31 May 2020

Homily: What's wrong with the world?


The Solemnity of Pentecost

Dear brothers and sisters,

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

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

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 This unity of faith superseded any differences that might otherwise remain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

03 May 2020

Homily - The Fourth Sunday of Easter - 3 May 2020


The Fourth Sunday of Easter (A)
The 57th World Day of Prayer for Vocations

Dear brothers and sisters,

The Lord Jesus calls himself “the gate for the sheep” through which the sheep “will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” (John 10:7, 9). It is easy enough to understand what he means by the sheep: he means those who hear his voice, who know his voice, and who follow his voice; he means those who are his disciples, those who strive to learn from him and to imitate him (cf. John 10:14, 3). To recognize Christ Jesus to be the gate for us requires us first to take to his words to heart, to allow them to pierce our hearts, so as to be led to “repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).

It is likewise simple enough to understand what he means by calling himself the gate: he is the door, the entrance, the way (cf. John 14:6). He makes no mention of any other gate, of any other door, of any other way. He alone is the way to his pasture, but what is this pasture which he opens up to his sheep?

To understand something of his pasture, we can turn to the twenty-third Psalm, one of the most beloved passages of the Sacred Scriptures. In this ancient hymn, King David - himself a shepherd - sang, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; he refreshes my soul” (Psalm 23:3). Reflecting on his own time spent with his father’s flocks, during which David sought to lead the sheep to peaceful pastures, he realized that the Lord did the same for him. The young king of Israel understood that “he who has God as his shepherd is always granted this abundance, the image of all good gifts.”[1]

The Fathers of the Church saw in this image of the pasture the image of the Church herself. This is why Saint Ignatius of Antioch could say that Christ “is the door of the Father through which Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets, the apostles and the church all enter. All these enter into the unity of God.”[2] The Fathers therefore saw a connection with Christ the gate for the sheep with the waters of Baptism, which is why Saint Augustine said, “he nurtured me beside the water of baptism, where those who have lost their soundness and strength are made new.”[3]

When Jesus says that the sheep enter through him, he says the sheep enter into the Church, the Body of Christ, through him. We do this through our participation in his Sacraments, principally through Baptism. But what does he mean when he speaks of those going out through him who find pasture? He surely does not mean that we can abandon the Church – which he established – through him.

When he considered these words of the Savior, Saint Augustine said:

I might say, indeed, that we enter when we engage in some inward exercise of thought; and go out, when we take to some active work without: and since, as the apostle says, Christ dwells in our hearts by faith, to enter by Christ is to give ourselves to thought in accordance with that faith; but to go out by Christ is, in accordance also with that same faith, to take to outside works, that is to say, in the presence of others (cf. Ephesians 3:17).[4]

These outside works, of course, are the works of the disciples of Jesus; they are the works of evangelization by which we help others to hear and recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd, to repent, and to enter into the Church through him.

We can only go out in this way if we conform our lives to Christ, if we ourselves become doors. We cannot forget that

In the tabernacle, the altar is, so to speak, always alive, always remains Eucharist, always the entrance and ascent of Jesus Christ. Through him the church is always Church and never a lifeless house in which nothing is happening at the moment. He is there always. Over the centuries, it was always the great and beautiful thing about our churches that they stood open, that the door was really a door. It can stand open only if we ourselves stand open and our life constantly leads to him, when we, too, in our everyday routine have time for the mystery of living closeness.[5]

Once we have entered through Christ into his quiet pastures of overflowing serenity, how can we not desire to help others also find his pasture? How can we leave them outside the gate, stumbling about in the wild, outside of his abundant and merciful love?

For this reason, on this fifty-seventh World Day of Prayer for Vocations, the Holy Father Pope Francis urges all of the faithful “to overcome all weariness through faith in Christ, and to make of their lives a song of praise for God, for their brothers and sisters, and for the whole world.”[6] As anxiety sets hold of some of us and as others of us are growing restless, these are words we should all take to heart.

We cannot allow ourselves to be overcome by weariness, but must instead remember the counsel of Saint Peter: “If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps” (I Peter 2:20). Rather than allowing ourselves to become despondent and agitated, we should always strive to see the “goodness and kindness” of the Lord and so to enter into his pasture (Psalm 23:6). With Saint Augustine, let us say to Jesus, “I shall not be afraid of evil happenings, because you live in my heart through faith; you are with me now, to ensure that when this shadow of death has passed away, I may be with you.”[7] Amen.


[1] Romano Guardini, The Wisdom of the Psalms, Stella Lange, trans. (Chicago: Henry Regner Company, 1968), 94
[2] Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Philadelphians, 9. In Thomas C. Oden, et al, eds., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Vol. IVa: John 1-10 (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2006), 343.
[3] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Exposition of Psalm 22 (23), 2. In Saint Augustine: Expositions of the Psalms, Vol I, John E. Rotelle, ed., Maria Boulding, trans. (Hyde Park, New York: New City Press, 2000), 244.
[4] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the Gospel of John, 45.15.
[5] Joseph Ratzinger, Signs of New Life: Homilies on the Church’s Sacraments, Michael J. Miller, trans. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2020), 24.
[6] Pope Francis, Message for the 57th World Day of Prayer for Vocations.
[7] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Exposition of Psalm 22 (23), 4. In Saint Augustine: Expositions of the Psalms, 244.

30 April 2020

Islamic State Ongoing Updates - April 2020

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25 April 2020

16 April 2020

15 April 2020

26 April 2020

Homily - 26 April 2020 - The Third Sunday of Easter


The Third Sunday of Easter (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

The Psalmist sings today, “I set the Lord ever before me,” which is another way of saying that the focus of his thoughts, the focus of his attention, is the Lord; everything else – however important it might be – is secondary (Psalm 16:8). In an age of constant distractions battling for our attention, it is sometimes difficult for us to set the Lord always before us.

When we come to this recognition of ourselves, when we come to realize that we all too often put other things or people before us as the focus of our attention, it can be a moment of great grace. For in such a moment, the possibility of refocusing our lives and hearts opens before us. In such a moment, we would do well to remember the admonition of Saint Jerome: “Consider here that it is always in our power to set the Lord before us.”[1] But how do we do this?

Those two disciples who walked along the way to Emmaus were despairing. “But we were hoping he would be the one to redeem Israel,” they said; “and beside all this, it is now the third day since this took place” (Luke 24:21). Saint Augustine tells us the reason they despaired “was that they had seen him dead. He, however, opened the Scriptures to them, so that they would realize that if he hadn’t died, he couldn’t be the Christ.”[2] This is why the Doctor of Grace goes on to ask them, “Why have you given up hope, just because you have seen him crucified, because you have looked at him hanging there, because you have thought him weak?”[3] They saw his wounds, but they did not recognize their power.

Despair, of course, is always something to be avoided, because it “is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt.”[4] Those two disciples despaired because they thought all was ended; they saw the Lord Jesus die, but they failed to understand what his death truly meant; they failed to remember his Resurrection. They did not keep the Lord ever before them.

If they had kept the Lord ever before them, they might have seen what Saint Bonaventure found in the Crucifixion of the Lord. He says to us:

If at times something sad happens, something bad, something tedious, something bitter, and certainly if sometimes a good thing happens by chance, then you should immediately look to the crucified Jesus hanging on the cross. Look there at the crown of thorns, the iron nails, the lance in the side; gaze at the wounds in his feet and hands, the wounds in his head, his side, and his whole body, and recall that this is what he suffered for you, what he bore for you, so that you may know how much he loved you. Believe me: after gazing in such a way [at the crucifix], you will find that everything sad becomes joyful, everything heavy becomes light, everything boring lovable, everything harsh sweet and soothing.[5]

It goes without saying that we cannot forget that “God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24). At the same time, however, to recognize him in his Resurrection is to know that he was Crucified for us. This is why he still bears his wounds, the marks of his love, on his glorified body; he does not want us to forget the unfathomable depths of his mercy.

When we no longer keep the Lord before us, when we take our eyes off of him and away from the signs of his love, we begin to sink amidst the storms of life, just as those two disciples did. Saint Augustine teaches us that

The Lord’s absence is not an absence. Have faith, and the one you cannot see is with you. Those two, even when the Lord was talking to them, did not have faith, because they didn’t believe he had risen. Nor did they have any hope that he could rise again. They had lost faith, lost hope. They were walking along, dead, with Christ alive. They were walking along, dead, with life itself. Life was walking along with them, but in their hearts life had not yet been restored.[6]

With so much extra time on our hands these days, how can we fail to keep the Lord ever before us? With fewer distractions vying for our attention, let us keep our attention focused on Christ Jesus and on the signs of his love so that through the glory of his Resurrection we may dwell in hope (cf. Acts 2:26; cf. Psalm 16:7). Amen.



[1] Saint Jerome, Homily on Psalm 15[16].
[2] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 236.2.
[3] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 236A.4
[4] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of the Lord of the Rings (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994), 262.
[5] Saint Bonaventure, On the Perfection of Life, VI.6.
[6] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 235.2-3.

23 April 2020

Is it possible to resume public Masses while maintaining the social distance?

I know a lot of Catholics are upset they cannot attend the Holy Mass and/or receive the Eucharist. I share that sentiment. And it breaks my heart everyday that I cannot offer the Mass with the faithful, as I wrote just a few days ago.

Presently some friends are endeavoring to encourage priests to violate the Governor's Executive Order limiting gatherings to more than ten people. To this notion, I remind them of Saint Paul's admonition: "Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God" (Romans 13:1). Priests, particularly, in this situation are subordinate on the one hand to the civil authority and, on the other, to the authority of their Bishops, most of whom have suspended the public celebration of the Holy Mass.

Those who want their priests to publicly celebrate the Holy Mass say we can do so while keeping the social distance (which we do know helps stop the spread of the coronavirus), but is this actually true? Join me, if you will, for a little thought experiment.

For the sake of argument

Let us presume two very unlikely scenarios in this thought experiment:
  1. That the Governor will reinstate the previous limit on gatherings consisting of more than 50 people (we are currently at 10); and,
  2. That the Governor will include religious worship among the list of tolerated essential duties.
Given these two presumptions, is it possible to resume the public celebration of the Holy Mass while maintaining the required social distance?

Presently, I am Pastor of two parishes: St. Augustine in Ashland and St. Peter in Petersburg. Since I reside in the rectory in Ashland, we will use St. Augustine church in this thought experiment.

Gatherings of not more than 10 people

Before we consider larger gatherings, let us presume the Governor includes religious services among the essential tasks, but keeps the gathering size to not more than 10 people.

Given this, nine parishioners could join me at the Holy Mass, but who gets to decide who gets to attend and how often? Do you do it by lottery? On a first come, first serve basis? Alphabetically? Or some other basis? Frankly, I hope not to be put in such a position because the avoidance of the appearance of favoritism would be very difficult. 

Gatherings of not more than 50 people

St. Augustine's has just one Mass each Sunday (the Church's ideal) with an average attendance weekly attendance between 85 and 100 people.

Because we cannot reasonably plan for fewer people to return to Mass and should account for an increase in attendance (we have seen people popping into the church for private prayer whom we do not recognize), let us presume a congregation of 110 people keeping 6 feet apart from each other.

Given the length of the pews and the distance between the pews, I could put 3 people in every fourth pew, for a total of 30 in the pews. I could additionally put 2 put in the sanctuary, 2 people in the choir loft, and 3 people in the vestibule (provided no one uses the restroom, which is unlikely). That makes a total of 37 people per Mass and at least 3 Masses per weekend, just at St. Augustine's.

St. Peter's has two Masses per weekend and has an average attendance between 170 and 190 people per weekend. At best, I think I might be able to squeeze 60 into that church while maintaining the social distance, which means at least another 3 Masses per weekend, just at St. Peter's.

Given these assumptions, that would mean that I would have to celebrate at least 6 Masses per weekend, which is forbidden by canon 905 § 2, which states: "If there is a shortage of priests, the local ordinary ca allow priests to celebrate twice a day for a just cause, or if pastoral necessity requires it, even three times on Sundays and holy days of obligation." Given the current law, celebrating 6 Masses each week is simply not an option.

Outdoor Masses

Others have suggested outdoor Masses at which people drive their cars, park the cars six feet apart, and remain inside the cars during the Mass. This poses considerable logistical considerations (how many parishes are able to broadcast on a radio frequency to be picked up in cars or loudspeaker system capable of sufficient volume without becoming a noise nuisance?).

Other considerations in such a situation are even more practical in nature. For example, St. Augustine's does not have a parking lot; parishioners park on the side of the streets adjacent to the church, so an outdoor Mass would not work for us.

Conclusion


Given all of this, as long as we are required to keep to social distancing, I do not see how it is possible to resume the public celebration of the Holy Mass within our churches; our churches are big enough and we do not have enough priests.

Until such time as an arrangement can be found, I ask you to be patient and steadfast in prayer. It breaks your priests' hearts as much as it breaks yours that we cannot administer the Eucharist to you. We miss you. We love you. We pray for you daily. And we long for the day we can gather with you again at the altar of the Lord.