15 May 2022

Homily - The Fifth Sunday of Easter - 15 May 2022

The Fifth Sunday of Easter (C)

Dear brothers and sisters,

At first hearing, it may seem as though we receive two contradictory statements in the Scriptures today. First, Saints Paul and Barnabas tell us – curiously enough, by way of encouragement – that “it is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Second, Saint John tells us that God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 21:4). The first saying is disarming and striking; the second saying is comforting and desirous. Can it be that the Beloved Disciple contradicts what the Apostle to the Gentiles says?

When considering such a question, it is good for us to remember that the Sacred Scriptures do not compete against each other. Rather, taken in their entirety, the Sacred Scriptures form a great harmony. It is for us to attune our ears to their hymn so that we might hear it properly.

When Saints Paul and Barnabas remind us that it is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God, they say this as a matter of fact. This is a central fact of the Christian life. Even so, the centrality of the Cross in each of our lives is often either rejected or denied – whether implicitly or explicitly – by many Christians today. This rejection of a tenet of discipleship is, in part, what hinders our efforts to evangelize our culture and society that drifts further and further away from Christian life.

If we are to find the harmony between what Paul and Barnabas and John say, we have to consider who the they are to whom Saint John refers. Looking at his words in their full context, we see that they are those found in the holy city, in the new Jerusalem, those who names are found in the book of life at the Last Judgment. Their tears will be wiped away precisely because they endured the time of tribulation, because they underwent hardship, because they remained faithful to Christ Jesus, and for this reason they now live with God. We have the relics of two of these here in this very Cathedral Basilica.

What Paul and Barnabas say, then, about the necessity of hardship and what John says about the final and enduring comfort are not contradictory statements at all, but are instead part of a whole, two sides of the same coin, if you will; both are the fruits of an authentic discipleship. Both are to be found in the faithful adherence to Jesus’ command: “As I have loved you, so you should love one another” (John 13:34).

It should come as no real surprise that our society does not understand what love is. True love is always a willingness to suffer for the beloved; true love always entails a willingness to sacrifice for the beloved; true love always entails a renunciation of self in favor of the beloved. If there is no wiliness to suffer, if there is no willingness to sacrifice, whatever else it may be, it is not love.

Is this not what made the ministry of Saint Damien, of Saint Marianne, and of the Servant of God Joseph Dutton so very fruitful compelling? Did they not each in their own choose to suffer for those they loved, to sacrifice for those entrusted to their care, to renounce themselves in favor of those who needed their assistance? They did not choose the easy way out because they knew “it is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Their lives were fruitful because they lived and loved like Jesus; they willingly suffered for others and made heroic sacrifices for their benefit.

Some today might think that this aspect of love is difficult to discover because so few of us seem to recognize it. But there are always examples of authentic love to be found, and hints of love can be found in perhaps surprising places. We can find one such hint in the Hawaiian language in a word we all know well, though it is famously difficult to translate in English terms.

The word aloha, so I understand, has something of a kaleidoscope of meanings. While its best known meaning is love, it is not simply a romantic or rosy love; it is instead a love that also connotes compassion and patience, which is to say a love that involves suffering, hardships, and sacrifices. It is a love as we encounter and receive in Christ Jesus.

Father Damien, Mother Marianne, and Joseph Dutton each understand this, even if each in their own unique way. Saint Damien famously said, “I make myself a leper with the lepers.”

Saint Damien of Moloka'i

Saint Marianne said, “I am hungry for the work.”

Saint Marianne Cope

And Joseph went to Kalawao on his own accord as a personal penance to atone for his past sins. This heroic trio show us as if through a prism what it means to undergo hardships so as to enter the kingdom of God. They show us what it means to love others as Jesus love them and as he loves each one of us. And in the joy they exhibited in their care of the lepers, they received a foretaste of God wiping away their tears from their eyes; they were comforted by the Lord Jesus because they united themselves to him and loved like him. 

They did so in the extremes of the leper settlement, but you and I do not have to go so far. Joseph Dutton once said to a correspondent who lamented he could join Joseph at Kalaupapa, “One’s Molokai can be anywhere.”

The Servant of God Joseph Dutton

It remains then for us to undergo hardships wherever they come to us out of love for Jesus Christ and out of love for others. It remains for us to unite ourselves to the Lord Jesus and to love like him so to suffer for those we love, to sacrifice for those entrusted to our care, and to renounce ourselves in favor of those who need our assistance. For if we live and love in this way, being united to Christ Jesus, on the last day he will wipe away every tear from our eyes and welcome us into his kingdom. Amen.

17 April 2022

Easter Homily on the Burial Cloths of the Lord

 The Solemnity of the Resurrection of the Lord

Mass During Easter Day

Dear brothers and sisters,

             There are, regrettably, a growing number of people throughout the western world who doubt the reality of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead. There are even a growing number of people who doubt even that Christ Jesus ever lived in our human flesh. Perhaps you know one of these persons; perhaps you are one of them yourself.

             In his homily for Good Friday in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, the Preacher to the Papal Household, Raniero Cardinal Cantalamessa – whose name literally means, “sing the Mass” – spoke to our “brother and sister atheists, agnostics, or those still searching for the truth (if any are listening).”[1] In his preaching, he quoted a letter of J.R.R. Tolkien, who said:

 

It takes a fantastic will to unbelief to suppose that Jesus never really ‘happened,’ and more to suppose that he did not say the things recorded all of him — so incapable of being ‘invented’ by anyone in the world at that time: such as ‘before Abraham came to be I am’ (John 8:58). ‘He that hath seen me hath seen the Father’ (John 14:9).[2]

 Why does the author of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings say it takes “a fantastic will to unbelief” to doubt the reality of life, death, and resurrection of Jesus? Leaving aside the various historical, philosophical, and theological arguments, we have another sort of argument, a tangible one.

             At Easter, we often speak of the “empty tomb,” but, in point of fact, the tomb was not empty on that first of the day week after the Crucifixion of the Messiah. We heard a moment ago the account of the tomb provided for us by the Evangelist Saint John.

            “So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb,” he says. He continues, saying, “They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bend down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in” (John 20:3-5). “The tomb was empty, then, inasmuch as nobody was there. It was not completely empty, however;” it contained the various cloths with which Jesus had been entombed.[3] The presence of the burial cloths inside the tomb is also attested to by Saint Luke (cf. Luke 24:12).

             He goes on to say something remarkable, something that is very often overlooked: “When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place” (John 20:6-7). We have, then, here mention of at least three cloths within the tomb: at least two on his body and a third that covered his face.

             But then Saint John says something even more striking: “Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed” (John 20:8). What did he see that caused him to believe? The tomb without the body of Jesus? Certainly not. No, he saw the burial cloths and believed. Why? What was so special about these cloths. You may be surprised to learn that the burial cloths of the Lord Jesus have not been lost to history; we are still in possession of four cloths that were found in the tomb of Christ.

             First, there is a long, thin strip of cloth that was wrapped around Jesus’ chin up to the top of his head to keep his mouth closed in death.

             Second, there is a bloodstained cloth measuring 33 inches by 21 inches called the Sudarium of Oviedo, because it is housed in Oviedo, Spain where it has been since at least the year a.d. 840. It was placed upon the face of Jesus at the moment he died to catch what is called the death blood that came out of his nose and mouth.

             Third, there is a long, rectangular cloth measuring 14 feet by three and a half feet that bears the image of a man who was five feet and eleven inches tall. The man depicted on this cloth was crucified, an image best seen in photographic negatives. Although this Shroud of Turin – so named because it is now kept in the Italian city of Turin - is the most studied cloth in the world, the image found on it cannot be explained.

             Whether considered individually or together, these three cloths cannot be what Saint Peter saw that caused him to believe in the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The first two cloths show nothing but blood and the shroud could not have been unrolled inside the tomb; even if it could have been, it would have been too dark inside to see the image. What, then, did he see? There is a fourth cloth, a hand cloth that had been placed over Jesus’ face, the one found not with the burial cloths, but rolled up in a separate place, because it was quite different the rest.

             This fourth cloth is called the Volto Santo – the Holy Face – and the Veil of Manoppello, because it is housed in the Italian village of Manoppello, where it has been since the sixteenth century. It was kept in Rome from 708 - where it was called the Veronica, the true image - until the sack of Rome by the German emperor until 1527. The cloth itself measures 17.5 centimeters by 24 centimeters and is the largest piece of byssus surviving from the ancient world. As if on the cloth, we see

 

…the face of Christ on a transparent veil in delicate byssus colors, framed by shoulder-length hair parted in the middle and a sparse beard. The left cheek is slightly swollen, the mouth slightly open, and the eyes are open in an expression that is not included in the vocabulary of arrest warrants: perfectly merciful.[4]

 It is the most priceless treasure in the world, the very image of the Face of God, and served as the basis on which artists depicted the Savior for almost fifteen hundred years, but that is a story for another day.

             Byssus, the material of which this veil, this napkin, this sweat cloth is made, is woven from the silk with which a particular mollusk attaches itself to rocks. Byssus cannot be dyed and it cannot be painted; its color only comes from the color of the silks taken from the mollusk. In the ancient world, it was a precious material, never sold but only given as a gift. Pharaohs were buried with a piece of it over their faces and wealthy women wore it as a veil because they could see out, but others could not see their faces through the cloth. Away from the light, byssus appears brown, dark, and opaque, but when held in the light byssus shimmers in golden hues and is transparent, so much so that you can read a newspapers through it. Byssus is photoactive; it responds to light, strange as this might seem. Today, there is only one woman in the world who knows how to weave byssus, Chiara Vigo, who lives on the island of Sardinia.

             What happened that first Easter morning when Saint Peter entered the tomb of Christ? The cloth placed on Jesus’ face was on the ground, but

 

…it was not lying there flat. It was a haze, but it must have been recognizable as a “thing,” as an “object” that caught the first rays of dawn. Naturally, Peter bent down and picked it up. It was the precious little cloth that had lain on Jesus’ face, the finest sea silk. It was a light as a feather as Peter picked it up, unfolded it and held it against the light of the entrance. What else? He must have held that way, not toward the interior of the dark chamber, but up to the light. It was, however, a cloth of light. It reacts to light.

 

What Peter saw now in the tomb on the veil against the morning light made it in a blink of the eye as clear as the sun: no one had taken the Lord from the tomb. Jesus had not been stolen and carried away. Something completely new was in the world now. It was unheard of it, what Peter glimpsed in the blue hours of the first Easter morning here, on that transparent fabric held against the light of the entrance. Here suddenly Christ looked back at him! With open eyes! No man had ever seen this before. This cloth was “not made by human hands,” as was said later. It was the true image. Three days earlier Peter has said that he did not know that man. Hours later he had had to watch from a distance and hear how Jesus, streaming with blood, cried out once again on the cross and died. Peter was still reeling from the shock – when now suddenly Christ himself looked out at him from the veil in his hand. Now he knew him. Now he recognized him immediately. “In thy light we see light,” Israel had read for centuries in the Book of Psalms [Ps 36:9]. Did that verse perhaps occur to him? Or did he already remember then the earlier intimations of Jesus that “the Son of man must … be killed, and on the third day be raised” [Lk 9:22]? We do not know. Only one thing do we know. Besides the bewildering emptiness of linens in the tomb, this message in pictures read: “I live.” Jesus was no longer dead. The only thing corresponding to this image was not another image, no icon or other sort of portrait; the only thing corresponding to what he saw there was the living man.[5]

 This cloth is what Peter saw that caused him to believe, but it was not only Peter who saw it.

             Mary, too, treasured this cloth with the image of the Face of her Son. We are told that

 

She had received it from the hands of God himself and kept it with her at all times, so that she might always be able to contemplate the wondrously fair face of her Son. Each time she wanted to adore her Son, she stretched the image out to the east and prayed before it with her gaze on her Son and with open, uplifted hands. Before the burden of her life was finally taken from her, the apostles carried Mary on a stretcher into a cave. In this cave, they laid Mary down to die before the face of her Son.[6]

 We see in this cloth that Jesus “does not limit himself merely to affirming his love, but makes it visible and tangible. Love, after all, can never be just an abstraction.”[7] Those who look upon this Face cannot but believe.

             When examined forensically, the face on the Shroud of Turin and the face on the Veil of Manoppello belong to the same man, and the blood stains on the Veil of Oviedo belong to this same man.

             This Easter, dear friends, look upon the Face of Christ, the proof of his Resurrection from the dead. Look upon the Face of Mercy and believe! Amen. Alleluia!



[1] Raniero Cardinal Cantalamessa, Homily for Good Friday, 15 April 2022. Accessed 16 April 2022. Available at https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/250993/full-text-cardinal-cantalamessa-s-homily-at-the-vatican-s-good-friday-2022-liturgy.

[2] J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter __________. In The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Humphrey Carpenter, ed. (), .

[3] Paul Badde, The True Icon: From the Shroud of Turin to the Veil of Manoppello. Trans. Michal J. Miller. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2012), 33.

[4] Paul Badde, ibid., 65.

[5] Ibid., 92-93.

[6] In ibid., 49.

[7] Pope Francis, Vultus misericordiae, 9.

03 April 2022

Homily - The Fifth Sunday of Lent - 3 April 2022


The Fifth Sunday of Lent (C)[1]

Dear brothers and sisters,

Why is it that the scribes and the Pharisees conspired together “to test” the Lord Jesus “so that they could have some charge to bring against him” (John 8:6)? Was the woman who committed adultery somehow connected to him? Why accuse him?

Saint Augustine provides for us an insight into their mindset. Our great patron suggests that the scribes and Pharisees saw in Jesus his meekness and his very great gentleness. Here he saw a connection with Psalm 45, which he read to speak of the Christ:

 

You are the most handsome of men; fair speech has graced your lips, for God has blessed you forever. Gird your sword upon your hip, mighty warrior! In splendor and majesty ride on triumphant! In the cause of truth and justice may your right hand show you wondrous deeds” (Psalm 45:3-5).

In these verses, Saint Augustine saw both Jesus’ meekness and his righteousness. This is why he says that “as a teacher, he brought truth; as a deliverer, he brought gentleness; as a protector, he brought righteousness.”[2]

We hear throughout the Gospels that truth was acknowledged when Jesus spoke and that the people praised his meekness when his enemies did not provoke him to anger. Because of this the scribes and the Pharisees were inflamed to both malevolence and resentment. And because of his righteousness, they plotted to set a trap for him, to test him, as the Evangelist puts it. But why did they do so using the woman caught in adultery?

The law of Moses commanded that adulterers be stoned (cf. Deuteronomy 22:23-24). Because the law cannot command what is unjust, if Jesus were to say the woman should not be stoned, he would show, by his own words, he was not righteousness. But if he were to say the woman should be stoned, he would show, by his own words, he was neither gentle nor meek. It was a clever trap, and if Jesus proved himself an enemy of the law, it would mean he, too, should be killed. Clever though this trap might have been, “it was perversity against rectitude, falsehood against truth, the corrupt heart against the upright heart, folly against wisdom.”[3]

When he answered their challenge, Christ Jesus both maintained his righteousness by upholding the law and demonstrated his gentleness by not condemning the sinful woman. Not speaking against the law, he did not say, “Do not stone her.” But neither did he say, “Let her be stoned,” because, as he said elsewhere, “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). In his answer, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw at a stone at her,” we find righteousness, meekness, and truth (John 8:7).

By responding in this manner, the Lord Jesus caused the scribes and the Pharisees to go into themselves because externally they stood ready to charge and condemn, but internally they had not examined themselves. Though they themselves had violated the law, they wanted the law to be followed, without acknowledging what this would mean for themselves. At this point, Jesus “bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger,” but what did he write (John 8:8)?

Although the scribes and the Pharisees recognized that the people saw in Jesus a teacher and a guardian of the law, they did not understand him to be a lawgiver, as Moses had been. This is why Saint Augustine asked,

 

What else does he signify to you when he writes with his finger on the ground? For the law was written with the finger of God; but written on stone because of the hard-hearted. The Lord now wrote on the ground, because he was seeking fruit. You have heard then, let the law be fulfilled, let the adulteress be stoned. But is it by punishing her that the law is to be fulfilled by those that ought to be punished? Let each of you consider himself, let him enter himself, ascend the judgment-seat of his own mind, place himself at the bar of his own conscience, oblige himself to confess… Each looking carefully into himself, finds himself a sinner. Yes, indeed. Either let this woman go, or together with her receive the penalty of the law.[4]

Not wanting to be punished themselves, “they went away one by one” (John 8:9).

Standing there alone with the woman, he said to her, “Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:11). But lest some think he approved of sin, he added, “Go, and from now on do not sin any more” (John 8:11). Note that he did not say, “Go, and live as you will,” but, “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” The Lord did not condemn sinners, but he did condemn sins.

At this point in his reflections of this passage, Saint Augustine offers us a warning for the salvation of our souls:

The Lord is gentle, the Lord is long-suffering, the Lord is pitiful; but the Lord is also just, the Lord is also true. He bestows on you space for correction; but you love the delay of judgment more than the amendment of your ways. Have you been a bad man yesterday? Today be a good man. Have your done on in wickedness today? At any rate change tomorrow. You are always expecting, and from the mercy of God make exceeding great promises to yourself. As if he, who has promised pardon through repentance, promised you also a longer life. How do you know what tomorrow may bring forth?[5]

For this reason, we must both fear God’s just judgment and hope in his loving mercy as we strive to resist temptation and avoid sin.

In these remaining days of Lent, “let us learn from the Lord Jesus not to judge and not to condemn our neighbor.”[6] Let us “be intransigent with sin starting with our own! and indulgent with people,” so the Lord Jesus may also say to us, “Neither do I condemn you.”[7] Amen.



[1] Adapted from Saint Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the Gospel of John, 33.

[2] Ibid., 4.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 5.

[5] Ibid., 7.

[6] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 21 March 2010.

[7] Ibid.

30 March 2022

Homily for the Funeral Mass for Bradley Kastl

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

There is an ancient maxim in the Church which tells us that “the law of prayer is the law of faith.” This is another way of saying that the Church’s prayers are not mere empty words or hollow aspirations; rather, they are what the Church truly believes. And what the Church believes is always founded on the witness and testimony of the Apostles on and the writings of the Sacred Scriptures.

We prayed a moment ago that Brad might “stand with all the angels and saints, who know [God’s] love and praise [his] saving will.”[1] This belief, this hope, of the Church is founded on the promise that “the favors of the Lord are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent” (Lamentations 3:22).

In the depth of your grief and heartache, which is not to be feared, it must surely feel as though the Lord’s mercies might be exhausted, but our faith is not founded on feelings, even as important as these are. Rather, our faith is built upon the certainty of the love of God, on the immeasurable depths of that love revealed for us in Jesus Christ. He showed his love for us in the midst of heartache and pain, in the presence of his Mother and of the Beloved Disciple because love always requires a willingness to sacrifice for the beloved.

Though I cannot pretend to share the experience of losing a spouse or a son, I do know something of the experience of grief, particularly the grief that follows after a tragic death. My father died just before my eighth birthday, and my mother died just two years later. Although not the same, the grief we experience is not altogether different. These many years since their deaths have not always been easy, but they have not been altogether unbearable, either.

As we mourn the loss of those we love so dearly, well-meaning family and friends often seek to comfort us with clich├ęs, which are generally as untrue as they are lame. Not quite willing to enter into our suffering, they turn uncomfortably to words.

We hear especially these days the adage that “time heals all wounds.” The experience of life has taught me this is quite false; time may soothe our wounds and make them easier to bear, but it does not, it cannot, entirely heal them. The full healing of our wounds can only occur where time no longer passes, in the presence of Him who died for us and still bears his wounds, the marks of his love; the full healing of our wounds can only occur in the one who calls us to find our rest in him (cf. Matthew 11:29). The bad moments will continue, but good moments will also come. Likely enough, you will come to know a joy mingled with sadness, and a sadness mingled with joy.

When your sorrow hits you hardest, when it seems hope is lost, go to the Cross. Stand or kneel in the presence of the Blessed Mother and of Saint John; they will lead you to the one who is “meek and humble of heart,” to the one in whom you will find your rest (Matthew 11:28;cf. 11:29). Look upon Christ our salvation and let his love fall down upon you and he will renew you each morning (cf. Lamentations 3:23). You will learn there anew what it means to “hope in silence for the saving help of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:26).

In moments such as these words simply fail; all any of us can do is hold you tightly in our prayers and in our love and weep with you. Still, I wish with all my heart I had something more to say to you to offer comfort and consolation. There will long be an empty space in your hearts, an emptiness that can only be filled by Brad, but this need not lead you to despair or despondency if you place your faith in the hands of Jesus, that is, if you entrust yourselves entirely to him.

Andi, Randy, and Lorri, here I can only leave you with these words of J.R.R. Tolkien, which have long brought no small consolation to my own heart: “I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”[2] In moments such as this, tears are a sign of love; do not be afraid of them. May the Lord, in his loving mercy, keep you in his grace and bring you to rejoice before him together with Brad. Amen.



[1] The Order of Christian Funerals, Prayers and Texts in Particular Circumstances: Prayers for the Dead, 28).

[2] J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, “The Grey Havens.”

26 March 2022

I am unprepared for this birthday

Today is my forty-fourth birthday and, strange as it may seem to say so, I feel woefully unprepared for this day. In about an hour I will attain the same number of years as my father when he died, which is to say that if I live another two hundred and thirteen days - and I know of no reason why I should not - I will outlive my father.

I know birthdays are supposed to be happy occasions, but today I feel very much unsettled. That is the best word I can find to describe the sort of melancholy I am experiencing today. Whatever it is I am feeling, there must be a good German word for it, but I do not know that language of compounding words.

Two years ago, when I surpassed my mother's age at the time of her death, I did not feel this way. I do not know why, but I suspect it was because it was my father who died first. I would not say I feel guilty for not feeling unsettled that day, but something like it is also affecting me today.

The experience of grief is a curious thing. I do not really know what I feel today. I am in something of a fog. No one has prepared me for this day, nor could anyone have done so. I am surely not alone in what I am feeling today (lots of others have surpassed the age of their parents), but I feel a bit alone today.

Even so, these words of J.R.R. Tolkien bring me comfort today, as they so often do:

The link between father and son is not only of the perishable flesh: it must have something of aeternitas about it. There is a place called "heaven" where the good here unfinished is completed: and where stories unwritten, and the hopes unfulfilled, are continued. We may laugh together yet... (Letter to Michael Tolkien, 9 June 1941).