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5th Sunday of Easter - Fr. Hamilton

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Dominica V Paschae A

14 May 2017

I want you to listen to this narrative from the initial verses of the Acts of the Apostles that gives us a picture of what life in the early days of the ancient Catholic Church was like: [Read Acts 2:42-47].

The section of the Acts of the Apostles we hear from today in the first reading, however, comes later, from the time period when the mission of the Church is growing beyond Jerusalem.  And given what we heard in today’s first reading the veneer of harmony in the Church is wearing thin and cracks are appearing.  The reading tells us of complaining between two groups, those of Greek influence and the Hebrews, some thinking their widows were being neglected in the food distribution.

Now I know this is hard to believe but – Some times, SOME TIMES! – divisions and lack of harmony happens still!  There can be constituencies, factions, groups, and organizations in parish life all vying for favor and meeting space and for a mention in the announcements if possible!  I know it seems hard to believe, but just trust me: Other parishes are like that!

As the Church grew various needs and demands arose that were beyond the original focused command of Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all Jesus had commanded.  Those new needs and demands, those things – like providing food to widows – may be good and worthy things in and of themselves.  But are they the main mission of the Church?  That is what the Apostles were facing in the first reading.  The Apostles have great clarity.  Faced with the complaining and the demands, they say in summary: 

  • Look, we’re apostles.
  • You don’t need an apostle for food distribution.
  • You need an apostle for prayer and for serving the word of God.

I find encouragement in this reading, and I would encourage my brother priests and the bishops of the Church to have this same clarity about their mission in the world.  More than something that might resemble an office job I would say priests and bishops should have this clarity of the Apostles.  Namely, the primacy of serving God’s word and of prayer.  That is what Jesus needs his ministers in the world to be about.

But we can extend this apostolic lesson of the primacy of God’s word to each disciple, not only for priests and bishops.  So, we might ask: 

  • Does God’s word have primacy in your life?
  • Do you conform your life to it?  Do you seek to change your life where it is not consistent with God’s word?
  • Do you turn to God’s word for prayer?  Do you use it for reflection and meditation?

You should!  Without putting God’s word first we risk what the second reading said: stumbling “by disobeying the word.”  To not have God’s word as a primary guide for our life is to be in darkness.  When you are in a very dark place, when you come out of it and the light first hits you, you shield yourself.  It’s almost painful.  We don’t want to have that reaction when we meet God, and so we need to live in the light of God’s word now.  This will help us respond to Jesus who said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”  With the primacy of God’s word in the life of each disciple we are better equipped to respond to God who has “called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”


4th Sunday of Easter - Fr. Hamilton

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Dominica IV Paschae A

7 May 2017

Good Shepherd Sunday: World Day of Prayer for Vocations

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is typically called “Good Shepherd Sunday” and the Church attaches to this Sunday the annual observance of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.  There is an important principle in our faith life as Catholics that reflects the truth of how we see God act time and time again in history and as recorded in the Sacred Scriptures.  This principle is that God often works through mediators, instruments, to encounter His people and to bestow His grace.  Take the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles as an example.  At the end of the first reading we heard the good news that “about three thousand persons were added that day” to the Church.  These three thousand persons came to faith and were baptized after accepting the message.  How did they accept God’s message?  Because He spoke to each of the three thousand personally and directly, right?  No, rather, because Peter followed God’s prompting and spoke up, delivering God’s message of repentance and baptism by strong preaching.  God’s message came through Peter.  Peter served as a mediator for God’s message.  He served as the instrument God could use to communicate with people in words they could understand so that they would repent and be joined to the Church.

God working through mediators, through the instrumentality of His servants, is seen time and time again.  In the Old Covenant God chose a people and formed them as a visible presence in this world through which He intended to invite all mankind back into harmony of life with Him.  To lead that people, God chose instruments like Moses, King David, and the prophets.  In the fullness of time, God the Son Himself came into our world and adopted our very flesh as an instrument, a means of mediation, to show Himself to the world and to bring about our salvation.  Not discarding our flesh after the Resurrection, Jesus continues to rely upon human servants to spread his gospel and to call people to life in the Church.  The very fact that we have a book of the Bible called the “Acts of the Apostles” tells us of this mediation and instrumentality that the work of the apostles was used by Jesus to continue his own shepherding.  The sacraments themselves follow this same principle: that God uses ordinary elements in this world to communicate to us His saving power and life.

On Good Shepherd Sunday we recall that Christ’s flock is not made up of one sheep, but rather many.  You and I come to faith in Jesus because of the faith of the Church and because of the faith of others – most often our parents and Godparents – who bring us into the fold.  We do not come to faith purely by ourselves as if the flock of the Good Shepherd were only a “me and Jesus” affair.  As inconvenient as it may at times be, we are called together to form a community that is visible and that follows the Good Shepherd.  And together with a visible flock we have visible shepherds in the Catholic Church.  This again highlights the manner of God’s acting by mediation and instrumentality: Just as with St. Peter’s preaching, so the ministry of those ordained in the Sacrament of Holy Orders is a means by which Jesus the Good Shepherd continues to act in our midst.

In the three degrees of the Sacrament of Holy Orders a man is configured to Christ in a particular way and is called to public ministry as an icon of Christ, a visible manifestation of the one Good Shepherd who leads his flock by the mediation and instrumentality of deacons, priests, and bishops.  Just as Moses and other leaders of old, so Peter, the other apostles, and ordained shepherds of the Church today, all have their own personality defects, their weaknesses, and their sins.  Moses was at times complaining and disobedient.  Peter was often too quick to speak and of course he denied Christ.  But the Lord can still accomplish his mission through his chosen shepherds.  For whatever weaknesses and lack of skill and sin are theirs, we pray for our deacons, priests, and bishops and we offer to be of service with them so that the mission of Christ might be accomplished.  We pray for and support our shepherds as a way to battle the temptation of complaining about our shepherds, however not in any way denying they have weaknesses.  We have to keep the shepherd and the flock together.  This is the desire of Jesus.  After all seeking entrance or exit from the sheepfold apart from the gate, apart from the shepherd, is – using Jesus’ own words – to be a thief and a robber.

On this Good Shepherd Sunday I want to make sure we are aware of an important moment in parish history to come this summer when, for the first time since our founding in 1993, a young man from our parish, Deacon Kelly Edwards, will be ordained a priest of Jesus Christ for service in this archdiocese.  Beginning this weekend in the Universal Prayers we will accompany Kelly and pray for him as he approaches sacred ordination.  And we will be prepared to join him as he offers his First Solemn Mass here on Sunday, June 25, at 10:30.  It is an important sign of health and vitality when a parish produces vocations.  We should thank God that our parish expects the ordination of her first priest.  We should thank God that we have still more seminarians from the parish and other young men interested in God’s call.  We should thank God that in the past three years we have had two young women from the parish go to the convent to test the call to religious life.  These are good signs.  But we must always pray that the Lord’s will for our young people and his call to them will be something they welcome.  It is not enough to pray generically for vocations.  Pray that the Lord call a vocation directly from your family, from your home.  The Lord wants to give us his life more abundantly.  In particular the ministry of the ordained is one of those means by which we will have the life of Jesus more abundantly.

We consider Jesus’ work of shepherding today.  And we acknowledge that he still calls future shepherds from our midst.  To the children and young people here: You can be sure God has a plan for your life.  His plan for you is a gift of His love for you!  To the boys and young men here, I say: Do not be afraid if He calls you to be a priest!  Jesus wants you to have life and to be happy.  His call for your vocation will be a way the Good Shepherd leads you to a full life.  To the teens and young adults here: To hear the call of God you must be praying daily.  You won’t hear God’s call without prayer.  Consider all the options for your life.  It could be you who are called to priesthood or religious life.  To the adults, the parents, grandparents, and other family here: Make sure your kids know that you support whatever vocation is theirs.  They should here you say directly to them: “I would be proud of you if you became a priest or religious.”  Let them know you desire to give to the Good Shepherd whatever he needs to fulfill his plan for abundant life, giving him even one of your own flesh and blood.

Easter Vigil/Easter Sunday - Fr. Hamilton

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Vigil & Easter Sunday

15 & 16 April 2017

Gospel: Matthew 28:1-10

At Easter we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  The resurrection of Jesus is an event witnessed to by those who were there, those who saw the empty tomb, and who encountered Jesus alive after his fearful death.  The resurrection of Jesus is an event to which the eyewitnesses were so committed that they were willing to give up their own lives to proclaim this truth.  We see such commitment unto death to proclaim Jesus resurrected in the case of the apostles, and, perhaps even more noteworthy, in the case of so many faithful women and men martyrs throughout Christian history who did not even live in Jesus’ time period.

When a loved one dies we show them respect and love by caring for their grave.  We might decorate the grave at points throughout the year with flowers and mementos.  We maintain a reverential and loving atmosphere around a grave.  Cemeteries commonly have boards and trusts with basic perpetual care plans ensuring that even when such a time comes as a person’s descendants no longer survive or live nearby, regular care of the cemetery and headstones can be maintained.  In this light it strikes me as significant that once the resurrection happens the gospels say very little about Jesus’ tomb and it doesn’t even appear that all the apostles bothered to visit the tomb.  Two of the four gospels don’t even mention the tomb, as if Jesus’ closest friends and loved ones have no interest in it.  The two gospels that do mention it, do so only once.  St. Matthew, from whom we just heard, clearly places the emphasis not on the tomb, mentioned only once, but rather on the emphasis to go to Galilee, mentioned twice.  Such little reference to the tomb makes sense if the apostles and disciples encountered the Risen Jesus.  After all, who cares about a grave when the occupant is alive and walking among you?  The empty tomb can be considered as evidence for our faith.  Yet, that Jesus’ tomb seems largely ignored and not even visited by all the apostles and disciples might also tell us something else that directly impacts us: Namely, that personally seeing the empty tomb really is not even a necessary element for the basis of Christian faith.  Because once you have encountered the Risen Jesus, the tomb really doesn’t matter much.

Accepting the fact of Jesus’ resurrection, as is essential to Christian faith, I now want to offer a spiritual interpretation of this gospel account of the resurrection.  Perhaps some of what the gospel shares can illuminate how we need to be vigilant to live more in the resurrection.  In the gospel, day is dawning.  Light is growing.  In a certain sense, these first verses of the 28th chapter of St. Matthew, focusing as they do on light, might recall for us the early verses of the Book of Genesis, when light from darkness was one of the first things God created.  In the midst of chaos and formlessness at the dawn of history, and in the midst of sadness and grief at the dawn of the resurrection, God’s created light is growing.  Yet, the two Marys from the gospel are more focused on the darkness, at least initially.  They are coming to see the tomb.  They are seeking, the angel says, “Jesus the crucified.”  And what do you and I tend to look for in life?  Do we spend more effort dwelling on tombs, where Jesus is not, or on encountering the Risen One in our midst?

In what habits, manners, personality traits, and ways of life are we focused on darkness while light is dawning?  Maybe we have personality defects, or some habitual sin, or some suffering external or internal to us that keeps us focused more on wounds and death, much like the women were seeking Jesus the crucified.  In such ways then the words of the angel need to resonate deeply in us: “He is not here!”  In a sense then the gospel’s paucity of reference to the tomb can be a loud proclamation to us: Don’t linger at your tombs.  Don’t dwell hopelessly on the places in your life where there is darkness and lack of life, where there are wounds and even death.  Go instead, following Jesus’ lead, to where he supplies love, healing, and life.  To be clear, I’m not saying turn a blind eye to areas of darkness in your life; not even the gospels do that regarding the tomb.  I’m simply saying, don’t dwell there.  Acknowledge your darkness and your tombs, yes, but seek to place more focus on the Risen One.  And be prepared for him to tell you to leave the darkness, the wounds, the death, the tomb behind and instead to go someplace else, and to encounter him there.

The angel and Jesus himself both speak the words that the apostles and disciples are to go to Galilee and there they will see Jesus.  To continue this spiritual interpretation: Where does Jesus want you to go?  If you turn yourself away from the darkness, the woundedness, and the tombs of life, in what direction does Jesus want you to go?  Where or what is the Galilee in your life that will become a place of encounter not with a dead Jesus, but the very much alive and risen Jesus Christ?  We might surmise that the insistence that the apostles go to Galilee is significant because it was familiar home territory for them.  Where is your Galilee?  What is it in your life that hits pretty close to home where you don’t feel fully alive?  Will you let Jesus beckon you there?  Will you acknowledge it to him and be prepared to see him there?  We might surmise that the insistence that the apostles go to Galilee is a test of their faith, as if to say: Leave all this in Jerusalem behind and go where I told you I would show myself to you.  Where is your Galilee?  What areas or things of life require you to step out in faith and to believe that you can encounter Jesus even there?  As disciples we have to combat the tendency to focus on the darkness and instead we need to turn and face the dawning light.

The good news of our faith that Jesus is risen and still living is that if you will not dwell in the darkness, the wounds, the crucifixions, the death, and the tombs of your life then Jesus will show himself alive to you before you even get all the way to your Galilee.  For just as when the women began to move away from the tomb, well before any arrival in Galilee, the gospel tells us: “Jesus met them on their way.”  The Risen One doesn’t want to give you life only upon arriving at the place to which he calls you.  Rather, he wants to encounter you even on the way, to bless your faith for having left the tomb behind, and to call you to deeper life with him now and in the place he calls you to go.  Do not be afraid!  Go to Galilee and there you will see him.

Holy Thursday - Fr. Hamilton

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Holy Thursday

13 April 2017

On this holy night that begins the Sacred Triduum, the sacred three days that celebrate how Christ accomplished our salvation, the Church reflects on three principal mysteries from the Last Supper.  The first and second mysteries are the two Sacraments our Lord gave us on this holy night: He established the Holy Eucharist to be the New Passover in which the lamb to be shared by each faithful Jewish family is now fulfilled in the family of the Church where, always first seeking absolution from our sins, we are invited to eat the Lamb of God which is Jesus himself, his true Body and Blood offered for us and for our nourishment so that we may have true life within us.  The other Sacrament we consider this evening is that in giving us his Body and Blood the Lord, at the same time, established the Priestly Order in the sacrament of Holy Orders.  It is through the validly ordained priest that Jesus himself has chosen to operate in a privileged way at Holy Mass for the good of his people.  The priest lends his life, his hands, his voice, his heart to the Lord who once again makes himself present to us, changing bread and wine into that same New Passover gift of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  This is a mystery and a gift, the priesthood is, that we will see take place this summer in the life of Deacon Kelly Edwards, the first son of our parish to be ordained to the priesthood.  And looking at our altar boys this evening and knowing their service week after week, surely the Spirit of the Lord’s anointing is among us to provide future priests for the Church.  The third mystery we commemorate this evening is that at supper with his apostles the Lord gave the command to observe fraternal charity.  By washing their feet, the Lord provided the example to his first priests of how they are to serve and to love one another.  This command extends to all disciples to follow what our Lord and Master has modeled for us.

To correct some misplaced emphases of the last few decades it is important to state that the central purpose of the Holy Mass, well before the supper aspect or the aspect of the anticipation of the heavenly banquet, is sacrifice.  Thus, when we gather before the sacred altar we do not gather to celebrate our community or ourselves.  Rather, we gather as a community that belongs to the Lord to offer and to participate in the one saving sacrifice by which, united to Jesus, the Priest and the Victim of the same sacrifice, we give to God the one perfect sacrifice that pays the debt for our sins.

Why is the notion of sacrifice so important?  God, in His generous love, provides us every good thing.  Adam and Eve in the Original Sin, and we in our personal sins, choose to dwell in greater or lesser degree apart from God.  Living apart from God is sin and it brings separation and death.  By making animal sacrifice, the people of the Old Covenant were offering life in place of the death of sin.  This was symbolized in animal sacrifice acknowledging, as the Book of Leviticus does, that “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev. 17:11).  Thus the blood sacrifice of animals, and specifically a lamb, was a sin offering to atone for man’s separation from God and the death such sin brings.  Man had separated himself from God by sin.  In repentance he separated from his material goods, from his flock, a lamb whose life would be offered as something set apart and made holy to atone for sin.

As I mentioned in my Palm Sunday homily, it is not simply accepting the holy teaching of religion that saves us; it is not simply following a Christian moral code that saves us.  Yes, these are important elements of our faith life.  But to be clear, what saves us is the saving deed of Jesus Christ on the Cross together with his Resurrection.  What we observe in particular this holy evening is that no longer does man set aside and offer imperfect sacrifice to God.  Now, Jesus – God Himself – takes the place of the sacrifice, being the true Lamb of God whose Blood makes the sacrifice of the most perfect life of all in place of our sins and the death they bring to us.

Jesus intended to do something new with the Passover ritual on that first Holy Thursday night with his apostles.  We can briefly consider that on the first Palm Sunday, just days before the event of the Last Supper, St. Matthew’s gospel tells us that upon entering Jerusalem to “Hosannas” and palm branches, Jesus then went and cleansed the temple (cf. Mt. 21:12-14).  He drove out all those who bought and sold things in the temple.  He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold sacrificial animals.  By this cleansing, Jesus disrupted the standard practices of temple sacrifice.  This can be considered a clear sign that he is bringing an end to the Jewish sacrificial system (cf. Rabbi Jacob Neusner, Mutual Enrichment blog, 8 April 2017).  He does this in preparation for the new sacrifice and the new covenant he will institute just days later at the Last Supper.

Sacrifice will not make sense to us if we don’t acknowledge our sins.  Being unaware of our sins will begin to dull our sense of what we do here.  I am convinced that in part, the idea that the Mass is primarily a meal or a communal gathering, erroneous notions that have gained popularity in the last several decades, is directly related to the decrease over the same time period in the practice of frequent confession among Catholics.  When we don’t confess sin and repent of it regularly we become less aware of its reality.  When we become less aware of the reality of our sins then we will also begin to fail to appreciate sacrifice.  When we fail to appreciate sacrifice, we no longer see the Holy Mass for what it is.  Instead of seeing that the Lord instituted a new and perfect sacrifice as a sin offering for our salvation, we begin to focus almost exclusively on the idea that we simply gather to re-enact a holy meal.  But notice that not even that first Holy Thursday, not even the Last Supper, was primarily focused on the goal of a faith meal.  Rather, the Last Supper was focused on the following day, the sacrifice of the Cross.  For at that supper, having brought an end to the old sacrificial system, Jesus presented his sacrifice in sacramental form and promised that its value would remain for all time.  And to ensure that his disciples of every time and place could access the power of this one saving sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, Jesus commanded: Do this in memory of me.  St. Paul clearly understood this emphasis on sacrifice over meal for he writes: “For as often as you [do this] you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).  Sacrifice!  Having this proper understanding, the understanding the Church has maintained since ancient times, profoundly shapes how we approach the Holy Mass, how we prepare for it, what we expect from it, what we give to it, and what we expect for music, decoration, and reverence.

On Palm Sunday, St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians told us that Jesus emptied himself and humbled himself (cf. Phil. 2:6-11).  The gospel on this holy night tells us that, fully aware of what he was doing, Jesus humbled himself at the dinner by removing his outer garment and washing feet.  Jesus fulfills his emptying and humbling of self on the Holy Cross.  The constant practice of the Church makes sense then: Namely, that we first empty and humble ourselves in imitation of Jesus by confessing our sins so that we can engage with what he offers here in atonement for our sins.  We must humble ourselves by confessing sin if we hope to approach the saving sacrifice with proper disposition and a heart open to God’s saving love and grace.  Here we come to Calvary in sacramental form.  We participate in what Jesus did to save us and we proclaim: Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!

Palm Sunday - Fr. Hamilton

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Passion (Palm) Sunday A

9 April 2017

We solemnly begin Holy Week with the Passion (or Palm) Sunday Mass recalling Christ’s messianic entrance into the Holy City Jerusalem.  This Mass stands out due to its special entrance.  We have a special entrance because of Jesus’ special entrance into the holy city where he fulfilled the divine plan.  We cry out, as did the people present at that event, “Hosanna,” which means, “Grant salvation!”  Given that these days commemorate the most climactic moments of what Jesus did to save us I want to issue a direct encouragement and invitation to set aside these holy days in order to increase prayer and sacrifice, and to make every effort to attend the Sacred Triduum on the nights of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday.

At the very heart and center of Jesus’ life and mission is what St. Paul wrote in the second reading, that Jesus emptied himself and humbled himself.  Why would God the Son empty and humble himself?  Why is that the heart and center of the life and mission of the God-man Jesus Christ?  The second reading began as follows: “Christ Jesus…did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.”  Those words take us right back to the Garden of Eden.  In other words, they take us right back to the heart and center of the problem, to the original problem, the original sin.  What happened in that garden that became the central problem leading to what we reverence this week about Jesus?  In the garden man listened to the prompting of the devil and joined in his rebellion against God.  There, by disobeying God’s command and taking and eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve were grasping at equality with God.  The words of the devil reveal the heart and center of the problem.  Referring to eating from the forbidden tree the devil said to Eve: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God” (Gn. 3:5).  Grasping at things for ourselves.  Holding on to what we can get selfishly for ourselves.  Using others and things around us for our own selfish purposes.  We each sin in this way.  This pattern of behavior is the ripple effect from the garden.  Jesus’ emptying and humbling of himself is the antidote to this trend.

Do you ever dwell upon what it is that saves you?  It is the saving action, the saving work of Jesus by which, in his great love for you, he suffers, dies, is buried, resurrects, and ascends back to the Father!  This week we mark especially the historical reality of these saving actions and we experience their power now.  And in truth the Church continues to experience in the now, and each day throughout the year, the saving reality of these events at each and every Sacred Liturgy, especially in the Holy Mass.  What saves us is not merely a collection of teaching to accept.  What saves us is not merely following a moral code.  No, what saves us is Jesus Christ and his saving deed in suffering, dying, and rising again!  And thus, the Church leads us in salvation not merely with holy teaching and not merely with moral guidance but by participation in sacred action here.  We need to avoid two opposite poles in our approach to following Jesus.  (1) The Christian religion should not be approached as primarily some system of dogmatic truths to be accepted and of moral commands to be followed.  Both of these, of course, intellectual structure and moral law belong to and are elements of being a Christian.  But they don’t exhaust what it means.  (2) At the other pole, “Still less is Christianity a matter of [mere] religious sentiment, a more or less emotionally toned attitude towards [some vague notion of] ‘The divine’, which binds itself to no dogmatic or moral system whatever” (Casel, The Mystery of Christian Worship, p.9).  Both of these should be avoided.  St. Paul speaks of Christianity as “a mystery,” and what he means by that is primarily the work or action of God’s by which He fulfills His saving plan, which we experience and in which we participate in sacred worship.  It is the acts of Jesus Christ that save us.  It is these acts we recall most solemnly this week but, in truth, at each Holy Mass.  It is these acts that I hope you will want to participate in this week and at least each Sunday and holy day so that you may experience the emptying and the humbling of Jesus by which he undoes the selfish, sinful grasping that still marks our lives.

3rd Sunday of Lent - Fr. Hamilton

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Dominica III in Quadragesima A

19 March 2017

“The issue is not the issue.”  It’s a phrase that means what people often present as their issue, their complaint, or the thing that has them stirred up, is often a surface matter and can be the “appetizer,” if you will, to the deeper thing that is really going on with them.  I first heard this phrase used in seminary days.  When we seminarians would bring concerns or problems to our formators they might utter that phrase.  And we hated it!  We thought it was psycho-babble, nonsense, and a smokescreen for dismissing our concerns.  But now years later, having had more experiences of human dynamics, I can say there is at least some truth to this notion: The issue is not the issue.

The first reading from Exodus begins by showing us that God’s people wandering in the desert were grumbling because the issue was their thirst and their need for water.  But notice the words of the people seem to betray something more than physical thirst and they hint at a deeper issue.  They grumble: “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?”  The final grumbling question recorded in this first reading makes it even more clear that a deeper concern is really the issue.  The people reveal their fear and their lack of trust in God in the midst of the unknown, harsh realities of the desert by asking: “Is the Lord in our midst or not?”  Their thirst seems to be less about literal water and more about a spiritual matter – is God really with us?  They long – in that sense, they “thirst” – for security.  They thirst to know that their desert hardships are worth it.  They thirst for reassurance that if they are faithful to God then things will be better than they were in Egypt.

In the gospel, the water really being focused on is not the physical water in the well, but the living water Jesus offers.  A deeper meaning of longing and desire, and in that sense “thirst,” seems to be throughout this passage.  This gospel is one of my favorites because I think the location at a well makes for an incredibly beautiful back story that puts a special emphasis on Jesus’ thirst.  I suggest that while Jesus was truly thirsty from his journey (and hungry too, as the account makes clear), the point of the story is not at all that Jesus was waiting to drink literal water.  Rather, Jesus is at Jacob’s well waiting for the Samaritan woman.  And there is something beautiful about this reference to Jacob.  When you read about Jacob in the Book of Genesis (cf. Gn. 29) you discover that it was at a well that Jacob first laid eyes upon Rachel, whom he would one day marry.  His heart was moved to fall in love with her and to desire to commit his life to her.  The well, in other words, is a place of deep love, the fulfillment of deep longing and not merely a deep cistern of physical water.  Thus, in my mind, that Jesus places himself at Jacob’s well sets a rich backdrop here.  Jesus is not primarily thirsting for water, but his Sacred Heart is thirsting that his divine love be received and reciprocated.  The Samaritan woman comes because of need for physical water.  Yet, she has deeper needs too.  The issue is not the issue.  When she encounters Jesus and his care and love for her, you see, she leaves her water jar behind – she’s no longer motivated strictly by physical thirst once she encounters living water and Jesus’ love for her.  And I think that is the rich, beautiful, and moving message for us.  Jesus knows you and loves you, no matter what is in your background, even if you are now, or have been, a bitter enemy (like Samaritans were to Jews).  Jesus knows you and loves you, no matter what is in your background, even if now or in the past you have some rocky moral history needing to be addressed (like the woman had multiple husbands).  Jesus knows you and loves you, no matter what is in your background, even if now or in the past you worship what you do not understand or do not yet worship God rightly in Spirt and truth (like Jesus said of Samaritans).  Jesus thirsts to save you and to have you receive his love.  That is a water that will fulfill you, if you will drink it.

In his divine love, Jesus is already at the well waiting for you.  Thus, what is the well in your life?  What are those things, those struggles, those places of emptiness, those places of fear, those places of feeling unloved or abandoned, – those deeper issues – those “wells” that you avoid until your deeper thirst can no longer go unanswered?  What are those places that, like a well, are a chore to go to, but something you can’t avoid forever?  Jesus is already there and he is already loving you.  Have confidence that Jesus is already waiting at the deeper issues of your life and that his love is already being poured out for you.  St. Paul in the second reading said, “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”  He’s waiting for you at the well.  He’s hoping you will recognize who he is and so ask him not for literal water, but for living water.  And having taken a drink of his love for you, Jesus is hoping that you too, like the Samaritan woman, will go and bring others to the well to meet him so they too may say for themselves: “This is truly the savior of the world.”

Whatever our needs and thirsts are, this gospel teaches us that Jesus is first thirsting for us.  From the Cross, as if a reminder of this lesson, Jesus says, “I thirst.”  The Cross is like the deepest well at which Jesus waits for us.  He desires us.  He knows our deeper thirst and our need for living water in our relationship with him.  At the well of the Church, of the Sacraments, especially Holy Mass and confession, and at the well of our personal prayer daily we encounter Jesus and his divine love, waiting, already thirsting for us.  Look upon a crucifix, look upon the Blessed Sacrament when It is displayed before us, know the gift of God, and hear Jesus say, “I thirst.”  And then give him a drink of your faith and your love!


Ash Wednesday - Fr. Hamilton

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Ash Wednesday

1 March 2017

Today we have begun the holy season of renewal known as Lent.  The most distinctive element of today is the ashes.  The ashes we use are a sign of our origin in that we recall from the Book of Genesis that man was made from the dust of the earth and the breath of life was breathed into him (cf. Gen. 2:7).  The ashes we use are also a sign of our mortality for, though God did not intend us to die, mankind’s sin and the Fall brought about death by which we return to dust.  With good reason then do the words that are said with the imposition of ashes remind us of our creation and our destiny: “Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return.”  The ashes remind us of our origin and our mortality.  They remind us that we will each face an end and, in faith, we believe we will face the Judge.  And so a natural question ought to arise within us: Where are we going?   Where are you going?  Where am I going?

Mindful of our need to ponder our destiny in this life and in the next life, the collect of this Holy Mass is particularly rich in imagery.  I would like to read that collect again and have you listen to its images: “Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.”  The older traditional prayer makes this image in some ways even more strong and explicit.  It says: “Grant us, Lord, the grace to begin the Christian’s war of defense with holy fasts” (Prayer after the distribution of ashes, 1962 Roman Missal).

As we begin Lent we are reminded that we are on a campaign.  Truthfully, we should never forget that our entire life is such a campaign.  The image is intentionally militaristic.  Like an army, we are going on a journey in Lent and we are going into battle to reclaim lost territory.  We are battling foreign powers, spiritual evils, to regain territory that belongs to God and His kingdom, namely our very selves, our souls.  This battle of Lent aims to reclaim what rightfully belongs to God.  We engage in battle so that obstacles to life with God can be removed.  And we must be clear, since we have come to faith and have been baptized, we are battling powers that desire to take us from God’s Kingdom.  The collect clearly tells us we are battling spirits of evil.  They are real and they are all around us.  They seek to pull us away from God’s Kingdom.

This battle, which we intensify in Lent, calls us to be armed with weapons of self-restraint.  Our weapons are not literal guns or knives or bombs but spiritual practices, self-restraint.  Our weapons are those recommended practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as well as other penances, self-denial, and confession.  These spiritual things are weapons because the battlefield is not literally some place or geographical location.  Rather, the battleground is primarily internal in each of us.  The battlefield is the critical question we each must answer with words and actions: Whom will you serve?  Will you serve God and His Kingdom?  Or will you serve Satan and his kingdom of darkness?

We must be clear that our Lenten efforts are first, foremost, and really only about spiritual growth and spiritual improvement.  I say this because one sometimes hears the comment that Lent and its fasting is a good excuse for a diet.  I’m not saying it wouldn’t be good to engage in some dieting.  But that is not our Lenten focus.  Our spiritual battlefield and our weapons of self-restraint are to renew our life with Jesus and help us choose him and his kingdom.  Our focus is not physical self-improvement, improving the way we look.  If that were our focus then the gospel words would be our indictment: You have received your reward.  No, our focus is the soul and spiritual improvement.  If we make our Lenten practices about our body and how we look then we have subtly and at the outset twisted the focus and are not prepared for the campaign we must engage in.

Whom will you serve?  This is the battlefield of Lent and truly the battlefield for each day of Christian living.  Turn to the proven spiritual weapons of self-restraint.  We engage in this battle because we are encouraged by the mercy and compassion of God that as we embark on this campaign of self-restraint and interior work our Father “who sees what is hidden will repay you!”

Midnight Mass - Fr. Hamilton

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Nativitas D.N.I.C.

Mass at Night

25 December 2016

The mysterious truth of God’s taking on human flesh (the Incarnation) and the related mystery of God’s birth in time, which we observe at Christmas, is the stuff of stark and surprising contrasts.  Almighty God, Who cannot be contained, takes up dwelling in a virgin’s womb.  The God of majesty limits Himself to human flesh and is born in the poverty of a cave-stable.  The God Who gives life and all good things, including the bounty of the earth, is Himself placed where food is kept, a manger that passes for a crib.  The Prophet Isaiah communicates some of this stark contrast.  Listen again to what he highlights.  People who walked in darkness have seen a great light.  For those who live in gloom light has shone and there is abundant joy and great rejoicing.  What burdened these people has been smashed and used for fuel.

I wonder if observing Christmas we might heed the message and actually begin to expect God to do unexpected things… unexpected things for you… unexpected things where you think Him least likely to be in your life?  My work as a priest permits me to work in an atmosphere of faith and of holy things.  In fact, my very hands – these hands of a sinner – daily touch holy things in the Sacraments, most especially the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.  Considering that, I feel sort of sorry when I consider the lives, the jobs, and the livelihood of the people I serve.  Now how is that for an attention grabber?!  Stay with me.  Don’t walk out just yet; this isn’t going where you think.

Some of you have lives and jobs where it would seem that God is absent and has little – dare you be tempted to think nothing? – to do with your livelihood.  Your work is a place that it seems unlikely God would be in any meaningful way.   By way of example, some people have government jobs.  God’s activity doesn’t intersect there, does it?  Maybe some of you are young, just starting families, and very unsure of the future as you struggle to make ends meet.  If God is even there in the hustle and bustle, it sure seems unclear what He may be doing.  Maybe some of you work in agriculture and livestock.  What a mess!  These and so many others are examples of surroundings that we may easily and uncritically assume don’t have much use for God.  But then the climactic moment of God’s promised coming into human history, captured in the familiar gospel account of this Holy Mass, should make us think otherwise.  Did you let yourself take notice in the gospel of work and livelihoods where it may seem hard to find God, but which in fact His birth and presence impacted?  Government workers?  Ceasar Agustus and Quirinius.  Young families caught in hectic and uncertain futures?  Wasn’t the gospel about the newlyweds Joseph and Mary caught in some unfortunate hassle right as a baby is coming?  Agricultural and livestock workers?  Shepherds were in a field minding their business when the first Christmas homily was proclaimed by angels with good news!

Too often we operate in the notion that God is always distant.  He is totally Other, yes, but He is also the God Who comes close to us!  Will we let Him do that for us?  In our way of viewing things we often see fragility and weakness (struggles, sin, shame) as signs that we are no good for God.  We see such things as a deficit void of possibility, void of grace.  But God sees it as a place where, in stark contrast to our viewpoint, He can be particularly present and active!  This is a potent message of Christmas because, like it or not, we are not in complete control of everything around us and each of us struggles with some fear and sin where we are not even in complete command of ourselves.  Thus, disciples on their way to conversion and holiness need to acknowledge and admit weakness and fragility because it gives us an indication of where God wants to be for us.  Consider at this very moment the things in your own life which you know are not consistent with life in Jesus.  Call to mind right now, just like you should do in regular and frequent confession, those things you have to admit are ongoing struggles, things that have burdened you for a long time.  Call to mind the place where you hear the bad news that you are a failure and God is not there.  Where you and I are weak and where we admit it (in prayer and in confession) God is ready to do something new.  The good news of Christmas powerfully tells us that rather than resist God’s possibility in our lives, we should expect that our fragility is a unique place where He can come and stand in stark contrast to our expectations.  By no means do we dismiss or make excuses for our weakness, our fragility, our sin and shame – the places of our darkness and gloom.  But we do identify them and admit them because Christmas tells us that is our stable, that is our manger, and God is coming right there for you!  I proclaim to you good news of great joy: today a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord!

Immaculate Conception - Fr. Hamilton

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

8 December 2016

Observing the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary we stand at the threshold of our salvation, because we celebrate the gift of God to Mary, the one He chose to be the mother of our Savior.  As we celebrate today how she was conceived free from all stain of sin in her mother’s womb, the womb of St. Ann, we celebrate that God was making good on His promise to save mankind.  With this in mind it is appropriate that we hear in this Holy Mass from the Book of Genesis.  We hear God’s words after the fall of Adam and Eve, in that sin we call “original.”  We hear of God’s plan to save mankind after sin had entered the garden of goodness God had made for His creation.

In the selection from Genesis we hear what theologians like to call the protoevangelion.  That comes from Greek and refers to the first proclamation of the Good News, the first proclamation of the gospel, that God has a plan to save us.  That first proclamation is verse 15 which has God speaking to Satan, the serpent, and saying: “I will put enmity [division, hatred, adversarial relationship] between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he [the offspring of the woman] will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel” (Gen. 3:15).  God speaks His plan to undo the sin and disorder that Satan proposed and introduced to Adam and Eve.  God proclaims that the offspring of the woman will strike a head blow, that is a mortal blow, to the serpent.  The fulfillment of this good news for salvation is finally found in the Cross of Jesus, in his sacrifice of his life for our salvation.  Why is the Cross of Jesus that mortal, head, blow to the serpent and his cunning?  It’s because disobedience is at the heart of Satan’s relationship with God and Satan’s plan to bring ruin to God’s goodness.  Satan is that angel who fell because he would not serve God in obedience.  Disobedience is at the center of what Satan introduced in the garden and disobedience remains at the heart of our sins, for which we are personally responsible.  That’s why the Cross of Jesus is the fulfillment of this first announcement of the gospel: because the Cross is fundamentally about obedience.  God the Son, takes on our flesh, and he comes to do the Father’s will.  In obedience Jesus accepts the Cross and the punishment for our sins.  The obedience of the Cross undoes the disobedience inspired by Satan.

I’d like you to think about the value of the Cross in order to understand our faith in Mary’s preservation from sin in her immaculate conception.  The sacrificial event of Jesus’ death on the Cross is what saves us.  It is re-presented here at the Holy Mass and that’s why the Mass is so important to our faith and our entrance into Heaven because it places us in contact with the sacrificial value of the Cross.  I’m willing to bet that most everyone here believes the Cross is what saves us, even though it happened a few thousand years before any of us was ever thought of, or ever lived and walked the earth.  In other words, I bet most everyone here believes that God the Father saw the value of Jesus’ obedience and sacrifice on the Cross and applied the merit, the value, of that sacrifice, to people who did not live at the time and in the place where it happened.  God sees the value and the merit of the Cross and I bet you believe that its value moves forward in time and is applied to you and to me a few thousand years later.  Here is what I’d like you to consider: If you believe the value of Jesus’ sacrifice can apply to you thousands of year later, can you believe and accept that God could see the value of the Cross and apply its value before it happened?  If its value could move forward in time to us, can God permit its value to go backward in time?  That is basically what we are saying in faith about Mary’s immaculate conception.  We are saying that God Who exists outside of time and Who sees and knows all things, could see the value of what His Son would accomplish on the Cross and He applied that value to Mary from the first moment of her conception in her mother’s womb.  Thus, God gave Mary the gift of saving her from the first moment of her life.  It’s not that she did not need salvation, no!  God saved her from the first moment of her life by the value of the sacrifice of Jesus which the Father could foresee.

Why would it be important for God to have a plan to do this for the mother of our Savior?  If God’s plan was to send His Son in the flesh to be born among us, in time, in the normal course of human birth, then a human being, having inherited a fallen nature due to original sin, could not do anything but pass on fallen, sinful human flesh to Jesus.  But the Book of Revelation tells us that nothing unholy can be in God’s presence.  Much less together with Him.  God, the all-holy One, cannot coexist with sin.  It’s like oil and water; they don’t go together.  So, God’s preserving Mary from sin from the first moment of her life means she was being prepared for the role He chose for her in salvation: to give human flesh to the Son.  And by preserving her from sin, God the Father was making it possible to pass on to Jesus the pure flesh that could coexist with Him.  Mary’s being preserved from sin means she could provide for Jesus sinless human flesh in which to take up dwelling, in order to come to save us.

Thus the collect of this Holy Mass speaks well of what we believe in this aspect of our faith.  Listen to it again carefully: “O God, who…prepared a worthy dwelling for your Son, grant, we pray, that, as you preserved her from every stain by virtue of the Death of your Son, which you foresaw, so through her intercession, we, too, may be cleansed and admitted to your presence.”

We celebrate in this solemnity the special gift of God to Mary.  A gift that was part of His plan, first announced in Genesis, to deal a mortal blow to Satan and the harm he had done to God’s desire for us to have Heaven.  Since obedience was the undoing of Satan’s disobedience, then obedience to God must be fostered in our Christian living.  And this is why Mary is for us such a great example and intercessor.  She is the one who said “yes” to God’s plan.  We heard of that obedience in the gospel: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”  God has a desire for us to live in communion with Him now and forever in Heaven.  He has fulfilled His plan in Jesus’s sacrifice.  Today we celebrate the role He prepared Mary to occupy to bring us that Savior.  Looking to Mary and counting on her prayers for us we can walk confidently toward God trusting that by sincerely doing away with sin, by confessing it, and seeking to observe greater obedience to God now, we will be prepared one day to enjoy the fullness of obedience’s reward in eternal life in Heaven.

Second Sunday of Advent - Fr. Hamilton

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Dominica II Adventus A

4 December 2016

Once at about the age of seven I was outside with some neighborhood buddies.  There was just enough wind that day that it caught a small piece of paper we were arguing over.  As the wind took the paper away from us, that was all that was needed to start an impromptu competition between me and another boy.  We both took off running after it to see who could win and who could get to the paper first.  Focused more on the paper than on the ground before my feet I tripped, slammed into the sidewalk, and ended up losing not only the paper but, as I soon discovered, an entire fingernail!  It was not a good day in the neighborhood.  And it was a stupid thing to race after.  I thought about that as I walked home preparing to explain to Mom and Dad what had happened.  At this time of year there is lots of rushing and running around: decorating, parties, shopping, traveling.  The collects, that is the prayer at the beginning of Mass, for the first and second Sundays of Advent seem to admit or capture this hectic reality.  But of course, the Church’s prayer captures and calls us to be busy, not about worldly matters, but about running the race of faith, running to Christ, and rushing to advance finally to eternal life.  Last Sunday’s collect prayed: “Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming.”  Today’s collect prayed: “Almighty and merciful God, may no earthly undertaking hinder those who set out in haste to meet your Son.”

Are we disciples marked by holy running and rushing about for the faith and righteous deeds?  Or is our running and rushing about focused mostly, or maybe only, on sales, deals, and secular affairs?  We can be about things IN the world, provided we bring Christ to those things.  But we should not be marked as people exclusively OF the world.  And so a good point of reflection to make sure we are only IN the world and not OF the world is to take honest, sober stock of what hinders us from being true disciples.  The preaching of St. John the Baptist still calls to us today to consider whether we give more effort to running to things of this world than we do to Christ.  So what hinders you from rushing to Christ?

The word in our English translation of the collect that refers to things that “hinder” our haste to meet Christ is, in the original Latin, the word “impede.”  “Impede” in Latin is constructed from the word for “foot,” from which we get words like “pedestrian” or “bipedal.”  The prayer of the Church’s faith acknowledges that we should be rushing to meet Christ but that we must be on guard about those things that are obstacles, that entangle and ensnare our feet, that impede us. 

Sometimes we run foolishly, as I did that day as a boy.  Unaware of what can trip up our feet we risk physical injury.  This serves as an image for our running in faith.  If we are not aware of obstacles and if we don’t seek to remove them from our lives we can risk eternal injury when such an impeded soul will rush headlong to hell instead of God’s desire for it to have Heaven.  A person who follows worldly wisdom consumes his time with things that do not achieve or merit salvation.  A person who is busy about rushing toward Christ accomplishes deeds of faith, the righteous deeds, or good fruits of which St. John preached, that merit salvation when Christ comes again.

When we honestly reflect upon how we spend our time, if we give more effort to worldly pursuits then, it is safe to say, we have obstacles at our feet.  If we worship the things the world worships: honor, power, money, pleasure, sex, and possessions; then we are failing to worship God in first place and we will find ourselves impeded in running to Christ.  If we can always be available to talk to friends, spend time on the phone, surf the internet, and use social media, but we can’t seem to find time to speak and to listen to God then we will likely get tripped up in running the straight path to the Lord.  If we have a type of default setting that accepts worldly rhetoric about the definition of marriage, the meaning of the body, and the dignity of human life, more easily or more readily than we accept Christ’s wisdom and teaching then we can be sure that, as the collect says, “earthly undertakings” are hindering our path to Christ and that we need to learn “heavenly wisdom [in order to] gain us admittance to [Christ’s] company” (Collect, Second Sunday of Advent).

Today’s gospel, reporting the preaching of St. John the Baptist, gives us one way to remove obstacles that hinder us: namely, repentance.  In talking about repentance I like to highlight and distill for people a very clear message of the Bible.  When you read the Bible from start to finish you find over and over again the clear message of repentance.  All the prophets speak of turning from sin and reforming one’s life in readiness for the coming day of the Lord.  St. John the Baptist, the last and greatest of the prophets, comes with a wild appearance and with a radical call to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”  With all that preceded in the Old Testament can we act surprised when Jesus appears publicly and begins preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand?”  Jesus established his Church and sent out his apostles to do his work and so, can we act surprised or deaf when those apostles and the Church still today preach that people should repent (Mk. 6:12)?  With such a clear biblical call, repentance must be at the very heart and center of our lives as Christians.  Another way to say this is, how can someone who follows Jesus NOT be someone who repents?!  Can someone who doesn’t repent even be a Christian disciple in any true way, given the preponderance of the biblical call to repent?  In Advent we hear greater emphasis on what should be our regular practice of repentance.  For Catholics that regular practice is sacramentalized by Christ in confession.  Confession is the opportunity to check the ground around our feet and to locate the obstacles so that Christ can remove them and heal them.  Confession is our response to the invitation of Jesus to make him room in our lives: to identify our sins and to name them honestly.  By this we use our freedom to give to Jesus a direct invitation to come to those places where we are hindered and impeded and where we need him to come to fuller birth in us.  Each and every week in our parish we have four days of confessions offered.  By making use of these opportunities in Advent and each month we identify where we need the Lord to come to us and we cry out in the words of that beautiful Advent hymn: O come, O come, Emmanuel!