17 September 2023

Homily on the Need for Mercy, Not Wrath and Anger

 The Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

If one carefully observes our society, one might rightly be tempted to say the two words best describe our nation today: wrath and anger. Such an observation is not to say everyone is always marked by wrath and anger, but that the primary mindset of most people appears to be one of wrath and anger. A recent experience at the pharmacy confirmed this observation for me and that we are, in fact, a sinful nation.

Mistakenly thinking a prescription was ready (because I did not carefully read a text message), I went to the pharmacy to collect it and ended up waiting for it to be filled. I jokingly acknowledged my error, apologized, took a seat in the nearby chairs, and observed my fellow customers approach the counter and interact with the pharmacy staff. I was shocked and troubled at the level of rudeness exhibited on the part of the customers.

Of those who expressed wrath and anger toward the staff, only one or two had legitimate complaints, but the one to whom they yelled was not the one responsible. Even had the employee been at fault, there was no indication that these men and women were at all willing to “forgive [their] neighbor’s injustice” as the Lord commands us to do (Sirach 28:2). No feeling of mercy was to be found at all.

This did not seem to bother the customers. Not one other customer acknowledged a mistake on his or her own part – and there were several of these (one man did not bring his wallet and still expected to leave with his prescription without paying for it). Perhaps to their credit, the staff members took these verbal abuses in stride as a normal part of the job, yet their acceptance of this behavior is deeply distressing because it demonstrates where we are as a society; there is no mercy, only wrath and anger.

Such experiences are, regrettably, not limited to customers at a pharmacy; they are to be found in many different places, and not only on the part of customers. Wrath and anger have become part and parcel of our shared lives together as we have kicked mercy to the curb.

Let me be clear and direct, brothers and sisters: such behavior has no place in the hearts of men and women who profess faith in Jesus Christ and who claim to be Christians, his representatives in the world. We, as a society and as individuals, need to hear anew – and to take to heart – the words of Sirach: “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight” (Sirach 27:30). The Lord Jesus does not call us to embrace our sin, but to turn away from it; he calls us to embrace the cross and to live lives of mercy.

It seems we have either forgotten or willfully ignore the strong command Christ Jesus has given us: “I give you a new commandment, love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). Jesus has not loved us by yelling at us. He has not loved us by blaming us for the mistakes or sins of others. He has not loved us with wrath and anger. Rather, he loved us by accepting the Cross and dying upon it for our salvation. He loved us by showing mercy. This is the love you and I must imitate at every moment of every day. Anything less than this is beneath our dignity as adopted sons and daughters of God.

Sirach counsels us to “remember your last days, set enmity aside; remember death and decay, and cease from sin” (Sirach 28:6). When we remember each of us will die and stand “before the judgment seat of Christ,” how can we fail to hear the strong words of Jesus, “Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant as I had pity on you” (II Corinthians 5:10; Matthew 18:33)? This is why Saint Paul tells us to “be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you,” “as if to say: you must act according to the example of divine mercy, by reason of the passion of Christ, which leniently forgives” (Ephesians 4:32).[1]

If I continue to speak, I will simply begin to repeat myself, so let me now quote Saint Augustine:

My brothers and sisters, I urge you, I beseech you by the Lord and his gentleness, be gentle in your lives, be peaceful in your lives. Peacefully permit the authorities to do what pertains to them, of which they will have to render an account to God and to their supervisors. As often as you have to petition them, make your petitions in an honorable and quiet manner. Do not mix with those who do evil and rampage in a rough and disorderly manner; do not desire to be present at such goings-on even as spectators. But as far as you can, let each of you in his own house and his own neighborhood deal with the one with whom you have ties of kinship and charity, by warning, persuading, teaching, correcting; also by restraining him from such seriously evil activities by any kind of threats, so that God may eventually have mercy, and put an end to human evils…[2]

Let us turn away from sin. Let us reject wrath and anger and embrace mercy. May the Lord never have cause to say to us, “You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant as I had pity on you” (Matthew18:32-33)?

[1] Saint Bonaventure, Sermon for the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, 13.

[2] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 302.21.

11 September 2023

Homily for the Funeral Mass for Ann Schaddel

The Funeral Mass for Ann Schaddel

Dear brothers and sisters,

The timing of Ann’s death is, for those who live by faith, no small comfort. She died on May 8th, the day the Church celebrates the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, the daughter of Saints Joachim and Ann. It seems fitting to us that our Ann departed this life on the day the Church celebrates the Blessed Virgin’s birth into it, but why?

We might be tempted to think this a mere coincidence, but, as Pope Saint John Paul II said, “In the designs of Providence, there are no mere coincidences.”[1] What, then, does God, in the workings of his care for us, want us to learn from this?

Saint Ann gave her daughter the name Mary, a name that means “Star of the Sea,” a title mariners gave to the Morning Star – Venus - which guided their travels across the waters. Although we live on the midwestern plains, we can say that

Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route. The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives. They are lights of hope. Certainly, Jesus Christ is the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history. But to reach him we also need lights close by — people who shine with his light and so guide us along our way. Who more than Mary could be a star of hope for us? With her “yes” she opened the door of our world to God himself; she became the living Ark of the Covenant, in whom God took flesh, became one of us, and pitched his tent among us (cf. John 1:14).[2]

The first Christians therefore recognized Mary as their Morning Star whose birth and whose life guides them toward the true break of day, to the Sun of Justice – Christ the Lord – who never sets (cf. Malachi 3:20; Isaiah 59:10).

The Church recognizes Mary’s birth as the beginning of the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy given to the tempting serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel” (Genesis3:15). Because the only begotten Son of God would take flesh in the womb of Mary, the daughter of Saint Ann, her birth is, in a certain sense, the “daybreak of salvation” (cf. Luke 1:31, 35; John 1:14; Revelation 21:3).[3]

This is why the Church prays the celebration of Mary’s birthday “may bring deeper peace to those for whom the birth of her Son was the dawning of salvation.”[4] His incarnation in the womb of his mother was the foreshadowing of the promise Saint John heard would be fulfilled at the coming of the new heavens and the new earth: “He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3). If Mary showed us the only Son of God in this life, she who is now in heaven can also show us her Son in the life to come, who promises to be with us not just in this earthly life but for all eternity.

Throughout her earthly life, Mary remained always near her Son, even to the extent of being present at his Crucifixion. From the Cross of her Son, Mary “received the word of Jesus: ‘Woman, behold, your Son’ (John 19:26)! From the Cross [she] received a new mission. From the Cross [she] became a mother in a new way: the mother of all those who believe in [her] Son Jesus and wish to follow him.”[5] In that moment Mary became the mother of all the adopted brothers and sisters of Jesus, united as they are to him through Baptism.

Saint Augustine tells that when Jesus, while hanging of the Cross for our salvation, entrusted his own mother to the care of Saint John, “The good teacher does what he thereby reminds us ought to be done, and by his own example he instructed his disciples that care for their parents ought to be a matter of concern to pious children…”[6] Nancy, Jack, Cathy, and Tammy, this is why you have brought your own mother here to the altar of God for the last time.

Because of your own loving devotion toward her, you are entrusting to the Lord Jesus so that, having cleansed her from every trace of sin he might say to her, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation21:6). You have come to pray she might receive not simply a vision of the new heaven and new earth seen by Saint John, but its final fulfillment (Revelation21:1). You have to come to pray that she receive the fullness of the promise begun in the womb of the Virgin Mary, that Ann might be forever with God and God forever with her (cf. Revelation 21:3).

Let us, then, entrust her to “the one Morning Star who never sets, Christ the Lord, who, coming back from death’s domain, has shed his peaceful light on humanity, and lives and reigns for ever and ever.”[7] Because Ann was united to Christ in a death like his in the saving waters of Baptism, and because she was fortified with the Sacraments of the Church in her last moments of this life, we can have confidence that he will place her on his right, for her name is written in the Book of Life (cf. I Peter 3:21).

May Blessed Mary say to Ann the very words she heard from the Archangel Gabriel: “Do not be afraid” (Luke 1:30). May Blessed Mary lead Ann to her Son, who is “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,” that having died with him she might live with him forever (cf. Romans 14:8). Amen.

[1] Pope Saint John II, Address at Fatima, 13 May 1982.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, 49.

[3] Roman Missal, Prayer after Communion for the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

[4] Roman Missal, Collect for the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

[5] Pope Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, 50.

[6] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the Gospel of John, 119.2.

[7] Roman Missal, Exultet, from Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord.

10 September 2023

Homily - 10 September 2023 - The Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

We here at St. Augustine’s are a small parish. This is no great secret. Being small in numbers does not necessarily equate to insignificant, nor does it equate to a lack of faith. The Lord Jesus himself promises that “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). We have come together this morning to be with the Lord Jesus who gives himself to us under the sacramental signs of bread and wine in order that we might “love one another;” we have to come together to receive the sacramentum caritatis, the sacrament of love, which Love himself gives to us (Romans 13:8; cf. I John 4:8).

The Lord Jesus speaks this promise to be with those who gather in his name in reference to the prayer of a community, however small. It is an indication of the importance and necessity of the community of the faith if we are to grow in love. From this, we see that

personal prayer is of course important, indeed indispensable, but the Lord guarantees his presence to the community — even if it is very small — which is united and in agreement, because this reflects the very reality of the Triune God, perfect communion of love.[1]

Jesus guarantees his presence in the community in a way he does not guarantee it to individuals.

This perfect communion of love can often best be achieved in small parishes. Because we are able to know one another, we are better able to be involved in one another’s lives, to look after one another, to correct one another, and to carry one another’s burdens. This is no small blessing.

The small size of this parish makes it easy for us to think of ourselves as a family founded in the love of Christ Jesus that has been given to us in Baptism. When the saving waters cleansed us of the original sin of our first parents, you and I were adopted into the household of God and brought into the family of God, becoming his adopted sons and daughters.[2]

However, as with all families, there can arise discontentment, frustrations, and even failures to love. This is hinted at in today’s Psalm when it sings, “Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert” (Psalm 95:8). The mention of Massah and Meribah is a reference to a moment during the forty years the Israelites wandered in the desert on their way to the Promised Land, but what is it that happened there? Why is it to be avoided today?

Detail, Moses strikes the rock at Meribah, MS M.638 f. 9v

Those twelve tribes constituted the one family of Israel whom Moses had led from slavery in Egypt to freedom through the waters of the Red Sea. Before they escaped, God had worked many wonders in Egypt for them in their very sight. And yet, growing weary of their desert marches, they forgot what God had done for them and the promise he made to them.

They camped at a place called Rephidim. Although the name of that site means “place of rest,” “there was no water for the people to drink” (Exodus 17:2). Consequently, they quarreled with each other and grumbled against Moses for leading them there and demanded, “Give us water to drink” (Exodus 17:2). They asked, “Is the Lord in our midst or not,” despite all that they had seen him do for them; they effectively forgot the Lord, their Redeemer, in all of his might, did for them (Exodus 17:7). The place of rest was therefore renamed “the place of the test” – Meribah - and “the place of the quarreling” – Massah. They quarreled with one another and grumbled against Moses and against God because, in their fear, they neglected the foundation of love.

The same temptation can sometimes befall us. How often do we seek to quarrel because we are afraid of being hurt? How often do we grumble against one another because we fear vulnerability? This is not what Christ Jesus intends for his Church. Instead, he counsels us to reconcile with those who sin against us.

He reconciled us to himself through his blood shed on the Cross, showing us the perfection of love. Our sins against him are infinitely greater than anyone’s sins against us could ever be; how, then, can we fail to seek reconciliation with each other? Saint Augustine reminds us that Jesus, “who came to fulfill the law gave love through the Holy Spirit, so that charity might accomplish what fear could not.”[3] Achieving the perfection is difficult, but it is not beyond us if we live in the love of him who promises to be with the family of his Church.

May the Lord in his goodness, prevent us from turning our lives into places of testing and quarreling. Let us pray that he our lives places of rest through the strength of his love. If we seek to watch over one another in love as one family of faith, we will “sing joyfully to the Lord” and “come into his presence with thanksgiving” (Ezekiel 33:7; Psalm 95:1, 2). Amen.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 4 September 2011.

[2] Cf. Roman Missal, Collect for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time.

[3] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Augustine on Romans, 75.