19 March 2017

Homily - 19 March - The Third Sunday of Lent - Consider what would happen if Jesus spoke to an American woman like he did the Samaritan woman

The Third Sunday of Lent (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

The more I consider the Lord’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, the more I wonder how such an encounter with Jesus might take place in the context of our present American culture. It seems today as if many Americans – if not most – are constantly searching for something by which to be offended. It seems a majority of the American people presume the worst of intentions in each other and read more into the words and actions of others than may be warranted.

As but one simple illustration of what I mean, consider what would happen today if the Lord Jesus said to an American woman, “you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband” (John 4:18). Would she answer, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet,” or would she instead yell back, insisting, “Don’t judge me” (John 4:19)? And lest I be accused of sexism, the situation would be much the same if Jesus said to an American man, “you have had five wives, and the one you have now is not your wife.” In either case, would there be an acceptance of the truthfulness of his words, or would there instead be shouts of protest and a string of excuses?

Why did Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman unfold so differently than would likely be the case in our society today? The difference lies in the woman’s honesty; it can be found in her confession of her sinful situation. Whereas most Americans today feign contentment by saying such things as “I’m okay, you’re okay” and “God loves me the way I am,” the Samaritan woman recognized the restlessness in her heart and knew something must change if she was to find the happiness she desired. She knew the Lord called her to something greater, to something that would satisfy the deepest desires of her heart. She knew she could not satisfy these desires on her own; she had tried, and failed, five times over. She did not push away this necessary conversion, nor did she grumble against it (cf. Exodus 17:3); rather, she recognized that the love of God had been poured into her heart at that moment and she accepted his love (cf. Romans 5:5). This is why she could say of Jesus, “He told me everything I have done,” and could say so without taking offense at him (John 4:39). Can we say the same? Would we take offense at Jesus if he spoke so honestly about the situations of our lives (cf. Matthew 13:57)?

Saint Bonaventure saw in the woman’s five husbands “the five heavy cravings of the senses,” “the five carnal senses, who ruled over her like a husband.”[1] The first husband, he said, represented taste or gluttony. The second husband represented touch or lust. The third, smell, by which he meant a life of ease and comfort which leads to sloth. The fourth husband represented sight or greed because of envy. The fifth husband represented hearing or lying and gossiping. But what of that sixth man, the man with whom she lived who was not her husband? In this man Saint Bonaventure saw “error, which seduces and leads the soul astray.”[2] We might not all live in adulterous relationships, but we surely have all been seduced by error and yielded to the sins of gluttony, lust, sloth, greed, lying, and gossiping.

When the Lord Jesus approaches us in the silence of our hearts, in the Sacred Scriptures, or even in the words of another to reveal the secret of our sin, what is our response to him? Do we reject him? Do close our ears and our hearts to him? Do we honestly confess our sinfulness and reject the error of our ways so that his love might well up within our hearts through his forgiveness?

When the Samaritan woman heard the voice of Jesus, she did not harden her heart, but allowed her heart to be softened by his words of truth, painful though it surely was (cf. Psalm 95:8). She was not so proud as to presume he spoke to offend her; she was not so proud as to take offense at him. Instead, she perceived in his words a summons to happiness and healing.

In the example of this woman we see that “preaching does not bring about faith without the consent of the will and the will does not give its consent unless God kindles a spark in it.”[3] As it was with the woman at the well, so it is with us. In the waters of baptism, each of us has received, as it were, that spark of God’s love; his love and the gift of faith were enkindled in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Now it remains for us to fan that spark into flame and to call upon his gifts.

Jesus first “enkindles a spark in [the Samaritan woman] by asking her to serve him by giving him a drink of water. This is something that the woman could minister to him since she had come to draw water.”[4] What is it that the Lord Jesus asks of us? What does he ask us to do for him that we are capable of doing?

In his last moments upon the Cross, Jesus said, “I thirst” (John 19:28). He made this cry to each one of us, but he does not ask us for physical water; rather, he asks for the water of our love so that we might quench his thirst. Jesus then “continues to kindle a spark in the woman by promising or offering her a gift,”[5] by promising to give her “living water” which will become in those who drink of it “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:10, 14). The water he desired to give to her – the water he desires to give to each of us – is the water of his love which poured forth from his pierced heart into the Sacraments (cf. John 19:34). If he so opened his heart to us, let us not be afraid to open our hearts to him in the sacraments so that his love might be poured into our hearts.

Then, filled with his love, we, like that woman, can share our life’s story, the story of encounter with the Lord’s love and so lead our family, our friends, and even strangers to drink from the water of Jesus’ love. If we drink freely from his waters, we can take up Pope Francis’ invitation to discover “the joy of becoming artisans of reconciliation and instruments of peace in our daily lives.”[6] By living as artisans or reconciliation and as instruments of peace, may we bring healing to our lives and to our society. Amen.




[1] Saint Bonaventure, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 4.33. Robert J. Karris, trans. (Saint Bonaventure, New York: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2007), 237.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., 4.14.
[4] Ibid., 4.15.
[5] Ibid., 4.17.
[6] Pope Francis, Angelus Address, 19 March 2017.

16 March 2017

The Oxford comma wins its day in court

I've been a strong supporter of the Oxford comma for many years now and have often attempted to sway its detractors toward favoring its use, sometimes through memes such as this:


As you can see, the clarity added by the inclusion of the Oxford comma - sometimes called the serial comma - can be rather helpful. The use of the Oxford comma can also be of great importance, as the Honorable David J. Barron, a Judge for the United States Court of Appeals of the First Circuit - recently decided.

Boston Magazine reports the comma controversy as follows:
Delivery drivers for Oakhurst Dairy won their suit against the Portland milk and cream company, after a U.S. court of appeals found that the wording of Maine’s overtime rules were written ambiguously. Per state law, the following activities are not eligible for overtime pay: 
The canning, processing, preserving,freezing, drying, marketing, storing,packing for shipment or distribution of:(1) Agricultural produce;(2) Meat and fish products; and(3) Perishable foods. 
Oakhurst argued that “distribution of” was separate from “packing for shipment,” which would allow the company to claim exemption from paying its delivery drivers over time.

Clearly, Oakhurst's interpretation is incorrect, as even the civil courts now recognize. Long live the Oxford comma!

12 March 2017

"Of you my heart has spoken, Seek his face" (Psalm 26:8).


O God, who have commanded us to listen to your beloved Son,
be pleased, we pray,
to nourish us inwardly by your word,
that, with spiritual sight made pure,
we may rejoice to behold your glory.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
- Roman Missal, Collect for the Third Sunday of Lent

11 March 2017

Homily - 12 March 2017 - Why did Jesus take Peter, James, and John with him up the mountain and not three others?

The Second Sunday of Lent (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

It is a curious thing that the Lord Jesus today “took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves” (Matthew 17:1). Jesus often went away by himself to pray, but he did not usually take anyone with him. Why did he take these three and not the others? If we remember the ancient Roman adage that nomen est omen, that the name is a sign, the answer may be found in their names.

Jesus took them up Mount Tabor, a solitary mountain rising almost 2,000 feet above the plain surrounding it. Curiously, the name “Tabor” means “the coming light,” and so we can speculate that Jesus wished to reveal something of the light of his Face to them.[1] After all, Saint Matthew tells us when Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John, “his face shone like the sun” (Matthew 17:2). Still, why did Jesus take these three, and not three others?


That great finder of lost things and doctor of the Gospels, Saint Anthony of Padua, tells us that “these three Apostles, the special companions of Jesus Christ, may be understood as three virtues of our soul, without which no one can climb the mountain of light.”[2] What virtues, then, do we find in their names?

The name “Peter” means “understanding,” and he who truly understands himself knows himself to be a sinner. He also knows that God is thrice holy. For this reason,

Jesus took Peter, and [we] too must take Peter, [we] who believe in Jesus and hope for salvation from Jesus. Peter is the acknowledgment of [our] sins, which consist in these three things: pride in the heart, lust in the flesh, and avarice in the world.[3]

We see this among the first words Peter said to Jesus when he was called on the Sea of Galilee: “Depart for me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Here, Peter demonstrated a profound understanding of himself. Do we have the same understanding of ourselves? Do we recognize our sinfulness?

Even so, while recognizing and acknowledging his sinfulness, Peter’s pride kept him from always following Jesus’ lead, even though he knew him to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). It was Peter’s pride that led him to say to the divine Master when he predicted his Passion, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). Later yet, as Jesus was being taken away to be crucified, Peter’s eyes met the Lord’s and Peter “went out and wept bitterly” because of his sinful pride (cf. Luke22:61, 62). When was the last time we wept because of our sinful pride? If Peter repeatedly acknowledged his sins to the Lord Jesus, you and I  must do the same. This is why Jesus took Peter with him up the mountain, to teach us the importance of acknowledging and confessing our sins.

The name “James” means “wrestler” or “supplanter.” We must take him with us, together with Peter, because James “is the supplanting of these vices,” the vices of pride, of lust, and of greed, “so that [we] may tread the pride of [our] spirit under the foot of reason; so that [we] may mortify the lust of [our] flesh, and repress the vanity of the deceitful world.”[4] It is only after acknowledging and confessing our sins that we can wrestle with these vices and seek to uproot them from our hearts. Jesus took James with him up the mountain to each us the importance of wrestling with our weaknesses and of seeking to overcome them, instead of being complacent about them.

Especially in these Lenten days, we are each called to take up the weapons of prayer, of fasting, and of alms-giving as we seek to supplant our sins. It is through a more intentional and increased use of the spiritual weapon of daily prayer, of open and honest communication with God, that we can come to better understand our failures to love both God and neighbor and so humble our pride even as we come to a deeper understanding of the merciful love displayed for us upon the Cross. Whenever we turn to the Lord in prayer, we not only see that we are sinners, but, more importantly, we see how much God loves us despite our sinfulness. This is the message of the Cross; we should keep it daily before our eyes if we wish to diminish the pride in our hearts.

By wielding the spiritual weapon of fasting, we can better reign in our passions and harness their energies for a greater purpose, for a continual growth in holiness, for an ever greater conformity to Christ. A fast from both foods and pleasures, whether freely undertaken or embraced in humble obedience, “enables us to grow in the spirit of the Good Samaritan, who bends low and goes to the help of his suffering brother” and helps us ”make a statement that our brother or sister in need is not a stranger.[5] By fasting, we turn away from the lust in the flesh – which comes from an inordinate focus on the self – to recognize Christ present in those around us. Seeing their needs, our hearts can pierced by the same compassion that is Christ’s.

And through alms-giving, we can counter our greed by gladly giving away what we have received as a gift from God. It is alms-giving that “teaches us the generosity of love” because it is “a concrete expression of charity, a theological virtue that demands interior conversion to [the] love of God and neighbor, in imitation of Jesus Christ, who, dying on the cross, gave His entire self for us.[6] When we recognize our sinfulness and see both the spiritual and financial poverty of our neighbor, we can set out to combat the avarice in the world through alms-giving by giving not just of our things, but of ourselves.

The name “John” means “the grace of God.” We should take John with us so that the grace of God “may enlighten [us] to recognize the evil things [we] have done, and help [us] in the good things [we] have begun to do.”[7] Without the grace of God, we cannot truly comprehend our sinfulness or God’s holiness; we cannot experience the profundity of his love; and we cannot strive to supplant our sins. This is why Jesus took John with him up the mountain, to teach us to ask that the grace of God go always before us and follow always after us.

We are too often far too willing to remain on the plain. It takes effort to climb the mountain. It can be difficult and painful to reach new heights of holiness and so we content ourselves with mediocrity. Jesus, though, does not want us to be mediocre; he wants us to be saints (cf. II Timothy1:9). He wants us to be able to look upon the brilliant beauty of his Face without blush or shame.

Let us, then, with Saint Anthony of Padua, ask the Lord Jesus

to make us climb from this vale of tears to the mountain of a holy life; so that we may have the form of [his] Passion printed upon us, and be strengthened with the meekness or mercy and the zeal for justice. Then, in the day of judgment, we may be found fit to be overshadowed by the bright cloud; and hear the voice of joy, gladness and exultation, the voice which says: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).[8]

Amen.





[1] Saint Anthony of Padua, Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent, 3. In Sermons for Sundays and Festivals, Volume I: General Prologue, Sundays from Septuagesima to Pentecost. Paul Spilsbury, trans. (Padua: Edizioni Messagero Padova, 2007), 102.
[2] Ibid., 101.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Pope Benedict XVI, Message for Lent 2009.
[6] Pope Benedict XVI, Message for Lent 2008, 5, 3.
[7] Saint Anthony of Padua, Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent, 3.
[8] Ibid., 14.

09 March 2017

On the St. Patrick's Day dispensation, or the lack thereof

While other Bishops and Archbishops have seen fit to grant a dispensation from the law of abstinence on the Fridays of Lent to allow Catholics to eat meat this year on the memorial of Saint Patrick, His Excellency the Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki has decided not to grant such a dispensation from the law. For reasons unclear to me, the State Journal-Register has decided this matter to be worthy of the front page.

In a letter to the priests of the Diocese, the Vicar General indicated the Bishop's reasoning when he noted the decision was made in "honor of the heroic virtue and sacrifice of St. Patrick in his life as a disciple." Such a rationale is in keeping with the mind of Saint Anthony of Padua who once preached these words:

We celebrate their feasts, so as to receive from their lives a pattern of living. How ridiculous, to want to honor the saints on their days with eating, when we know that they got to heaven by fasting! If we do not imitate the saints, but rather love the world and its glory; if we pamper our bodies with pleasure and amass money: then their justice will prove that we ought to be condemned (Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Easter, 11).

Indeed, it is from this mindset that the Vicar General encouraged the faithful of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois to honor the patron saint of Ireland, “and Almighty God, with the sacrifice of abstinence from eating meat.

Bishop Paprocki, of course, is not alone in deciding not grant a dispensation this year. By my count of the 196 dioceses and archdioceses in the United States of America, according to a list compiled and updated by RoccoPalmo, the faithful in only 68 dioceses and archdiocese have been a granted a dispensation this year; that means that 128 bishops and archbishops have not granted a dispensation.

The different disciplines across the nation – and even within the same state – have led some people to wonder why the Church does not have the same policy across the board. To this I would simply say that the universal policy is to abstain from meat.

But even the universal law provides an exception to this requirement for those members of the faithful who belong to a diocese or a parish named in honor of Saint Patrick. For them, March 17th is not simply the liturgical memorial of a saint, but a liturgical solemnity and Catholics are not bound by the law of abstinence on solemnities (which is why everyone can eat meat when the Solemnity of Saint Joseph – March 19th – falls on a Friday of Lent).

Bishops have different policies and disciplines in this matter because the Code of Canon Law provides them the power to grant dispensations from the law because of the power of binding and loosing that Christ Jesus gave to his Church. The use of this authority is an act of prudential judgment; some bishops judge it useful to dispense from the law of abstinence and some (many more) do not.

I have never really understood why some people get upset if their bishop decides not to grant them a dispensation to eat meat on St. Patrick’s Day. Most – but not all – Catholics in the U.S.A. who want to eat meat to celebrate Saint Patrick want to eat corned beef, but the Irish do not eat corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day because corned beef is actually not an Irish dish, but a Jewish dish which Irish immigrants seem to have picked up in New York City.


Better in this instance, I think, to follow the insight of Saint Anthony of Padua, though I should perhaps say that I dislike both corned beef and cabbage.

Black Catholic Commission to Host Revival

This afternoon I received the following press release from the Office for Communications of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois:
DECATUR - A revival hosted by the Black Catholic Commission of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois will be held at 7 p.m. Sunday, March 12 and 7 p.m. Monday, March13 at St. Patrick Church, 407 East Eldorado St., Decatur, IL. This event is open to the public in an effort to raise awareness and share the cultural heritage of African-Americans and Africans in the Church. 
Fr. David Jones, pastor of St. Benedict the African–East Parish, Chicago is the guest speaker for both evenings. Fr. Jones grew up in the Chicago area and was a member of St. Cecilia Parish. He attended Bradley University, and completed his bachelor degree at Grambling University. Fr. Jones spent some time in the corporate world before realizing that his heart was directed towards God and serving people. Fr. Jones’ motto is “To God Be the Glory!” Sunday evening’s topic, “Why I Came to Church” will feature the African Ensemble Choir. Monday evening is “Why I Remain in Church” with music provided by a composite of choir members from Catholic churches in Decatur. 
This revival is a continuation of a revival project started by Fr. Ferdinand Cheri, former member of the diocesan Black Catholic Commission. Fr. Cheri has since been appointed an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. The goals of the revival are: to share the Word of God through the lens of the black culture for all members of the community; to support evangelization of black youth and young adults; for liturgical efforts of the Black Catholic Commission; and to promote an outreach to African-Americans and Africans within the diocesan boundaries. 
Donna Moore, Director for Pro-Life Activities and Special Ministries for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois wants everyone to feel welcomed to attend. “It will be an enriching experience for everyone. Please come and be blessed,” said Moore.

05 March 2017

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent - 5 March 2017

N.B.: A few grammatical and editorial corrections have been made to the text of the following homily.

The First Sunday of Lent (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Earlier this week, the Holy Father Pope Francis announced his prayer intention for this month of March and asked us a direct question: “How many of you pray for persecuted Christians?”[1] So important is this question to Pope Francis that the Holy See produced a short video to accompany His Holiness’ prayer intention “that persecuted Christians may be supported by the prayers and material help of the whole Church.”

So many of our fellow members of the Body of Christ experience daily something of what the Lord Jesus experienced in the desert, “harsh conditions, utter loneliness, and the gnawing discomforts of hunger” and, more than this, the “assaults of [our] archenemy, the devil.”[2] We make their situation more desperate by frequently giving too little thought to them.

In his brief message accompanying this video, Pope Francis said:

How many people are being persecuted because of their faith, forced to abandon their homes, their places of worship, their lands, their loved ones!

They are persecuted and killed because they are Christians. Those who persecute them make no distinction between the religious communities to which they belong.

I ask you: how many of you pray for persecuted Christians?

Do it with me, that they may be supported by the prayers and material help of all the Churches and communities.

These words of the Holy Father stand as a stark challenge for each us during these days of Lent. Grateful for the riches of his merciful love and confident in the certainty that “because [Jesus] himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted,” so many of our brothers and sisters willingly endure great hardships for the sake of his name, while we all too often grumble about not being allowed to eat meat one day of the week, which we sometimes forget or even give in to social pressure (Hebrews 2:18). It rather puts things in perspective, does it not?

Some Catholics seem to be under the curious impression that they must eat fish on Fridays during Lent, which, of course, is incorrect. While we are obliged to abstain from eating meat each Lenten Friday, this does not mean we have to eat fish; though the eating of fish has because customary, it is not required. Here many ask why we are allowed to eat fish and not meat.

Some – speaking from an anti-Catholic bias – have claimed the Church first allowed us to eat fish on Lenten Fridays to support the fishing industry in the middle ages. This, however, is not true. In his book, A Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England, Ian Mortimer includes a chapter on “What to Eat and Drink.” In this chapter, he notes, quite rightly, that

The medieval Church [that is, the Catholic Church] used to restrict the eating of meat on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, as well as in Advent and Lent and on the vigils on certain saints' feast days. In 1549 Edward VI [a Protestant] reestablishes Fridays and Saturdays as nonmeat days, as well as Lent and other religious feasts. In 1563 Elizabeth's government [which was also Protestant] imposes fasting on Wednesdays too, including a prohibition on slaughtering animals. There is an important difference compared to pre-Reformation [that is, Catholic] times, however: avoidance of meat is no longer a religious observance but secular law. The purpose of fasting on Wednesdays is specifically to encourage the eating of fish, to support the fishing industry.[3]

It was, then, the Protestant government of England and not the Catholic Church that banned meat and allowed fish to support the fishmongers. If this is case, why did the Church allow our ancestors in the faith to eat fish, but not meat, on certain days?

For the Church, the reason for the forbidding of meat and the allowing of fish was less temporal, much simpler, and more spiritual than that of the secular government. In his Liber Festivalis, which he wrote in the late 1400s, John Myre explains that “when God, for Adam’s sin, cursed the earth and the land, he cursed not the water; wherefore it is lawful for a man to eat in Lent that which cometh of the water.” In fact, centuries earlier, Saint Isidore of Seville, who died in 636, wrote in his De Ecclesiasticis Officiis, "We are certainly able to eat fish, because the Lord accepted one after the resurrection. Neither the savior nor the apostles have forbidden this."[4] From this, we see that the non-eating of meat and the eating of fish was – and is – intended as both a penance, a small communal sacrifice offered lovingly to God, and a reminder of God's merciful and victorious love.

When we fail to realize this connection, when we fail to see the value and importance to our fasting and abstinence, it is because we have become, like our first parents, too focused on ourselves and on our own pleasures. “Adam was placed in Paradise, and there, seeking pleasure, he fell.”[5] How often do we, too, fall into sin by seeking pleasure and running from the Cross instead of seeking union with God? Unlike Adam, Jesus “was led into the desert, and there, by constant fasting, overcame the devil.”[6]

In these days of Lent, then, let us not seek our own pleasure, but let us go with Jesus into the desert. Just as he fasted out of love for us, let us fast out of love for our persecuted brothers and sisters who grow more numerous each day.

If we focus our thoughts and our prayers not on ourselves but on others, we, too, can, with the help of divine grace, overcome the sin of self-centeredness and experience the joy of salvation (cf. Psalm 51:17). This is why Pope Francis has asked the Holy Spirit this Lent to “lead us on a true journey of conversion, so that we can rediscover the gift of God’s word, be purified of the sin that blinds us, and serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need.”[7]

Let us then ask the Lord to help us acknowledge our sins, to forgive our sins, and to cleanse our hearts so that his compassion may be ours. Moreover, “let us pray for one another so that, by sharing in the victory of Christ, we may open our doors to the weak and poor. Then we will be able to experience and share to the full the joy of Easter.”[8] Amen.





[1] In “Pope’s Prayer Intention for March: Support Persecuted Christians,” Vatican Radio, 2 March 2017. Accessed 4 March 2017. Available at http://www.news.va/en/news/popes-prayer-intention-for-march-support-for-perse
[2] Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2010), 74.
[3] Ian Mortimer, A Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England (New York: Penguin Books, 2012), 215.
[4] Saint Isidore of Seville, De Ecclesiasticis Officiis, 1.44[45].2.
[5] Saint Anthony of Padua, Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent, 4. In Paul Spilsbury, trans., Sermons for Sundays and Festivals, Vol. I: General Prologue, Sundays from Septuagesima to Pentecost (Padua: Edizioni Messaggero Padova, 2007), 73.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Pope Francis, Message for Lent 2017, 3.
[8] Ibid.