29 October 2017

Homily - 29 October 2017 - The Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

We have rather grown into the habit of calling ourselves Christians without giving a great deal thought to what it means to bear the name of Christ. Likewise, we often think of ourselves as disciples of Jesus, but give little thought to what it means to be one. Our English word disciple has the same root as discipline. Both come from the Latin word discipulus, meaning a student or learner; discipulus itself comes from discere, meaning to learn. A disciple, then, is a follower in the sense that he or she is a student who follows the teachings of a learned man; the disciples of Christ follow him who is the great "Master and Teacher" (John 13:13). Can it be said of us who bear the name of Christian that we follow the teachings of Jesus?

Throughout the period of his earthly ministry, the Pharisees and the Sadducees followed Jesus not so much because they wanted to learn from him; they did not want to be his disciples, but instead to test him (cf. Matthew 22:35). “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest?”, one of them asked him. Though the Pharisees are often berated in homilies for attempting to trap Jesus, this is not the case with this question; it was a test, yes, but not a trap. “This is not a trick question but is designed to see if the Galilean preacher has the knowledge necessary to be teaching others about God and his will for their lives” (Matthew 22:36).[1] It was an attempt to discover if Jesus was worth following or not.

With his answer to this question, Jesus cites two important verses from the Old Testament. First, he refers to the great Schema from the Book of Deuteronomy, when Moses said to the people: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Second, he refers to another part of the law which Moses gave to the people: “You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). By joining these two commands together, Jesus not only shows the Pharisees that he does have the knowledge necessary to teach others about God, but also that he has taken his rightful place upon the seat of Moses as both teacher and law-giver (cf. Matthew 23:2).

Christ Pantocrater. Uncial detail from the Badische Landesbibliothek, Germany.
Just after he gave them this answer, Jesus posed a question to them, a question to which “no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did any one dare to ask him any more questions,” lest he be shown a greater teacher than they (Matthew 22:46). The Pharisees were content to hear his answers, but were not prepared to take his answers to heart; they were not prepared to learn from him and to follow him.

Saint Luke records another occasion on which the Lord Jesus gave this answer in response to a question from one of those versed in the law. He agreed with Jesus’ answer, but “desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:29). It was, to be sure, a risky question, one Jesus answered with the parable of the good Samaritan (cf. Luke 10:30-37). In the end, as he so often does, Jesus turned the question around and put the focus on the man asking the question: “Which of these three,” Jesus asked him, “proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers” (Luke 10:36)? The man answered Jesus’ question correctly but failed to keep his final exhortation to “go and do likewise” because Jesus’ response deeply challenged the man’s outlook upon the world; he, too, came to Jesus to seek his answers, but not to give him his heart (Luke 10:37).

Do we not ask the same question of Jesus in an attempt to justify ourselves before God? Do we not also ask rhetorically, “And who is my neighbor?”, in the attempt to convince ourselves that we are good people, that because we have helped this person or that person that we have done enough? To us, too, Jesus asks, “Which of these … proved neighbor…?” and commands us, “go and do likewise,” yet still we hesitate to love our neighbor as ourselves.

The man who first asked that question of Jesus has less blame than us, for he had a different understanding of who his neighbor was than we do.

Until that time, the concept of “neighbor” was understood as referring essentially to one’s own countrymen and to foreigners who had settled in the land of Israel; in other words, to the closely-knit community of a single country or people. This limit is now abolished. Anyone who needs me, and whom I can help, is my neighbor. The concept of “neighbor” is now universalized, yet it remains concrete. Despite being extended to all mankind, it is not reduced to a generic, abstract and undemanding expression of love, but calls for my own practical commitment here and now… [W]e should especially mention the great parable of the Last Judgment (cf. Matthew 25:31-46), in which love becomes the criterion for the definitive decision about a human life’s worth or lack thereof. Jesus identifies himself with those in need, with the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). Love of God and love of neighbor have become one: in the least of the brethren we find Jesus himself, and in Jesus we find God.[2]

Now that Jesus has come and taught us, now that we have heard his teaching with authority, our responsibility for our neighbor, both near and far, is greater (cf. Matthew 7:29).

As Christians in these United States of America, we often do well caring our neighbors who are far away, but we are not always so keen to care for our neighbors at our doorstep, which is why so many either wince at or ignore the Lord’s command we heard just a few moments ago: “You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21). Many do not like these words, true though they be, because we all too often allow our politics to dictate our faith rather than allow our faith to dictate our politics, as is both right and just.

Because “the whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” to love both God and neighbor, “no other commandment of the Bible is properly observed if either one of these is transgressed or compromised, for the aim of all divine Scripture is to bring us out of ourselves to love and serve God and our fellow human beings.”[3] Consequently, “closing our eyes to our neighbor also blinds us to God.”[4] Rather than closing our eyes to our neighbors both near and far, we should strive to imitate Saint Paul, from whose mouth “the word of the Lord has sounded forth not only in Macedonia and in Achaia, but in every place [his] faith in God [went] forth” (I Thessalonians 1:8). The word of the Lord sounded forth from his mouth because he loved God and neighbor. Does the same word of the Lord also sound forth from our mouths? Do we love God and neighbor in the same way?

Saint Paul’s preaching of the Gospel was sometimes formal, as in his speech at the Areopagus, but it was also often informal, as when he sat making tents in the marketplace (cf. Acts 17:22 and 18:3). So it is with and you me; our preaching must sometimes be formal, but it must frequently be informal as well. This is why Pope Francis is so keen to remind us that

there is a kind of preaching which falls to each of us as a daily responsibility. It has to do with bringing the Gospel to the people we meet, whether they be our neighbors or complete strangers. This is the informal preaching which takes place in the middle of a conversation… Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey.[5]

It can and should happen wherever and whenever someone needs to hear or be reminded of what the Lord God himself tells us: “If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate” (Exodus 22:26). Jesus showed his compassion for us when he ascended the throne of his Cross to show us just how much he loves us.

The sight of the Lord’s Cross should stir each of our hearts to an ever-deeper love of God and contrition for our sins in gratitude for his merciful love toward us poor sinners. The recognition of the immensity of this love should move us toward our neighbors, to invite and encourage them “to serve the living and true God and to await his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus, who delivers us from the coming wrath” (I Thessalonians 1:9-10). May we, then, love God and neighbor in this way, so as to truly be his disciples by following him unreservedly and by conforming ourselves to his way of loving until he is formed in us (cf. Galatians 4:19). Amen.

[1] Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2010), 288.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, 15.
[3] Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2010), 289.
[4] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, 16.
[5] Pope Francis, Evangelii gaudium, 127.

26 October 2017

Fr. Mike Schmitz on Tolkien's Leaf By Niggle

As the daylight continues to lessen, the leaves continue to fall, and the temperatures continue to drop, our thoughts naturally turn to death and what comes afterward, which is why next Mother Church will observe the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed on November 2nd, more commonly known as All Souls' Day.

This autumnal season is always a good time for us to delve again into the Church's teaching on Purgatory and to its reality. Pope Benedict XVI spoke eloquently on Purgatory in his encyclical Spe salvi (see especially numbers 45-48), to which I frequently return. Great theologians, though, are not the only ones who can contribute to our understanding of Purgatory.

My favorite story to help illustrate the reality of Purgatory is the great J.R.R. Tolkien's short story, Leaf By Niggle, about which, Father Mike Schmitz recently make a short video (though he, sadly, doesn't directly connect it to Purgatory, the implication is there):

If you haven't yet read Leaf By Niggle, I highly recommend you find a copy of it. It's only a few pages long, but there is much to ponder in just a few words.

25 October 2017

An unofficial trailer for Tolton: From Slave to Priest

Coming soon to the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois:

A list of dates, locations, and times for the performances of Tolton: From Slave to Priest can be found here. Please make plans to attend one or more of the shows!

24 October 2017

Why is imperfect contrition insufficient outside of confession?

A few days ago someone asked me a very good question, one that I thought might be useful to address here:
From my understanding, the Church teaches that mortal sins can be forgiven outside of a sacramental confession if the penitent has perfect contrition. Do you know from where the Church derives this teaching? I don't really understand how the penitent only needs imperfect contrition in the course of a Confession in order for the absolution that the priest gives to be valid, but that a person needs perfect contrition outside of confession in order for his sins to be forgiven.
My initial response was simply the power of the keys, namely, that whatever the Pope and the Bishops "bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19). While this answer would be true, I suspected it would not quite be satisfactory.

The inquirer is correct about the two forms of contrition, but to understand the distinction, we first need a definition of contrition. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes contrition as "sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again" (1451).

As we said, the Church recognizes two forms of contrition, perfect and imperfect, both of which are good, but one of which is better:
When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called "perfect" (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible.
The contrition called "imperfect" (or "attrition") is also a gift of God, a prompting of the Holy Spirit. It is born of the consideration of sin's ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner (contrition of fear). Such a stirring of conscience can initiate an interior process which, under the prompting of grace, will be brought to completion by sacramental absolution. By itself however, imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins, but it disposes one to obtain forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance (CCC, 1452-1453).
Perfect contrition can obtain the forgiveness of sins outside of a sacramental confession (providing the intent to make a sacramental confession when possible) because it is concerned solely with the honor God; imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of sins outside of a sacramental confession because while it is concerned with the honor of God, it is also concerned with the good of the penitent. It is good to be filled with sorrow because of our sins and to detest them because they can jeopardize our salvation; it is better to filled with sorrow because of our sins and to detest them because they offend the goodness of God.

This distinction between perfect and imperfect contrition, and the fruits of each, was taught by the Council of Trent:
The council teaches therefore that though it happens sometimes that this contrition is perfect through charity and reconciles man to God before this sacrament is actually received, this reconciliation, nevertheless, is not to be ascribed to the contrition itself without a desire of the sacrament, which desire is included in it. As to imperfect contrition, which is called attrition, since it commonly arises either from the consideration of the heinousness of sin or from the fear of hell and of punishment, the council declares that if it renounces the desire to sin and hopes for pardon, it not only does not make one a hypocrite and a greater sinner, but is even a gift of God and an impulse of the Holy Ghost, not indeed as already dwelling in the penitent, but only moving him, with which assistance the penitent prepares a way for himself unto justice. And though without the sacrament of penance it cannot per se lead the sinner to justification, it does, however, dispose him to obtain the grace of God in the sacrament of penance (14.3.4).
When making this distinction, the Council of Trent cited such verses of the Sacred Scriptures as Ezekiel 18:31, Psalm 50:6 and 6:7, Isaiah 38:15, Jonah 3:5, Matthew 12:41, and Luke 11:32. 

To sum, an imperfect contrition is insufficient to obtain the forgiveness of sins outside of the sacrament of penance because it not motivated solely by love for God, but also love for the sinner.

18 October 2017

Homily - October 15 2017 - The 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

As he does today, the prophet Isaiah frequently speaks of “this mountain” on which the Lord God “will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines” (Isaiah 25:6). It is on this same mountain that he will “destroy the veil that veils all peoples” (Isaiah 25:7) and “destroy death forever” (Isaiah 25:8). And it is on this mountain that he will “wipe away the tears from every face” (Isaiah 25:8). It is a prophecy filled with great hope, with great love, and with great longing, the great prophecy of the advent of God.

It is a prophecy that answers the deepest yearning of the human heart, but which mountain does Isaiah refer to? We know he is not speaking of some vague, notional mountain, but is instead referring to a very specific mountain. If we go back several chapters in the Book of Isaiah - nineteen, in fact – the prophet tells us, “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple” (Isaiah 6:1). Isaiah, then, was in Jerusalem, on Mount Zion where the Lord of hosts dwelt (cf. Isaiah 8:18).

From the Map Psalter.
It was on that very mountain that the Temple had been built and dedicated. It was on that very mountain that sacrifices were offered to God, both to give him thanks and to atone for sins. It is of Mount Zion, then, that Isaiah says, “one day it will be said: ‘Behold our God, to whom we look to save us’” (Isaiah 25:9)! In this prophecy, so full of eager expectation, we see that “Temple worship was always accompanied by a vivid sense of its insufficiency.”[1] If it were sufficient to fully reconcile God and man, such a prophecy would not have been needed for it would already have happened; man would already have been able to look upon the face of God.

We see this in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where we read that “the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office;” they could not finally fulfill their function (Hebrews 7:23). They served “a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary; for when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, ‘See that you make everything according to the pattern which I will show you on the mountain’” (Hebrews 8:5). This is, in part, why the Old Covenant, sealed with the blood of sheep and goats, had to be annually renewed on the Day of Atonement when the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies and sprinkle the Ark of the Covenant with blood (cf. Leviticus 16).

So it was with the priests of the Old Covenant, but it is not so with the High Priest of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ. He came among us

as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:11-14).

We might well say that

worship through types and shadows, worship with replacements, ends at the very moment when the real worship takes place: the self-offering of the Son who has become man and ‘Lamb,’ the ‘Firstborn,’ who gathers up into himself all worship of God, takes it from the types and shadows into the reality of man’s union with the living God.[2]

The sacrifice of Christ on the Cross fulfills what the sheep and goats only signified; they pointed to “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).

Isaiah’s prophecies concerned the Temple on Mount Zion, but Jesus clear that he himself is the true Temple of God. As such, it is on Calvary, where he was lifted up for all to see, where the Lord provided a rich feast, removed the veil between us and God, and destroyed death forever; it is there that we, too, can look to the God who saved us. It is here, at the altar of the Lord, at, if you will, this mountain, that we, too, can look to the God who saved us because the place of the Temple has been replaced “by the universal Temple of the risen Christ, whose outstretched arms on the Cross span the world, in order to draw all men into the embrace of eternal love.”[3]

It should be a great sadness for us, then, that so many who have been invited to the wedding feast, that so many who have been invited to the wedding banquet of the Lamb, refuse his invitation to receive the embrace of his love. Indeed, it is here at the altar of the Lord, where the Death of Christ is re-presented to the Father and at which we receive his very Body and Blood as our nourishment and sustenance on our pilgrimage to the Father’s house, that the Lord will indeed wipe away the tears from every face. Too many miss this because they do not believe in the Real Presence of the Eucharist; they question the power of the Lord’s own words to do as he says and so their hearts are not comforted on this mountain because they do not see him.

Each one of us must fall in love with the Blessed Sacrament by which the Lord Jesus remains with us always, by which he refreshes our souls, and by which he strengthens us to do his will (cf. Psalm 23:3; Philippians 4:13). If we fall in love with the Eucharist, we will understand the truth of Isaiah’s words, even as J.R.R. Tolkien did.

In a letter to one of his sons, he wrote these moving words from the heart of one who loved the Eucharist very deeply:

Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament…. There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all of your loves upon earth, and more than that, Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires.[4]

The key phrase here is that the Eucharistic Lord “demands the surrender of all.” Jesus held nothing back for us and went all the way to the Cross; he surrendered everything for us. How can we not respond in return and surrender everything we have, everything we are to him? Let each of us, then, seek our satisfaction in the Eucharist and surrender to him and find everything we seek in him. Then, having ourselves been filled with the Lord’s loving mercy, we, too, can go out and invite others to join us at the banquet of the Lamb. Amen.

[1] Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 2000), 39.
[2] Ibid., 43-44.
[3] Idid., 48.
[4] J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter to Michael Tolkien, 6-8 March, 1941. In The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Humphrey Carpenter, ed. (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), 53-54.

14 October 2017

Millennials make Quincy 7th in nation for home sales

An ancient Greek, whose name is unknown to me and perhaps to anyone, is recorded as having said, "No man loves his own city because it is great, but because it is his." I daresay he had not visited my beloved hometown of Quincy, Illinois.

It gives me joy to say that my love for the Gem City is shared by the Millennial, those born between 1981 and 2001, who, according to a recent article in the Quincy Herald-Whig, have made Quincy "seventh nationwide in a two-month snapshot among cities where members of the millennial generation ... are buying homes."

The rate at which they are buying homes in Quincy is surprisingly high, especially since so many young people claim - as they have done for decades - there is nothing to do in Quincy:
A story last week in USA Today noted that millennials bought 49 percent of Quincy homes sold over a two-month period this year. Figures from the most recent reporting period show that 37 percent of homes sold in Quincy went to millennials [more].
There may be a good financial incentive for them to buy homes in the Gem City as compared with other cities:
Home prices bought by millennials nationwide have an average cost of $187,164, according to Ellie Mae figures from the August-September period. In the Quincy micropolitan area, the average price is $96,219 for the same period.
The "micropolitan area" is a new term for me, but it seems humorously fitting for the area around Quincy.

Many of these millennials will, of course, be those moving back home after going away  for college. But others, of course, will be newcomers to the Gem City and I hope they enjoy it as much as I do.

12 October 2017

On Mass intentions

A few days Innocent Duru, on an old post concerning Parochial Vicars, asked a question about the Holy Mass offered pro popolo, that is, for the people.
This obligation is given in the Code of Canon Law:
After a pastor has taken possession of his parish, he is obliged to apply a Mass for the people entrusted to him on each Sunday and holy day of obligation in his diocese [not every diocese observes the same days as obligatory]. If he is legitimately impeded from this celebration, however, he is to apply he is to apply it on the same days through another or on other days himself (canon 534 § 1).
Regrettably, this obligation seems to be observed more in the breach than in the norm, at least in places with which I am familiar. This is likely due, in no small part, to the practice of grouping several Mass intentions together at one Mass.
It has long been customary for the faithful to ask priests to offer the Holy Mass for particular intentions and to offer a small gift to the priest to help with his sustenance. The custom of Mass intentions is governed by the Code of Canon Law:
In accord with the approved practice of the Church, any priest celebrating or concelebrating is permitted to receive an offering to apply the Mass for a specific intention..
It is recommended earnestly to priests that they celebrate Mass for the intention of the Christian faithful, especially the needy, even if they have not received an offering.
The Christian faithful who give an offering to apply the Mass for their intention contribute to the good of the Church and by that offering share its concern to support its ministers and works.
Any appearance of trafficking or trading is to be excluded entirely from the offering for Masses.
Separate Masses are to be applied for the intentions of those for whom a single offering, although small, has been given and accepted.
A person obliged to celebrate and apply Mass for the intention of those who gave an offering is bound by the obligation even if the offerings received have been lost through no fault of his own (canons 945-949).
To assist the faithful in decided what offering should be made, the Province of Bishops is able to set the usual amount of the offering. The Bishops of the Province of Illinois set the offering at $10.00 per Mass. A person is able to offer the priest more or less to accompany a Mass intention, but a priest in this Province cannot request more than this amount and he should certainly not refuse a smaller amount.
The pastor of a parish is required to offer the Mass pro popolo, for his parishioners, because it is right and just for a father to pray for his family.
Father William Saunders has written an excellent article explaining the theology behind the offering of Mass intentions and stipends.