20 September 2020

Homily - The Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - 20 August 2020

 The Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

 Dear brothers and sisters,

“…conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27). This is the admonition Saint Paul leaves with us today, but what does it mean to conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ? As with so many things in life, it may be easier to say what it does not mean than to say what it does mean.

When the Apostle tells us to conduct ourselves he is actually speaking about something we pretend not to like discussing. The Greek word he uses – politeumai – has at its root the word from which we derive our word politics. Now, before you tune me out altogether, let me assure you this is not a “political” homily but rather one focused on what it means to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ. How can I say this? Because Saint Paul’s use of this word “suggests the civic or social dimension of life” and that he “wants his readers” – as well as his hearers – “to be alert to the dimensions of their citizenship.”[1] In this same letter, he will later remind us that “our citizenship” – our politeumai – “is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).

When he wrote these words to the Christians in Philippi, he wrote in a time when it mattered greatly if one was a citizens of the Roman Empire or not; we live in a time and place in which something very similar may well be happening. 

Just as many residents of Philippi identify themselves as citizens of Rome even though they live in Philippi, so also the members of the local church, whether Roman citizens or not, find the root of their identity as citizens of heaven. That their conduct here on earth as citizens of the heavenly commonwealth should be worthy of the gospel of Christ is to say that their community life should reflect the good news of Christ their risen Lord and Savior…[2]

Looking around our present society, there are a great many Christians, a great many citizens of heaven, who are not conducting themselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ because they live, act, and speak in a way that does not reflect the good news of Christ risen from the dead.

Our politics are no longer actually concerned with the common good, with “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.”[3] Instead, our politics – and our political conversations - are too often governed, moved, and directed by ideological bents. Rather than truly seeking what is best for society, we blindly hold fast to this political party or that political party, all the while never actually considering what that particular party truly wants to attain. One party accuses the other of incivility, while utterly ignoring its own incivility. (It can easily be found on both sides of aisle.) How does any of this petty bickering and childish manipulation reflect the love of Jesus Christ? How is any of this worthy of the Gospel? How does any of this change the present situation to become more like our heavenly homeland?

This has all been swirling about in my thoughts these last couple of decades, but especially during these last few days following the death of Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg Friday evening. While I disagreed strongly with many of her judgments on the Supreme Court because they were not in keeping with the true common good, I admired her friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia, with whom I often agreed strongly and with whom she often disagreed strongly. To the eyes of most Americans, theirs was an unlikely friendship, even an impossible one, because we have forgotten how to view each other not as rivals and enemies, but the “brother [or sister] “for whom Christ died” (I Corinthians 8:11). While Justice Ginsburg was not herself a Christian, her friend Antonin was a devoted Catholic who knew something about conducting himself in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.

I once had the pleasure of hearing Justice Ginsburg speak of her friendship with Justice Scalia shortly after his death. She reflected on how frequently she was asked how she could be so close a friend with him when she often vehemently disagreed with his way of thinking and of seeing the world. Her answer was simple: Justice Scalia always attacked ideas, but he never attacked people. She admired this quality in him and built a friendship with him around it. “Yes, they disagreed. A lot. But somehow they managed to see each other as human beings, not units of animosity, and it was a beautiful, humane, and civilized thing.[4] It was a true political thing.

The friendship between these two was not as simple as agreeing to disagree, as we like to pretend we do with one another, but really we only agree not to talk about our disagreements; on the contrary, the two Justices sparred intellectually with each other because they did not want to simply dismiss one another. 

Without a grounding in Christ, the truths by which we live our lives can gradually recede, the practice of the virtues can become formalistic, and dialogue can be reduced to a form of negotiation or an agreement to disagree. An agreement to disagree… so as not to make waves… This sort of superficiality does us great harm.[5] 

This was something Justice Scalia knew; he knew agreeing to disagree does not engage the truth and wherever truth is lacking, love is also lacking. And whenever love is lacking, we are not living in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ. Perhaps the reason we are so often lacking in love is because we do not see the world as God sees it. His ways, after all, are not our ways, nor are his thoughts our thoughts (cf. Isaiah 55:8).

As one example, we are tempted to think the landowner in Jesus’ parable today acted unjustly or unfairly because we do not see the world correctly; our minds have been darkened by sin. When Jesus asks, “Are you envious because I am generous?”, he uses a figure of speech (Matthew 20:15). Literally, he asks, “Is you eye evil because I am generous?” “The key expression here is ‘evil eye,’ which is a Semitic idiom that describes someone who is envious, grudging, or culpably lacking in generosity.” Generosity, of course, need not only concern money; one can also lack generosity of heart.[6] Where generosity is lacking, so also is love lacking, and when love is lacking we cannot live in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.

When we look upon the world, do we see two camps, “us” and “them,” the “good guys” and the “bad guys”? If so, our eyes are darkened by sin and we do not see rightly. This is not to see that we should need recognize the wicked deeds of others; we must recognize such evil and work to root it out. But there is a difference between seeing wicked deeds and wicked people. Let us beg the Lord to purify the eyes of our hearts so we might always look upon the world as he does, with eyes of love and mercy. If we do, we will keep the two great commandments of love of God and of neighbor and so live in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ. May we become true citizens of heaven. Amen.

[1] Dennis Hamm, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: Philippians, Colossians, Philemon (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2013), 89-90.

[2] Ibid., 90.

[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1906.

[4] Elizabeth Scalia, “Ginsburg; RIP, Scalia; RIP; Happy Warriors, RIP,” The Anchoress, 18 September 2020. Accessed 18 September 2020. Available at https://theanchoress.com/ginsburg-rip-scalia-rip-happy-warriors-rip/?fbclid=IwAR2YS8h2CRkx8S4eFMp6Luf4crW7RVq1bkQi82HN8laeaHXdHBKuKC8bngk

[5] Pope Francis, Address to the Bishops of Asia, 17 August 2014.

[6] Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2010), 255.

01 September 2020

Homily - 30 August 2020 - The Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Twenty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time (A) 

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today we heard the Prophet Jeremiah cry out in great anguish, “You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed” (Jeremiah 20:7). These are words each one of us might well have used at one time or another. Jeremiah effectively argued with the Lord, as we all do so frequently. Sometimes we fight with him, we scold him, and we resist him in small matters and sometimes in large ones. 

Jeremiah knew what the Lord wished of him and he did as the Lord asked; the Lord called him to speak on his behalf, to preach a message of doom and destruction upon the house of Israel, a message that was ill-received and brought him great suffering and distress. Nobody wants to hear that they are doomed, and yet this is precisely what Jeremiah was called to proclaim. 

Yet it was to this same prophet that the Lord said these beautiful and comforting words: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you… Have no fear before them, because I am with you to deliver you” (Jeremiah 1:5-8). Jeremiah was singled out for this special mission and yet his mission was not at all successful because the people, wanting him dead, did not heed his warnings.

So now Jeremiah vents his anger against the Lord. How could the Lord appoint him to a life of misery and failure? How could he be called to preach a message that would be ignored? What was the point? It would bring no good. So Jeremiah says to himself, “I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more” (Jeremiah 20:9). 

He chose now to ignore his God, to ignore the one who continually tugged at his heart, who placed his very words in his mouth. God knew what he was doing when he appointed Jeremiah to this most difficult of tasks, though Jeremiah could not understand it. However, the more Jeremiah tried to ignore the Lord, the more difficult it became for him because we can never truly ignore God; never can we truly or fully block him from our sights. We cannot dismiss the whispers of our hearts for long, and the more we try to do so the louder these whispers become and finally they overpower us, just as they did Jeremiah. Try as he might, he could not say, “No,” to the Lord; he had to fulfill the task given him. “But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,” Jeremiah said, “imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it” (Jeremiah 20:9). 

Is it not the same with us? Do we not all feel the call of the Lord burning in our hearts? Can we not all say with Saint Augustine, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you?”[1] Indeed, the longer we do not listen to God, the more persistent His voice grows, the gentler and the more enticing it becomes. It consumes our thoughts and is always present to us; we cannot ignore the Lord for long, and we will never be at peace when we ignore the will of God, for we will in fact grow weary holding it in.

If we are honest with ourselves – and honest with God - what the Lord wants for us so often seems at first appearance to be the very opposite of what we want for ourselves. Whereas we focus on ourselves, the Lord calls us to focus on others; we focus on pleasure, and he calls us to suffer with him; we focus on wealth, and he calls us to be poor; we focus on freedom, and he calls us to his service. But as he did with Jeremiah, the Lord knows what he is doing with us; he knows the desires of our hearts better than we do for it is he who has formed us and knit us together (cf. Psalm 139:13). It is he who gives us breath and he who desires only our good, namely, that we be with him forever.

Peter thought he knew better than Jesus when Jesus told him that the Son of Man “must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly … and be killed and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21). Peter, only moments before, recognized Jesus for who he truly is and said to him, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Peter knew that the mission of the Messiah was to save his people, not to die. With this knowledge, Peter cried out, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). How could the Messiah die? But what Peter did not know, Jesus did know.

Jesus knew that, as the Messiah, he was to save his people through his death and resurrection; there was no other way to redeem us and save us, which is why Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me” (Matthew16:23)! Peter has heard these words from Jesus before but in a much different context. Spoken in Greek, these words are the very same words used by Jesus when he first called Peter, saying, “Follow me” (cf. Matthew 4:19). In English, it does not work so well. We could not say to somebody on the sidewalk, “Get behind me,” and expect that they would follow us, but in Greek the words are the same: Hopiso mou.

When Peter tried to steer Jesus away from the cross, Jesus commanded him, “Follow me!” But how does one follow Jesus? The requirement for authentic discipleship is simple: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). There is no other way but the cross.

Last week, we heard Jesus say to Simon Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah… And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:17-18). Today – just five verses later – we heard Jesus say to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me” (Matthew 16:23). The Greek word Jesus used - which we have translated as obstacle – is skandalon, a scandal, a rock upon which people trip and stumble. Not only could Peter’s refusal to allow Jesus to take up the Cross for us be a stumbling block for Jesus, but it could also be a rock upon which others trip in seeking to follow Jesus. The same is true for us when we refuse to take up the cross and follow Jesus; we become a rock on which others stumble, a scandal that can keep others from following Jesus. This, obviously, should always be avoided.

When we feel our crosses are too heavy for us to bear, when we see what the Lord calls us to, we may feel, with Jeremiah, that the Lord has tricked us, that he has fooled us. But then, in the end, for one who seeks to follow Jesus authentically, “it becomes like fire burning in [our] heart[s], imprisoned in [our] bones; [we] grow weary holding it in, [we] cannot endure it” (Jeremiah 20:9). So we, then, following after our Lord, must pick up our cross and walk in the footsteps of the one who died for us, who rose for us, who lives for us, and who calls us to be with him; we must follow him, even as Saint Peter, did by accepting crucifixion. There is no other way to salvation. In bearing the cross with the Lord, we will be able to offer our “bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God;” having done so, we will be found “good and pleasing and perfect,” if only we do as he says: “Follow me!” (Romans 12:1-2). Amen.

[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, I.1.

16 August 2020

Homily - 16 August 2020 - Is that the Lord?

The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) 

Dear brothers and sisters, 

Early last week, I had the privilege of celebrating a funeral liturgy outside of Mass for a man who was recently received into the full communion of the Catholic Church, but whose family is largely not yet Catholic. For this funeral, celebrated in the funeral home, I wore the black cassock, the white surplice, and the black stole. As I walked amidst the family, I knelt down to pray for a few moments at the casket, and then went to the lectern. As I set my book down, a toddler – probably about four years of age – asked his father, “Is that the Lord?” 

His question naturally elicited some laughter from those of us who heard it, but even as I laughed I recalled the words King David spoke to God: “You whose glory above the heavens is chanted by the mouth of babies and infants” (Psalm 8:2). That little boy may not have fully realized the importance of the question he asked, but his intuition was not too far off, at least as far as Catholic sacramental theology goes. 

A few weeks ago, the Holy See released an Instruction on “The pastoral conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelizing mission of the Church.” This document reminds us that a parish 

is a community gathered together by the Holy Spirit to announce the Word of God and bring new children of God to birth in the baptismal font. Assembled by the pastor, the Parish celebrates the memorial of the passion, death, and resurrection of the Lord, bearing witness to faith in charity, living in a permanent state of mission, whilst ensuring that no one is excluded from the salvific, life-giving message (29). 

It is curious to note here that the parish is both gathered by the Holy Spirit and assembled by the pastor. What are we to make of this? There is much to ponder in that toddler’s question, “Is that the Lord?” 

If we look in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we are reminded that at the head of the Eucharistic assembly 

is Christ himself, the principal agent of the Eucharist. He is the high priest of the New Covenant; it is he himself who presides invisibly over every Eucharistic celebration. It is in representing him that the bishop or priest acting in the person of Christ the head (in persona Christi capitis) presides over the assembly, speaks after the readings, receives the offerings, and says the Eucharistic Prayer (1348). 

As such, one could answer that boy’s question, saying, “no;” and yet, from a sacramental perspective, one could also answer his question, saying, “Yes, in a manner of speaking” because Christ joins his priests to himself, to his own self-offering. 

If this reality is not properly understood, if a priest does not recognize that the priesthood he has received is not his own, a priest can be tempted to make the Eucharistic celebration – and the other sacraments - about himself. But if a priest recognizes that the priesthood he has received is the priesthood of Jesus Christ, then he remembers that “the sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice.”[1] What is more, he remembers that “the victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.”[2] This is the great mystery of the Eucharist that the Church’s understanding of the priesthood both undergirds and protects because it keeps the focus always on Christ the Lord whose self-offering to the Father is ever acceptable on his altar (cf. Isaiah 56:7). 

Yet the priest never offers this great sacrifice solely for himself, but always also for and with the faithful, for 

in the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of his Body. The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are all united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value.[3] 

Joined to the self-offering of Jesus, our offering of ourselves also becomes acceptable to the Father. This is why the priest invites you to “pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the almighty Father.”[4] 

Yet there is something more in that toddler’s question, “Is that the Lord?” What prompted him to ask it? Was it simply the look of my clothing, or was there something more? 

To be sure, the priest’s cassock and the Roman collar point to something more than this life; they stand as reminders to those who see them that there is something more yet to come. At the same time, they also point beyond the individual priest who wears them, hopefully directing hearts and minds to the Lord. Just as these articles of clothing are meant to do, so, too, is the life of each of the baptized meant to do: our lives are meant to point beyond this life to the life of Christ Jesus. 

When the disciples of Jesus were first called Christians in the city of Antioch, they were understood to be other Christs, other anointed ones (cf. Acts 11:26). In Baptism, you and I were anointed by Christ, through the hand of his priest, “with the Chrism of salvation, so that you may remain as a member of Christ, Priest, Prophet, and King, unto eternal life.”[5] We live out these aspects of the life of Jesus in various ways, but principally by offering ourselves with him to the Father. When have conformed our lives to Christ in a complete manner, then we can say with Saint Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). How different would the world be if you and I lived a life of discipleship so intently, if we so closely united ourselves with Christ, that wherever we walked someone would ask, “Is that the Lord?” because they saw not us, but Jesus in us? 

Such a union with the Lord is possible for each of us, and it is to such a life that we are all called. In his poem “As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame,” Gerard Manley Hopkins expressed this union well we he said, “Christ plays in ten thousand places, / Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his / To the Father through the features of men’s faces.” Through this offering of the Eucharist, may we allow ourselves to be drawn by Christ and joined to his self-offering to the Father, so that we might truly become what we will soon receive. Amen.

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1367.

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1367.

[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1368.

[4] The Order of Mass, 29.

[5] Order of Baptism for One Child, 98.

03 August 2020

Homily - 2 August 2020 - The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - On Father Damien

The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

On Saint Joseph Damien de Vuester

Dear brothers and sisters,

“What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or the sword” (Romans 8:35)? Even as he asks these questions, Saint Paul gives the answer: “No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

Photo: Architect of the Capitol
As you wander through the Capitol complex in Washington, D.C., you will see various statues sent from each of the fifty States to honor important people in those States’ histories. On Friday, a member of the House of Representatives singled out one of these statues which she had the gall to call to claim symbolizes “patriarchy and white supremacist culture.” That statue was sent by the people of Hawaii and represents Saint Damien of Molokai; the other statue from Hawaii is of King Kamehameha I the Great, who united the islands into one kingdom. 

To defame a man of the stature and quality of Father Damien by inferring him to have harbored racist motivations in his heart is simply inexcusable. Even a cursory reading of his life, of the history of the Hawaiian islands, or even a brief conversation with a Hawaiian, leaves one with a very clear understanding of Father Damien’s one and only motivation that laid at the foundation of his missionary endeavors: “the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). 

My affection for Father Damien, and my devotion to him, are no secret; in fact, he is my favorite Saint and one I consider a dear friend. He was born Joseph DeVeuster in Tremelo, Belgium on 3 January, 1840 and entered the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts at the age of 19; he took the name Damien, after an early physician and martyr. 

His brother, Pamphile, also a member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts, was to leave for the Hawaiian missions in 1863, but he fell seriously ill and was not strong enough for the journey. Damien – always a bit headstrong - promptly wrote to his superiors asking to take his brother’s place. His offer was accepted and he landed in Honolulu in 1864 and died on Molokai 1889 at the age of 49, having spent himself in the service of God and his people. 

Before he left Belgium, Damien wrote to his parents reflecting on the voyage on which he was about to embark: “The sacrifice is great indeed for one who tenderly loves his parents, his family, his brethren, and the land of his birth. But the voice that has called upon us to make a generous sacrifice of all, is the voice of God himself.” He heard the call of the Lord and he knew he had to answer it; he knew, as he said, that “we must choose the state [in life] God has predestined for us, so as to be happy in our next life.” 

For nine years he ministered on the Big Island, building churches with his own hands and meeting the spiritual needs of his people. In one letter, he wrote: “Our poor Islanders are always very happy when they see Kamiano coming, and I, for my part, love them very dearly; I would gladly give my life for them.” Do these words sound like those of racist or a bigot, or of someone mired in a white supremacist culture? Of course not! He went on to say, “All things considered, I am very happy, for, along with all the privations and hardships, God often gives me consolations beyond expectations.” 

In another letter, Damien wrote these words: “It is [Jesus] Who in the midst of trials, contradictions, and sufferings, will cause us to enjoy a happiness of which he who has never experienced it can form no idea.” His chief aim in life was to lead everyone to such an experience of the love of God, to lead them to the happiness that can only be found in God. 

With time, Bishop Maigret became increasingly concerned about the spiritual needs of those who lived in the leper colony on the Kalaupapa Peninsula of the island of Molokai; they were sent there to keep society safe, to be forgotten, and to die. Bishop Maigret, unwillingly to command a priest to go to the settlement – because he knew it would effectively be a death sentence – asked if any of his priests were willing to go; he found four. He decided to have them rotate on a three-month basis, hoping that would keep from contracting the disease. Father Damien agreed to go first and arrived at the colony on 10 May 1873, accompanied by the Bishop. Though the Bishop intended to leave him for there for just three months, Damien would not allow his turn to end, and there he remained, willingly and gladly, where others hesitated to go. 

Upon arriving at Molokai, Bishop Maigret gathered the people together and said to them: 

So far, my children, you have been left alone and uncared for. But you shall be so no longer. Behold, I have brought you one who will be a father to you, and who loves you so much that for your welfare and for the state of your immortal souls, he does not hesitate to become one of you, to live and die with you! 

He had no idea how true his words would prove. 

When he first arrived at the leper colony, Damien was not trusted by the Hawaiian people because they; many others had come for a few weeks or a couple of months; what would this new one do? Damien slowly won them over by eating from their same poi bowls, sharing a pipe with them, and learning and speaking their language. When he was sent to the lepers, he was told to stay several feet away from them, not to touch them, or even to eat food prepared by them, lest he, too, contract the dread disease. (The similarities with our own day are clear.) Those who had gone before him followed this advice, but he ignored it from the very beginning; instead, he bent down to touch and embrace the lepers. He would not dismiss the people so heartlessly. 

Father Damien once said, “I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ.” In these words, he echoes the words of Saint Paul who said that he became “all things to all to save at least some” (I Corinthians 9:22). In doing so Father Damien imitated the love of Christ who gave himself for our salvation. This he did by bringing in a water supply, building their churches and chapels, forming a band, digging their graves and building their coffins, mending their homes and huts, expressing their physical needs to the Board of Health and never taking ‘no’ for an answer, and bandaging their wounds and sores with his own hands. In addition to this, he offered the Mass for them, heard their confessions, witnessed their marriages, assisted them in their last moments in this life, and commended their souls to God. 

After sixteen years, he contracted leprosy himself because of his close work with the lepers, and accepted this Cross as a true disciple. He said, “Having no doubts about the true nature of the disease, I am calm, resigned, and very happy in the midst of my people. God certainly knows what is best for my sanctification and I gladly repeat, ‘Thy will be done.’” He knew that his sufferings would lead him to grow in holiness if he offered them for his people with the sufferings of Christ. 

He found that his “greatest pleasure is to serve the Lord in his poor children rejected by other people.” He devoted all of his efforts to the lepers of Molokai, often ignoring his own needs against the advice of others; he spent himself in their service. He was no racist, no bigot, no white supremacist, as everyone in his own day knew very well. After the Princess Liliuokalani, then Regent of the Kingdom of Hawaii, visit the leper colony to experience the sufferings of her people and to witness and support Father Damien’s ministry, she made him a Knight Commander of the Royal Order of Kalakaua, the highest honor of the Hawaiian Kingdom. She would never bestow such an honor on one who did not love her people; rather, she gave him the highest he could because of his devotion to her people. 

At an altar built by Saint Damien

Father Damien’s example shines brightly before me, and, by God’s grace and his intercession, I pray that I will be able to imitate his zeal for souls, his tireless dedication, and his acceptance of suffering with both joy and gratitude for the salvation of others. 

We might wonder how he was able to serve so faithfully those who were rejected and reviled. 

I find my consolation in the one and only companion who will never leave me, that is, our Divine Savior in the Holy Eucharist. . . .It is at the foot of the altar that we find the strength necessary in this isolation of ours. Without the Blessed Sacrament a position like mine would be unbearable. But, having Our Lord at my side, I continue always to be happy and content….


Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the most tender of friends… Be not afraid then in your solitary conversations, to tell Him of your miseries, your fears, your worries, of those who are dear to you, of your projects, and of your hopes. Do so with confidence and with an open heart. 

It is in the Eucharist that the love of God in Christ Jesus is given to us every time we attend the Holy Mass; it is through the Eucharist that “the hand of the Lord feeds us” and through which “he answers all our needs” (cf. Psalm 145:16). Damien knew that, through the Eucharist, he would conquer overwhelmingly; we need to realize this anew in our day.

The Representative’s comments about Father Damien are a stark reminder to us of the importance of voting with our consciences, of the morality of entering into the ballot box. It is not enough to cast a vote for someone who agrees with me on this or that issue; rather, we must elect men and women of proven quality, or proven character, of proven virtue, men and women who understand actual history and the true motivations of the human heart, men and women who make calm decisions and not rash judgments. There is no need to defame those who are most honorable; rather, what we need to do is to imitate such men and women. Simply imagine for a moment how much different our society would be if all imitated even a fraction of the selflessness of Father Damien! 

In his own day, Father Damien was frequently insulted by members of the government of Hawaii and of the Board of Health, but he never let their slurs stop or hinder his loving care for those exiled from society. May Saint Damien pray for us, teach us how to be the hands of the Lord answering the needs of others, and remind us that no one can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Amen.

27 June 2020

Homily - 28 June 2020 - The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

As we watch society drift further and further into chaos, people of good will on both sides of the political aisle frequently ask how we have come to this moment in our shared history. The answer to such a question is both simple and obvious. Indeed, it is so obviously simple that it is often overlooked and even dismissed. The answer, of course, is sin. Our society has reached such moral lows because of sin, both personal and communal. If we seek any remedy to what ails our society that does not take into account the undeniable reality of human sin, such attempts at healing will necessarily fail.

When Saint Paul spoke of sin, he used an analogy from archery. To sin, he said, is hamartia, to miss the mark. The mark at which we aim, the target whose center we hope to hit, is Christ Jesus; he is the mark, the target, the aim of our lives. To miss this mark is both unpleasant and yields unfortunate results, but we can always repent and aim again; to not even aim at the mark is utterly disastrous, as is abundantly evident today.

A moment ago, the Apostle reminded us that “we were indeed buried with [Christ] through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). This, however, is not quite what Saint Paul wrote. Where we have the word “live,” he used the word peripateo, which “literally means ‘walk,’ since walking is a Hebrew idiom for ‘conducting oneself’ in relation to God.”[1] This means that while the baptized have been joined to Christ by sharing in his Death and Resurrection, each of the baptized remains free to conduct him or herself well or poorly in relation to God. Today, we have to acknowledge with great sorrow that many of the baptized are not walking in newness of life.

The Christian, of course, is called by virtue of Baptism to lose his or her life in Christ, and in so doing to find life Himself (cf. Matthew 10:39). Saint Augustine said, “To be baptized into the death of Christ is nothing else but to die to sin, just as he died in the flesh.”[2] This, we might say, is what it means to aim at Christ.

Every Christian who aims at the mark of Christ - and who hits the mark - can be said to have died to sin. Ambrosiaster put it this way:

It is clear that those who have crucified the body, i.e., the world with its vices and lusts, die to the world and die together with Christ, and that they are also conformed to his eternal and saving life so that they might deserve to be made like Christ in his glory.[3]

Too many Christians today do not strive to hit the mark of Christ; they do not strive to grow in conformity with the Lord Jesus and be made like him in his glory; they do not lose their lives in him.

Failing to hit the mark of Christ, failing to love with his own love, has wide-ranging consequences which extend far beyond myself.

We are a community of those who line up on Black Friday to grab every last deal, even if we must commit violence upon our neighbor in the process. We engage in a politics that views our fellow member of the polis solely through the lens of suspicion and condemnation, a vision that erases his or her humanity. We profess faith in an economy of scarcity, of endless consumption that falsely promises to make us whole.[4]

The less whole we feel, the more we fall into various forms of the capital sins of pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth. The greater these sins, the more we miss the mark, the more the divide between God and humanity grows. We see this especially today in the breakdown of the family, in the failure to understand human sexuality, in growing forms of racism and bigotry, and in a failure to see and protect the dignity of every human life. Each of these sins, whether personal or communal, has had a grave effect on our society and we must strive to overcome them, both personally and communally.

We recognize the symptoms easily enough, but, as a society, we have not recognized the cause of these symptoms and have denied the reality of the sickness of sin. We continually strive to make ourselves whole through everything that cannot make us whole. The only way we can become whole, personally and communally, is through union with the Crucified and Risen Lord, through reconciliation with him who offers continual worship to the Father. Only the Divine Physician can heal us and make us whole, for

Wherever communion with God … is destroyed, the root and source of our communion with one another is destroyed. And wherever we do not live communion among ourselves, communion with the Triune God is not alive and true either.”[5]

This is why we must strive to participate ever more consciously and intentionally in the Holy Mass, not as “strangers or silent spectators,” but as those “conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration.”[6]

The fundamental purpose of the Holy Mass is to join in Christ’s eternal worship of the Father. This is why the Second Vatican Council said, “Christ indeed always associates the Church with Himself in this great work wherein God is perfectly glorified and men are sanctified. The Church is His beloved Bride who calls to her Lord, and through Him offers worship to the Eternal Father.”[7]

This is why we begin the Holy Mass saying to the Father, “We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory…” Because his glory is so great we have nothing worthy which we can offer him; nothing this side of heaven comes close to approximating the Father’s glory and honor. The only worthy sacrifice we can rightly offer is that of his only Begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. This is why in the Holy Mass the Death and Resurrection of his Son is re-presented to the Father and we are, by his grace, allowed to share in it through the Eucharist, which is all symbolized in some way in the offertory.

This humble and simple gesture is actually very significant: in the bread and wine that we bring to the altar, all creation is taken up by Christ the Redeemer to be transformed and presented to the Father. In this way we also bring to the altar all the pain and suffering of the world, in the certainty that everything has value in God's eyes. The authentic meaning of this gesture can be clearly expressed without the need for undue emphasis or complexity. It enables us to appreciate how God invites man to participate in bringing to fulfilment his handiwork, and in so doing, gives human labour its authentic meaning, since, through the celebration of the Eucharist, it is united to the redemptive sacrifice of Christ.[8]

We praise, bless, adore, glorify, and thank the Father for allowing us to offer the totality of our lives to him through Christ his Son in the Holy Spirit; this is why, at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest offers praise to the Father, saying, “Through him, with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours forever and ever.” “While the priest announces the doxology, he lifts the chalice and paten – not to show them to the people, but to present the sacrifice to the Father. This gesture says with the body what the words themselves proclaim: that through, with, and in Christ our voices – and ourselves – are lifted up to the Father.”[9]

At this great moment when the priest is united to the worship Christ Jesus offers the Father, you, too, are united to his worship. Your “Amen not only confirms [your] engagement in this final act of praise, but also [your] engagement in the whole of this prayer.”[10] Jesus

is not standing before His Father as a lone petitioner, as He had been during His earthly pilgrimage when He spent quiet nights on the mountain praying alone; now His redeemed are around Him. They have learnt how they can, with Him, praise the Father who is in heaven. In truth they are in Him, taken up into the living union of His Body and therefore drawn into the fervent glow of His prayer, so that are really in a position to worship the Father “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).[11]

If we have truly offered ourselves to the Father, if we have conformed our hearts to the love of Christ and died to sin, then “our actual participation in the Sacrifice of the Word [made Flesh] resounds, not only in the nave and sanctuary of our churches, but also in the temples of our hearts.”[12]

Let us, then, strive to worship the Father by offering ourselves with his Son so that we, like the bread and wine, may be transformed so that we might hit the mark by living lives that give glory to the Father in all things. By walking in this newness of life, by conducting ourselves well in relation to God, may his love transform us and, through us, our society. Amen.

[1] Scott W. Hahn, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2017), 96.
[2] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Against Julian, 1.7.33.
[3] Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Paul’s Epistles.
[4] Timothy P. O’Malley, Liturgy and the New Evangelization: Practicing the Art of Self-Giving Love (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2014), 79-80.
[5] Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience Address, 29 March 2006.
[6] Sacrosanctum Concilium, 48.
[7] Ibid., 7.
[8] Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum caritatis, 47.
[9] Christopher Carstens and Douglas Martis, Mystical Body, Mystical Voice: Encountering Christ in the Words of the Mass (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 2011), 204.
[10] Edward Foley, “The Structure of the Mass, Its Elements and Parts,” in A Commentary on the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, Edward Foley, Nathan D. Mitchell, Joanne M. Pierce, eds. (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2007), 180.
[11] Joseph A. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origin and Development, Vol II, Francis A. Brunner, trans. (Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 2012), 265-266.
[12] Christopher Carstens and Douglas Martis, Mystical Body, Mystical Voice, 204.

31 May 2020

Homily: What's wrong with the world?

The Solemnity of Pentecost

Dear brothers and sisters,

On this great Solemnity of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and strengthened them for the proclamation of the Gospel (cf. Acts 2:3-4). In our own day, when we set out to proclaim the Gospel, we generally only speak to those who are like us. The Apostles, on the other hand, spoke of the merciful love of Jesus to anyone who would listen; indeed, they preached to

Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya and Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs (Acts 2:9-11).

They were not so much interested in differences, but in bringing every person into unity in Christ Jesus by Baptism into his Body, the Church (cf. I Corinthians 12:13). This unity of faith superseded any differences that might otherwise remain.

Those great pillars of the faith knew well that, different as we all may be, we all share in one fundamental aspect of humanity, namely, that “If you [O Lord] take away their breath, they perish and return to the dust. When you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth” (Psalm 104:24). For this reason, the Church has always taught that

the equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it: Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights based on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.[1]

Racism – in any form – has no place in the Christian heart. The protests and riots happening now in thirty or more cities across this land demonstrate that we, as a nation, have a very long way to go in recognizing the fundamental dignity of every person; we have a long way to go in allowing the message of the Gospel to purify our hearts through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

We do not often ponder the role of the Holy Spirit in the process of our salvation. We should frequently call upon the Holy Spirit, using the words of the Pentecost Sequence:

Where you are not, we have naught, nothing good in deed or thought nothing free from taint of ill. Heal our wounds, our strength renew; on our dryness pour your dew; wash the stains of guilt away: Bend the stubborn heart and will; melt the frozen, warm the chill; Guide the steps that go astray.

Our nation, which still claims to be mostly composed of Christians, is in great need of a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a new Pentecost, a new season of hearts set afire with the love of God. As we witness so great an absence of genuine Christian love in the hearts of so many people, we may feel powerless to bring about any change, but such a feeling is incompatible with the Gospel.

In 1910, the editors of the British newspaper The Guardian asked various authors for an essay answering the question, “What’s wrong with the world.” G.K. Chesterton, the prolific Catholic, wrote to the editors saying simply, “Dear Sirs, I am.” How many of us are willing to say, “I am what’s wrong with the world?” If we are not willing to acknowledge this, we must implore the Holy Spirit to enlighten the darkness of our hearts in order to be more fully converted to Christ.

Only if we first recognize our own sinfulness, only if we confess our sinfulness to the Lord, only if we receive the grace of his forgiveness can we become bearers of his merciful love to every person we meet. As more and more hearts are converted to the Lord, the darkness of sin is brought into the light and flees away. It starts with you. It starts with me. Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love. Amen!

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1935; Gaudium et spes, 29 § 2.