29 March 2020

Homily - 29 March 2020 - The Fifth Sunday of Lent


The Fifth Sunday of Lent (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today, we hear Martha say to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here…” (John 11:21). Are these not the same sort of words we want to say to Jesus as well? Do we not also cry out, “Lord, if you had been here…”? But whereas we might be tempted to use such words as a rebuke of the Lord, Martha intends no such thing. We know this is the case because she adds, “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you” (John 11:21). Her phrase, “Lord if you had been here…” is not one of blame, but one of trust in the power of the Lord Jesus. As it was with her, so must it be with us: we must always speak to the Lord in hope born of faith.

Martha knew well the words of the Psalmist: “I trust in the Lord; my soul trusts in his word. More than sentinels wait for the dawn, let Israel wait for the Lord” (Psalm 130:5-6). When she and her sister Mary sent word to Jesus about Lazarus’ illness, Martha’s message was simple: “Master, the one you love is ill” (John 11:3). They did not ask Jesus to come; they did not beg him to come; they did not command him to come; they simply informed him. Why?

We so often seek to tell Jesus just how to solve our problems and the hardships of life; “Lord, if you had been here,” we say, “you could have done this or that.” But this is not how the women speak to Jesus; why did they not do so? "These women said nothing like this,” said Saint Augustine, “but only, ‘Lord, behold, he whom you love is ill' - as if to say: It is enough that you know. For you are not one that loves and then abandons."[1] Because she knew that Jesus never abandons those whom he loves, Martha did not tell Jesus what to do, but instead waited for him to act; she waited in hope born of faith.

We see Jesus’ love for Lazarus in the brief but poignant words: “And Jesus wept” (John 5:35). Saint Bonaventure tells us that Jesus’ “compassion was a sign of his sorrow, and his sorrow was a sign of his love.”[2] Even those around Jesus saw his love in those sacred tears, which is why they said, “See how he loved him” (John 5:36). In these present days in which we are seemingly surrounded by sadness, we like to think that we should not cry, that we should not weep, that we need to be strong for others. Jesus, however, showed the strength of his love through his tears. Perhaps it was these very tears that led J.R.R. Tolkien to put this counsel on the lips of Gandalf the White as he boarded the white ship at the Grey Havens to leave Middle-earth: “I will not say: Do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”[3] Indeed, Saint Augustine asks, “Why did Christ weep except to teach us to weep?”[4]

How many tears have we shed in these past many days, tears for ourselves, for our families, for our friends, for strangers? How many tears have we shed as we have cried out to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here…”? How many more tears will we shed in the coming weeks? How many tears have been shed, and will be shed, because we do not have ready access to the Sacraments? How many tears have been shed, and will be shed, by priests who cannot be as close to our flocks as we would like? How many tears? Lord, if you had been here…

In the coming days, Mother Church invites us to unite ourselves ever more closely to the Passion of the Lord Jesus so we might understand more deeply that “with the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption” (Psalm 130:7). We will be invited to contemplate the tremendous compassion Christ Jesus demonstrated for us not only in his tears, but especially and above all in his willing acceptance of the Cross for our salvation. From the Cross, we will hear him call out to us, “I have promised, and I will do it. I will open your graves and have you rise from them” (Ezekiel 37:14, 13).

This past Friday, the Holy Father Pope Francis reminded us of what is most important in these days: “Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.”[5] As we, then, turn our gaze ever more attentively to the Cross of Christ, let us cry out to him, saying, “Master, the people you love are hurting.” With hope born of faith, let us wait for the Lord, trusting him to do what he will, for he is not one that loves and then abandons. Amen.


[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the Gospel of John, 49.5. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament Vol. IVb: John 11-21 (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2007), 3.
[2] Saint Bonaventure, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 11:35 (Saint Bonaventure, New York: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2007), 613.
[3] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of The Lord of the Rings (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994), 1007.
[4] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the Gospel of John, 49.19. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament Vol. IVb: John 11-21, 3.
[5] Pope Francis, Homily at the Extraordinary Moment of Prayer, 27 March 2020.

28 March 2020

Homily - 22 March 2020 - The Fourth Sunday of Lent


The Fourth Sunday of Lent (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Almost like a punch to the gut, on this Fourth Sunday of Lent Mother Church tells us to “rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all you were in mourning” (Isaiah 66:10-11). These words strike us so painfully because we are now in mourning, mourning over the fact that we cannot now gather at the Lord’s altar.

Saint Paul advises us today to “try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10). The ancient Greek playwright and philosopher Aeschylus gave us this proverb: πάθος μάθος (pathos mathos), which means both “learning is suffering” and “suffering is learning.[1] Any student who has struggled to understand a difficult lesson knows this all too well. Mourning is always a form of suffering and so we might well ask ourselves now what the Lord might be trying to teach us. In what way might the works of God be made visible through our present situation (cf. John 9:3)?

As a student of history, I know that there are always important lessons to learn by looking to those who have gone before us, especially those who have gone before us in faith. In the midst of these strange days, some have attempted to look to the past by loosely comparing us to the ancient Christians who also had difficulty gathering for the Sunday Mass. The analogy, of course, only goes so far and, like all analogies, the similarity is less than the dissimilarity.

In the year 304, “the Emperor Diocletian forbade Christians, on pain of death, from possessing the Scriptures, from gathering on Sundays to celebrate the Eucharist and from building places in which to hold their assemblies.”[2] Today we can understand a small portion of what they endured, but whereas they still gathered under the threat of death, we have more or less voluntarily agreed to stay home for the well-being of all.

In the midst of those days of persecution, 49 Christians in the city of Abitene - in modern day Tunisia - were taken by surprise during the Sunday Mass. Because they were in violation of imperial law, they were brought before the Proconsul Anulinus in Carthage for interrogation. When asked why they disobeyed the Emperor’s command, those 49 Christians answered, Sine dominico non possumus, “that is, we cannot live without joining together on Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist. We would lack the strength to face our daily problems and not to succumb.”[3]

While they were tortured and killed for their faith in Christ, we now struggle to find a way to live without the Sunday Mass so that we, too, might face our daily problems and not succumb to the temptations of the Evil One. In a manner of speaking, we are learning what the earliest believers knew and held dear:

The Sunday precept is not … an externally imposed duty, a burden on our shoulders. On the contrary, taking part in the Celebration, being nourished by the Eucharistic Bread and experiencing the communion of their brothers and sisters in Christ is a need for Christians, it is a joy; Christians can thus replenish the energy they need to continue on the journey we must make every week.[4]

Those ancient martyrs may well be teaching us what the Lord wants us to learn at this moment in history by showing us what is pleasing to the Lord: the members of the Body of Christ gathering together for the Sunday Mass and for the fellowship of their brothers and sisters.

Many of us have already begun to realize that we sometimes take the Mass for granted. We too often let other things, such as sports or vacations, take precedence over the Mass. At the same time, many of us have also begun to realize that we sometimes take our parish family for granted. We too often let other things, such as meals, dinners, or parties, determine where and when we go to Mass, rather than making it a priority to gather with our parish.

As these two realizations take greater hold in our hearts, our mourning increases; we mourn doubly. We not only mourn because we cannot now gather together, we mourn also because we have taken for granted so much of what is essential for our true life. Yet still Mother Church tells us to rejoice. With Saint Paul, she says to us, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Ephesians 5:14). In these days of our suffering, let us learn well these lessons from the ancient martyrs and so awaken from our spiritual slumber.

This brings me to one of my favorite lines in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: “The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”[5] In the midst of our grief, our love for the Eucharist and for the community of the Body of Christ can indeed grow the greater. Then, when at last the trouble of these days has past, we will gather again at the altar of the Lord and say to one another, “Be joyful, all you who were in mourning.” Amen.


[1] Aeschylus, Agamemnon, 177.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 29 May 2005.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994), 339.

24 March 2020

Islamic State Ongoing Updates - March 2020

Previous Updates: February 2020January 2020 | November 2019 | October 2019 | September 2019 | August 2019 | July 2019 | June 2019 | May 2019 | April 2019 | March 2019 | February 2019 | January 2019 | December 2018 | November 2018 | October 2018 |September 2018 | August 2018 | July 2018 | October 2017 | September 2017 | August 2017 |  July 2017 | June 2017 |  May 2017 | April 2017 | March 2017 | February 2017 | January 2017 | December 2016 | November 2016 | September 2016 | August 2016 | July 2016 | June 2016 | May 2016 | April 2016 | March 2016 | February 2016January 2016 | December 2015 | November 2015 | October 2015 | September 2015 | August 2015 | July 2015June 2015 | May 2015 | April 2015 | March 2015 | February 2015 | January 2015 | December 2014 | November 2014 | October 2014 | April - November 2014 |

15 March 2020
4 March 2020

Islamic State Ongoing Updates - February 2020

Previous Updates: January 2020 | November 2019 | October 2019 | September 2019August 2019 | July 2019 | June 2019 | May 2019 | April 2019 | March 2019 | February 2019 | January 2019 | December 2018 | November 2018 | October 2018 |September 2018 | August 2018 | July 2018 | October 2017 | September 2017 | August 2017 |  July 2017 | June 2017 |  May 2017 | April 2017 | March 2017 | February 2017 | January 2017 | December 2016 | November 2016 | September 2016 | August 2016 | July 2016 | June 2016 | May 2016 | April 2016 | March 2016 | February 2016January 2016 | December 2015 | November 2015 | October 2015 | September 2015 | August 2015 | July 2015June 2015 | May 2015 | April 2015 | March 2015 | February 2015 | January 2015 | December 2014 | November 2014 | October 2014 | April - November 2014 |

21 February 2020

18 February 2020

18 February 2020

Homily - 16 February 2020 - The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time


The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,
           
Today, the Lord Jesus gives us a stern warning: “I tell you,” he says, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). When we hear these words in the presence of Saints Damien and Marianne, we might begin to feel as if there is no hope for us; is it possible for us to do what they did, to love as they loved? The answer, of course, is yes; it is possible for us to do what they did and to love as they loved, although in different ways. Indeed, “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall life” (Sirach 15:15).

We know that “death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ.”[1] This is why the manner in which we live this life is so important, for by it we make our decision for “life or death, good or evil,” which is to say either for or against Christ Jesus (Sirach 15:17). “With death, our life-choice becomes definitive – our life stands before the judge.”[2] This choice can have a multiplicity of forms because each of our lives is different, but the fundamental choice before us remains the same.

There are some people whose lives are so filled with wickedness that any desire for truth and love has been completely snuffed out within them. This is what is meant by the word, “hell,” “the state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed.”[3] But there are also people whose lives are so imbued with love and purity – those like Father Damien and Mother Marianne - that their love for God flows readily to their neighbor. Such holiness of life clearly marks one for heaven, “the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings.”[4] But such people are not common, are they? What, then, of the rest of us, who want to live holy lives, who want to keep the commandments, but who fail so often?

We can presume that in the majority of people 
there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God. In the concrete choices of life, however, it is covered over by ever new compromises with evil – much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains, and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul.[5] 
What, then, becomes of these souls who are open to, and are desirous of, truth and love, but whose lives are also marked with sin? “Will all the impurity they have amassed through life suddenly cease to matter?”[6]

It would go against God’s mercy to cast them into hell, but it would go against his justice for them to enter heaven straight away with such stains covering their souls. The answer is clear: they must first be purified. Thus, we hear the Savior’s warning that “you will not be released until you have paid the last penny” (Matthew 5:26). This process of purification is called purgatory for it is a purgation, a cleansing, of the soul.

We speak of the pain of the fire of Purgatory because Saint Paul tells us we will be saved, “but only as through fire” (I Corinthians 3:15). What is this fire, if not the fire of divine love? The Lord’s “burning flame cuts free our closed-off heart, melting it, and pouring it into a new mold to make it fit for the living organism of his body.”[7] This fire is the encounter with Christ Jesus himself, who is both Judge and Savior, and this encounter with him is the moment of judgment.

Many today are afraid of the notion of judgment “because they confuse judgment with petty calculation and give more room to fear than to a loving trust.”[8] They do not realize that

Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms us and frees us, allowing us to become fully ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses.  Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives becomes evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire.” But it is also a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally of ourselves and totally of God. In this way the interrelation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us forever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love… The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy.[9]

In all of this, we see that “before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him” (Sirach 15:17). If we want our righteousness to surpass that of the scribes and the pharisees, if we want to enter heaven, then we must do better than them. They kept the commandments on the outside, but not in their hearts; we must do both.

We cannot forget that, in Jesus, every commandment “becomes true as a requirement of love, and all join in a single commandment: love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. “Love is the fulfilling of the Law”, St Paul writes (Romans 13:10).[10] Dear brothers and sisters, if we keep the commandments out of love for God and neighbor, then one day we, too, like Saints Damien and Marianne, will be plunged into the ocean of infinite love and be “simply overwhelmed with joy.”[11] Amen.


[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1021.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, 45.
[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1033.
[4] Ibid., 1024.
[5] Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 46.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid., 229.
[8] Joseph Ratzinger, Seek That Which Is Above: Meditations Through the Year, Second Edition. Graham Harrison, trans. (San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 2007), 77.
[9] Pope Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, 47.
[10] Ibid., Angelus Address, 13 February 2011
[11] Ibid., Spe Salvi, 12.

09 February 2020

Homily - 9 February 2020 - The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time


The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

In our own day, nearly obsessed with comfort, pleasure, and ease, Saint Paul seems very much out of place. He went to the Greek city of Corinth, a place so notorious for the sinful pleasures then easily available in that port city that calling someone a Corinthian was a great insult; he went “proclaiming the mystery of God” (I Corinthians 2:1). As he went about his divine mission, “my message and my proclamation,” he says, “were not with persuasive words of wisdom” (I Corinthians 2:4). Why did he not use persuasive words? Is this not counterproductive? Any advertiser or politician today would tell us that Saint Paul’s approach is foolish, but perhaps that is precisely the point.

Saint Paul went to Corinth to instill the faith of Jesus Christ in the hearts of a people whose lives were caught in the muck and mire of sin. He did not use the philosophical jargon or the language of the mystery cults so common in his day so that the Christian faith would not be said “to depend on the art of words and on human wisdom rather than on the power of God.”[1]

If we are honest, there is no shortage of preachers today who claim to proclaim the Gospel using the language of our day in an attempt to persuade and in doing so they empty the Cross of its meaning. They do not follow the example of Saint Paul who wanted to know nothing other than Christ crucified and who simply preached the power of the Cross and left people to accept his message or to reject it. He did not sugar coat it or water it down; he did not make it sound trendy or modern; he proclaimed the Cross.

He sought to unleash the Gospel, the testimony of the Christ crucified, and to let it speak for itself. He knew that “the Corinthians did not need more rhetorical bells and whistles, and [he] would not entertain them with such” so that his words “pointed to the message rather than the messenger.”[2] His message and his proclamation were not about entertainment and showmanship, but about salvation in Christ Jesus, the true Light who illumines the darkness of sin and death (cf. John 8:12). He knew, with Saint John Chrysostom, that

human wisdom denied the cross, but faith proclaimed the power of God. Wisdom not only failed to reveal the things which people sought after, but also it encouraged them to boast of their own achievements. But faith not only gave them the truth, it also encouraged them to glorify God.[3]

This is a message we need to learn today. When proclaiming the message of the Gospel to others, we cannot pander to them; we should not seek to persuade them as if the Gospel itself were not already attractive and powerfully convincing, but to show them what it means to encounter Christ Jesus. The art of human words will always fail; the power of God – even if it seems as foolishness to men – will not fail.

Today, it is lamentably rare for the average Christian to attempt to the share the power of the Cross with an unbeliever or even with one whose faith is weak. This is a clear indication that many of us have not recognized an encounter with Christ, perhaps because we have not freely recognized his presence in the stranger and in the neighbor. We do not freely follow the command of the Lord to “share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own” (Isaiah 58:7). We want to make sure those we help are worthy of our help, but God makes no mention of ascertaining worthiness. More than that, we often want some other organization to do the works of charity for us, but God does not tell us to form an organizer; rather, he tells us – each one of us – to bring his merciful love to others through acts of charity. We want to avoid the Cross and not be overwhelmed by its power, but God tells us to approach the Cross.

Saint Paul admits that he went to the Corinthians “in weakness and fear and much trembling” (I Corinthians 2:3). He knew what his proclamation of the Gospel would bring him. He knew he would be mocked and rejected by others; he knew he would be beaten and suffer greatly; but still he preached the Gospel because he knew the power of the Cross. He knew the promise of God: “then light shall arise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday” (Isaiah 58:10). Do we know this, as well?

If we keep our distance from the Cross, we cannot have a life-changing encounter with Christ. If we only want to know him Risen from the dead and glorious in majesty, we will not know him; if we are to know him, we must know him crucified.

We have just over two weeks now before the holy season of Lent begins, a time in which Mother Church urges us to renounce the pleasures of this world and to draw near to the Cross. At his Cross, we learn with great clarity that “light shines through the darkness for the upright” (Psalm 112:4). The Lord Jesus will shine his light upon us to illumine the darkness of our sins, not to embarrass us, but to invite us a greater conversion of heart and mind. He will invite us to be like him so that we might truly be “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). Let us, then, not shy away from his light, but let us step into it – even with fear and trembling – so that the gloom shall become for us like midday. Amen.


[1] Origen, On First Principles, 4.1.7. In Thomas C. Oden, et al, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament Vol. VIII: 1-2 Corinthians (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 1999), 20.
[2] George T. Montague, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: First Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011), 57, 58.
[3] Saint John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, 6.3. In Thomas C. Oden, et al, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament Vol. VIII: 1-2 Corinthians (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 1999), 20.