22 October 2023

Homily - 22 October 2023 - On being loved by God


The Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

It is an intriguing phrase Saint Paul uses to describe the Christians at Thessalonica, one we too easily passing over without giving it much attention: “brothers and sisters loved by God” (I Thessalonians 1:4). To say that we are loved by God has become almost something of a cliché, something trite and rather expected. If we think, however, what it means to be loved by God personally, we begin to realize this is no mere cliché, but one of the most profound statements that can be uttered.

The love with which God loves you and me is not the same as the love with which we often love others. With God, “Love now becomes concern and care for the other. No longer is it self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice.”[1] Is this this way of loving that you and I commanded to imitate: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34).

Love, as Pope Francis has rightly said, “can never be just an abstraction. By its very nature, it indicates something concrete: intentions, attitudes, and behaviors are shown in daily living.”[2] If this is true of love, it must also be true of the love of God. What, then, is the intention, the attitude, and the behavior of the love of God for us?

The intention of God’s love is to restore us to friendship, to communion, with him that our first parents enjoyed in the garden. We know that the friendship and communion we once enjoyed with God has been broken, and not by him. We intuit this in that “we all long for [Eden], and are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most human, is still soaked with the sense of exile.”[3] God desires to restore us to his friendship, to Eden, and so the attitude of God’s love is to slowly draw us to himself. The behavior of God’s love is seen most clearly in the Cross of Jesus Christ.

God’s love for you and me, his love for all humanity, “is so great that it turns God against himself, his love against his justice.” Indeed, “so great is God's love for man that by becoming man he follows him even into death, and so reconciles justice and love.”[4] God’s love for us became renunciation in the fullest sense; it became tangible in a most unexpected way to draw us into communion with him, yet it does not stop there: it also becomes tangible in the Sacraments through which the divine life is given to us.

From the Cross all of the Sacraments draw their salvific power, beginning with Baptism in which we are not simply made members of the Church, but sharers in God’s own life; being made one with Christ Jesus, we are brought into union with God. Here we come to an extraordinary mystery:

Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become, or who will become, his own. Communion draws me out of myself towards him, and thus also towards unity with all Christians. We become “one body”, completely joined in a single existence. Love of God and love of neighbor are now truly united: God incarnate draws us all to himself.[5]

This is why Saint Paul can speak of us as brothers and sisters loved by God. And if each of us loved by God, we must also love each of those who is also loved by God.

If we find our thoughts increasingly gathering around anger or fear, we have not yet understood what it means to be loved by God. There is certainly much to be angry and fearful about in this world, but we cannot let anger or fear consume us. Love must be our chief concern. This is why Saint Augustine said, “Love is itself the fulfillment of all our works. There is the goal; that is why we run: we run toward it, and once we reach it, in it we shall find rest.”[6] Amen.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, 6.

[2] Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, 9.

[3] J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 96 to Christopher Tolkien, 30 January 1945.

[4] Pope Benedict XVI, Ibid., 10.

[5] Ibid., 14.

[6] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Ten Homilies on the Epistle of John to the Parthians, 10.4.

01 October 2023

Homily - 1 October 2023 - On Guardian Angels, God's Care Personalized


The Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

My family taught me a prayer when I was a boy that has remained with me over the course of these many years:

Angel of God, my guardian dear,

to whom God’s love commits me here,

ever this day be at my side,

to watch and rule, to guard and guide.

Perhaps your family taught you this same prayer, or one similar to it. Parents, if you have not already done so, it is one you should teach to your children and make it part of your morning prayers. I mention this prayer today because tomorrow is the memorial of the Guardian Angels.[1]

We know each human being has what we call a Guardian Angel because of Jesus’ own words: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father” (Matthew 18:10). Basing her teaching on this verse and others, the Church teaches that “from its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession.”[2]

Many people seem to have a mistaken understanding of Guardian Angels and of angels generally. We know, for instance, that the Guardian Angels are not the souls of loved ones who have gone before us, despite the pious drivel someone might have once said to us in an attempt to comfort us. Guardian Angels are always angels and humans always remain humans, even after physical death.

Saint Augustine sets us right about the nature of angels generally when he says, “‘Angel’ is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit;’ if you seek the name of their office, it is “angel: from what they are, “spirit,” from what they do, ‘angel.’”[3]

On the other side of the spectrum, some people have an overly schmaltzy image of Guardian Angels, which is perhaps why J.R.R. Tolkien once told his son Christopher, “Remember your guardian angel. Not a plump lady with swan wings!”[4] In another letter Tolkien perhaps came closer to what a Guardian Angel really is: “God’s very attention itself, personalized. And,” he said, “I do not mean ‘personified’, by a mere figure of speech according to the tendencies of human language, but a real (finite) person.”[5]

This idea of the personalization of God’s care for each person comes close to the mission of the Guardian Angels. When God assigns Guardian Angels to individual humans, he gives them a particular mission: “to watch over human beings, to whom they minister by purifying, illuminating, and perfecting them as God’s will commands.”[6]

Their mission to purify, to illumine, and to perfect us is not carried out by force, but by urging and guiding us to choose what is good and to reject what is evil in every aspect of life so we, too, might always look upon the Face of God. In all that they do, Guardian Angels respect our free will. Indeed, just as it is possible to ignore or even reject the will of God, so it is also possible to ignore or even reject the promptings of these “ministers of divine care for every human being.”[7]

Pope Francis once helpfully described the Guardian Angels as a bridge to God. He said,

Our angel is not only with us; he also sees God the Father. He is in relationship with Him. He is the daily bridge, from the moment we arise to the moment we go to bed. He accompanies us and is a link between us and God the Father. The angel is the daily gateway to transcendence, to the encounter with the Father: that is, the angel helps me to go forward because he looks upon the Father, and he knows the way.[8]

It is through the Guardian Angels that God answers the prayer of the Psalmist and all who make it their own: “Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior” (Psalm 25:4-5).

The Lord seems to delight in making use of instruments – and especially of angelic ones – to carry out his will; we should not ignore or forget them. If we do not call upon the guidance of our angel, making progress toward the kingdom of heaven may be more difficult for us, for it is through the Guardian Angels that the Lord “guides the humble to justice, and teaches the humble his way” (Psalm 25:9).

It is our Guardian Angel who will prompt us to “do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory” and to “humbly regard others as more important than [ourselves]” (Philippians 2:3). By following, then, the encouragements of our angelic guards, may we “have in [us] the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus” and come to look eternally upon the Face of the Father (Philippians 2:5). May we never be ashamed to pray,

Angel of God, my guardian dear,

to whom God’s love commits me here,

ever this day be at my side,

to watch and rule, to guard and guide. Amen.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 2 October 2011.

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 336.

[3] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Expositions on the Psalms, 103.1.15.

[4] J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter to Christopher Tolkien, 8 January 1944.

[5] Ibid., 7-8 November 1944.

[6] Saint Bonaventure, Breviloquium, 2.8.1.

[7] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 2 October 2011.

[8] Pope Francis, in Gabriella Ceraso, “Pope at Mass: Guardian angels, our daily gate to the Father,” Vatican News. Accessed 1 October 2023. Available at https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope-francis/mass-casa-santa-marta/2018-10/pope-francis-homily-daily-mass-guardian-angels-transcendence.html