16 September 2018

Homily - The Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - 16 September 2018

The Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Catechetical Sunday

Dear brothers and sisters,

It is a curious question that Jesus asks today: “Who do people say that I am” (Mark 8:27)? Notice that he does not ask, “What do people say about my teachings?” or, “What do people say about my healings?”, but “Who do people say that I am?” In this, we see quite clearly that Jesus’ teachings and healings are intimately bound up in his person; indeed, who he is is more important than what he says or does because what he says and does flows from who he is.

For many long and unfortunate years, Catholics – and others – have been too concerned with the teachings of Jesus Christ and not concerned enough with his person. In his encyclical letter Deus caritas est, Pope Benedict XVI rightly reminded us that

being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”[1]

Too often do we focus solely on learning what Jesus said and did, and not enough on knowing him personally, on entering into an ever-deeper relationship with him and with his Body, the Church.

To put it differently,

This is an encounter, not with an idea or with a project of life, but with a living Person who transforms our innermost selves, revealing to us our true identity as children of God. The encounter with Christ renews our human relationships, directing them, from day to day, to greater solidarity and brotherhood in the logic of love. Having faith in the Lord is not something that involves solely our intelligence, the area of intellectual knowledge; rather, it is a change that involves our life, our whole self: feelings, heart, intelligence, will, corporeity, emotions, and human relationships. With faith everything truly changes…[2]

It is safer, we think, to know about him than it is to know him because there is less risk we will hear him calling us to give everything away for him. If we know about him and do not draw too close to him, he cannot ask us a question as pointed as, “Who do you say that I am” (Mark 8:8)? If this is what stifles our relationship with Jesus, it is only because we have forgotten that he “keeps the little ones” (Psalm 116:6).

The Lord Jesus was able to ask Saint Peter and the Twelve a question not about his teachings or his doings but about his own identity because they were close to him. They walked with him, ate with him, and prayed with him. In their encounter with the Christ event, in their encounter with the person of Jesus Christ, they came to know him, and in knowing him they learned his teachings and could rightly say, “You are the Christ,” the Messiah, the Savior (Mark 8:8).

Today, the Church in these United States of America observes Catechetical Sunday, a day to thank and bless our catechists for their important and vital work of handing on the faith. The word catechist comes from the Greek catekeo, meaning “to echo.” An ancient proverb holds that repetitio est mater studiorum, that repetition is the mother of all study or learning. Your task, then, dear catechists is to assist our children’s parents in teaching them the fundamentals of the faith in a way that they can echo them back to you. In this way, you can be certain they have begun to grasp them. But what is it that you are to teach them?

In his First Catechetical Instruction, which he wrote to give advice to the Deacon Deogratias on how best to hand on the faith, our heavenly patron Saint Augustine said the principal aim of the catechist should to help someone

learn how much God loves him, and might learn this to the end that he might begin to glow with love of Him by whom he was first loved, and so might love his neighbor at the bidding and after the example of Him who made Himself man’s neighbor by loving him, when instead of being His neighbor he was wandering far from Him.[3]

“With this love, then,” he went on to say, “set before you as an end to which you may refer all that you say, so give all your instructions that he to whom you speak by hearing may believe, and by believing may hope, and by hoping may love.”[4] All of this begins with knowing Jesus Christ, with a personal encounter with him who speaks to us in the Scriptures and who gives himself to us in the Sacraments.
Seek, then, to help those entrusted to your instruction come to realize that

Having faith … is meeting this “You”, God, who supports me and grants me the promise of an indestructible love that not only aspires to eternity but gives it; it means entrusting myself to God with the attitude of a child, who knows well that all his difficulties, all his problems are understood in the “you” of his mother.

Teach them and show them that God loves us more intensely than a mother and that from this fundamental relationship of love flow all of the Lord’s commands to keep us in his love.

To be fruitful catechists, you yourselves must first draw near to the Lord Jesus and allow him to ask you, “But who do you say that I am?” Always ask for the grace to yield to his love. Always be ready to take up your cross out of love for him. And always be willing to set yourselves aside so that he can shine through you. If you live in this way, the glow you receive from your friendship with Jesus will be passed on to your students and they will know the love he has for them. Amen.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, 1.
[2] Ibid., General Audience Address, 17 October 2012.
[3] Saint Augustine of Hippo, First Catechetical Instruction, 8.
[4] Ibid.

29 August 2018

Homily - 28 August 2018 - The Solemnity of Saint Augustine of Hippo

The Solemnity of Saint Augustine of Hippo

Dear brothers and sisters,

We here in the central plains of Illinois are blessed to have as our patron the Doctor of Grace, a man very much like us from the coast of North Africa in present-day Algeria.

There is hardly a saint who has remained so close to us, so understandable, despite the lapse of centuries, as St. Augustine, for in his writings we encounter all the heights and depths of the human spirit, all the questioning and seeking and searching that are still ours today. He has not unjustifiably been called the first modern man. He was born in an age of crisis and transition that was only too like our own, an age in which faith was not something taken for granted but had to be sought and found in the midst of human experience and of the abysses it opens to the heart of man.[1]

Anyone who has picked up a copy of his Confessions, The Happy Life, or read even a few of his sermons realizes quickly that his questions, answers, and insights resonate in our hearts today, though on the surface we are very different from him.

As a boy, he loved the name of the Lord Jesus and called upon him for help, but as a young man he encountered others he thought were intellectuals and drifted further and further away from his Christian faith. He had given himself over to the pursuits of this world and enjoyed a life of concubinage; he never tells us the woman’s name, but together they had a son, Adeodatus. Slowly – over the course of many years and through the prayers and tears of his mother, Saint Monica – he came to a moment of deep conversion when, while sitting in a garden, he heard a voice say to him, “Tolle, lege! Tolle, lege! (Take, read! Take, read!)” He took up the Bible, opened it at random, and read these words from Saint Paul: “Not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts” (Romans 13:13-14). Something happened in his heart as he read that verse. Reflecting back on that moment, he wrote, “I neither wished nor wanted to read further. At once, with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart. All the shadows of doubt were dispelled.”[2]

He then received Baptism from Saint Ambrose in Milan and returned to Thagaste in North Africa. He next settled at Hippo Regia where he established a monastery and sought to live a quiet life in prayer and writing. But God had other plans, and so did the people of Hippo because the reputation of his newfound holiness preceded him.

One day at Mass, Bishop Valerius preached about the need for more priests in Hippo and the people, looking to Augustine, pushed him forward before the Bishop who ordained him a priest against his will. Bishop Valerius entrusted the task of teaching the people to Augustine, who within five years become the next Bishop of Hippo; though he did not want this second office, this time he willingly accepted. On the anniversary of his ordination as Bishop, he said to the Christians of Hippo, “I am fearful of what I am for you, but I draw strength in what I am with you. For you I am a bishop, and with you I am a Christian.”[3] Some time later, surely remembering his more quiet days, he said,

No one would like more than I the steady, tranquil repose of contemplation. Nothing could be better, nothing sweeter, than the study of the divine treasure far away from the noise of the world. Such study is sweet and good. On the other hand, preaching, reprimanding, correcting, building up and attending to the needs of others is a great burden, a great responsibility, and a great weariness. Who would not wish to avoid such a burden? But the Gospel affrights me.[4]

Saint Augustine knew what he wanted to do, but – more importantly – he knew what he had to do, and he did it out of love for God and neighbor.

Last year, on the occasion of this great solemnity, our patronal feast day, we heard these same readings. We reflected then on the great line of Saint Augustine that “our love, like a fire, must first take hold of what is nearest and then spread to what is further off.”[5] We also reflected on the image of his burning heart, which he holds out to us, inviting us to take hold of it and to allow the fire of his love to ignite our own.

If we are honest about love, we know that love is often painful. This is because

…there can be no love without suffering, because love always implies renouncement of myself, letting myself go and accepting the other in his otherness; it implies a gift of myself and therefore, emerging from myself. All this is pain and suffering, but precisely in this suffering caused by the losing of myself for the sake of the other, for the loved one and hence, for God, I become great and my life finds love, and in love finds its meaning. The inseparability of love and suffering, of love and God, are elements that must enter into the modern conscience to help us live.[6]

We might even go so far as to say that “a person who loves relinquishes all freedom of the untouched heart, and becomes chained to the beloved, not by force or necessity, but precisely by love.”[7]

Though it took him nearly half of his life to allow his heart to be touched by God, to repent of his life of sin, and to be chained to God and his people, Saint Augustine did at last allow his heart to be set afire by Love and enkindled this love within the hearts of others. It was through the suffering of love for God and neighbor that he found the peace for which his heart so desperately longed.

Through the intercession of Saint Augustine, may we never shy away from taking up the Bible and doing what we read; may we never be afraid to yield our hearts to the love of God and to lead others into it; and may we never be afraid of the suffering that comes from love so as to find the peace our hearts desire. Amen.

[1] Joseph Ratzinger, “Sermon for the Feast of St. Augustine,” in Dogma and Preaching, trans. Matthew J. O’Connell (Chicago, Illinois: Franciscan Herald Press, 1985), 119.
[2] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, VIII.29. Henry Chadwick, trans. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 153.
[3] Ibid., Sermon 350.1.
[4] Ibid., Sermon 339.
[5] Ibid., Ten Homilies on I John, 8.1. In Thomas C. Oden, et al, eds., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Vol. XI: James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2000), 214.
[6] Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Clergy of the Diocese of Belluno-Feltre and Treviso, 24 July 2018.
[7] Romano Guardini, The Rosary of Our Lady (Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 1998), 49.

Homily - 26 August 2018 - The Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

We have heard for the past several weeks of Jesus’ desire to give himself completely, for us to the point of offering himself on the Cross for our salvation and of giving himself to us as our true food and drink (cf. John 6:1-69). Today, he asks us, “Does this shock you” (John 6:61)?

No doubt there are many today who are indeed shocked at so great a love. In an age of ever-increasing self-absorption and of strident, independent individualism, so self-less a love seems unfathomable. Yet this love is true. Jesus did and does love us with a depth greater than we can comprehend. Some doubt such a love and others do not desire to be loved so intimately. At what point in this spectrum are you? Today, many people’s ability to accept the love of Jesus is related to their upbringing.

Saint Paul realized the profound relationship between marriage and God’s own love and for this reason said, “This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:32). The portion of his letter to the Ephesians which we have just heard finds little support in society today, and for this reason many marriages have failed because they have not rooted their love in the love of Jesus Christ; they have not measured their love according to God’s way of loving.

Because of our fallen and sinful condition, we strive for independence and long for what we call freedom, but which is really mere license. When we attain what we seek we find ourselves not free, but slaves to our own desires and passions. Saint Paul shows us the way out of this vicious cycle of self-enslavement and opens for us the path to authentic freedom.

“Follow the way of love,” he says earlier in the same letter, “even as Christ loved you. He gave himself for us” (Ephesians 5:2). Who would say that Jesus was not free, freer than any one of us has ever been? It is true that he was obedient to the Father even to the point of death, but it is equally true that he freely chose the way of obedience. His was the obedience not of enslavement, but of love; it is this obedience of love that Saint Paul urges wives to live when he says, “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22).

Before we grow angry with Saint Paul and think him a bigot, we must remember what he writes just before this so-called controversial statement: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). As Christ loved us, so we are to love one another. Because wives are to love their husbands as they would love Christ, they should be subordinate to them “because the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of his body the church” (Ephesians5:22).

Before saying anything further, we must consider what it means to be “subordinate” to someone.

The Greek verb is hypotasso, which means literally ‘to place or arrange under.’ Here it occurs in the middle voice (hypotassomai) with the meaning ‘to place oneself under,’ or more simply, ‘submit oneself to’ or ‘defer to.’ It is clear from the context that voluntary subordination is intended, like the other voluntary expression of Spirit-filled life mentioned [by Paul].[1]

This voluntary act of deferring to one another is placed by Saint Paul in the context of “reverence for Christ.”

The truly unusual nature of this instruction is that Paul tells his readers to submit themselves to one another, still addressing all the members of the community. At first this seems contradictory. How can two individuals place themselves ‘under’ each other? … The meaning of this unusual instruction becomes clearer in the light of similar texts that teach about relationships in the church… Reciprocal humility and love determine even the relationship that entail authority… Undoubtedly, behind this teaching stands Jesus’ own teaching about leadership as service (Luke 22:25-27), which was demonstrated and explained when he washed the feet of his disciples (John 13:13-15), foreshadowing his humbling himself for our sake on the cross.[2]

Here we see clearly that God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love.

The head of the body always looks to the good of the body, to its health, safety, and satisfaction. This is how Christ cares for his Bride, the Church, and this is how husbands are to care for their wives. What is more, Saint Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her” (Ephesians 5:25). Every husband, then, must be filled with so selfless a love for his wife that he is ready and willing to lay down even his very life for her.

While on rare occasions dying for one’s wife may be literally necessary, [Paul] means it in the everyday sense of husbands dying to self by prioritizing their wives’ needs and wants before their own. Essentially, Paul is saying, ‘Husbands, seek the good of your wives regardless of the cost to you.’[3]

If a husband loves his wife in this way, there is no difficulty in deferring to him. Again, we see clearly that God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love.

Certainly, to live in this way is no simple feat and for this reason, in his goodness, Christ the Lord has raised marriage to the dignity of a Sacrament and has bestowed his grace upon it to enable husbands and wives to live in such away that the love of Christ for the Church is reflected in their marriage.

Christ’s grace is not an external addition to human nature, it does not do violence to men and women but sets them free and restores them, precisely by raising them above their own limitations. And just as the Incarnation of the Son of God reveals its true meaning in the Cross, so genuine human love is self-giving and cannot exist if it seeks to detach itself from the Cross.[4]

We can say, then, that the love of husband and wife is in some way a Eucharistic love, a love that must imitate the selfless and self-giving love of Jesus Christ. Husbands and wives must give themselves to each other completely, just as Jesus gives himself completely for us. When a husband cares more about himself than his wife, a marriage begins to fail. When a wife cares more about herself than her husband, a marriage begins to fail. This, too, is a hard saying.

It is only by following the way of love and by deferring to one another out of reverence for Christ that we find true freedom; it is only by imitating the self-giving love of Jesus that we find everything we seek in life. May the Lord, then, lead us deeper and deeper into the mystery of his love until our love perfectly reflects his own, until the measure of our love is the measure of his love. Amen.

[1] Peter S. Williamson, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: Ephesians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2009), 155-156.
[2] Ibid., 156-157.
[3] Ibid., 166.
[4] Pope Benedict XVI, Address to Participants in the Diocesan Convention of Rome, 6 June 2005.

20 August 2018

Homily - The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - 19 August 2018

The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

The counsel of Saint Paul, which we heard just a few moments ago, seems particularly timely in light of the dreadfully demoralizing and heart-rending news of these past few days (I will speak only generalities so the young ones can stay). “Watch carefully how you live,” he says, “not as foolish people but as wise, making the most of the opportunity because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). We are learning in greater detail what we already learned many years ago, namely, how foolish those who were supposed to be wise have been and how those who should have been attentive shepherds did not watch carefully even over their own lives.

In these evil days, we are reminded once again of the pitiful condition of fallen humanity and of the reality of pride and sin. Even those consecrated to God through the Sacrament of Holy Orders are not immune from sin – not even from mortal sin – and must strive each day to “understand what is the will of the Lord” (Ephesians 5:17).

We know that through the grace of Baptism every sin committed until the moment the water passes over the head are forgiven. But we also know that

certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weakness of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence, or metaphorically, “the tinder for sin;” since concupiscence is left for us to wrestle with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ. Indeed, “an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (II Timothy 2:5).[1]

In a time when many people – both within and without the Church – deny the reality of sin, the reality of sin now stares us in the face and we see, once again, the need for confession, a firm amendment of life, and of penance.

Each Sunday, we profess our belief in “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” Given what many churchmen have been involved in, how can we continue to make this profession? We can do so because Christ Jesus “loved the Church as his Bride, giving himself up for her so as to sanctify her” and “joined her to himself as his body and endowed her with the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God.”[2] It is his love and her union with him that makes the Church holy. At the same time, however, “in her members perfect holiness is yet to be acquired.”[3] We know this even in our own daily lives; we fail to love as fully as we should and every sin is a failure to love; we are not all saints, though we are called to be.

What is more, although our Lord “knew nothing of sin, but came only to expiate the sins of the people,” the Church is always “clasping sinners to her bosom” and so is “at once holy and always in need of purification” and “follows constantly the path of penance and renewal.”[4] In all of this, we cannot forget that

The Church is therefore holy, though having sinners in her midst, because she herself has no other life but the life of grace. If they live her life, her members are sanctified; if they move away from her life, they fall into sin and disorders that prevent the radiation of her sanctity. This is why she suffers and does penance for those offenses, of which she has the power to free her children through the blood of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit.[5]

Those who enter fully into the life of the Church understand this.

None of this is said to excuse what has been done by some within the Church. The acts committed are heinous and mortally sinful, and place the souls of those who committed then in grave peril without a sincere repentance.

Because of our different personalities, each of us will respond to such news in different ways. Some will be spurred to more frequent prayer and penance; others will be justifiably angered and work towards reform; still others will become despondent and consider leaving the Church.

Facing a different set of difficulties in his own day, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote of his reaction to scandal within the Church to one of his sons. He said:

I think I am as sensitive as you (or any other Christian) to the scandals, both of clergy and laity. I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests; but I now know enough about myself to be aware that I should not leave the church (which for me would mean leaving the allegiance of Our Lord) for any such reasons: I should leave because I did not believe, and should not believe anymore, even if I had never met anyone in [holy] orders who was not both wise and saintly. I should deny the Blessed Sacrament, that is: call our Lord a fraud to His face.[6]

Now is not the time to abandon the Church, but to entrust ourselves all the more to the merciful love of God and to beg him to make a saint of each one of us. Where else could we go? Where else can we receive the Bread of Life? Where else can we live the full life of grace?

What, then, is the will of the Lord for us in all of this? How can we make the most of the opportunity that confronts us? It is for each one of us to draw near to him. It is time to heed the admonition of Saint Augustine to “cry to him in such a way that even if you have possessions, you do not trust in your own resources, [to] cry to him in a frame of mind that understands your need, [to] cry to him in the knowledge that you will always be a pauper as you do not possess him who makes you rich.”[7]

Anger and sadness are the correct response to the travesty of sin and a negligence of true pastoral care. This we see in the life of Jesus himself. His anger and sadness led him to intense prayer so that he might sanctify us and make us holy. Let us today, then, offer our anger and sadness to the Lord and ask him to purify his Church again, as he has done throughout the centuries. Let us watch carefully over how we live and beg the Lord to make us a community of saints. Amen.

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1264.
[2] Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10.
[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 825.
[4] Lumen Gentium, 8 §3.
[5] Blessed Pope Paul VI, Credo of the People of God, 19.
[6] J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter to Michael Tolkien, 1 November 1963.
[7] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Expositions of the Psalms, 34.11.