25 February 2024

Homily - 25 February 2024 - Announcement of a New Assignment

The Second Sunday of Lent (B)

Announcement of the Appointment as

Director of Campus Ministry at Quincy University

Dear brothers and sisters,

Because the Lenten journey can be a difficult one if it is lived with intentionality, the liturgy today offers us something of a reprieve from our penances. I say something of a reprieve because it is very brief; we are invited to pause for a moment to behold the luminous Face of Christ Jesus with Saints Peter, James, and John and then to return with them to the ordinariness of daily life (cf. Mark 9:2).

We have all heard preachers say Jesus converses with Moses because he represents the Law, and with Elijah because he represents the prophets. Moses does something more, though: he, the great lawgiver, stands in for the Law, which was given to the Hebrews to teach them how to love God and neighbor in minute technical detail. Elijah likewise stands in place of all the prophets, who continually reminded the Hebrews of the consequences of not properly loving God and neighbor. Jesus stands in between Moses and Elijah in his own divine person, united to his divine and human natures, because he is the summation and fulfillment of the law and the prophets.

The Transfiguration, attributed to Peter Paul Reubens, c. 1600

Living as we do in the midst of the flatlands, we might miss the importance of going up to the summit of the mountain, as Jesus did with those three chosen Apostles; he did not do so simply because he wanted to admire the Galilean landscape, breathtaking as it is. No, there is something more about mountains for those in regular contact with the spiritual realm, as both Moses and Elijah knew very well.

In salvation history Moses and Elijah are the two greatest witnesses that God revealed Himself through. They, too, went up a mountain one day and came to know God more closely (cf. Exodus 19:33-34; I Kings 19); and they began to understand precisely something that has a close connection with Jesus' Passover.


On the mountain, Moses came to know that God's name is mercy, that he is slow to anger, that he forgives the guilt of his people, that he does not destroy them when the people fall into temptation and turn away from God. Moses has known that God reveals himself basically for one purpose, which is always to save us.


On the mountain, Elijah after a long flight, knew that God reveals himself in meekness: not in the great signs of power and force, but in the humble silence of a breeze, a breath.[1]

With Moses, you and I must learn again that God longs to save us. However, as Saint Augustine reminds us, “God who created you without you, will not save you without you.”[2] And with Elijah, you and I must learn again and again that God reveals himself to us in solitary silence and stillness, not in frenzied activity.

Saint Peter had not quite learned both of these lessons when he said to Jesus, “Let us make three tents” (Mark 9:5). The rock wanted to remain suspended in this moment of joyful exuberance, to continually look upon the majestic glory of his friend and Lord. Who can blame him? Yet such is not to be the way of the Christian life this side of eternity, which is why Jesus brought them back down the mountain; he returned to the ordinariness of daily life in order to teach the Apostles that he might be seen there, too.

It was not enough for Peter to simply unite his joys to the joys of the Lord Jesus. No, he had to learn also to unite his sorrows to the sorrows of the Lord Jesus, as well. And just as Peter had to learn this both on and off the mountain, so, too, must we learn to do. This is why Mother Church teaches us to offer ourselves, with our joys and sorrows, on the paten and in the chalice each time the bread and wine are offered to the Father in the Holy Mass; it is not only bread and wine that are to be offered, but you and I, as well. In this way, it might be said we both ascend the summit of the mountain and descend to the plain each time we participate in the Eucharistic banquet.

We also ascend and descend the mountain repeatedly throughout our lives, particularly in moments of change and transition. This weekend, Bishop Paprocki is making a long-planned pastoral visit to the parishes in Arenzville, Beardstown, and Virginia. At a joint meeting last evening with the pastoral and finance councils of those parishes, Bishop Paprocki announced a coming change that will also affect St. Augustine Parish here in Ashland: On July 1st, I will begin serving as Director of Campus Ministry at Quincy University, while continuing with my teaching duties, as well as my responsibilities with the Diocesan Chancery.

I am very excited about my involvement with campus ministry. Already through my classes I have been able to have many deep conversations with some of my students about faith and the spiritual life and the Lord has used me to open eyes and hearts to his merciful love. College students today, in my experience, do not demonstrate an antagonism toward the faith as much as they do a complete ignorance about it. I am looking forward to the opportunities that abound to help the students of Quincy University come to know Jesus as he truly is.

As you have probably guessed or already heard, there is another change to take effect this summer. Probably about August 15th, Father Paul Habing will have the pastoral care of only St. Alexius Parish in Beardstown; this will allow him to more effectively provide for the diverse needs of that bustling parish.

When this change occurs, St. Fidelis Parish in Arenzville, St. Augustine Parish in Ashland, and St. Luke Parish in Virginia will come under the care of a single pastor while remaining distinct parishes. At this time, I will cease to be your pastor. This is, for me, a very bittersweet moment.

Serving as your pastor has been the longest appointment I have had as a priest. I remain profoundly grateful for the kindness you have shown me these past seven years and, as I have tried to do until now, I will do my best to shepherd you well these next several months. My successor here has not yet been determined; let us pray to the Lord that he will be one who will shepherd you after the Lord’s own heart (cf. Jeremiah 3:15). In the past few months, two weddings here at St. Augustine’s have very happily been added to my calendar; I will gladly return to witness these weddings and will do what I can to assist with their preparation.

My time among you has had some sorrows, to be sure, as is the nature of life and all of our relationships; but it has also had many joys, chief of which in my mind was the enshrinement of the Holy Face of Jesus in this beautiful church which you so tenderly love. In the Holy Face, we see both the Lord’s compassionate love for us and his merciful judgment of our sins. In that Face we can contemplate the luminously glorious Face Saint Peter saw on the mountain and so behold another foretaste of heavenly beatitude to which you and I are called, where, we pray, we will all meet merrily again.

Together, then, let us seek to unite ourselves to the Lord and the mystery of his Cross. Let us place ourselves spiritually with the bread upon the paten, so the wheat of our sufferings and sadness may be ground into a pure bread for the Lord. Let us place ourselves spiritually with the wine in the chalice, so the grapes of gratitude and joy may be crushed into wine for the Lord. Then, feasting on his Body and Blood, let us remember his promise to be with us always and to save us, if we remain close to him and live in his love (cf. Matthew 28:20; John 15:10). Amen.

[1] Pierbattista Cardinal Pizzaballa, O.F.M., Meditation on the Second Sunday of Lent, 25 February 2024.

[2] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 169.13.

13 February 2024

Homily - 14 February 2024 - Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

Dear brothers and sisters,

Much like Saint Valentine’s Day, we might say Ash Wednesday is a day about love. It might seem strange to say so, given that February 14th has largely become associated with romantic notions of love, and that on Ash Wednesday Mother Church calls us to “take up battle with spiritual evils.”[1] The only way to truly battle against spiritual evils is to do so with the love of God, by growing deeper in his love and spreading his love more authentically. Today, then, is an opportunity for us to consider the nature of love, which is, perhaps, why Saint Paul exhorts us “not to receive the grace of God in vain” (II Corinthians 6:1). There is much to unpack in these few words, much that concerns love.

If we are to heed the Apostle’s warning, we must first know what he means by grace. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that “grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and eternal life.”[2] To put it perhaps more simply,

God’s grace denotes his gift of love, the love made known most dramatically in the sending of his Son (cf. John 3:16) and in the gift of the Spirit in our hearts (cf. Romans 5:5). Grace thus signifies that God holds nothing back in reaching out to us in love.[3]

Yet despite this gift of grace we all too often fail to reach out in love to God.

Saint Valentine, a priest in the city of Rome, realized the tremendous gift we received in Christ and he devoted his life to helping others realize the same; he sought to help them live in grace. When Roman soldiers were forbidden to enter into marriage, he witnessed their marriages anyway, because he wanted to be sure husbands and wives received the grace needed from God to keep the promises of their marriages and so reflect God’s love for the Church. When he refused to stop witnessing the marriages of soldiers, he was beheaded, so it is that the color of Saint Valentine’s Day is red; it calls to mind the blood of this martyr, shed in and for the love of God and neighbor.

Detail, Saint Valentine blesses a couple, 15th cent. woodcut

Valentine heard Saint Paul’s admonition and did not receive the grace of God in vain; he lived in the love of God and helped others to encounter his love. Valentine allowed the grace of God to bear fruit in his life; he fought against spiritual evils and, in the end, saved his life for eternity.

Saint Augustine of Hippo at first resisted God’s gift of grace and so received it in vain, yet one day he yielded to God’s grace. His interior longing for God prevailed and he exposed his heart to grace saying that famously moving prayer: “You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[4]

Each of us also received this grace of God’s love, a share in the divine life, in the waters of Baptism, but it is a grace to which we must respond again and again if we do not wish to lose it; it is a love we sometimes resist, but must instead surrender to. This is why the Lord says to us through his prophet Joel, “return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God” (Joel 2:12-13). In other words, let your repentance be internal and sincere, and not merely external and showy.

By giving his life for the sake of others, Saint Valentine imitated the Lord Jesus and so we see the life of Christ reflected in his martyrdom. By devoting his life to his portion of the Lord’s flock, Saint Augustine imitated the Lord and so we see the life of Christ reflected in his teachings. In a similar way, husbands and wives are to live for each other, not for themselves, and so imitate the selflessness of the love of Christ. “What does it mean,” then, “to receive the grace of God in vain except to be unwilling to perform good works with the help of his grace?”[5] Indeed, we see Saint “Paul’s exhortation not to receive God’s grace in vain is an appeal to deeper conversion, that is, to avoid becoming partners with evil and to continue to purify [ourselves] in mind and body.”[6] This is what today is all about.

We have come before the Lord because we know we have not always kept ourselves pure in mind and body and have not always lived in his love. We have received the grace of God in vain. We have failed to love both God and neighbor and we have not always allowed the Lord to reflect his love through us. We have heard the Lord’s call to “proclaim a fast” and to “call an assembly,” and so we cry out to him, “Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned” (Joel 2:15; cf. Psalm 51:3).

The ancient symbol of Saint Augustine is a heart on fire and pierced with arrows. The heart symbolizes his restless longing for God; the fire his burning love for God and neighbor; and the arrows the many times he was pierced by God’s grace, pierced by God’s love. The restlessness of his heart and his encounters with God’s grace taught him, as he said, that “nothing cleanses the heart but the undivided and single-minded striving after eternal life…”[7]

In these coming days of Lent, let each of us follow his example and strive after eternal life with undivided hearts. With Saint Augustine, let us not shield our hearts from the Lord, but hold them up to him. Let us expose our hearts to be pierced by his grace and set afire with the love of God and neighbor. If we do, the Father will reward us and give us back the joy of salvation, the joy of love, the satisfaction of a life lived in imitation of the Lord (Matthew 6:4; Psalm 51:14). Amen.

[1] Collect of the Mass for Ash Wednesday.

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1996.

[3] Thomas D. Stegman, Catholic Commentary of Sacred Scripture: Second Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2009), 191.

[4] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, 1.1. Henry Chadwick, trans., Oxford World’s Classics: Confessions: A New Translation by Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 3.

[5] Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 126.5. In Thomas C. Oden, et al, eds., 251.

[6] Thomas D. Stegman, Catholic Commentary of Sacred Scripture: Second Corinthians, 148.

[7] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon on the Mount, 2.3.11. In Thomas C. Oden, et al, eds., 128.