27 November 2021

Homily - The First Sunday of Advent - 28 November 2021

The First Sunday of Advent (C) 

Dear brothers and sisters,

As secular society begins its celebration of Christmas – several weeks early and largely without the Christ Child – Mother Church begins a new liturgical year. It is therefore good to ask, what is the liturgical year, and what is its purpose?

At its core, the liturgical year is founded on the life of Christ Jesus. This new liturgical year begins today, on this First Sunday of Advent; not of Christmas, but of Advent. In this new year,

…the Gospel of Luke will accompany us on our path of knowledge of the Lord and growth in faith.


In this year we will live all the mysteries of Christ’s life, because year after year, His life always calls for more room in … us, so that it becomes increasingly our life; and, like every year, our journey begins with the time of Advent, a time when, step by step, we approach the encounter with the Lord Who manifests Himself in the flesh.[1] 

This is why it is important for each of us to follow the liturgical calendar, not just here in the parish church, but especially in the domestic churches of our homes.

In the course of the liturgical year, we contemplate each aspect of the life of the Redeemer. Perhaps surprisingly, the liturgical year both begins and ends with the contemplation of the Second Coming of Christ who will judge the living and the dead. This is a way of keeping before us the ever important admonition that we must be prepared to meet the Lord when he comes, which is to say that we must so make room for him within us during the course of our earthly life that we are found to be like him when we at last stand before him.

Christ in majesty with the Evangelists, Codex Bruchsal 1, Bl. 1v.

In between these contemplations of the Second Coming is the contemplation of the other important moments in the life of Christ: his Birth, Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension; and then, scattered throughout the liturgical year, the rest of his life unfolds before us, including both his wondrous deeds and his strange teachings.

The purpose of recalling the mysteries of the Lord’s life in this way is found in these words of Pope Saint Leo the Great:

Beloved the remembrance of what the Savior did for mankind is most useful to us, provided that what we venerate in faith we also receive and imitate. For in the communication of the mysteries of Christ to us, there is present both the power of grace and the encouragement which teaching gives, so that we may follow by our deeds him whom we confess in the spirit of faith.[2] 

We have been given the liturgical year to help us declutter our hearts and make more and more room for him in them, to follow him in faith, and to become more and more like by resisting temptation and rooting out sin from our hearts. Let us, then, receive this liturgical year as a great gift and strive to use it well so that we enter more deeply into the life of Christ who comes to us in every celebration of the Eucharist.

If we enter into the liturgical year well, we will notice that it begins this year as it always does: with a warning of judgment on the Last Day.

It is always striking to begin Advent in this way, for inevitably Advent puts Christmas in mind, and in many places the wider culture is already conjuring up the gentle images of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem. But the liturgy takes us to such images by means of others that remind us that the same Lord born in Bethlehem ‘will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,’ as the Creed puts it. On this Sunday … [the liturgy] remind[s] the Christian people that they need always prepare themselves for this coming and judgment. Indeed, Advent itself is that preparation: his coming at Christmas is intimately connected with his coming on the last day.[3] 

So it is that we hear the Lord Jesus say to us today, “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). The second half of this season of Advent is given to us to prepare to celebrate the Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, but the first half of this season of Advent is given to us to prepare to say to him when he comes, “Show us, Lord, your love, and grant us your salvation” (Psalm 85:8).

If we understand that the Lord Jesus will come as our judge, it is perhaps no wonder that “people will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Luke 21:26). Those who will be filled with such terror at the Lord’s coming are those who have are not prepared to meet him because they were busy with less important tasks; when they realize he is coming, there will no longer be time to prepare.

Still, we might well wonder why Jesus tells us, “But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand” (Luke 21:28). If the day of his coming will be so frightful, ought we not instead fall down on our faces before him? Why does he tell us to stand? Why does he tell us to raise our heads? He commands us thus so that those who are prepared may look upon the beauty of his Face and welcome him in love because he who comes as our Judge is also our Savior.

In these initial days of the season of Advent, we cannot forget that Christ the Lord

…calls his hearers to conversion and faith, but also to watchfulness. In prayer the disciples keep watch, attentive to Him Who Is and Him Who Comes, in memory of his first coming in the lowliness of the flesh, and in the hope of his second coming in glory. In communion with their Master, the disciples’ prayer is a battle; only by keeping watch in prayer can one avoid falling into temptation.[4] 

Let us, then, dear brothers and sisters, use these days of preparation well, not in feverishly amassing earthly treasures that fail to satisfy, but in amassing spiritual treasures that will not pass away (cf. Matthew 6:20); not in impatient anticipation, but in the exercise of self-control so that we might not “become drowsy from … the anxieties of daily life” (Luke 21:34). Let us enter into a spirit of watchful prayer that we might be more closely conformed to Christ Jesus.

If we keep to the liturgical calendar in this way, these days of watchfulness will not be wasted. Yes, indeed; “lift up your heads. Be joyous in heart. For, as the world is ending, with which you are not on friendly terms” – or, at least, with which you should not be on friendly terms – “the redemption, that you have been seeking, is near.”[5] May the Lord find us prepared when he comes. Amen.

[1] Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Homily, 28 November 2021. Accessed 27 November 2021. Available at https://www.lpj.org/apostolic-administrator/meditation-of-patriarch-pierbattista-pizzaballa-first-sunday-of-advent-year-c.html?fbclid=IwAR374E-jfzJMqqiLmexS66fLE-ogafGtcm8alJhMeGbngNCSlwQrjfo5wVs

[2] Pope Saint Leo the Great, Sermon 37.1.

[3] Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Homiletic Directory, 80.

[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2612.

[5] Pope Saint Gregory the Great, Homily, 1.3.

21 November 2021

Homily - How is Jesus king of humanity and of the universe?

 The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe 

Dear brothers and sisters,

Each liturgical feast of the Lord Jesus Christ is rooted in another feast of the Lord Jesus.

Thus on Corpus Christi we take a longer look at the institution of the Holy Eucharist, one of the motifs of the Thursday of Holy Week. On the Sacred Heart we consider the implications of the piercing of the heart of Jesus on the Cross, one of the elements of Good Friday. Today we are celebrating the Kingship of Christ which is one of the elements to be found in the feast of the Ascension when we remember the exaltation of the risen Christ as Lord.

At the Ascension the disciples, who have just seen Christ lifted up into God’s glory, are told that he will return in the same way – that is, in the glory of the Second Coming. So today’s celebration is also turned toward his second Advent, closing the liturgical year and orienting us toward the purple season when we think in hope about that Second Coming with its awesome implications.[1]

Today’s Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, is, though, rooted in yet another mystery of the life of Jesus, that of his Incarnation and Birth in Bethlehem.

Before we explore this connection, I hope you will be patient with me as I nerd out perhaps a little more than usual. It is important to first consider what it means to be a king and what we mean by the word universe.

Kingship is something I have always been fond of, or at least intrigued by. Growing up, I loved the legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table; I built bigger and better castles out of Lego bricks each day for my mini-figure king; and my brother, cousins, neighbors and I pretended I was a king out in the fields around our house; now I can great joy in the stories of the return of the king of Gondor.

As Americans, we have a distorted notion of kingship, largely formed by half-truths we learned about our Revolutionary War and all that. But even non-Americans often have a distorted notion of kingship, formed largely by the unvirtuous acts of royals through the centuries. At its inception in human societies, kingship, however, was something virtuous and noble. To see this, we can look to the origin of the word king.

The Latin word which we translate as king is rex. “Rex has its roots in the common ancestor of most European languages, associated with stretching, thus keeping straight (di-rect, cor-rect) and then governing.”[2] Even our English word “king” is itself telling. It comes from the old German kuning, a word related to kin and family, and means a leader of a people. Through its etymology, “the Anglo-Saxon "cyning" from cyn or kin, and -ing meaning "son of" evokes images of long-gone tribes choosing as leader a favoured son who is mystically representative of their common identity.”[3] A true king, then, is a leader who comes from among a people to guide and govern them along the straight path. But if Jesus is the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, how is it that he can be our king? How is it that he comes from us? To understand this, we have to return to Bethlehem.

In the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Only Begotten Son of God took our humanity upon himself for our salvation. Because of the Original Sin of Adam and Eve – which we have all inherited from our first parents – humanity owed an infinite debt to God that we cannot pay because we are mere finite mortals. Even so, because it was a debt owed by humanity, only a human could pay it. What were we to do? Looking with love upon our plight, the Father sent his Son to pay the debt we could not pay; the sinless Son of God became man to pay the debt of sinful humanity. He redeemed us – he bought us back – with the price of his own Blood shed upon the Cross. This is why the mystery of his Incarnation and Birth and so closely tied to his Death at Calvary, as well as to his Resurrection and Ascension; indeed, they cannot be separated.

Returning to today’s Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, how is it that Jesus can claim the title of king? He can do so in two ways. He can claim the title of King of Israel because he is of the royal blood of the line of King David. The very title of Christ
“refers to God’s anointed king descended from David.”[4] But you and I are not members of the Kingdom of Israel, nor do we live within its borders; how then can Jesus be our king? He can do so because of our common humanity; he is the true representative of the human family because he shows us what it means to be human and how to walk along the narrow road that leads to salvation, to eternal life with God.

Now, though, we have another question: what does it mean to be king of the universe, and what is the universe?

Having been a boy in the 1980s, the first thing that comes to mind when I hear the word universe is He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. After He-Man, I think of things like Star Wars and so the title of today’s Solemnity always strikes me as a bit odd. But the origin of the word universe can help clear things up. It comes from Latin roots, unus meaning one and versus meaning to turn back or to convert or to change. Universe, then, means the totality of all that exists, from plants to animals to humans; from countries to continents; from planets and stars to solar systems and galaxies; everything that is created is part of the universe. But how can a human make such a bold and extensive claim to kingship? Christ Jesus is king of it all because, human though he is, he is also divine; he is the one who created all that exists and he has come to convert it all, to bring it all back into unity in himself. He alone can accomplish what others can only dream of.

Given all of this, we might think this feast has its origins in medieval Europe, but it does not; it was first established by Pope Pius XI in 1925. As countries throughout Europe and around the world were abandoning the idea of kingship, he called the whole Church to reconsider the kingship of Jesus Christ. Why?

In his enclyclical letter in which he established this liturgical feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Pope Pius XI recalled the evils of his day:

...the seeds of discord sown far and wide; those bitter enmities and rivalries between nations, which still hinder so much the cause of peace; that insatiable greed which is so often hidden under a pretense of public spirit and patriotism, and gives rise to so many private quarrels; a blind and immoderate selfishness, making men seek nothing but their own comfort and advantage, and measure everything by these; no peace in the home, because men have forgotten or neglect their duty; the unity and stability of the family undermined; society in a word, shaken to its foundations and on the way to ruin.[5]

The Pope had in mind the rise of such movements as communism and the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. He hoped to stop the growth of such groups and draw people back to together under the common kingship of Christ. His hope was not achieved and society has only become more broken and divided, its foundations now well on the way to ruin, because we have, by and large, refused to truly place ourselves under Christ’s kingship; we have not given him dominion over every aspect of our lives; we have refused to follow his way of kingship, the way of love.

[1] Aidan Nichols, O.P., Year of the Lord’s Favour: A Homiliary for the Roman Liturgy: Volume 3: The Temporal Cycle, Sundays through the Year (Leominster: United Kingdom, 2012), 172-173.

[2] “The Vocabularist: Where did the word ‘king’ come from?”, BBC, 26 March 2015. Accessed 23 November 2018. Available at https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-32010563.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Peter S. Williamson, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: Revelation (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, Michigan: 2015), 44-45.

[5] Pope Pius XI, Quas primas, 24.

14 November 2021

Homily for the Anniversary of the Dedication of the Church

Dedication of St. Augustine Church

Dear brothers and sisters,

Just as parents celebrate the births of their children each year, so Mother Church celebrates the dedications her churches. The prayers and readings we hear today are different from those of the thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time because it was on this day that, one hundred and thirty-nine years ago, this church was dedicated to the glory of God and the honor of Saint Augustine of Hippo by the Most Reverend Peter Joseph Baltes, the second Bishop of Alton. Today is, we might say, the birthday of this church, the day on which “salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9).

St. Augustine Church, Ashland, Illinois
Dedication on November 14, 1882

As we celebrate this joyous anniversary of this charming little church, we cannot help but think of those who have gone before us in faith, those who, with such generous devotion, gave so much to make this dwelling place of God what it is. Nor can we forget those who have sustained and improved this sacred edifice since its dedication. We remember them with gratitude and we ask God, “who keep[s his] covenant of mercy with [his] servants who are faithful to [him] with their whole heart[s],” to pour out his loving forgiveness upon them and welcome them into his “festal gathering” (I Kings 8:23; Hebrews 12:22).

At the same time, we also remember the countless prayers offered here, lifted up to God in trust. How many people have here implored with Solomon, “…may you heed the prayer which I, your servant, offer in this place” (I Kings 8:29)? How many tears have been shed here, and how many shouts of praise have been uttered here? How many sacraments have been received here and how many souls have here been strengthened and fortified with the grace of God? We will never know, this side of heaven, yet this ignorance does not stop us from raising up joyful cries to God who has made this home his dwelling.

When he dedicated a church sometime between the years 391 and 395, our heavenly patron, Saint Augustine, said,

…just as this building has been made for us to gather in physically, so that building which we ourselves are is being constructed for God to live in spiritually. “For the temple of God,” says the apostle, “which is what you are, is holy” (I Corinthians 3:17).[1]

If you and I are still in the process of being built into the temple of God, when will we be dedicated? Saint Augustine’s answer is that we will be dedicated “when the Lord comes at the end of the age.”[2] This holy house, then, stands in testimony of the advent of God – both at Christmas and on the Last Day – and it stands as a summons to us to prepare ourselves to meet him when he comes.

On this penultimate Sunday of the liturgical year, Mother Church is urging us to prepare ourselves for the day when Christ Jesus says to us, “…today I must stay at your house” (Luke 19:5). If we wish for salvation to come to us on that day, we must be holy; we must be faithful to him with our whole hearts if we wish to enter his festal gathering. How do we become so prepared?

Before this church building was dedicated, laborers first had to cut down trees and quarry rocks. Trees had to be planed into beams and rocks hewn into shape. Everything had to be fitted together just right, having excesses taken away bit by bit. So it must be with us if we are to be fitted into the eternal dwelling of God.

While we are being built, you see, our lowliness is sighing up to him; but when we are dedicated, our glory will sing to him, because constructing a building means hard labor, while dedicating it means joy. As long as stones are being hewn from the mountains and logs from the forests, while they are being shaped and chiseled and fitted together, there is a lot of hard work and worry. But when the dedication of the completed building is celebrated, there is rejoicing and carefree satisfaction to replace the worries and the hard work. In the same way too, while people are being switched from a life of unbelief to faith, while whatever in them is twisted and not good is being pruned and cut, while tight fitting, peaceful and mutually respectful joints are being made, how many trials and temptations there are to be feared, how many tribulations to be endured!

But when the day comes for the dedication of the eternal house, when we are told, “Come, blessed by my Father, receive the kingdom which has been prepared for you from the beginning of the world” (Matthew 25:34), what exultant joy that will be, what carefree satisfaction! Glory will sing, and weakness will not be pierced. When the one who loves us and handed himself over for our sakes shows himself to us; and the one, who was manifested to humanity as what he was made in his mother, is manifested to them as God their maker which he was in the Father; when that eternal habitation himself enters his home now complete and furnished, established in unity, decked out with immortality; then he will fill all things, he will shine out in them all, “so that God may be everything for everyone” (I Corinthians 15:28).[3]

How do we, though, like those mountains and forests, become chiseled stones and cut beams to be fitted into the dwelling of God?

We can do so by following the example of Zacchaeus. “The Lord, who had already welcomed Zacchaeus in his heart, was now ready to be welcomed by [Zacchaeus] in his house… Grace is poured out, and faith starts working through love.”[4] May we, too, fully welcome Jesus into the homes of our hearts; may we respond to his grace with love. May we be so totally dedicated to him that salvation will come to us and we may be welcomed into the festal gathering of the angels and saints. Amen.

[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 337, 2.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., Sermon 174.5.