18 October 2017

Homily - October 15 2017 - The 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

As he does today, the prophet Isaiah frequently speaks of “this mountain” on which the Lord God “will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines” (Isaiah 25:6). It is on this same mountain that he will “destroy the veil that veils all peoples” (Isaiah 25:7) and “destroy death forever” (Isaiah 25:8). And it is on this mountain that he will “wipe away the tears from every face” (Isaiah 25:8). It is a prophecy filled with great hope, with great love, and with great longing, the great prophecy of the advent of God.

It is a prophecy that answers the deepest yearning of the human heart, but which mountain does Isaiah refer to? We know he is not speaking of some vague, notional mountain, but is instead referring to a very specific mountain. If we go back several chapters in the Book of Isaiah - nineteen, in fact – the prophet tells us, “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple” (Isaiah 6:1). Isaiah, then, was in Jerusalem, on Mount Zion where the Lord of hosts dwelt (cf. Isaiah 8:18).

From the Map Psalter.
It was on that very mountain that the Temple had been built and dedicated. It was on that very mountain that sacrifices were offered to God, both to give him thanks and to atone for sins. It is of Mount Zion, then, that Isaiah says, “one day it will be said: ‘Behold our God, to whom we look to save us’” (Isaiah 25:9)! In this prophecy, so full of eager expectation, we see that “Temple worship was always accompanied by a vivid sense of its insufficiency.”[1] If it were sufficient to fully reconcile God and man, such a prophecy would not have been needed for it would already have happened; man would already have been able to look upon the face of God.

We see this in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where we read that “the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office;” they could not finally fulfill their function (Hebrews 7:23). They served “a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary; for when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, ‘See that you make everything according to the pattern which I will show you on the mountain’” (Hebrews 8:5). This is, in part, why the Old Covenant, sealed with the blood of sheep and goats, had to be annually renewed on the Day of Atonement when the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies and sprinkle the Ark of the Covenant with blood (cf. Leviticus 16).

So it was with the priests of the Old Covenant, but it is not so with the High Priest of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ. He came among us

as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:11-14).

We might well say that

worship through types and shadows, worship with replacements, ends at the very moment when the real worship takes place: the self-offering of the Son who has become man and ‘Lamb,’ the ‘Firstborn,’ who gathers up into himself all worship of God, takes it from the types and shadows into the reality of man’s union with the living God.[2]

The sacrifice of Christ on the Cross fulfills what the sheep and goats only signified; they pointed to “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).

Isaiah’s prophecies concerned the Temple on Mount Zion, but Jesus clear that he himself is the true Temple of God. As such, it is on Calvary, where he was lifted up for all to see, where the Lord provided a rich feast, removed the veil between us and God, and destroyed death forever; it is there that we, too, can look to the God who saved us. It is here, at the altar of the Lord, at, if you will, this mountain, that we, too, can look to the God who saved us because the place of the Temple has been replaced “by the universal Temple of the risen Christ, whose outstretched arms on the Cross span the world, in order to draw all men into the embrace of eternal love.”[3]

It should be a great sadness for us, then, that so many who have been invited to the wedding feast, that so many who have been invited to the wedding banquet of the Lamb, refuse his invitation to receive the embrace of his love. Indeed, it is here at the altar of the Lord, where the Death of Christ is re-presented to the Father and at which we receive his very Body and Blood as our nourishment and sustenance on our pilgrimage to the Father’s house, that the Lord will indeed wipe away the tears from every face. Too many miss this because they do not believe in the Real Presence of the Eucharist; they question the power of the Lord’s own words to do as he says and so their hearts are not comforted on this mountain because they do not see him.

Each one of us must fall in love with the Blessed Sacrament by which the Lord Jesus remains with us always, by which he refreshes our souls, and by which he strengthens us to do his will (cf. Psalm 23:3; Philippians 4:13). If we fall in love with the Eucharist, we will understand the truth of Isaiah’s words, even as J.R.R. Tolkien did.

In a letter to one of his sons, he wrote these moving words from the heart of one who loved the Eucharist very deeply:

Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament…. There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all of your loves upon earth, and more than that, Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires.[4]

The key phrase here is that the Eucharistic Lord “demands the surrender of all.” Jesus held nothing back for us and went all the way to the Cross; he surrendered everything for us. How can we not respond in return and surrender everything we have, everything we are to him? Let each of us, then, seek our satisfaction in the Eucharist and surrender to him and find everything we seek in him. Then, having ourselves been filled with the Lord’s loving mercy, we, too, can go out and invite others to join us at the banquet of the Lamb. Amen.

[1] Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 2000), 39.
[2] Ibid., 43-44.
[3] Idid., 48.
[4] J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter to Michael Tolkien, 6-8 March, 1941. In The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Humphrey Carpenter, ed. (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), 53-54.

14 October 2017

Millennials make Quincy 7th in nation for home sales

An ancient Greek, whose name is unknown to me and perhaps to anyone, is recorded as having said, "No man loves his own city because it is great, but because it is his." I daresay he had not visited my beloved hometown of Quincy, Illinois.

It gives me joy to say that my love for the Gem City is shared by the Millennial, those born between 1981 and 2001, who, according to a recent article in the Quincy Herald-Whig, have made Quincy "seventh nationwide in a two-month snapshot among cities where members of the millennial generation ... are buying homes."

The rate at which they are buying homes in Quincy is surprisingly high, especially since so many young people claim - as they have done for decades - there is nothing to do in Quincy:
A story last week in USA Today noted that millennials bought 49 percent of Quincy homes sold over a two-month period this year. Figures from the most recent reporting period show that 37 percent of homes sold in Quincy went to millennials [more].
There may be a good financial incentive for them to buy homes in the Gem City as compared with other cities:
Home prices bought by millennials nationwide have an average cost of $187,164, according to Ellie Mae figures from the August-September period. In the Quincy micropolitan area, the average price is $96,219 for the same period.
The "micropolitan area" is a new term for me, but it seems humorously fitting for the area around Quincy.

Many of these millennials will, of course, be those moving back home after going away  for college. But others, of course, will be newcomers to the Gem City and I hope they enjoy it as much as I do.

12 October 2017

On Mass intentions

A few days Innocent Duru, on an old post concerning Parochial Vicars, asked a question about the Holy Mass offered pro popolo, that is, for the people.
This obligation is given in the Code of Canon Law:
After a pastor has taken possession of his parish, he is obliged to apply a Mass for the people entrusted to him on each Sunday and holy day of obligation in his diocese [not every diocese observes the same days as obligatory]. If he is legitimately impeded from this celebration, however, he is to apply he is to apply it on the same days through another or on other days himself (canon 534 § 1).
Regrettably, this obligation seems to be observed more in the breach than in the norm, at least in places with which I am familiar. This is likely due, in no small part, to the practice of grouping several Mass intentions together at one Mass.
It has long been customary for the faithful to ask priests to offer the Holy Mass for particular intentions and to offer a small gift to the priest to help with his sustenance. The custom of Mass intentions is governed by the Code of Canon Law:
In accord with the approved practice of the Church, any priest celebrating or concelebrating is permitted to receive an offering to apply the Mass for a specific intention..
It is recommended earnestly to priests that they celebrate Mass for the intention of the Christian faithful, especially the needy, even if they have not received an offering.
The Christian faithful who give an offering to apply the Mass for their intention contribute to the good of the Church and by that offering share its concern to support its ministers and works.
Any appearance of trafficking or trading is to be excluded entirely from the offering for Masses.
Separate Masses are to be applied for the intentions of those for whom a single offering, although small, has been given and accepted.
A person obliged to celebrate and apply Mass for the intention of those who gave an offering is bound by the obligation even if the offerings received have been lost through no fault of his own (canons 945-949).
To assist the faithful in decided what offering should be made, the Province of Bishops is able to set the usual amount of the offering. The Bishops of the Province of Illinois set the offering at $10.00 per Mass. A person is able to offer the priest more or less to accompany a Mass intention, but a priest in this Province cannot request more than this amount and he should certainly not refuse a smaller amount.
The pastor of a parish is required to offer the Mass pro popolo, for his parishioners, because it is right and just for a father to pray for his family.
Father William Saunders has written an excellent article explaining the theology behind the offering of Mass intentions and stipends.

09 October 2017

Homily - 8 October 2017 - The Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

At the beginning of every Mass, the celebrant invites those who have gathered at the altar of the Lord to pray. He does so with this simple invitation: “Let us pray.” It happens so often that we sometimes take it granted. Because it is so familiar, we do not also listen to it and we do not always enter into prayer at that very moment. Perhaps it happens because we do not know for what we are to pray at that moment.

In the Order of Mass, this particular prayer is called the Collecta, a Latin word meaning a collection, whether it be a monetary collection, a collection of people as in a meeting, or simply a collection of things. It is in this third sense that Mother Church makes use of this word and calls what we colloquially call the “opening prayer” the Collect because it collects our individual prayers together and offers them as one to the Father, through Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

If we take the time to study the texts of the different Collects, “we are struck by one thing: their strict formality. They are terse and austere, the more so the older they are. Here are not elaborate thoughts, no moving images, no emotional outpourings. Nothing but a few clear, terse sentences.”[1] We see this in the Collect of today’s Mass.

After an address to God “who in the abundance of your kindness surpass the merits and the desires of those who entreat you,” we placed our request before the Father. We asked him to “pour out your mercy upon us to pardon what conscience dreads and to give what prayer does not dare to ask.” Though the words may be few, there is a lot packed into them which often takes some work to unpack.

To our ears, this prayer might seem stiff, formal, and even a bit stand-offish. This is intentionally so with the Collects because they are the prayers not of an individual, but of the whole Church. We might well say that, “inclined as we are to lose ourselves in the irrelevant and the all-too-subjective, their clear-cut objective piety maintains an important balance” so that each person present can make the prayer his or her own.[2]

Once the priest says, “Let us pray,” what is to happen? Something more should be happening than simply looking around, something internal to each person. Following the invitation to prayer,

there is silence for a good while, during which the individual believer, taking the mystery of the day as his theme, prays for his own intention and for the intention of the congregation. This silent manifold praying is then gathered up by the priest and expressed in the few sentences of the Collect, so that its brief words are filled with all the vitality that has just silently lifted itself to God. Now its terseness no longer seems inadequate, but rich and recapitulative. By studying the Collects beforehand, we could make them the vehicles for our intentions, as they were meant to be.[3]

It is at this moment especially that we should follow the teaching of Saint Paul and “by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God” (Philippians 4:6).

By its very nature, prayer is seeking the Face of God and the Psalmist prayed today, “O Lord, God of hosts, restore us; if your face shine upon us, then we shall be saved” (Psalm 80:20). In the midst of this search for the Face of God, the Collect for today takes on a special significance.

Again, in the first part of our petition we asked God to “pardon what conscience dreads.” We usually think of the conscience as a little voice inside of us telling us what is right and what is wrong. This is true, but it is also something more. The word conscience comes from two Latin words, con and scientia, and literally means “with knowledge.” It is not enough, then, to simply listen to Jiminy Cricket and “always let [our] conscience be our guide.” Because it is possible that our conscience might lead us to make the wrong decision, it is important that we seek to form our consciences properly in the light of what God reveals to us both through natural reason and through the teachings of his Church.

The education of the conscience is a lifelong task. From the earliest years, it awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law recognized by conscience. Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, resentment arising from guilt, and feelings of complacency, born from human weakness and faults. The education of the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart.[4]

The properly formed conscience not only leads us to do the good, it also “enables one to assume responsibility for the acts performed. If a man commits evil, the just judgment of the conscience can remain with him as the witness to the universal truth of the good, at the same time as the evil of his particular choice.”[5] This is what we might call guilt. “In attesting to the fault committed, [the conscience] calls to mind the forgiveness that must be asked, the good that must still be practiced, and the virtue that must be constantly cultivated with the grace of God.”[6] All of this is present in today’s Collect. What is it, then, that conscience dreads?
The conscience dreads the just judgment of God upon us. We know ourselves to be like that vineyard spoken of by the prophet Isaiah. We know the Lord has, with much loving care, “spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines; within it he built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine press. Then he looked for the crop of grapes, but what it yielded was wild grapes” (Isaiah 5:2). The conscience knows that, with the Psalmist, we have frequently promised the Lord, saying, “Then we will no longer withdraw from you; give us new life, and we will call upon your name” (Psalm 80:19). Despite our promises, we know that have in fact withdrawn from God and have not called upon his name. Knowing, then, that we have not always produced the fruit expected and required of us, the conscience dreads to hear the Savior say, “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you” (Matthew 21:43).

Yet because the conscience knows the Lord would be perfectly just to speak these words of condemnation, we humbly implore the Lord’s mercy and beg him “to give what prayer does not dare to ask.” What we dare not ask is the quiet pleading of heart, the great longing present within each one of us: “O Lord, God of hosts, restore us; if your face shine upon us, then we shall be saved.” To look upon the face of God is the deepest yearning of the human heart, but we cannot do so if we do not yield the proper fruit, if we do not cooperate with his grace, if we do not continually seek his face (cf. Psalm 105:4).

When he contemplated what it means to constantly seek the face of God, Saint Augustine asked:

I know indeed that to cling unto God is good for me, but if He is always being sought, when is He found? Did he mean by “evermore,” the whole of the life we live here, whence we become conscious that we ought thus to seek, since even when found He is still to be sought? To wit, faith has already found Him, but hope still seeks Him. But love has both found Him through faith, and seeks to have Him by sight, where He will then be found so as to satisfy us, and no longer to need our search. For unless faith discovered Him in this life, it would not be said, “Seek the Lord.” Also, if when discovered by faith, He were not still to be diligently sought, it would not be said, “For if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it” (Romans 8:25). And truly this is the sense of the words, “Seek His face evermore,” meaning that discovery should not terminate that seeking, by which love is testified, but with the increase of love the seeking of the discovered One should increase.[7]

To put it, perhaps, more simply, the quest for the face of God is a quest for the face we will

ceaselessly rediscover. The more deeply we penetrate the splendor of divine love, the greater will be our discovery and the more beautiful it will be to travel on and know that our seeking has no end, hence, finding has not end and is thus eternity – the joy of seeking and at the same time of finding.[8]

This vision of the face of God is what prayer does not dare to ask because took look upon his face is to look upon truth (cf. John 14:6). Let us, then, not turn away from the Lord or interfere with his work in the vineyard of our souls, but let us, rather, strive to follow him in all things and entrust ourselves to his merciful love because “if [his] face shine upon us, then we shall be saved.” Amen.

[1] Romano Guardini, Meditations Before Mass, (Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 1993), 90.
[2] Ibid., 91.
[3] Ibid., 91-92.
[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1784.
[5] Ibid., 1781.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Exposition on Psalm 105, 3.
[8] Pope Benedict XVI, Address to German Bishops during Apostolic Journey to Cologne, 21 August 2005.