigned though it may have been.

Throughout all of his life this young man has obeyed the letter of the law, as it were; he has kept the commandments, but still he recognizes there is more to be done, else he would never have asked the question in the first place.

Consider the internal struggle this man must have fought. He had been told that the simple following of the commandments would bring him life and peace. He has followed all of the commandments all of his life, and yet he has not yet experienced the fullness of life and peace. It tears him up inside each day. "What more must I do?," he asks himself. "Where did I go wrong? Why isn't it working?"

In the midst of this wrenching struggle he hears of this man Jesus and he goes to him, but only as Jesus is leaving town. He must have given his question much thought. Could he really ask this question? How could this man know the answer? The young man finally plucked up his courage and went to Jesus giving him – however briefly – the benefit of the doubt. He would ask and see what Jesus would say.

"What must I do to inherit eternal life?" The answer comes, but it tears him apart. Perhaps he knew the answer all along, though he could not bring himself to accept it. The answer comes: "You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me" (Mark 10:21).

How his heart sank! As Jesus spoke to him he could tell that Jesus knew his anguish and that he "loved him" (Mark 10:21). And yet, though he knew that Jesus loved him, he knew also that he could not return this love. "His face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions" (Mark 10:22).

He had followed the commandments out of a deep sense of legal obligation, but never had he followed them out of a true sense of love. He did not love; he obeyed. This young man could not apply the words of Solomon to Jesus, as so many around him had already done:

I preferred [him] to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with [him], nor did I liken any priceless gem to [him]; because all gold, in view of [him], is a little sand, and before [him], silver is to be accounted mire (Wisdom 7:8-9).

The rich young man failed to see in Jesus Christ the "treasure buried in the field" (Matthew 13:44). Referring to himself Jesus said, "When [a man] finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it" (Matthew 13:46). This the young man could not do.

In finding Christ the Teacher and asking his all-important question, the young man set his hand to the plow, but he did not keep focused; his possessions distracted him and he looked away from Jesus. "No one who sets a hand to the plough and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62).

Thus, the young man finds himself in a horrible dilemma, and one of his own making. Somehow in the depths of his heart he knew that what Jesus said was true, that the abandonment of the world and the following of Christ is the only way to eternal life. He knew that when Jesus said,

Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come (Mark 10:29-30).

Peter and the Apostles placed their love and trust in Jesus alone and gave "up everything and followed" him (Mark 10:28). The rich young man could not find the courage within himself to fully accept Jesus' heavy demand, to relinquish everything in order to obtain him. His earthly possessions – his house, his money, his books, his music, his chariot, his artworks, his food, his security – all of this meant too much to him and he could not bring himself to abandon it. He would not make Jesus his one and only possession.

The young man was too practical, too pragmatic, too organized, too busy, and too prepared. Unlike Peter and the others, the young man could not make the words of Solomon his own:

Beyond health and comeliness I loved [him], and I chose to have [him] rather than the light, because the splendor of [him] never yields to sleep. Yet all good things together came to me in [his] company, and countless riches at [his] hands (Wisdom 7:10-11).

What holds you back today from abandoning yourself fully to Christ? What worries or anxieties keep you from trusting Jesus' words and following after him? Let them go. They are nothing in comparison with him. Relinquish them into his hands, lest your face, too, fall, and you, too, go away sad (cf. Mark 10:22).

"What that man heard, most beloved, we, too, have heard. The gospel of Christ is in heaven, but it does not cease to speak on earth. Let us not be dead to him, for he thunders. Let us not be deaf, for he shouts" (Caesarius of Arles, Sermons, 153.1).

Mary invites us to meet Jesus

The meeting between the Archangel Gabriel and Mary was "such a highly charged moment, bringing together the overwhelming love of God and God's gift of human freedom," said the Most Reverend George J. Lucas in his weekly column. "We must not take either one for granted. God's favor is not due us; God's hand is never forced on our behalf. Nor is Mary's acceptance of God's plan coerced."

Reflecting on his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Bishop Lucas said:

"In the Holy Land, it becomes clear that at a certain moment, in a certain place, the Son of God become man and lived among us. At Bethelehem he could be held as an infant. In Nazareth, neighbors could see him play in their streets. In Galilee, people could take him fishing or have him over for dinner. In Jerusalem, so many watched, from a safe distance, as the Son of God offered himself on the altar of the cross."

Recognizing that most of the faithful will never have the opportunity to visit the Holy Land, His Excellency noted that "Whenever we pray the Rosary right here where we live, Mary invites us to use a holy imagination and to let guide us to Nazareth, to Galilee, to Calvary and to the emtpy tomb."

A storyteller?

Over the past couple of weeks I have received numerous compliments on my homily of two weeks past. In this homily, I shared the story of how a Snickers icecream bar one day was a near occasion of sin for me.

The parishioners - young and old - loved the homily and still are talking about it, or at least about the Snickers bar. They keep telling me that I should use more personal stories in my homilies, which leads me to several thoughts:

1. Personally, when I hear another priest's homily (or deacon's, or bishop's, or pope's homily for that matter), I do not want to hear about them, I want to hear the Gospel. Very often whenever a homily begins, "The other day I was..." or "On my last fishing ..." or "As I prepared for this homily..." I drift straight away and rarely do I return until the preacher sits down. Maybe there are some out there like me in this regard.

2. In order to use a personal story in the homily it has to fit with the readings of the day. Some stories can blend rather easily and others take a bit more creative and, frankly, I'm not all that creative. Imaginative, yes; creative, no.

3. In order to use a personal story, it has to be a good story and I simply do not think I have that many good stories for homily use. Perhaps it's simply because they are my stories and I know them well and have thought about them often. At the same, this repetoire is rather limited as I tend to forget things fairly easily.

Just some thoughts of mine. What do you think?

09 October 2006

The humor of the Saints

Some Saints I like because of the example of their lives. Others I like because of their profound writings. Other Saints I like because they have an amusing tale connected to them. Take Saint Denis, for example, whose memorial we celebrate today.

Saint Denis (d. ca. 258) was sent by Pope Fabian to preach the Gospel in the Roman Province of Gaul around A.D. 250. Upon his arrival he built a church on an island in the River Seine and, with the help the priest Rusticus and the deacon Eleutherius, evangelized so powerfully that he was soon arrested and beheaded.

The three bodies were then thrown into the river, collected by their followers who then erected the church of Saint Denis, the resting place of the French monarchy.

The Legend says that after he was beheaded, Saint Denis' corpse picked up the head and carried it some distance before finally dying. The stories rarely get better than this!

07 October 2006

Homily - 8 October 2006

We see in the first reading that man, that Adam, is lonely even with the “various wild animals and various birds of the air” running and flying around (Genesis 2:19).

“Of all other creatures, not one is capable of being the helper that man needs, even though he has assigned a name to all the wild beasts and birds and thus made them fully a part of his life. So God forms woman from the rib of man. Now Adam finds the helper that he needed: ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’” (Genesis 2:23).
[1]

In this we see that Adam, that man, “is somehow incomplete, driven by nature to seek in another the part that can make him whole, the idea that only in communion with the opposite sex can he become ‘complete’.”
[2] “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

I wish to pose here a question to all of our young people: when you chose someone to date, for what do you look? Do you look for someone with whom you can have fun, or someone with whom you can relate? Do you look for something that will last, or do you look for something just to keep you occupied for a short time. Do you look simply upon externals, or you do you look to the soul within? When you look for someone to date, ask the Lord to lead you to that person who will complete you, who will help you become fully human, who will help you journey to the Lord and then – if you are indeed called to marriage – you will find your spouse.

In his Encyclical Letter, Pope Benedict XVI points out that two aspects of this account of creation are important:

“First, [love] is somehow rooted in man’s very nature; Adam is a seeker, who ‘abandons his mother and father’ in order to find woman; only together do the two become ‘one flesh’. The second aspect is equally important. From the standpoint of creation, [love] directs man towards marriage, to a bond which is unique and definitive; thus, and only thus, does it [love] fulfill its deepest purpose.”
[3]

This is the deepest purpose of sexual love: to unite man and woman as “one flesh,” all within the context of marriage.

There are many today who wish to redefine marriage for their own aims and agendas. “While the Church clearly teaches that discrimination against any group of people is wrong, efforts to make cohabitation, domestic partnerships, same-sex unions, and polygamous unions equal to marriage are misguided and also wrong.”
[4] None of these other ideas reflect the divine plan of love seen in marriage. This is why we can neither accept them nor encourage them. What do I mean here?

Marriage as given us by God involves a mutual and exclusive love that is pledged until death. Marriage involves one man and one woman who complete each other and is a permanent bond. This “marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love.”
[5]

Ponder this for a while, if you will: God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love. To you married couples, I ask you this: do you “cling” to each other? How does your spouse experience God’s own love through your marriage? Where this answer is lacking, so also an essential purpose of marriage is lacking. How are you to know if your marriage lives up to the high honor that the Lord has called you? Tertullian puts it this way:

“What kind of yoke is that of two believers who share one hope, one desire, one discipline, one service? They are mutual servants with no discrepancy of interests. Truly they are ‘two in one flesh.’ Where the flesh is one, the spirit is one as well. Together they pray, together bow down, together perform their fasts, mutually teaching, mutually entreating, mutually upholding. They stand equally at the banquet of God, equally in crises, equally facing persecutions, and equally in refreshments. Neither hides anything from the other. Neither neglects the other. Neither is troublesome to the other.”
[6]

This is the beauty and challenge of marriage; it is to this that the Lord calls all married couples.

Some might ask what a celibate priest knows of the challenges and the difficulties of marriage. I, too, grew up within the context of a family, two families really and, because of this, I do know something of the challenge of marriage and also of the reward of a marriage well lived.

My own parents, Bill and Pat, were married and two years and six days later, I was born on Easter Sunday. Their marriage – which ended after ten years and one month when Dad died – was not at all easy. When I was born, Mom gave birth to twin boys; Matthew died that same day and the doctors feared for my life as well. I was in and out of the hospital as a young boy and by the time I was five years old Mom was confined to a hospital bed at home because of brain cancer. Dad was then burdened with the heavy responsibility of caring for two young boys and his wife.

Certainly this is not what he bargained for when he married my Mom, nor is this what she expected. And yet, Dad must have remembered the commitment he made the day of his wedding; he must have known the seriousness of the covenant into which he entered. Do you know the promise you made the day of your wedding?: “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”

How easy it would have been for Dad to run, to leave and to abandon the promise he made to love his wife. And yet in the keeping of his promise shines forth the love of God as if through a prism. In this, my parents shared in some way in the sufferings of Christ and gave to me a glimmer of hope and comfort in a troubled world. As I reflect on their short and trying marriage, I can see the love they had for each other, the same love with which God loves his people. This is the love that did not run from the Cross but embraced it.

Today we think also of the sad reality of divorce. There are many who claim that the Church is unsympathetic to those who experience divorce but this simply is not true. It is the Church’s great duty to guard and protect the dignity of marriage, and for this reason the Church upholds the validity of every marriage until proven otherwise.

Jesus himself says, “Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Mark 10:9). The Church herself cannot dissolve a marriage validly entered into. From time to time, the Church investigates a marriage to see if a sacramental bond was truly entered into. When it is found that something required was lacking for a true sacramental bond, a declaration of nullity may be issued, declaring that the marriage was not a sacramental marriage from the beginning. It makes no moral judgment on the couple or on the children. These declarations are given both with great respect for the sacrament of marriage and for the dignity of those involved. In all she does, the Church desires to lead all people to Jesus Christ and to experience his love.

We know, too, that one of the purposes of marriage is the procreation of children and the stability of family life. This being the Month of the Rosary and today/yesterday being the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, I invite – I beg you – to pray the Rosary together as a family. Discover the simple riches of this time-honored prayer together. Through the Rosary, “we ponder . . . the mysteries of our salvation, and ask the Lord to help us grow in our understanding of the marvelous things has done for us.”
[7] In understanding his love more deeply, we will each grow in our vocation as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, 11.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, 11.
[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, 11.
[4] United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, 280.
[5] Pope Benedict, Deus caritas est, 11.
[6] Tertullian, To His Wife, 2.8.
[7] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 1 October 2006.

Conference on "Profound Preaching"

On Friday, 10 November 2006, the Liturgical Institute of the University of St. Mary of the Lake will offer a one day conference for priests and deacons given by Deacon Owen F. Cummings called, "Profound Preaching: The Spirituality of Advent and Christmas."

Having studied briefly under Deacon Cummings I can testify to his insight, intellectual prowess, and delightful and engaging humor. I highly recommend him.

It is my hope to attend.

On Bartholomew

During his Wednesday Audience on 4 October 2006, Pope Benedict continued his reflections on the Twelve Apostles, focusing on the Apostle Bartholomew.

The Pontiff recalled that Bartholomew has traditionally been associated with Nathanael, "probably due to the fact that Nathanael . . . is placed next to Philip, that is, in the place that Bartholomew has in the lists of the apostles referred to by the other Gospels."

It was Nathanael who posed the skeptical question, "Can anything good from Nazareth?" (John 1:46) and in this question we see that "according to Jewish expectations, the Messiah could not come from such an obscure village," the Holy Father said. "At the same time, however, it shows the freedom of God, who surprises our expectations, manifesting himself precisely there, where we least expect him."

Through Nathanael's invitation to Philip, "Come and see" (John 1:46), we come to see that "our knowledge of Jesus is in need above all of a living experience: Another person's testimony is certainly important, as in general the whole of our Christian life begins with the proclamation that comes to us from one or several witnesses. But we ourselves must be personally involved in an intimate and profound relationship with Jesus," noted Pope Benedict XVI.

"Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!" (John 1:49) said Nathanael to Jesus. The Apostle's words remind us that "we must never lose sight of either of these two elements, since if we only proclaim the heavenly dimension of Jesus we run the risk of making him an ethereal and evanescent being, while if we only recognize his concrete role in history, we run the risk of neglecting his divine dimension, which is his proper description," said the Bishop of Rome.

As he has done with each of the Apostles discussed thus far, the Holy Father presented a lesson that we can learn from Bartholomew: "adherence to Jesus can be lived and witnessed even without doing sensational works. Jesus is the extraordinary one, to whom each of us is called to consecrate his life and death."

04 October 2006

Happy Francis Day!

A joyous and blessed Feast of our Seraphic father, Saint Francis of Assisi, to each of you!

This is a day of great joy for me and for so very many people throughout the world. I have always felt very close to this little poor man and have had the tremendous honor to visit his tomb three times (and I hope to make my annual retreat there as well).

It was, of course, Francis who taught us to embrace the Cross and there to find true and perfect joy. Lasting and authentic joy, he teaches us, cannot be found anywhere else.

Let us ask Francesco to lead us to the Cross and to love as Christ himself loves. Francis will never cease to lead us in this endeavor.

On a side note for the day, when I walked into the parish church this morning (St. Anthony of Padua) I was delighted to find a large bouquet before the altar. There was a card in the flowers: "In honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, from grateful parishioners." I think I know the donors, but I cannot be certain. A very big "thank you!" to the kind and loving souls.

On another side note, to celebrate this great day, I'm bringing goodies of donuts, muffins, and cake into my three classes at the high school today. I hope you celebrate Francis, too.

Now, a prayer for the day (from the Mass):

Father,
you helped St. Francis to reflect the image of Christ
through a life of poverty and humility.
May we follow your Son
by walking in the footsteps of Francis of Assisi,
and by imitating his joyful love.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.

03 October 2006

Blogging from Boston

His Eminence, Sean Patrick Cardinal O'Malley, the Archbishop of Boston, announced on his blog that he "will continue to communicate directly with you through my blog each week."

It would seem that he is pleased with the success of the blog that he created for his visit to the Eternal City to take possession of his titular church.

The Cardinal will post to his blog each Friday.

Thank you, You Eminence!

The first meeting

The Dead Theologians Society met for the first time at St. Anthony of Padua parish Sunday, October 1st.

The meeting began with a cookout with hot dogs and s'mores in the backyard of the rectory before moving into the loft (the attic) of the parish center.

The topic for the first meeting, "Who are the saints?", and served as an introduction to the D.T.S. The topics for future meetings will involve the lives of individual saints and the teachings of the Church.

Sixteen youth attended the first meeting and joined together in food, fellowship, learning, and prayer. They seemed excited about the meeting and the future meetings. Because no other group uses the loft we can decorate it and do virtually whatever we want to it. The kids are supposed to think of some ideas to paint the room and we'll take a vote on the ideas. They are also already suggesting various service projects and trips that we might take.

I think the meeting went well and I am very excited about the weeks to come! St. Anthony blessed us with a beautiful evening and I am confident that he will continue to care for us as our patron.

The next meeting of the D.T.S. will be held Sunday, October 15th at 7:00 p.m. The social time of the meeting will involve a brief tour of the rectory and the topic for the meeting will be ...

Pope asks families to pray the rosary

During his Angelus address yesterday, the Holy Father encouraged the praying of the rosary of our Lady.

Pope Benedict XVI invited the faithful "to pray the rosary as a family during this month, and in communities and parishes, for the intentions of the Pope, for the mission of the Church and for peace in the world."

He went on to say that the mission of the Church is to "take the love of God to all, proclaiming charity with words and concrete testimony."

In this month of October, which is dedicated to the praying of the rosary, the Holy Father reminded the faithful that as we pray the rosary with Mary, "we ponder ... the mysteries of our salvation, and we ask the Lord to help us grow in our understanding of the marvelous things he has done for us."

The Pontiff entrusted the faithful to the intercession of our Lady of the Rosary, praying, "May Mary most holy, virgin of the rosary and queen of the missions, lead us all to Christ our savior."

01 October 2006

Homily - 1 October 2006

Today, Holy Mother Church presents to us one of the most memorable passages in all of Sacred Scripture, memorable because of the language with which Jesus speaks. He is blunt; he is direct; he offers little comfort.

His message is clear and unmistakable: we must repent of our sins and change our lives so that we will avoid sin in the future. We must, as we sometimes hear on Ash Wednesday, “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”

One of the many Acts of Contrition concludes with the words “I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin.” What is this “near occasion of sin”? It is anything that might easily lead us to sin, that might lead us away from the faithful following of Jesus Christ. Today Jesus warns us to avoid whatever leads us to sin, going so far as to pluck out our eyes, if need be. Nothing is to be spared in the pursuit of holiness.

Although sin, in its variety of forms, often seems appealing to us and so entices and lures us, it only truly yields one thing: death. Often enough sin appears to us as something good, as something worth having or worth doing, but it is false; it is a great lie and deception. What do I mean here?

Several months back as I was returning from Springfield I stopped at a gas station to fill up my car. I was dressed like everyone else that day as I went to visit friends. When I entered the store the cashier said to me, “Watch the store; I’ll be right back.” I have no idea why she said this to me but there I was, all alone in a store filled with goodies and a full tank of gas, none of which had yet been paid for. Next to the counter was a cooler filled with ice cream delectables, most notably, several Snickers ice cream bars.

I thought to myself, “I could pocket one of those bars and nobody would ever know.” I was hungry and the Snickers ice cream bar would fill me up. It was a hot day and the ice cream would cool me down. At the same time, these bars are quite delicious and would satisfy a craving I have for them on occasion. One stolen ice cream bar would do all of these three things. To be fed, to be cool, and to be satisfied are all three good in and of themselves, and so the stealing of a candy bar seemed to me a good idea. I could even count it as a favor for having watched the shop in the clerk’s brief absence.

Now, let it be known that I did not take a candy bar that day – nor any other day. In fact, I did not even buy one; I abstained from the goodness of the treat as a small penance for my sinful thought. I paid for my gas and a DrPepper and off I went.

That candy bar was for me that day a near occasion of sin. A simple matter, perhaps, but it demonstrates the point. It starts with a candy bar, but where does it end? Sin seems at first to be good, but it is not. It does not yield life or lasting peace and joy, but only death, misery and torment. It separates us from the love of God because we choose in sin to abandon him, to turn from his love and to embrace our own desires and temptations. Because in sin we choose to separate ourselves from the Lord on earth we will be separated from him in eternity. Those sinners who refuse to repent of their sin and who do nothing to avoid sin will find themselves in Hell, “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48).

This is, undoubtedly, a disturbing message and a most uncomfortable one, for the prospects here are not good. It ought to instill a certain fear in us for “the fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever” (Psalm 19:12). You do not want to hear of Hell or of punishment any more than I do, any more than I want to preach it, but I must preach it for Christ has commanded. It is true enough that Jesus promises his love and mercy to those who follow him and heed his message, but all too often we grow lax and lazy in following him. We grow comfortable in mediocrity and say, “I’ve done enough; I’m a good person,” and yet this is not enough as Jesus clearly says today. We must daily take up the battle against sin, carrying with us the standard of the Cross, trusting in the victory of Christ and depending upon his grace. The battle with sin is not easy, and its consequences are either deadly or life giving. If we fight well we are victors with Christ; if we fight poorly sin conquers us.

Even so, do not lose heart, for the victory over sin and death has already been won through the Death and Resurrection of Christ Jesus. The graces and fruits of the Cross are available to us when we call upon the mercy and love of him who died for us.

Through the reception of his Body and Blood he cleanses us of our venial sins and through Confession he cleanses us also of our mortal sins. His mercy is readily available to us! We must come to him confessing our sins with the intention and deep desire “to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin.”

How then do we avoid the near occasion of sin? The answer is both quite simple and difficult: we must keep custody of our senses. That is, if something we hear leads us to gossip, we should keep custody of our ears and refuse to listen to such words. If we find ourselves tempted to lie about someone or some situation, we should keep custody of our tongue and refuse to speak such lies. If we see our neighbors possessing something and we begin to covet it, we should keep custody of our eyes and avert our eyes. If we someone walk down the street and we begin to lust after them in our heart we should keep custody of our eyes and look away. If we spend too much time watching the television and do not have time to pray, we should get rid of the television. You get the idea.

Jesus did not literally mean for us to pluck out our eyes or to cut off our hands and feet. “His meaning is that the incentive should be cut off, not the members. The causes which allure to sin are to be cut off, in order that our thought, borne up on the chariot of sight, may push toward the love of God, supported by the bodily senses” (Clementia, Recognitions of Clement, 7.1.37)

Let us then beg the Lord to give us the grace we need to avoid the near occasions of sin which each of us experiences. When we sincerely ask him for this grace and cooperate with it, we will avoid sin and so move towards the prize of everlasting life in heaven. Amen.