30 September 2018

Homily - The Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - 30 September 2018

The Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Moments ago, we asked Almighty God to make us worthy, by the gift of his grace, to be found “heirs to the treasures of heaven” (Collect). What are these treasures of heaven?

When we think of treasure, we often think of the storehouses of kings and the mountains of wealth accumulated by dragons. The treasures of heaven, however, cannot consist in these works of precious metals and jewels because Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Moreover, he also warned us, saying, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). If we attempt to store up such treasures for ourselves, we have no way to know when a band of dwarves might be overcome with the dragon sickness and rob us of our hoard, or when we might ourselves fall prey to the dragon sickness and we come to be possessed by the things we seek to possess. What, then, are the treasures of heaven?

We can find some glimpse of the treasures of heaven in the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After she and Saint Joseph lost the Boy Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem and after they found him again, the Evangelist Saint Luke tells us that Mary “kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51). Other translations tell us she “pondered” or “treasured” all these things in heart. But what sort of things did she keep in her heart? Surely, she kept the words of her Holy Child and of Saint Simeon and Saint Anna in her heart. The treasures of heaven, then, are the words and deeds of Jesus, indeed, his very person. Is he not himself the “pearl of great price” for which a wise merchant “goes and sells all that he has and buys it” (Matthew 13:46)? Is it not the Lord Jesus who is that “treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys the field” to acquire that treasure (Matthew 13:44)? How, then, can you and I find this treasure? How can you and I have the joy of obtaining the treasure of Jesus?

Yesterday, the Holy Father Pope Francis indicated one important way for us to do so. The Press Office of the Holy See announced that

the Holy Father has decided to invite all the faithful, of all the world, to pray the Holy Rosary every day, during the entire Marian month of October, and thus to join in communion and in penitence, as the people of God, in asking the Holy Mother of God and Saint Michael [the] Archangel to protect the Church from the devil, who always seeks to separate us from God and from each other.[1]

In doing so, Pope Francis has also asked us to conclude the recitation of the rosary in the month of October with the ancient invocation to the Blessed Virgin: “We fly to your protection, O Holy Mother of God. Do not despise our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O Glorious and Blessed Virgin.” He has also asked that we follow this invocation with the Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel. 

Lamentably, the Holy Rosary has fallen into disuse in recent decades, with many Catholics no longer even knowing the basics of how to pray this time-honored and beloved prayer of the Church. Forty-five years ago, Pope John Paul I suggested a few reasons why many Catholics no longer pray the rosary:

They say: ‘It is an infantile prayer, superstitious and unworthy of adult Christians.’ Or else: ‘It is a prayer that is robotic, one that ultimately comes down to a cold, monotonous and boring repetition of Hail Marys.’ Or else again: ‘It is a custom from a bygone age. Today we can do better: reading the Bible, for example, which is to the Rosary what fine flour is to bran.’[2]

Before he addressed these criticisms, Pope John Paul I rightly said, “the crisis of the rosary is not the main issue. What takes precedence today is the crisis of prayer in general. People are wholly taken up by their material interests, they think very little of their souls. Noise has gradually invaded our existence.” Not much has changed these past few decades.

At its heart, the rosary is prayer in a simple form. It is not an childish form of a prayer, but one that springs from the heart of a heart. John Paul I put it this way, in very moving and honest words:

Personally speaking, when I talk to God and the Blessed Virgin alone, I prefer to feel like a child rather than an adult. The mitre, the skullcap, the ring disappear; I send the adult off for a walk and even the bishop with all his grave and ponderous dignity, so that I might abandon myself to God, even if it be for a short half hour, I prefer to be what I am in reality, with all my wretchedness and any merits I might have. To feel the child I once was being reborn from the depths of my being, the child who wants to laugh, chatter, to love the Lord, who sometimes feels the need to cry so that he may obtain forgiveness – all this helps me to pray. The Rosary, a simple and easy prayer, also helps me to become a child again, and I am not ashamed of it.[3]

If this is the case, why do so many Catholics today have difficulty praying the rosary? It might be because they do not to adopt the lack of control so characteristic of children.

Those who have grown fond of the passing of beads through the fingers know that “the Rosary does not require any special preparation, and the petitioner does not need to generate thoughts of which he is not capable at the moment or at any other time. Rather, he steps into a well-ordered world, meets familiar images, and finds roads that lead to the essential.”[4] Of itself, the rosary “has no goal but a depth. To linger in it has great compensations.”[5] Too many people overlook this simple fact:

The Rosary is a prayer of lingering. One must take one’s time for it, putting the necessary time at its disposal, not only externally but internally. One who wants to pray it rightly must put away those things that press upon him and become for a time purposeless and quiet. This is necessary, whether he has thirty or ten minutes at his disposal. Neither should he attempt too much. It is not necessary to ramble through the whole Rosary; it is better to say only one or two decades, and to say them right.[6]

It is through the rosary that we sit at the feet of our Blessed Mother and learn in her school of love.

Within her quiet school, Mary teaches us “to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love.”[7] She shows us how to ponder the treasures of Jesus’ words and deeds and to acquire them for ourselves. This is why Pope Saint John Paul II said the rosary “belongs among the finest and most praiseworthy traditions of Christian contemplation.”[8]

To look upon the Face of God is the deepest longing of every human heart and the prayerful recitation of the rosary can help prepare us to look upon so great a treasure. It is through the rosary that we learn

To look upon the face of Christ, to recognize its mystery amid the daily events and the sufferings of his human life, and then to grasp the divine splendor definitively revealed in the Risen Lord, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father: this is the task of every follower of Christ and therefore the task of each one of us. In contemplating Christ’s face we become open to receiving the mystery of Trinitarian life, experiencing anew the love of the Father and delighting in the joy of the Holy Spirit.[9]

Let us, then, both as individuals and as families, pray the rosary each day of October. May Holy Mary show us the face of her beloved Son and teach us to imitate him in all things. Following her example and turning our gaze away from the enticements of the Enemy and toward Christ, may we become heirs of the treasures of heaven. Amen.

[1] “Pope Francis invites the faithful to pray the Rosary in October,” Vatican News, 29 September 2018.
[2] Pope John Paul I, Homily, 7 October 1973.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Romano Guardini, The Rosary of Our Lady (Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 1998), 44.
[5] Ibid., 45.
[6] Ibid., 58.
[7] Pope Saint John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 1.
[8] Ibid., 5.
[9] Ibid., 9.

27 September 2018

Homily - The Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - 23 September 2018

The Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Why does Jesus not want anyone to know he left and began a journey (cf. Mark 9:30)? Where was he going? He was beginning his journey up to Jerusalem, to that place where he knew he, as he said, he would “handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise” (Mark 9:31). If he told them what was going to happen to him, why did not want them to know he was going?

On the one hand, we might surmise he desired to keep his going quiet because of the response of Saint Peter, who as the other Evangelists tell us, tried to keep Jesus from going to Jerusalem. Is it possible that his disciples might rise up en masse to prevent the fulfillment of his mission? Might they – unwittingly – thwart our redemption?

On the other hand, Jesus might have wanted to keep his going secret he knew his disciples “did not understand the saying” (Mark 9:32). How often are we in that same boat, if you will? How often do we begin to become aware of the will of the Lord, to see the purpose underlying his designs, and yet, seeing them, we do not understand?

We can only come to an understanding of the Lord’s ways and, more importantly, an acceptance of the Lord’s will by staying close to him, by opening our hearts and minds and ears to him to listen to him in loving trust. Saint James tells us today that we “do not receive” what we ask in prayer “because you ask wrongly” (James 4:3). We ask wrongly because we ask to have our own desires and wants and designs fulfilled instead of asking to have our own desires and wants and designs united with the desires and wants and designs of God.

When he foretold his coming Death, the disciples were slow to understand what he said. Because of their preconceived notions,

the disciples do not yet understand that the way of the Messiah is the via dolorosa, the way of the cross. They are expecting the Messiah-King to enter his capital city, take up this throne, and begin his glorious reign. They have not truly “seen” and “heard” Jesus’ call to deny oneself, take up the cross, and follow him (cf. Mark 8:18 and 34).[1]

Do we understand that the way of the Messiah, that the way of discipleship, is the via dolorosa, the way of the Cross?

After we receive the Body and Blood of the Lord today, we will ask that Father that we might possess our redemption “both in mystery and in the manner of our life.”[2] (Prayer after Communion). What does this mean?

To be redeemed is, of course, to be bought back. Saint Paul tells us, “For you have been purchased at a price: therefore, glorify God in your body” (I Corinthians 6:20). The price by which we have been redeemed is the Passion and Death of the Lord Jesus Christ.

To possess our redemption in mystery is to acknowledge the unfathomable depths of the Lord’s love for us. While we were caught up in the mire of our sinfulness, when we were filthy and unlovable in the muck of our failures to love, he looked upon us with his eyes of compassion and took on our humanity. And when he foretold his Death, he spoke of the Cross not as a burden, but as a sacrifice, as something he willingly offered to the Father for us. This, then, is what it means to possess our redemption in the manner of our life: that we look upon the Cross – in whatever and however many forms it comes to us – not as a burden to be grudgingly taken up, but as a sacrifice to be lovingly offered to God.

It is one thing to know what this means in theory, but what does it look like in practice? Love can never remain a mere sentiment; it must also take on concrete form; it has to look like something.

On the day they were joined together in marriage, a husband and his wife promised to live no longer for themselves, but for each other. Spouses, then, possess their redemption both in mystery and in the manner of their lives when they willingly place their spouse’s needs before their own. Parents, too, possess their redemption both in mystery and in the manner of their lives when they look upon the needs of their children not as burdens that take away something of their own autonomy, but as a means of loving God and neighbor. Priests, too, possess their redemption both in mystery and in the manner of their life when they willingly put the needs of their parish before their own. Ultimately, it comes down to this question: Do we look upon the Cross as a burden or as a sacrifice?

Each one of us is called to conform ourselves so closely to the person of Jesus Christ, to him who gave everything for us, that people see him shining through us. May our reception of Holy Communion today unite us so closely with the Lord that our redemption will be known by us and by others by the sacrifices we make out of love for God and neighbor. Amen.

[1] Mary Healy, Catholic Commentary on Scripture: The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic,2008), 182.
[2] Prayer after Communion for the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Roman Missal.

16 September 2018

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

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

Dear brothers and sisters,

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

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

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

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

To put it differently,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

08 September 2018

Ongoing Islamic State Updates - September 2018

3 September 2018