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03 March 2019

Homily - 3 March 2019 - The Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Dear brothers and sisters,

This coming season of Lent is a time for “the faithful [to be] ever more attentive to the word of God and prayer, [to] prepare themselves by penance for the renewal of their baptismal promises.”[1] As a way of deepening our attentiveness, Catholics will be required to participate in two communal acts of penance, upon pain of sin. This means that to intentionally ignore these two penances is seriously sinful and places your soul in jeopardy of being excluded from sharing in the life of the Blessed Trinity.

Whenever we engage in an act of penance, it presupposes an interior and

radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion, to God with our whole heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called anima cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart).

The human heart is heavy and hardened. God must give man a new heart. Conversion is first of all a work of the grace of God who makes our hearts return to him. “Restore us to thyself, O Lord, that we may be restored” (Lamentations 5:21)! God gives us the strength to begin anew. It is in discovering the greatness of God’s love that our heart is shaken by the horror and weight of sin and begins to fear offending God by sin and being separated from him. The human heart is converted by looking upon him whom our sins have pierced.[2]

It is because each one of us is a sinner in need of an ongoing conversion to the Lord and because we are all united in the one Body of Christ, that the Church obliges us to two forms of Lenten penance as a means of solidarity and mutual support.

The first penitential act we will be obliged to do together is to fast on two days: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Today, the discipline regulating fasting is - to put it perhaps too bluntly - minimal; we are allowed to eat two small meals, which together do not equal a normal meal, and one normal meal, with no snacking in between these meals. The second penitential act we will take up in common is the abstinence from meat and meat products on the Fridays of Lent, as well as on Ash Wednesday and on Good Friday. This discipline is, again, minimal. Taken together, such a “freely chosen detachment from the pleasure of food and other material goods helps the disciple of Christ to control the appetites of nature, weakened by original sin, whose negative effects impact the entire human person.[3] At the same time,

The true fast is thus directed to eating the “true food,” which is to do the Father’s will (cf. Jn 4,34). If, therefore, Adam disobeyed the Lord’s command “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,” the believer, through fasting, intends to submit himself humbly to God, trusting in His goodness and mercy.

Even so, many Catholics in these United States of America frequently grumble about these two admittedly simple obligations and either refuse to keep them or do so only begrudgingly. Where, they demand to know, is this found in the Bible. How, they ask, can eating meat put me in Hell? I hope today to address both of these concerns today.

To completely disregard a law of the Church is seriously sinful because it is an act by which we ignore or refuse to follow the directives of those placed over us in the Lord. When Jesus established his Church, he entrusted his own authority to those he placed over the Church. He said to the Apostles, “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). What is more, he said to Simon Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19). If Peter received the authority to bind things on earth, he received the authority to make laws for the Church over which the Master and Teacher placed him.

It was not, however, only Saint Peter who received the power to bind and to loose. This authority the Lord Jesus also gave to the rest of the Twelve when he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18). The same authority given to Peter was given to the entire college of Apostles.

The Apostles, however, did not keep this authority to themselves; it did not simply pass away when they died. Rather, they entrusted the authority and share in the ministry of Christ they received to others, to their successors, the Bishops. The Bishops, then, who sanctify the Church through the celebration of the Sacraments, who teach the faith through their words of preaching, and who govern the Church in the name of Christ, have authority to bind and to loose, hence, to make laws for the Church today. It is an authority which, ultimately, comes from Christ himself. This is why the purposeful failure to keep the Lenten disciplines can place a soul in the state of mortal sin, which is also why the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, “obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give an account” (Hebrews 13:17; cf. I Thessalonians 5:12).

In various places, God himself commands his people to fast. We will hear on Ash Wednesday his command through his Prophet Joel, “return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning” (Joel 2:12). The Lord Jesus himself expects us to fast, or else he would not have said, “But when you fast...” (Matthew 6:16). The Church, too, expects the faithful to fast, and even commands them to do so. The Code of Canon Law states this:

The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance each in his or her own way. In order for all to be united among themselves by some common observance of penance, however, penitential days are prescribed on which the Christian faithful devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their own obligations more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence…[4]

We are obliged to follow all just laws and so we are required to keep the ecclesiastical laws regarding fasting and abstinence during Lent and the Sacred Triduum.

In keeping with the mind of the Church and with the aim of a deeper conversion of the whole of our lives to the Lord, Saint Augustine reminds us that “these practices ought to glow throughout the entire life of a Christian, but especially as the Paschal solemnity approaches which stirs up our mind by its yearly return, renewing in them the salutary memory that our Lord, the only-begotten Son of God, showed mercy to us and fasted and prayed for us.”[5] Let us take up these Lenten penances gladly and not begrudgingly, in imitation of our Lord and in solidarity with one another. If we do, then we will be “firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord;” we will bear good fruit on the day of the Resurrection and be clothed with immortality (I Corinthians 15:58; cf. Luke 6:43; I Corinthians 15:54). Amen.


[1] Paschale Solemnitatis, 6.
[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1431-1432.
[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Message for Lent 2009,
[4] Canon 1249.
[5] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 207.

Homily - 24 February 2019 - The Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today, the Lord Jesus gives us, if you will, our marching orders in the Christian life: “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28). If we do this, then everything he says afterwards will follow. Here in these islands, in the lives of Father Damien and of Mother Marianne, we have two outstanding examples of how to keep Jesus’ command to love our enemies; following them, we, too, can become “children of the Most High” (Luke 6:35).

Contrary to so much of our society’s understanding of love, love does not consist so much in feelings or sentiments, as much as it does in the will and in action. Love is the desire for the good of another person, together with a willingness to bring it about. We see this in the Lord’s further subcommands, if you will, to do things to our enemies: we are to do good to them, we are to bless them, and we are to pray for them; in other words, we love our enemies precisely by doing good to them, by blessing them, and by praying for them. In this, we see that love entails actions to bring about the good, even, and especially, at loss to myself. “In the end, in fact, love alone enables us to live, and love is always also suffering: it matures in suffering and provides the strength to suffer for good without taking oneself into account at the actual moment.”[1]

When the Lord tells says to us, “love your enemies,” he is “proposing his model of life to [us] in radical terms.”[2] Because it seems so unnatural for us to love our enemies - we would much rather revile them, slander them, and gossip about them - we have to ask what it means to love our enemies. 

If we take Jesus seriously and give his words careful consideration, we will see that

...Christ's proposal is realistic because it takes into account that in the world there is too much violence, too much injustice, and therefore that this situation cannot be overcome except by countering it with more love, with more goodness. This "more" comes from God: it is his mercy which was made flesh in Jesus and which alone can "tip the balance" of the world from evil to good, starting with that small and decisive "world" which is the human heart.[3]

Is this not what Father Damien and Mother Marianne both set out to do, to tip the balance from evil to good, and is this not, in fact, what they achieved at both Kalawao and at Kalaupapa? Yes, they both sought to love their enemies, such as they were, so that their enemies, too, might become children of the Most High.

When Father Damien arrived at Kalawao in 1873, he found the settlement to be a land of vice and he quickly set about uprooting the sin to plant virtue so that the good could flourish. His actions were not always welcome and he surely thought often about Jesus’ counsel to “do good to those who hate you.” This led him to provide medicines and bandages to the patients, regardless of who they were, and even to build their coffins and dig their graves, all because he loved his enemies and wanted what was good for them.

As news of his mission spread and he made the needs of his mission know, the world responded with great generosity, causing his superiors at the Board of Health and even within his religious community, to become jealous of him. Thinking he sought to make them look bad, they said many uncharitable things about him and to him. And though Father Damien sometimes reacted with justifiable anger, still he remembered to “bless those who curse you,” all because he loved his enemies and wanted what was good for them.

When Mother Marianne and her Sisters arrived at Honolulu in 1883, they were sent to serve at the Kakaako Branch Hospital. For three years, they were refused permission to go to Kalawao because it was deemed women were not made of strong enough stuff to live among the settlement and she remembered to frequently “pray for those who mistreat you,” all because she loved her enemies and wanted what was good for them.

Father Damien and Mother Marianne could have responded to their enemies in any number of ways, in ways that would have perpetuated the violence and the injustice, yet they chose instead to follow Jesus’ radical model of life and transformed that lawless land into a land of love.

Our own enemies may not be as strong or as numerous as theirs, but we surely all have someone with whom it is not easy to get along, someone who always seems to be antagonistic towards us. These two Saints of Hawai’i show us the way forward, they show us how to follow Jesus’ model of life. Indeed, they show us that

Love of one's enemy constitutes the nucleus of the "Christian revolution", a revolution not based on strategies of economic, political or media power: the revolution of love, a love that does not rely ultimately on human resources but is a gift of God which is obtained by trusting solely and unreservedly in his merciful goodness. Here is the newness of the Gospel which silently changes the world! Here is the heroism of the "lowly" who believe in God's love and spread it, even at the cost of their lives.[4]

Let us, then, each look to the example of Father Damien and Mother Marianne and learn from them how to love our enemies and become true children of the Most Hight. Amen.


[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Clergy of Aosta, 25 July 2005.
[2] Ibid., Angelus Address, 18 February 2007.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.

18 February 2019

Homily - The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - 17 February 2019

The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Dear brothers and sisters,

You have certainly heard by now that Theodore Edgar McCarrick, onetime Archbishop of Washington, D.C. and Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, has been dismissed from the clerical state because he committed the ecclesiastical crimes of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”[1] Without going into detail about what Mr. McCarrick did, I want to speak with you today about what it means to be dismissed from the clerical state; as a matter of great concern for the Church and for individual members of the faithful, it is a most serious matter that deserves our attention, in part, because so much of the media, both secular and Catholic, do not quite get everything correct in their reports.

When a man is ordained to the Sacred Order of Priests, he is configured “to Christ by a special grace of the Holy Spirit, so that he may serve as Christ's instrument for his Church. By ordination one is enabled to act as a representative of Christ, Head of the Church, in his triple office of priest, prophet, and king.[2] “[T]his share in Christ's office is granted once for all. The sacrament of Holy Orders … confers an indelible spiritual character and cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily.”[3] By virtue of this indelible mark, the priest receives the sacred power to act in persona Christi capitas, to act in the person of Christ the head, when he celebrates the Eucharist and hears confessions. By virtue of his ordination, every priest stands in the midst of the Church in the place of Christ, who is the Head and Shepherd of the Church.[4]

Regrettably, we know that not every priest is always faithful in carrying out the sacred duties entrusted to him and to which he commits himself at ordination. Priests are not always faithful in small matters and sometimes – fewer times, thanks be to God – they are unfaithful in grave matters. By this we see that the

presence of Christ in the minister is not to be understood as if the [priest] were preserved from all human weaknesses, the spirit of domination, error, [or] even sin. The power of the Holy Spirit does not guarantee all acts of ministers in the same way. While this guarantee extends to the sacraments, so that even the minister's sin cannot impede the fruit of grace, in many other acts the minister leaves human traces that are not always signs of fidelity to the Gospel and consequently can harm the apostolic fruitfulness of the Church.[5]

The grave infidelity of a few priests – and even Cardinals - is disheartening and lamentable and should serve as a reminder that each of us is daily in need of the Lord’s merciful love and that we must each cooperate with his grace if we are to attain salvation. We must always remember that “the Lord watches over the way of the just, but the way of the wicked vanishes” (Psalm 1:6).

What, then, does it mean to be “laicized”? The Code of Canon Law views a priest in three respects: first, in terms of the Sacrament of Holy Orders he has received; second, in terms of his faculties – his permissions, we might say - to exercise his priestly ministry; and third, in terms of his relationship to a diocesan Bishop.

As we have already seen, once a priest is ordained his ordination cannot be removed or taken away; he is a priest forever because the sacred character, the indelible mark, he received is permanent (cf. Psalm 110:4). However, the faculties a priest receives either from the law itself or from his local Bishop give him permission to exercise his priestly ministry; these faculties can be removed, either wholly or in part, and no priest can function without the approval and support of his Bishop, whose extension he is. This second and third aspect concerns the dismissal from the clerical state.

Dismissal from the clerical state, sometimes called laicization and what the media often calls defrocking, entails

a permanent separation from all ministry: [a dismissed priest] loses all rights and faculties associated with the priesthood and is not authorized to exercise ministry in the name of the Church; he is also dispensed from all obligations arising from his ordination to the priesthood, most notably the obligations of celibacy; and he loses his "incardination," that is, the special bond or attachment to the diocese or religious institute for which he was ordained.[6]

A priest dismissed from the clerical state is still a priest, although he may neither function as such, nor present himself as a priest; he is forbidden to exercise the sacred power entrusted to him at his ordination.

The term “laicization” is not meant as a derogatory statement toward the laity; it is rather a statement of fact. There are two states of life in which all Catholics live; a Catholic is either a cleric or a layman. A man who is dismissed from the clerical state no longer lives as a cleric but as a layman, even though he is still a cleric.[7] There is not a third state in which he can live; for which reason this process is commonly called “laicization.”

What are we to say then about the sacraments a dismissed priest performed? What of the baptisms he administered, the marriages he witnessed, the Masses he celebrated? Are they invalid? Was Christ not present in them? To say so would be to limit the power of God. We know that even through a sinful priest

Christ's gift is not thereby profaned: what flows through him keeps its purity, and what passes through him remains dear and reaches the fertile earth.... the spiritual power of the sacrament is indeed comparable to light: those to be enlightened receive it in its purity, and if it should pass through defiled beings, it is not itself defiled.[8]

The power of the sacraments is unaffected by the sinfulness of the priests who celebrated them, which is a cause of hope for us.

Today, then, as the sins of another are so publicly before us, let each of us look upon our own sins and seek the Lord’s mercy through the sacrament of Penance. Let each of us fear the name of the Lord, remembering that “cursed is the one who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:5). Let us persevere in humility, in faith, hope and love, so that we might each have “hearts that are just and true.”[9] This is, of course, simply another way of saying we need to let the Beatitudes take deep root in our hearts.

The Lord Jesus pronounced the eight Beatitudes after “raising his eyes toward his disciple” (Luke 6:20). Surely, he turns his eyes upon us today, who are also his disciples. Indeed, we might say that

The individual Beatitudes are the fruit of this looking upon the disciples; they describe what might be called the actual condition of Jesus’ disciples: They are poor, hungry, weeping men they are hated and persecuted (cf. Lk 6:2off.). These statements are meant to list practical, but also theological, attributes of the disciples of Jesus – of those who have set out to follow Jesus and have become his family.[10]

As members of his family, as members of his Mystical Body, we are each called to share fully in his life, to be his disciples not simply by name, but also by act.

For this reason,

the Beatitudes express the meaning of discipleship. They become more concrete and real the more completely the disciple dedicates himself to service in the way that is illustrated for us in the life of Saint Paul. What the Beatitudes mean cannot be expressed in purely theoretical terms; it is proclaimed in the life and suffering, and in the mysterious joy, of the disciple who gives himself completely to following the Lord.[11]

Indeed, we know that “the disciple is bound to the mystery of Christ,” a mystery displayed in the Beatitudes as “they call us into communion with him.”[12]

As the world presents to us those who failed to keep the Beatitudes in their hearts, Mother Church is beginning to present to us one who, we think, did keep the Beatitudes in his heart: the Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton. The Positio on his life, a document that argues he lived the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, as well as the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance to a heroic degree, has been unanimously approved by the Historical and Theological Commissions of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. His Positio is now with Pope Francis. If he, too, finds that Father Gus imitated the life of Jesus and kept the Beatitudes in his heart to a heroic degree, the Holy Father will name him a Venerable, opening the way to Beatification and Canonization.

Father Gus was born a slave in Missouri, but escaped from slavery when he just a boy, with his mother and two siblings. Growing up in Quincy, he encountered some racism, but also fell in love with the Catholic faith and desired to be a priest. After receiving numerous rejection letters from seminaries and religious orders across the country, he went to Rome to be ordained as a missionary. Once a priest, he was sent back to Quincy where he quietly and patiently endured racist hatred from a brother priest, and from some others. When it became too much to bear, Father Gus went to Chicago, where he died of heatstroke at the age of 43 in 1897. He requested to be buried in Quincy, where his body remains today. Above all, the witness of his faith shows us that “Jesus brings joy into the midst of affliction.”[13] Amen.


[1]Holy See: McCarrick dismissed from the clerical state for abuse,” Vatican News, 16 February 2019. Accessed 16 February 2019.
[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1581. Cf. canon 290.
[3] Idib., 1582.
[4] Cf. ibid., 1549.
[5] Ibid., 1550.
[6] Gregory Ingels, J.C.D., “Loss of the Clerical State.” Accessed 16 November 2007. Cf. canon 292.
[7] Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1583.
[8] Ibid., 1584.
[9] Collect for the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time, Roman Missal.
[10] Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 71.
[11] Ibid., 73-74.
[12] Ibid., 74.
[13] Ibid., 72.