28 August 2016

Is it terrible being a priest?

Holy Mother Church places before us today the virtue of humility. In the first reading, she has hear these words from one of the wisdom books: "My child, conduct your affairs with humility" (Sirach 3:17).

In the second reading, we hear not of entering into the presence of the Lord, but of approaching (cf. Hebrews 12:18, 22). It is the humble man who approaches the presence of one greater than himself and the proud man who simply walks into the presence of another.

In the verse accompanying the Alleluia, Jesus tells us, "take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart" (Matthew 11:29). In the Gospel, Jesus warns us that "everyone who exalts himself will be humbled" (Luke 14:11).

To live in humility is really quite simple; all one must do is look honestly at one's life and at the course of human history. Such an honest assessment cannot but remind us of our sinfulness and our failures. With such a knowledge, one cannot think too highly of oneself. This is why the confessional is the best teacher of humility, both for the penitent who confesses his or sins and for the priest who hears and absolves the sins confessed.

A good many people do not yet fully understand this and so think the confession of sins is something to be dreaded and even avoided. Even the great J.R.R. Tolkien, himself a devout Catholic, thought "it must be terrible to be a priest!" In one of his letters to his son, he wrote these words:
A small knowledge of history depresses one with the sense of the everlasting mass and weight of human iniquity: old, old, dreary, endless repetitive unchanging incurable wickedness. All towns, all villages, all habitations of men - sinks! And at the same time one knows that there is always good: much more hidden, much less clearly discerned, seldom breaking out into recognizable, visible, beauties of word or deed or face - not even when in fact sanctity, far greater than the visible advertised wickedness, is really there. But I fear in the individual lives of all but a few, the balance is debit - we do so little that is positive good, even if we negatively avoid what is actively evil. It must be terrible to be a priest! (Letter to Christopher Tolkien, 14 May 1944).
Let me say here that it is far from terrible being a priest! Listening to the confession of sins, even of sins confessed by the same penitent over and over again again is not dreary; rather, it is a sign of great humility and of a desire for holiness.

When he spoke with a group of First Communicants some years ago, His Holiness Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI answered a question from the children about the confession of repetitive sins:
It is true: our sins are always the same, but we clean our homes, our rooms, at least once a week, even if the dirt is always the same; in order to live in cleanliness, in order to start again. Otherwise, the dirt might not be seen but it builds up. Something similar can be said about the soul, for me myself: if I never go to confession, my soul is neglected and in the end I am always pleased with myself and no longer understand that I must always work hard to improve, that I must make progress. And this cleansing of the soul which Jesus gives us in the Sacrament of Confession helps us to make our consciences more alert, more open, and hence, it also helps us to mature spiritually and as human persons.
Whenever a penitent enters the confessional and confesses his or her sins with humility, he or she leaves the confessional exalted by the Lord and filled with his joy and peace. When a priest hears confessions conscious of his configuration to Christ Jesus, our humble and eternal High Priest, who, too, leaves the confessional exalted by the same Lord and filled with his joy and peace.

Since my return to these United States of America on 21 June 2016 (since which date no one has walked into me or even come close to walking into me), I have had the great privilege of hearing confessions in a number of different circumstances, from retreats for high school students and married couples (two separate retreats) to the course of ordinary parish ministry.

While studying in Rome, I only the opportunity to hear confessions on a very occasional basis and it is good to hear them again. I have always found absolving the sins of Christ's faithful to be not a terrible experience as The Professor supposed, but one that fills me with humble gratitude for being used by the Lord Jesus as an instrument of his merciful love.

Whenever we receive absolution for our sins after a humble and sincere confession, we "rejoice and exult before God" and are "glad and rejoice" (Psalm 68:4). When we humble ourselves, the Lord exalts us; I therefore encourage you not to let your pride keep you from confessing yours sins.

20 August 2016

The spookiness of this Halloween meme is that people actually believe it

Halloween may be more than two months away, but that is not stopping the sharing of Halloween memes on Facebook, such as this one:

This afternoon alone, I have seen this meme three times on my timeline, and one of those shares was from a grade school teacher (yes, you should be frightened).

The facts of the meme are, of course, wrong on two simple counts:
  1. The 13th of October in the year 2016 does not fall on a Friday, but on a Thursday.
  2. Halloween never falls on the 13th of October, but on the 31st of October.
It should not take a great deal of thought to see how false this meme is. The spooky part about it is that people not only believe it, but also share it and so demonstrate their own lack of thought.

Unless people start thinking again and stop emoting, this could be a very scary Halloween.

And, no, Halloween did not originate with Samhain (I'm sure those memes will soon start making the rounds, as well).

15 August 2016

Homily - 15 August 2016 - Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Mass During the Day

Today, dear brothers and sisters, we celebrate that day when God “lifted up the lowly” from the earth (Luke 1:52). While today we hear Saint Elizabeth acknowledge the great dignity of Mary when she addressed her as “the mother of my Lord,” Mary acknowledged her own lowliness in the presence of the Archangel Gabriel when she referred to herself as but “the handmaid of the Lord,” and today she calls herself the Lord’s “lowly servant” (Luke 1:38; 43; 48).

When he considered the high dignity of this lowly Virgin, Saint Anthony of Padua asked:

What grace so great, what mercy so great, was ever shown or could be shown to angel or to man, as that of the blessed Virgin, whom God the Father willed to be mother of his own Son, equal to him and begotten before all ages? It would be the greatest grace and honour for some poor little woman to have a son by the Emperor; truly, more excellent still was the grace of the blessed Mary, who bore a Son to God the Father; and therefore she has been found worthy of being crowned this day in heaven.[1]

Indeed, it was because of Mary’s singular fidelity to the divine plan that she has been granted two unique privileges, namely, her Immaculate Conception and her Assumption into heaven; the second was granted in virtue of the first.

But why should the Lord grant the favor of her Assumption to his Blessed Mother? He granted them to her, we might say, for two reasons: first, because it is eminently fitting and, second, because it gives us hope.

It is fitting that the Lord should receive his Mother into his presence because, as Blessed Pope Pius XII says:

It seems inconceivable to think of her, the one who conceived Christ, brought him forth, nursed him with her milk, held him in her arms, and clasped him to her breast, as being apart from him in body, even though not in soul, after this earthly life. Since our Redeemer is the Son of Mary, he could not do otherwise, as the perfect observer of God’s law, than to honor, not only his eternal Father, but also his most beloved Mother. And, since it was within his power to grant her this great honor, to preserver her from the corruption of the tomb, we must believe that he really acted in this way.[2]

How could the Son not glorify his Mother and, in this way, bring glory to himself?

But there is more, for if we look at the Assumption of our Blessed Mother, we see the promise of our own resurrection from the dead on the Last Day. We know that Mary remains fully human, even in her Assumption into heaven, and this gives us hope. For if Mary, a human, has entered body and soul into the heavenly realm, we who are also human can enter heaven with her and be in the presence of her Son; if her body can be in the presence of her Son, so, too, can ours. Mary’s Assumption into heaven shows us that there is a place in heaven for us, too, if only we imitate her lowliness and faithful love of God!

In her earthly life, Mary loved to look upon the beauty of the Face of her Son, just as he longed to look upon the beauty of her face, upon the face “full of all graces, pleasing to the eyes of the angels, and on which they desire to look, as it shines like the sun in its strength.”[3] Through the grace of her assumption, Mary now looks continually upon the Face of her Son and he looks continually upon her face; because she now looks upon his Face with her own eyes, we, too, will be able to look upon him face to face.

As Mary gazes eternally upon the glory of her Son, may she hear the prayer of her humble children and present it to her Son and our Lord. May she intercede with him so that we will be found lowly enough for him to lift us to glory, that we, too, may gaze with her in love upon the beauty of his Face. Let us take hope in the exaltation of her lowliness this day, and trust in the promise of the Lord Jesus to raise the lowly to the height of heavenly glory. May he lift us to be blessed with she who is blessed (cf. Luke 1:42)! Amen![4]

[1] Saint Anthony of Padua, Sermon on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 3. In Sermons for Sundays and Festivals, Vol. III: From the Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost to the Third Sunday after Epiphany and Marian Sermons. Paul Spilsbury, trans. (Padua: Edizioni Messaggero Padova, 2009), 434.
[2] Blessed Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, 38.
[3] Saint Anthony of Padua, Sermon on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 3.
[4] Cf. Ibid.

Springfield Area Theology on Tap

Council 4179 of the Knights of Columbus - 141 North Lakewood Drive in Chatham - will host the next Theology on Tap on Friday, September 9th at 7:00 p.m.

Lisa Hendley, founder and editor of Catholic Mom and author of several books, will speak on the topic of Selfies and Souls: Nurturing the Church in the Digital Age.

09 August 2016

In 38 States, the Church cannot make insurance payments for those in need - or why the Church doesn't do more to help the poor

Over the past several years, I've written several times about why the Church doesn't do more to help the poor. Each time I had the same answer: the government too often gets in the way and prevents the Church from helping the poor.

Writing today for the Catholic News Agency, Matt Hadro provides yet another example of how the government prevents the Church from doing more to help the poor:
As churches and charities are legally shut out of helping pay people’s high medical costs in most states, congressmen and advocates are rallying to “allow charities to be charitable.”

“People with chronic, rare, and acute diseases have the right to get the help from third party organizations, and insurers have no sound reason to deny these payments,” said Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.), a co-sponsor of the Access to Marketplace Insurance Act.

The bill would lift bans on charitable medical payments for health plans on 38 state exchanges [more].
We will see if the Congress will allow the Church to more easily assist the poor with their medical care.

Islamic State in West Africa (formerly Boko Haram) Ongoing Updates - August 2016

Previous Updates: July 2016 | June 2016 | May 2016 | April 2016 | March 2016 | February 2016 | January 2016 | December 2015 | November 2015 | October 2015 | September 2015 | August 2015 | July 2015  | June 2015 | May 2015 | April 2015  March 2015 | February 2015

21 August 2016
17 August 2016
14 August 2016
12 August 2016
11 August 2016
9 August 2016
4 August 2016

06 August 2016

Homily - 7 August 2016

The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Have you ever looked up into the night sky and wondered which star God made to burn for you?[1] Centuries ago, the Lord God took Abraham – while his name was still Abram – “outside and said: Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so, he added, will your descendants be” (Genesis 15:5). You and I, dear brothers and sisters, are children of Abraham through faith, as Saint Paul teaches us (cf. Galatians 3:7). If we are, then, Abraham’s descendants, then one of those stars in the sky shines for you and another for me. What is more, because Christ the Lord has commanded us to “make disciples of all nations,” we might say a star shines for every person ever conceived (Matthew 28:11).

We heard a few moments ago that “faith is the realization of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Because he desired friendship with God, Abraham obeyed in faith and “sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country” (Hebrews 11:9). Abraham “obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go” (Hebrews 11:8). Would you or I do the same? Would we simply set out at the command of the Lord without knowing where we were to go?

Abraham did because “faith is man’s response to God, who reveals himself and gives himself to man, at the same time bringing man a superabundant light as he searches for the ultimate meaning of his life” (CCC, 26).

Yet faith is also more than this. It is “a personal adherence of man to God,” an adherence of the whole person to the revelation of God in Christ (CCC, 150). While it is true that “believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit,” it is also true that “believing is an authentically human act” (CCC, 154). Indeed, the knowledge that comes from faith “is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie” (CCC, 157). Moreover, because faith is a human act, because it is “the free response of the human person to the initiative of God…, faith is not an isolated act. No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone” (CCC, 166).

The faith we profess, the faith to which we cling and that motivates our actions, comes from the Church, and “because we receive the life of faith through the Church, she is our mother;” “because she is our mother, she is also our teacher in the faith” (CCC, 169). Holy Mother Church teaches us how to live out the double command of loving God and our neighbor so that, when the Lord comes, he will finds us faithful and prudent stewards of his love (cf. Luke 12:42).

This past Thursday, we in Springfield saw a new affront on the dignity of our neighbors and a stubborn refusal to live out the love of neighbor when the Planned Parenthood facility began performing surgical abortions, that is, the purposeful killing of babies inside their mother’s wombs using forceps and suctions. This will now be done in this Capitol City every Thursday.[2] If we are honest, we know that abortion is, as Dr. Peter Kreeft has said, nothing less than “the anti-Christ’s demonic parody of the eucharist. That’s why it uses the same holy words, ‘This is my body,’ with the blasphemous opposite meaning.”[3] Certainly, not everyone who has an abortion has this intention, but the intention of the Evil One – of the tempter and deceiver – remains the same.

Up until Thursday, the Springfield Planned Parenthood only dispensed pills for chemical abortions, up to 300 per year, which is itself horrendous; but now, as it were, they have upped the ante against the beauty, wonder, and dignity of human life. We cannot simply stand by and watch this happen! We must act to protect the unborn, to welcome them and their mothers, to support them, encourage them, and help them know the love of God. It is not enough to pray for them; we must reach out to them; we must open our hearts and even our homes to them; we must embrace them with the love of Jesus Christ. He extended his arms on the Cross to embrace them and we must do the same! We must show them a better way, a loving way, a beautiful way!

Rich Mullins, one of my favorite musicians, in his song “Sometimes By Step,” reflected on this verse about the descendants of Abraham being as countless as the stars of the sky. He sang to God:

Sometimes I think of Abraham
How one star he saw had been lit for me
He was a stranger in this land
And I am that, no less than he
And on this road to righteousness
Sometimes the climb can be so steep
I may falter in my steps
But never beyond Your reach

These are powerful lyrics from a man who understood well what it means to adhere his life to God, who knew the merciful love of God, and who knew he was only a stranger in this land. He knew what it means to walk, to live, and to love by faith.

To those who have had an abortion, I wish to offer a word of hope. I know this homily is not easy for you to hear, and I am truly sorry if my words reopen old wounds; this is not my intention. However, I know that, as Pope Francis has said, “the tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails.”[4] This is too often the case and we cannot allow this to continue; we must realize the extreme harm that abortion has on the innocent, the physical and psychological harm it does to women, and we must work to overcome and heal it as best we can.

With Pope Francis, “I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope.”[5] We know that “the forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father.” With contrite hearts, we cannot falter beyond God’s reach.

I urge you to enter the confessional; pour out your heart to the Father of Mercies, and let him heal your heart. Do not forget that “the Cross of Christ is God’s judgment on all of us and on the whole world, because through it he offers the certitude of love and new life.”[6] See the arms of Jesus extended on the Cross to embrace you; draw near to him in the confessional and let him wrap you in his merciful love. Let him grant you his forgiveness and hear him say to you, “I absolve you of your sins.” Know that you are mothers still and your love and grief are real. Each of us here today must acknowledge this. We must never assume we know the nature of another’s sin or the place repentance has in their life. We must love others exactly as we would want them to love us if they knew our own faults.

I turn now to you parents, especially those of young children. I know this is a hard truth to present to your children and I know some of you are likely now squirming in your pews. I understand your discomfort and I do not want to frighten anyone or take away from your role as the primary teachers of your children, but I must preach the Gospel clearly; must has been entrusted to me and much will be demanded of me (cf. Luke 12:48). I urge you to be cautious: do not hide the truth from your children, however revolting it may be; we cannot overcome evil by ignoring it or by hiding it. Strive, instead, to teach your children that the purposeful killing of an innocent human being – especially the most vulnerable – is always both wrong and evil, no matter the method or the euphemistic terms used to describe it.

Each one of us bears the responsibility of defending the weak. Do not make your children victims; rather, make them defenders of the weak and defenders of truth, teach them to be heroes, and help them understand that we are “strangers and aliens on earth” who “desire a better homeland, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:13, 16).

If this means you have to learn for yourselves what is truly going on, if you have to study what actually takes place during the different kinds of abortions, then do so. Do so even if it makes you uncomfortable; do so because it makes you uncomfortable; let your hearts speak to you! This is your responsibility as parents. You owe it to your children to teach them the truth, how to reject falsehood, and how to fight against evil; you must teach them how to love both God and neighbor, how to love every neighbor and not just some. As parents, you have the difficult task of judging how best to do this, what ages and what ways will best help your children both understand and face the truth. Because your children look first to you for models of right conduct, you are the ones who do this best and so you must do it.  As a star shines for your own children, so, too, does a star shine for the victims of abortion, the children, the mothers, and the fathers.

I turn now to you young adults, to you who give so much hope to the world. The strength of your voices united together against abortion continues to grow. Your unity frightens the likes of Planned Parenthood because they suspect, as do I, that your generation will be the one to overturn Roe v. Wade. Abortions among your demographic continue to decrease because you recognize – if only implicitly – that you are the ones who survived the age of abortion, whereas one third of your generation did not. Do not lose heart, but keep bearing witness to the beauty of life and you can heal much of the harm that has been done.

Jesus says to us today, “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock” (Luke 12:32). This is not the time for fear, but for heroic and courageous love, the same self-less love we see displayed on the Cross. May the Lord embolden us – each of us – to proclaim his Gospel of Life so that hearts broken by fear and pain – including our own - may be healed by his love! Amen.

[1] Cf. Rich Mullins and Beaker, “Sometimes By Step,” The World As Best As I Remember It, Volume 2.
[2] Dean Olsen, “Planned Parenthood tostart surgical abortions in Springfield,” State Journal-Register, August 3, 2016.
[3] Peter Kreeft, Jesus Shock (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008), 144.
[4] Pope Francis, Letter to ArchbishopRino Fisichella, 1 September 2015.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, 21.