26 February 2023

Homily - What does it mean to worship God?

The First Sunday of Lent (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today the Lord Jesus answers one of the temptations of the devil, saying, “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve” (Matthew 4:10; cf. Deuteronomy 6:13). Our Lord’s response raises an interesting question: what does it mean to worship God?

The word worship is a contraction of worth-ship, which, in former days, had the meaning of giving someone his or her worth. In the United Kingdom, for example, judges are still addressed as “Your Worship,” though no one pretends to worship a civil judge as a god. In the United States, of course, we refer to a judge as “Your Honor.”

Regardless of the form of address, both attempt to ascribe to one who has legitimate authority the dignity properly accorded to the office he or she holds. We seek to recognize their worth in other ways, as well, such as through their salary and the giving of places of honor at formal settings.

When it comes to God, however, how are we to determine his worth? What can we give to him that equals his worth? We can, of course, and should, give him thanks and praise for his many gifts which he so freely lavishes upon us, but can any of our words of gratitude or praise ever come close to equaling his worth? The answer is, without doubt, no; nothing we say can ever come close to approximating the majesty of God.

How is it, then, that we can worship God “in Spirit and truth” (John 4:23)? How can we give him what he is worth?

The only thing that can equal God is God himself. This is why Christ Jesus – who is God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God – offered himself on the Cross to the Father. He offered God to God; he gave to God what he is worth and so made the perfect act of worship. This is why the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer’s ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God” (Hebrews 9:13-14).

When he offered himself to the Father on the Cross, Christ Jesus “showed himself [to be] the Priest, the Altar, and the Lamb of sacrifice.”[1] And because his offering of himself was perfect and complete, his worship of the Father is not repeated; rather, his worship of the Father is continuous throughout all time; it does not end and we are called to enter into to it (cf. Hebrews 7:28).

This is an important aspect to consider because it very much concerns what we do here at the Lord’s altar. We do not have to wonder how to worship the Father correctly, because the Lord has given us the form of worship he desires. At the Last Supper, that first Eucharistic celebration, the Lord Jesus commanded his Apostles to “do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19).

When he gathered in the Upper Room with his disciples and instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist, Jesus “anticipate[d] and [made] present the sacrifice of the Cross and the victory of the resurrection.”[2] What is more, in the offering of the holy sacrifice of the Mass, the Church “presents to the Father the offering of his Son which reconciles us with him.”[3] Jesus gives himself to his Church in this way so Christians in every time and place may offer him to the Father and so worship him in spirit and truth. 

Faithful to his command, we gather each week on the Lord’s Day. We listen to the Word of God. We pray for the needs of the world. We offer bread and wine to the Father, just as Jesus did at the Last Supper. But we also seek to offer ourselves to the Father, with the gifts of bread and wine

In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of his Body. The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ’s sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offering.[4]

The Lord transforms these humble gifts into his own Body and Blood, which we offer to the Father on this altar as Jesus offered his Body and Blood on the Cross. We seek to offer ourselves with the bread and wine so that we might be joined to Jesus’ self-offering to the Father. When we remain united to Jesus, our own self-offering to the Father is made complete and we worship God in spirit and in truth.

In these days of Lent, let us beg the Lord to “give us the right dispositions … to make these offerings” of bread and wine - and of ourselves.[5] If we make these offerings with the right dispositions in mind and heart, the Lord will truly create a clean heart for us; he will open our mouths, and we will proclaim his praise for we will have rightly honored his worth (cf. Psalm 51:12, 17). Amen.

[1] Preface V of Easter, Roman Missal.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum caritatis, 10.

[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1354.

[4] Ibid., 1368.

[5] Prayer Over the Offerings, First Sunday of Lent, Roman Missal.

22 February 2023

Homily for Ash Wednesday: From the ashes a fire shall be woken

Ash Wednesday

Dear brothers and sisters,

The ashes which will soon be placed upon our heads are meant to help us “acknowledge we are but ashes and shall return to dust.”[1] To say that we are ashes is to acknowledge that we were once set afire; it is to acknowledge that the flame that once enlivened us has grown cold.

On the day of our baptisms, you and I were enlightened by Christ and our godparents received out baptismal candle. They, whose task it is to guide us in the Christian life, were told, “this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly.”[2] If we are honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge that we all too often have allowed the light of faith to grow dim. Some have even allowed it to be extinguished. But we are not without hope, because “from the ashes a fire shall be woken;” a dying fire can yet be fanned into flame (cf. II Timothy 1:6).[3]

Saint Augustine once prayed, “O love, you ever burn and are never extinguished. O charity, my God, set me on fire.”[4] He wanted to be set afire with the love of God because he knew that Jesus said, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing” (Luke 12:49)!

The ashes that will soon be placed upon our heads are a call for us to not let the fire of faith and the fire of love be completely snuffed out within this; throughout this season of Lent, it is our task to stoke the ashes so that the spiritual flame may again arise within us.

This holy fire can be stirred up within us with the pokers of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. As we take up these Lenten disciplines, we cannot neglect the reading of the Sacred Scriptures, for as Pope Francis has said: “The Gospel is just like fire: while it warms us with God’s love, it wants to burn our selfishness, to enlighten the dark sides of life, to consume the false idols that enslave us.”[5]

In these holy days, let us pray that through our devoted and humble reception of these blessed ashes the holy fire may be woken within us until we are engulfed with the fire of the love of God. Amen.

[1] Blessing and Distribution of Ashes, Roman Missal.

[2] Order of Baptism for One Child, 100.

[3] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Book 1, Chapter 10 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021), 171.

[4] Saint Augustine, Confessions, IX.40.

[5] Pope Francis, Angelus Address, 14 August 2022.

11 February 2023

Homily on being a Valentine

The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

We do not know when it first came into effect, but for quite some time during the reign of the emperors of Rome soldiers of that expansive empire were forbidden to enter into marriage.[1] Recognizing the injustice of such a situation a priest of the city of Rome stepped forward to enter into combat against the forces of the one who sought to outlaw what is natural to man. His name, of course, was Valentine. He became a solider, not of the Roman Empire, but of “the King of kings and the Lord of lords” (Revelation 17:14).

Knowing the beauty and importance of marriage for the good not only of the spouses but also of society, Saint Valentine ignored the order of the emperor Claudius and witnessed the marriages of imperial soldiers. For his defiance of that unjust law, Saint Valentine was beheaded on February 14th about the year a.d. 270. Saint Valentine is one of those “who walk in the law of the Lord” and so his “way is blameless” (Psalm119:1).

What was it that made him bold enough to disregard the emperor? What gave him the courage to defend marriage? Certainly Saint Valentine knew the teachings of the Lord Jesus regarding the indissolubility of marriage, which we heard again a moment ago (cf. Matthew 5:31-32). Valentine invited others to adhere to what the Epistle to the Hebrews says about marriage: “Let marriage be honored among all and the marriage bed be kept undefiled, for God will judge the immoral and the adulterers” (Hebrews 13:4).

One of the best ways for marriage to be honored among all is to combat lustful thoughts and desires. Having so many unmarried young men wandering about the empire likely provided them many opportunities to commit adultery in their hearts (cf. Matthew 5:13). Valentine sought to combat these desires by helping the soldiers enter the bond of marriage so that they might not be lost.

Saint Valentine also recognized marriage to be a very “great mystery” because, between the baptized, marriage is to be a reflection of the love of Christ Jesus for his Bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:32). The grace of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony helps husband and wife to be “companions in [the] shipwreck” of his life, guiding and helping each other to arrive at the safe harbor of heaven.[2] Regrettably, too few have this same understanding of marriage today because too many spouses view marriage as a means to attain their own happiness instead of viewing marriage as a means to attain the happiness of their spouse. Marriage ends up flipped on its head, no longer as a means of selfless love of the other, as a mirror of the love of Christ, but as a means for self-centered love.


Such a mindset, of course, flies in the face of love exemplified for us by Christ Jesus who shows us “love in its most radical form.”[3] It is only from the pierced side of Christ “that our definition of love must begin.”[4] Indeed, “in this contemplation the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move.”[5] Anything claiming to be spousal love that does not imitate the love of the Crucified Savior is inauthentic and is not worthy of the bond of marriage.


In grade school – and perhaps into adulthood – it is common to ask someone, “Will you be my Valentine?” At the unconscious heart of this question is a far more important question, namely, “Are you willing to shed your blood for love? Are we willing to allow me to shed my blood for love? Can we together creep deeper into the pierced side of Christ to learn what love truly is?”

Saint Valentine gave his life because he honored marriage and in the shedding of his blood he imitated the most radical form of love. Let us not be afraid to seek his intercession so that we, too, might be willing to do the same. May we also be imitators of that most radical form of love so that, trusting in God, we, too, may live (cf. Sirach 15:15). Amen.

[1] Cf. Brian Campbell, “The Marriage of Soldiers Under the Empire,” The Journal of Roman Studies v. 68 (1978), 153-166.

[2] J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 43, To Michael Tolkien, 6-8 March 1941.

[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, 12.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.