Audio: Fourth Sunday of Easter

Audio: Fourth Sunday of Easter

“My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all,
and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.
The Father and I are one.”

In the Gospel reading for this weekend, commonly known as Good Shepherd Sunday, Jesus says that his sheep hear his voice. In reflection we might as ourselves, how familiar are we with Jesus? How familiar are we with his voice? In what ways do we hear Jesus’ voice? In what ways do we not hear it?  What in our lives needs to change so that we are more attentive to his voice?

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Fourth Sunday of Easter

Dominica IV Paschae C

12 May 2019

This weekend is commonly known as Good Shepherd Sunday because of Jesus’ use of the image of shepherd and sheep in the Gospel, the very same Gospel section where Jesus also proclaims: I am the Good Shepherd.  Good Shepherd Sunday is also a time to give focus to prayer and to our efforts to encourage vocations in our parish by directly speaking to the young people in our midst and in your families about the call of Jesus in their lives.

Jesus says that his sheep hear his voice.  The implication is that his sheep are familiar with him such that they recognize him because they can identify his voice.  And hearing him, they follow him.  You may not have a sheep, but if you have a pet you know this well.  When I return after several days away on vacation my vacations always end in the same curious way: I go over to my mom’s house to… whisper!  Why do I whisper?  Because she keeps my cat and if he hears my voice from within the room he is kept in, he will begin a very loud and obnoxious whining meow.  So, to visit my mom at the end of a vacation I sit in her living room and whisper about my trip because the cat knows my voice and if he gets making noise, my visit with mom is over.

We are familiar with many things.  We know our sports teams.  If you hear “Who dat?” you might well know it’s a reference to the New Orleans Saints.  If you hear that Rumble is giving away tickets in the narthex you know we’re talking Thunder tickets.  We know our songs.  If you hear the rousing beat and the lyrics “Just a man and his will to survive” you could probably quickly respond with “The Eye of the Tiger.”  We know our movies.  If the altar boys are a bit rowdy before Mass and to remind them who is in charge I were to say “I am your father,” they know I’m making a Star Wars reference.  If you press someone to give you the full story and they jokingly respond with “You can’t handle the truth!” you likely have a clear image of Colonel Jessep in A Few Good Men.  There’s nothing wrong with knowing these things and enjoying pop culture.  But in truth these things aren’t worth much in the end.  We would have to admit that so many things with which we are familiar and with which we identify don’t have a lasting value.

How familiar are we with Jesus?  How familiar are we with his voice?  Compare that with how immediately recognizable the “voice” of pop culture is to us, how easily we identity it.  For as much as we so easily identify sports, music, and movies, if we are Christians shouldn’t we be all the more familiar with Jesus, with the voice of the Master, our Good Shepherd?  While Jesus uses the image of a sheep and shepherd, he clearly is using it as an analogy.  When he says he gives his sheep eternal life, we know he is saying there is something more critically important about following him, something more at stake in hearing and listening to him.  Shepherds care for their sheep and their wellbeing in the natural order, but they don’t give them eternal life.   To be familiar with Jesus, to hear his voice, and to follow him is worth much more than the voices and messages of pop culture, frivolity, or dissent that surround us.  When we listen to him and follow him we are permitting him to shepherd us to eternal life.  If we are more familiar with other voices and things of lesser value then we might risk being led astray because then we would be formed and guided by things that do not truly matter and that do not last.

In what ways do we hear Jesus’ voice?  In what ways do we not hear it?  What in our lives needs to change so that we are more attentive to his voice?  In giving guidance and in caring to guard the life of the sheep, a shepherd has to make choices for the sheep that place limits on them, that create boundaries, that restrict them, and that require obedience.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  We are his sheep.  Does your experience of following Jesus mean you know there are boundaries and restrictions that require obedience from you?  Or is it inconceivable that you would have to change any of your ways in order to follow Jesus?  Or is your default setting that whatever I think or feel like is what should be acceptable and okay with God?  Not intending to belittle, I ask that question because it would seem that a prevailing attitude in our time is that if something about following Jesus just hits too close to home then surely it’s too much to ask of my obedience.  We shouldn’t be unaware of this trend such that we are swept up in following voices and messages that are not our Good Shepherd.  There can be no doubt that at some point you, like me, have come across someone claiming to be Catholic yet holding or professing an opinion directly contrary to clear Church teaching, usually in the arena of morality.  Think of any current hot button issue and you can probably find a dissenting voice claiming to be Catholic.  Sometimes the dissenting voice is wearing a Roman collar and ought to know better.  Sometimes the dissenting voice means well but has been so poorly formed they don’t know what they are talking about.  Other times, maybe the most insidious dissent, is the voice that chooses the authority and primacy of the self and simply will not listen to what Jesus and his Church teach.  You can guess I have a number of conversations about faith and Church teaching.  In a particular area of clear moral teaching an otherwise very fine person once told me, “Well, that’s not an area of life that I let the Church’s teaching impact me.”  It’s a stunning statement.  It’s simply a clear refusal to hear Jesus’ voice, to follow in obedience, and so to be led by his shepherding to the pastures of eternal life that Jesus wants to give.  And I think that is more and more a common tendency in our time.  We need to be aware of it.  The tendency goes like this: A person has a challenge or a struggle that requires sacrifice; the person doesn’t want to feel badly about his or her situation; and so, he or she simply chooses to ignore anything from outside him or herself that sounds like an obligation to work, to change, or to follow what is difficult.  Instead a more and more common default setting is to simply shut out the voice of Christ when it hits too close to home or requires too much.

If we are sheep of the flock being guided to eternal life by Jesus then we need to have the conviction that listening to Jesus’ voice and teaching in our own lives actually matters.  And that it matters unto salvation and eternal life!  Why would I make such a claim?  Because in God’s love for us Jesus came to save us from sin and the voice of the serpent who wants to lead us astray, just as he did Adam and Eve.  Jesus himself spoke clear teaching that confirms and upholds God’s Word from the Old Covenant.  The voice of our Good Shepherd went still further and called us to a deeper demand to love in giving up ourselves.  Finally, the Good Shepherd established his Church to proclaim his truth and to continue to guide us.  Jesus himself said to his apostles and disciples, “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me” (Lk. 10:16).  Remaining and living in the communion of the Church is where we the sheep most clearly hear the voice of our shepherd and where we come to know him and are known by him.  Here we have the Sacred Scripture, the Sacred Tradition, the authentic worship that renews us and refocuses our eyes and ears on Jesus.  Here we have the teaching of Christ guided in his Church by the Holy Spirit of truth.  Here, if we will listen and obey Jesus’ voice, we can dwell secure in his hand.  Here in the sheepfold we have the greatest means to become familiar with the Good Shepherd who calls us and who lays down his life and rises again so that we, too, might rise to eternal life in the pastures of heaven.

Third Sunday of Easter

Dominica III Paschae

Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41; Rev. 5:11-14; Jn. 21:1-19

5 May 2019

Graduating seniors, and anyone older preparing for a class reunion, know that this time of year is often characterized by a good deal of self-reflection and reminiscing about the past while charting a course for the future.  That reflection for graduates, finishing up one stage of life and preparing to embark on something unfamiliar with its mix of excitement and uncertainty, [that reflection] can lead to acknowledging and facing regrets, unfulfilled tasks, mistakes, and even sins, together with a renewal and a recommitment to start anew and to do things differently, to be more the person one should be.  Revisiting the past, reminiscing, can help us make a course correction and can help form new dedication to not make the same mistakes again.

Why am I suggesting the image or analogy of the reflection often associated with graduation or a class reunion?  Let’s look at why the Gospel scene for the disciples may well have brought to the fore much self-reflection, reminiscing, confronting past errors, and recommitting to a new course.

St. John tells us this is the third resurrection appearance of Jesus.  The first two were in Jerusalem.  This one is back in Galilee.  So immediately we have the sense of homecoming, going back to the roots of the disciples’ life with Jesus, the roots of their call and their mission, their first conversion, zeal, love and commitment to him.  They are at the Sea of Tiberias, which is another name for the Sea of Galilee.  We might call it the sea of miracles.  So many incredible things had happened on those waters with Jesus and the disciples.  So many incredible things had taken place on the shores and nearby.  The setting is a place where the disciples had had such powerful encounters with Jesus.  This sets the stage for another.

There is an allusion in this Gospel selection [John 21] to what St. Luke recounts in his fifth chapter.  There, as in this account, a group of the disciples is out fishing all night and they catch nothing.  Jesus instructs where to fish and a great haul is brought in.  Obedience is a clear lesson, obedience to God even and especially when it seems counterintuitive and against one’s better judgment as a human being.  Jesus then says from now on they will be catching men.  So, when in today’s Gospel selection, a miraculous catch of fish is made you know Peter and the disciples can’t help but recall the prior time and how it led them to give up everything to follow Jesus.

The language here also makes an allusion to the miraculous feeding of the five thousand with bread and fish, an event that had happened in the same place and which was followed by Jesus’ walking upon the very same Sea of Galilee.

And given that Jesus invites the disciples to come eat with him, there is an allusion to eating with Jesus at the Last Supper.  At the Last Supper, Peter had boldly claimed that he would remain even when all the others betrayed and fled, saying “I will lay down my life for you” (Jn. 13:37).  Jesus follows up that claim by indicating that Peter would deny him three times.  Here in this setting on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias/the Sea of Galilee, Peter can’t help but be taken back to all of these moments.  Self-reflection.  Reminiscing.

The charcoal fire gives a clear indication of what Peter must remember in order to recommit himself to Jesus and to his mission.  The word in Greek used here for ‘charcoal fire’ is a unique word and it is not the common word for fire.  That unique Greek word is used in another place, not long before this episode, and that gives us a sign to focus in on, and an indication of what this scene must have made Peter consider.  Where else is the word for charcoal fire used?  In the Passion account, after the Last Supper, after predicting the threefold denial by Peter, while Jesus is being interrogated by the high priest, Peter is sitting nearby in the high priest’s courtyard with others warming himself (Jn. 18:18).  ‘Charcoal fire,’ you see, is the place where Peter was more concerned about himself, taking care of his own bodily needs, warming himself to keep his body from being uncomfortable due to cold, while his denial was aimed at keeping himself from being uncomfortable by being too associated with Jesus.

I suggest that all of this tells us that the air of today’s scene is pregnant with memory and that just as when we stand in familiar places and prepare to leave in order to embark on something new, we can reasonably assume for Peter that this place causes for him the type of self-reflection and reminiscing that we know so well.  This reflection brings about for Peter an opportunity for recommitting and recommission; and the same can be true for us.  Peter recommits and turns back after having denied Jesus.  What might this teach us about recommitting to our first following of Jesus?  What might this teach us about turning away from our sins and our failure to follow, and turning back to Jesus instead?  What might this teach us about renewing again our responsibility for the mission of Jesus and his Church?  As Peter had to renew and recommit to his love for Jesus, he was reminded of his call to shepherd and care for Jesus’ flock.  What work, what care, what shepherding is left undone if we fail in our mission?  If we don’t renew and recommit to our love for Jesus?  What of Jesus’s desire for our world and for souls around us is thwarted if time and again we are more concerned for ourselves, for our reputation, for our comfort as opposed to being engaged in being living disciples and bold witnesses in this world?  What work of the Lord is left undone if we are more busy warming ourselves to avoid being too closely associated with the demands of God?

We must take obedience to God seriously.  Obedience is at the heart of the original call to be a disciple, to be obedient to the love of God.  After all, obedience to God, rather than to men, is what the apostles offer as their defense before the Sanhedrin in the first reading.

Like Peter it is time to reflect and consider where we need to make a course correction as disciples.  Like Peter it is time to recommit and to find our first love and zeal for the mission of the Lord.  In a world that rejects obedience to God’s designs and chooses the self instead, where must we recommit to being bold disciples?  Will we keep ourselves warm by the charcoal fire of silence in the face of offenses against human life?  Are parents and friends choosing the charcoal fire when there is no pushback if children should choose to live in sin outside of marriage, so common and increasingly so these days?  When the world is running wild toward active homosexuality, transgenderism, and sexual immorality of all kinds, do we simply keep ourselves warm, or will we speak the truth as the living members of the body of Christ we are all called to be?  Are we disobedient to God, while staying in the light of a screen viewing pornography?  Is our heart heavy with the charcoal of serious uncharity and hatred toward another, or refusal to forgive?  Ought our lips be receiving Holy Communion with such burning flames?  To continue the image, do we sort of stand such that the light of the fire shines on someone else, pointing out someone else’s faults and sins while refusing to acknowledge our own, keeping our own in the dark, and rarely visiting confession, so judgmental are we.  When even among the leadership of the Church, among bishops and priests, there are those who are weak shepherds, and even some who are frauds, will we simply deny the truth of Christ and keep ourselves warm?  You see, we cannot complain about the course correction needed in our world if as disciples we are content to stay by the charcoal fire warming ourselves.

Like St. Peter, thanks to the generous mercy and saving power of the Risen Lord, we have the opportunity to acknowledge where we keep ourselves comfortable in disobedience to God.  And, like St. Peter, we have the opportunity to correct the course, to renew ourselves and to recommit as Jesus’ followers.  Yes, it will require obedience.   Yes, it will be difficult.  Yes, we will be led to give of ourselves and to stretch out our hands in sacrifice.  But it is Jesus who remains with us and who gives us the strength to be his witnesses.  It is Jesus who calls us today too to recommit ourselves to bold obedient discipleship.  He says to us too: Follow me!

 

Easter Vigil & Easter Sunday

Easter Vigil & Easter Sunday

20 & 21 April 2019

Gospel: Luke 24:1-12

[Note: One very limited part in brackets was delivered only at the Easter Vigil Mass]

God’s action is not limited only to times past.  Our faith is that God offers us salvation too.  Our observance of Easter reminds us [through the abundant selection of Scripture at this Vigil] of what God has already done so generously and it should cause us to think of what God is doing now to offer us new life.  Considering the history of how God’s people turned to Him and lived with Him, versus the times they turned away and lived apart, should make us consider the same dynamic in our own lives.  Knowing our own salvation story reveals to us just how much ongoing, regular, renewal and recommitment we need as disciples of Jesus.

We have now completed our Lenten journey begun many weeks ago.  Lent serves us as a time to identify the cross we must carry in order to follow the path of Jesus toward his Kingdom.  Where by faith and baptism we once died to self and rose to new life in Christ, we find periods of life where we refuse to deny ourselves, as if we are fighting to take back the old life we gave up.  In the many ways we do not pick up the cross, the ways we sin, we see before us the project of each Lent, namely to deny ourselves, to die to self, in order that with greater fidelity we pick up the cross and follow the path of the Master before us….sort of like dragging our crosses in the way of the rut already carved by Jesus’ Cross before us. 

Do we need regular renewal and recommitment in our life as disciples?  You bet we do!  If you aren’t convinced the answer is “yes,” let me ask you: at any point this Lent did you struggle and fail with the Lenten practices you yourself chose?  And let’s drill deeper, did any challenge and refusal to deny yourself happen within a week’s time span?  Often we plan some spiritual practices and sacrifices and a week passes and we haven’t made much progress.  We get going and we are doing well, and then suddenly we cave and choose our own ego and refuse dying to self.  Lent is our annual season of serious renewal.  But the Church, recognizing how much struggle there can be in our spiritual life even within a week’s period, tells us we need more than just once a year renewal, rather we need weekly renewal by attendance each Sunday at Holy Mass where we experience a small Easter, a renewal in God’s word, a call to deeper conversion, and a preparation to receive worthily the Lord’s gift of self in Holy Communion.

On Holy Thursday we heard St. John’s account of the last supper.  There the apostles who had already long ago decided to follow Jesus faltered.  Judas was ready to betray.  Peter refused Jesus’ action and said, “You will never wash my feet.”  In the Gospel passage at this Mass we hear that these same apostles thought the message from the women of Jesus’ resurrection was nonsense and they did not believe.  Peter goes to at least check out the tomb, but goes home amazed, as if to say, “What is going on here?”  Do you and I need regular renewal as disciples?  You bet we do!  These towering figures of the Bible sure did.  Let’s not be naïve: What we do here to renew our life today needs to be repeated time and time again so that our commitment to the Lord is more authentic.

Sometimes without much critical thought and quite reflexively we easily state that we are Christians in the way Jesus says we should be.  But a broader view might reveal something different.  And we should take that view so that we aren’t unaware of how easy it is to drift away from the path.  It is sort of like how much more you can see of an event when you have an aerial view.  The Christian who is unaware of that innate tendency of our fallen nature to drift away from the Lord is something like watching an aerial view of a police chase.  You commit one infraction.   You choose to keep going.  You don’t stop at the first signals.  You ignore the clear signs that you are in the wrong and plow through the stop sticks.  You’re driving on rims, sparks flying, erratic and out of control.  And you end up in custody.  And since this is an analogy for the spiritual life, I’m not talking about police custody but the custody of the devil in the kingdom of darkness.

Here we gather to be renewed in faith in the Resurrection of Jesus, that most central and fundamental truth without which, St. Paul would say, our faith would be in vain and we would still be in our sins (cf. 1 Cor. 15:17).  The Gospel presents us the initial key evidence of the Resurrection: the tomb is empty and they do not find the body.  But maybe it’s a hoax, some might say.  Anyone who would choose to believe that would need to explain how in the ancient world, which did not accept the testimony of women, a fledgling group of disciples would hope to have their alleged hoax believed by putting forward the testimony of women.  But for the disciples this wasn’t controversial or a conflict, it was simply the truth.  The women saw and reported it.  The body stolen?  Who would take the time to untie the body bands and burial cloths if they were trying to quickly take and hide a body?  Wherever in life we are like the apostles, unbelieving, not engaged, sort of drifting away wondering “what’s going on here,” the generosity of God calls us to gather here to be renewed in our faith and the proclamation of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, giving us hope that God’s saving action is not only in the past, but is in the here and now of your life and mine!

 

Audio: Holy Thursday – Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper

Audio: Holy Thursday – Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him,
"Master, are you going to wash my feet?"
Jesus answered and said to him,
"What I am doing, you do not understand now,
but you will understand later."
Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet."
Jesus answered him,
"Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me."
Simon Peter said to him,
"Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well."
Jesus said to him

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Audio: Fourth Sunday of Lent

Audio: Fourth Sunday of Lent

“Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.”

Reading 1 JOS 5:9A, 10-12
Responsorial Psalm PS 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7.
Reading 2 2 COR 5:17-21
Verse Before The Gospel LK 15:18
Gospel LK 15:1-3, 11-32

For more information on Save Haven Sunday visit: https://archokc.org/news/safe-haven-sunday

You can listen to another powerful homily by Fr. Hamilton on the topic of pornography here: https://archive.org/details/6182017_20170618

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Third Sunday of Lent

Dominica III in Quadragesima C

Holy Family Consecration Weekend

24 March 2019

We have been preparing for a novena of days to freely participate in our parish-wide Consecration to the Holy Family, which we will accomplish today after the homily.  I am grateful to our parish Knights of Columbus for proposing and supporting this consecration.  They once again stand out as good Catholic men who keep before themselves and before all of us the call to become even better disciples of the Lord Jesus and members of God’s family in the Church.  Today I want to comment on some lessons of the Scripture passages in light of the role and mission of the Catholic family to be a place of God’s dwelling, an example and witness of Christian life, and a generator for evangelizing the wider society and culture.  Whether your family is still very young or without children, still awaiting children, or whether you still have children in the home, or whether the generosity of adoption has formed a family, or whether children are grown and you are in the empty nest phase, all of our families are called to attract others to Christ like the supernatural fire of the burning bush attracted Moses to God.

The Book of Exodus presents us with one of the most iconic theophanies – appearances of God – in all the Scriptures.  In fact, I can still remember the picture associated with this Bible passage in the children’s Bible my parents gave to me as a boy.  And I’m grateful I have those memories of my parents being evangelizers in the family home.  Moses is on Mount Horeb when he sees the burning bush.  God’s voice tells him that he is on holy ground.  The Hebrew word for holy, “kadosh,” is used by the highest rank of the nine choirs of angels, the Seraphim, a name meaning “fiery ones,” who chant before God’s presence “holy, holy, holy” (cf. Is. 6:3).  The word is used for the Temple, it is used for the sanctuary, it is used for the innermost part of the tabernacle – the Holy of Holies.  It means that this place is set apart, it is sanctified, it is consecrated by a special presence of the Lord God.  So, in this sense, on the mountain Moses is entering into a natural consecrated sanctuary, much like we come to the mountain, to our raised sanctuaries as consecrated places to encounter the burning love of God who gives Himself to us in Word and in Sacrament.

Moses has this privileged encounter with God because he is being given a mission for the good of God’s people who are dwelling in unholy land.  They are dwelling in Egypt, in a polytheistic society where, among the many gods believed in, Pharaoh himself has acted as a god.  By his affliction of the Hebrew people Pharaoh has sought to undo the one true God’s promise of numerous offspring by enforcing harsh labor (Ex. 1:8-14) and killing all the first-born males (Ex. 1:15-22).  Pharaoh has also sought to annul God’s promise of land by refusing to let the people go up to their own land (Ex. 1:10).  Encountering God in fire, Moses is sent out into a trial by fire to proclaim the one true God to a hostile world and to proclaim to God’s afflicted people God’s plan of salvation and His plan to call them to the mission of creating a people who belong exclusively and intentionally to Him.

We can receive the Consecration to the Holy Family in this same sense today.  We come here, to the place set apart for holy encounter with God.  Here we are reminded in Word and we experience in Sacrament the fire of God’s love.  Here we are claimed for Christ and renewed to live that fundamental consecration in baptism to be God’s holy people and to permit God His place in the life of the home.  Compared to Moses’ time, we think of ourselves and our time in history as more sophisticated.  Yet, we live surrounded by people and a society who quite literally are idolaters, having their own golden calves.  You see just how literally this is true in the battle on public ground where Nativity Scenes and Ten Commandments monuments are erected resulting in Satanic groups demanding rights for images of horned goats.  The other false gods of our society are more subtle, yet they easily replace the type of dedication we should have to the one true God.  Examples of false gods abound in our time: the god of self-sufficiency, the god of “my time,” the god of pleasure, the god of money, the god of sports, the god of drugs, the god of lust and of pro-choice, the god of politics, the god of self-determination, the god of infidelity and adultery, the god of fornication, perversion, and gender ideology, and on and on… a circus of polytheism in our own time demanding an allegiance that is fairly called extremism.

Just as Moses encountered God in a holy sanctuary set apart, so do we do so here.  We encounter God and we prepare to proclaim Him to a hostile world, burning with unholy attachments and false affections.  Just as God reveals Himself to the Hebrews as the God of their fathers, so God continues to choose to make Himself present in family life.  Thus, our families need to be strengthened in living their dignity as people set apart for God and their mission to proclaim God to a challenging environment.

But isn’t it good enough in this setting to be basically religious and generally a good person?  What good is a consecration prayer?  Does it really make a difference to God to live family life intentionally as a holy way of life, a holy calling?  The second reading gives us a shocking lesson of not falling into the danger of overconfidence in faith, the danger of misplaced confidence in faith.  The point of the selection comes in the very final line today: “Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.”  That admonition follows a surprising listing by which St. Paul highlights the religious blessings and experiences of the ancestors.  And what is the shocking conclusion?  Despite all their religious blessings, St. Paul says, “Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert.”  Put that into a New Covenant context and let the lesson apply to us to not fall to overconfidence about being basically a religious person, the privileged cradle Catholic, or a “going-through-the-motions” Catholic.  We have experiences of God in prayer, even in the cloud of incense.  You can pass through the waters of baptism for yourself or bring your baby.  Eat the same spiritual food here… but if we aren’t being careful, if we aren’t going beyond surface or external actions and looking deeper into what kind of persons we really are… we are not learning the lesson of the example St. Paul sets forth.  Is my family life lived as really set apart for God?  If I am a member of Christ’s Body and if I consecrate myself and my family to the Holy Family, am I living as I should?

Avoiding overconfidence is one reason why I have emphasized personal intention and freely desiring this Holy Family Consecration in this preparation time for today’s consecration act.  To borrow the gospel image, God expects fruit from the family tree.  He looks for our families to bear fruit in being places where the style of home life actually permits Him to have room by family prayer, Sunday worship, moral living, and service to others.  He expects fruit to come for the good of our troubled society by the fact of having placed cells of godly family life directly into the fiery trial of modern secular life.  Our families are the domestic Church.  They are emissaries of light, like the burning bush in your neighborhoods meant to proclaim God and His promises to your children and to others beyond the family, even to those who give more attention to the false gods of our time.  Your family life is holy ground.  After all family life is the place set apart by which God Himself, Jesus Christ, chose to come and to bring salvation to our afflicted world!

First Sunday of Lent

Dominica I in Quadragesima C

10 March 2019

In a few minutes in the preface of this Mass of the First Sunday of Lent we will hear the following about Jesus and the Gospel scene just proclaimed: “he consecrated through his fast the pattern of our Lenten observance.”  In our faith and religious use the term “consecration” refers to a solemn act by which something or someone is set apart for God.  For example, a church is consecrated by a bishop in a solemn act, its walls being anointed with the Sacred Chrism that we also use in baptism, confirmation, and ordination of priests and bishops.  Thus, the whole building is a place set apart for privileged encounter with God, distinct and separate from the profane world around it.   This means that secular use of the space is inappropriate, at the very least awkward, and potentially sacrilegious.  A thing once set apart for God is never to be used for any profane purpose.  A sacred object – a thing consecrated – is definitively set aside for God.

But when the thing consecrated is not an object, but a person, there is more to consider.  A person can be set aside for God by a solemn act.  For example, this takes place when a man is ordained.  It takes place when a man or woman takes solemn vows in religious life or a person is consecrated to a life of virginity.  A more fundamental level of consecration takes place when a person is baptized and then confirmed.  The person is anointed, the sign of the Holy Spirit, by which that person belongs to God and is set apart for Him in a special way.  A critically important distinction between the consecration of a person, as distinct from an object, is that a person’s free will must be involved and must cooperate to live in accord with consecration.  An inanimate object does not have free will and so its consecration is accomplished merely by the solemn external act by which it is consecrated.  But a person must use his free will to desire consecration, to pursue the solemn act by which consecration takes place, and – very important – a person must live in accord with his or her consecration for it to bear fruit.  Just as profane use of a consecrated object is inappropriate and even sacrilegious, consider the added weight of moral gravity when a consecrated person set apart FOR God chooses to live apart FROM God by choosing sin.  We can say with good reason that the sins of a baptized and confirmed person, the sins of an ordained person, take on an added gravity of sacrilege because it is the refusal of the consecration of one set apart for God.  While all sin is sin, there is a unique gravity when a consecrated person sins as compared to the same sin committed by a pagan.  So, when we speak of the consecration of a person we are not speaking only of the external act by which he or she is set apart for God; rather, we must also speak of the person’s internal disposition by which he seeks to live for God and to live in accord with the mission given by God.

The Gospel selection about Jesus shows us both dimensions of being consecrated by a solemn, external act, AND the interior disposition, the use of free will, to live that consecration in his mission as the New Adam, the faithful Israel, the Son of God who comes to save us.  The Gospel begins by reminding us that Jesus had just been baptized and consecrated by a solemn, external act in the anointing of the Holy Spirit when it says, “Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan.”  And the bulk of the Gospel selection shows us the other dimension of the consecration of a person, by which interior freedom must be used to live in accord with one’s consecrated mission.  We see Jesus’ interior disposition, the use of his free will, in his response to the devil’s temptings.  Jesus chooses to live as set apart for the Father by rejecting the devil’s ideas and choosing to live his true identity as the Beloved Son of God.

Why this focus on consecration?  The Preface of the Mass tells us that Jesus’ fasting consecrated the pattern of our Lenten observance.  Fasting for Jesus and for us results, if we are doing it seriously, in a strong visceral reaction and that serves to teach us that we so often respond to even the slightest need, provocation, or physical prompting from the body while it is easy to ignore the soul and our spiritual reality and needs.  When we fast as a spiritual practice we can’t help but be more alert.  We know we are doing something to live more deeply our consecration to God.  We feel and hear the cues from our body in fasting, but we immediately use our higher faculty, our mind and our will, to direct our attention to our deeper hunger to live apart for God, and not simply to fill the belly.  This connection between our Lenten observance and consecration sheds some light on a special opportunity our parish will have in two weekends.  I am using the homily this weekend to encourage us to prepare for a parish-wide consecration to the Holy Family.  Our parish Knights of Columbus presented this idea to me and they are taking the lead in making this rich opportunity happen.  Knights serve and protect things, right?  These knights in our parish see the need to support and to protect living the faith in the family and so they are providing us with this special opportunity.  By means of prayer, confession, fasting, and spiritual preparation in these next two weeks, we have the opportunity to use our freedom to live more deeply the sacramental life that sets us and our families apart as the domestic Church, the place where God dwells in the family home.  As the spiritual father of this community I will personally lead us in the formal prayer by which we will effect this consecration at all Masses the weekend of March 23 and 24.  But it is up to each family, and especially the parents, to prepare for this consecration and to freely engage in what it means to be a family set apart for God, a family who lives the sacred mission of being a domestic Church, a place where prayer happens, where God is welcome, where the moral life is observed, and where the Gospel is proclaimed by the way your family lives its life.  This consecration is, in a certain sense, the call to simply be who we are called to be, who we were made by baptism, confirmation, and which the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony has made your homes to be.

I ask each family to choose to prepare for this consecration and so to be ready to freely engage in the consecration prayer we will say together in two weeks.  Beginning on March 15 for a novena of days, or at least for the week leading up to the consecration, we should be engaged in preparation by family prayer, fasting, and making a confession.  Some of you may be away over Spring Break the week before the consecration, which is why I want you to hear about this now so that you may be alerted to use preparation time well.  Our Knights of Columbus will be present after all Masses handing out preparation materials.

In the spirit of the Gospel I want to warn you, however, to expect some temptations and obstacles to arise leading up to this consecration.  Just as the devil hoped Jesus would not live in accord with his consecration, so he will see to it that temptations come your way too.  Maybe the temptation comes from troubles dealing with a child in the “terrible twos,” or maybe the teen years, who doesn’t want to cooperate and who needs to be reminded who is in charge of the household, especially when it comes to prayer, attending Mass, or formation classes.  Perhaps the temptation will come to simply live Spring Break as if it were a vacation from Lent.  Maybe the temptation is to avoid confessing sin such that we are not renewed in our baptismal life, our most basic consecration.  Maybe the temptation is that there is silence where family prayer in the home ought to take place.  Whatever the case, the Gospel shows us we need to prepare.  Expect to be mocked by the devil and to have obstacles come your way.  Respond with Jesus, using the words of Scripture, “One does not live on bread alone,” “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve,” “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”  One final scriptural help is Psalm 91, today’s responsorial.  It is the same psalm the devil himself quotes to Jesus in the Gospel.  And it is a stunning thing for him to quote it, though like a bad scripture scholar he does so out of context.  It shows us how much outright mockery we should expect when we determine to live our consecration.  Psalm 91, you see, was used by Jewish exorcists as the primary exorcistic psalm to drive a demon out of the possessed.  The psalm is still used today in our Catholic exorcism ritual.  Of all the 150 psalms that’s the one the devil chooses to quote!  You can just hear and see the mockery dripping from his lips.  When you are feeling distracted from preparation for our Holy Family Consecration or when you feel pulled from the mission that is yours as a Christian you might pray with and use this psalm.  Where the devil’s promptings seem heavy and impossible to defeat, remember his weakness before God and pray with the hope of that psalm: “You shall tread upon the asp and the viper; you shall trample down the lion and the dragon.”  May the Holy Family of Nazareth inspire us and protect us as we seek to serve God more faithfully, to be the people we have been consecrated to be!

 

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

6 March 2019

Today we begin in a solemn fashion the holy season of Lent by observing fasting from food and abstinence from meat and by gathering in prayer, for a ritual that goes back to Jewish practice: the imposition of ashes.  Ancient biblical symbols of penance include prayer, fasting, wearing sackcloth (uncomfortable, abrasive clothing), rending (tearing) one’s clothing, and the use of ashes.

The Scriptures give us some indications and can highlight at least three particular meanings of the use of ashes.  The Book of Genesis (3:19), in a formula used with the imposition of ashes today, takes us back to man’s creation and the fall.  “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.”  This tells us that the ashes are a symbol and a reminder of mortality.  Man was formed from the dust of the earth and God breathed life into him.  Yet, because of sin, death has entered mankind’s history.  You and I inherit that original sin from Adam and Eve and we also bear individual guilt for our personal sins.  Thus, the ashes remind us we are all headed in the same direction when we will return to dust through death.  We come from dust and we are returning there.

Ashes also symbolize repentance.  Job, though good and exceedingly blessed, finds himself encountering God who has permitted him to be tested.  Job knows that he is nothing before his Creator whose ways are inscrutable.  And so Job says, “therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).

Ashes also symbolize interceding for others, doing penance on behalf of others.  Daniel (Daniel 9:3) is a righteous man yet he does penance for his people.  Ashes were part of his practice.  The Book of Esther (14:1-3) also shows us this intercession on behalf of others using ashes.  The pagan king had determined to kill the Jewish people but Queen Esther, humbles herself and her beauty, and enters into repentance and mourning for the Jewish people by covering her head with ashes and dung.  (Dung Wednesday would not be very popular!).

Finally, another passage, along with Esther, shows us some history in regards to the placement of ashes as a penitential practice.  Repentance for sin in the First Book of Maccabees shows us that ashes were sprinkled on the head (1 Maccabees 3:47 [appears only in the Catholic Old Testament]).

The readings today also give us two perspectives on our penance in the gift that is this holy season of discipline and serious return to God our Father.  The Book of Joel shows us the public calling together of a people doing visible penance.  You can’t miss that the people are doing penance: “Blow the trumpet, proclaim a fast, call an assembly” (Joel 2:15).  That is like what we do today.  We are doing something very public, a day of penance for our sins.  Yet, Lent is not only Ash Wednesday.  The vast majority of Lent is not the public visible act of penance.  The vast majority of Lent fits more with the Gospel selection, the observance of penances that are hidden, private, and done in secret where we face the truth of needing to return to our Father who sees in secret.

We have strayed from God.  Lent is an annual gift of training by which we admit just how far we have gone away.  Just like Adam and Eve strayed and were expelled from the Garden because of their sin, we likewise have gone far away.  Our sins expel us from God’s presence.  We need to do serious penance to make a serious return to our Father.  We often encourage the participation of children in Lent by giving up things like chocolate, or soda, or pizza.  And that is well and good… for children.  But as St. Paul calls us NOW to a time to receive God’s grace more deeply, St. Paul would also say to us: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Cor. 13:11).  The truth of our straying from God is not explainable by an inordinate attachment to chocolate or to pizza.  No, we need to go much deeper.  We need to be much more serious.  We have a long journey to return to our Father and to arrive once again at the mountain of Easter, newness of life, and restored baptismal grace.  But this does not discourage us because it is our Father who gives us this time of reform.  It is He who desires us and who calls us to deeper life with Him.  Mercy and compassion from the Father who sees what is hidden inspires us to serious engagement in this holy season.  Because it is God who calls us back to Himself we have the courage to move beyond the superficial, beyond the surface, beyond what is visible and to pick up the character of the vast majority of this season: Facing more deeply the source of our separation from God and going more deeply into penance.  “Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God” (Joel 2:13).  Tear open your heart and get to what really has caused you to stray from God.  Open that truth to God and do penance confident that He gives you this grace to make a return.  He sees and longs to repay you by welcoming you into deeper life with Him now and ultimate life in the kingdom to come!

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dominica VII per Annum C

24 February 2019

In the first reading young David goes up against King Saul.  What I find most remarkable about the event is what you don’t hear about it.  If you read the whole passage from the Bible and not just the selection used at Mass, maybe you too would find most remarkable what you don’t hear about the event.  Reading the whole passage, you find that David has two men with him and they are making their plan to go up against King Saul and his three thousand troops.  That’s three versus three thousand and one!  In that passage, David asks his other two men who wants to go with him into the camp of King Saul.  Only one man volunteers to go with David.  That’s two against three thousand and one!  What don’t you hear in the passage?  You don’t hear the stuff that would be going through my mind if I were faced with those odds: “We don’t have enough.  We’ll never make it.”  David, trusting that the Lord is with him and is guiding his every step, does not worry about not having enough.  He doesn’t doubt that the Lord’s generosity will provide.

Since King David is the traditional author of the Book of Psalms, we hear David’s response in the psalm today: “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all my being, bless his holy name.”  All my being bless the Lord’s name.  I suggest that David’s words from the psalm show us his reciprocal generosity to God.  David sings of the call to bless God with everything.  All my being.  That means there is a call to bless God with all that I am.  With all that I have.  And not just right now, but in every moment that has been, or is, or will be mine.  Because ultimately my being, what I have, and my time is not my own, but is God’s gift.  That’s how a disciple understands stewardship.  My past, my present, my hoped-for future… may it all bless the Lord’s holy name!

In the Gospel selection the Lord tests the limits of the generosity of those who call themselves disciples.  It is a shocking test of the limits of generosity.  It is a test of whether we understand that being disciples involves the stewardship of our entire being.  Listen to the generosity the Lord places before us: Love your enemies, do good to them, bless them, pray for them.  Does someone strike you on the cheek?  Give them the other one as well.  Does someone take your cloak?  Then give him the rest of your clothing too.  And this line, “Give to everyone who asks of you.”  Man alive!  What is the point of that kind of generosity?  It’s crazy.  No, the point is that with such generosity you will be, not children of the world, but children of the Most High God.  Children are supposed to resemble the traits of their parents.  If we belong to God, if we are His children, if we are disciples of His beloved Son, then we are called to a generosity beyond our fallen natural tendency.  Reciprocal generosity can be a scary ratio.  Jesus says, “Give, and gifts will be given to you.”  But in words that I heard once described, believe it or not, as some of the most scary words of the Gospel, he goes on to say, “For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”  Depending on how we disciples practice stewardship of our time, of our talent, and of our financial treasure, those are either very comforting or very unsettling words.  Our Heavenly Father wants them to be comforting because He wants us to resemble His generosity.

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dominica V per Annum C

10 February 2019

I’ll never forget the moment.  It was seven years ago this month.  The Archbishop wanted to talk.  He told me he was thinking of naming me the Pastor of St. Monica and he wanted to know what I thought about that.  It came as a complete shock.  While being very happy at the idea of coming here, I was struggling to put words together.  When bishops make assignments for priests they are looking for a clear answer, either a “yes” or a “no.”  And they aren’t really looking for “no!”  I was stammering and I must have sounded as shocked and uncertain as I felt.  The proof of how unexpected this was to me is that the Archbishop called me a week later to tell me he was also naming me the Vocation Director.  In that phone call he admitted he had intended to give me both assignments at once but upon seeing my reaction to St. Monica he said he had decided to slow roll the entire plan!  So, what was going on interiorly in me when I heard the news that I was being given a new calling, a new mission for God’s Church and His people?  I was first thinking of all the reasons why I’m not qualified.  On some days you might want to say, “Father, you should have followed that first instinct!”  Any time a human being is employed to God’s work we can easily find the ways he is unworthy and not qualified.  But I trust that despite that we can all see the good things God manages to do even with weakness and inability and with someone like me at the helm.

When God calls, don’t we quite frequently and readily first think of the reasons it is not a

good idea, the reasons why it won’t work?  That’s a human tendency that the Scriptures show us.  In the first reading Isaiah sees a vision of God’s Temple.  Isaiah experiences a call to a mission, to his vocation.  What is Isaiah’s first reaction?  He thinks of the reasons the vocation and mission can’t work.  “Woe is me, I am doomed!  For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.”  But God’s ministering angel comes with purifying fire, touches Isaiah’s mouth, and says “See, now… your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.”  In other words, Isaiah’s unworthiness is a given.  Of course, Isaiah is unworthy and sinful and incapable.  The call is God’s call and He’s the One who equips the person He calls.  Being made clean and forgiven by God Isaiah can then answer, “Here I am, send me!”

In the Gospel selection, Jesus calls Simon Peter as he begins to bring together his apostles.  Imagine how embarrassing it would be to be an expert fisherman with a fishing business, having just returned after a long night of catching nothing, to then have a carpenter get into your boat and give you fishing guidance: “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”  Simon Peter is actually qualified at fishing and he first notes his objection but with humility he is obedient.  And in the face of a miraculous and large catch of fish, Simon follows that human tendency to consider first how God’s call won’t work and how unworthy he is.  Falling at the knees of Jesus, Simon said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”  Sounds like Isaiah, no?  Jesus indicates that he will guarantee Simon Peter’s mission and vocation when he tells him, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”

In the second reading St. Paul’s words resonate so clearly to us in our own tendency to discount what God can do with us.  The difference with St. Paul is that he knows his unworthiness but he believes that far more important is God’s grace and what it can do in him.  Paul reminds the Church of Corinth of his vocation and mission to preach the Gospel he received.  He goes on to list many others who received the Gospel before him.  And then he says this about himself: “Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he [the Resurrected Lord] appeared to me.  For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective.”  Paul knows his grave sin, persecuting and murdering Christians, but he knows that more powerful than even the destructiveness of his personal sin is the life and strength of God.  What a truthful, humble, hopeful, and healing phrase it is to say with St. Paul: “But by the grace of God I am what I am!”  May that be our phrase too when called by God to our vocation or to some particular mission.  Yes, I am unqualified, a sinner, and unworthy, but by God’s grace I am called: I am what I am!

To fulfill the call to be holy we each are given a vocation which defines the larger arc of our life and which carries with it dignity, duties, and responsibility.  But God may also give us a particular work at various moments of life.  We can call this a mission, some thing to accomplish that requires specific attention and effort but which may not define our whole life or be long term, like a vocation. What godly calling and mission is yours?  What godly calling and mission seems unlikely in your opinion?  What is God asking of you that you might first object to and raise the reasons why you are not qualified?  “God, I can’t be…” fill in the blank.  “God, I can’t do…” fill in the blank.  Like Isaiah, like Simon Peter, like Paul, what is God’s call to you to vocation and to mission that you think just can’t be?  You see, a lesson today is that we think more of ourselves instead of God.  That common tendency reveals the error.  Do we really think the source of power for vocation and mission comes from ourselves?  We first consider our skill, our strength, and our preparation.  We need to first think of God and what He can do.  What He can do even with you.  Even with me.  Of course, we certainly need to have a healthy awareness of our limitations and our unworthiness.  Such awareness permits us to focus where we need to call out to God in prayer for what only He can provide.  The Scripture lesson for us today is not a call to ignore our inabilities.  Rather, the lesson is to think first and more about God’s abilities.

What might this say to us in various examples of callings?  A teenager or a child might first fear to be a disciple among peers in school and in groups of friends.  You fear being rejected or standing out for being an example of Christian faith.  Trust that God will give strength in the lunchroom and in hallways.  Someone dating might face the struggle to live that relationship in purity and chastity as is God’s moral teaching.  If someone is a follower of Jesus he or she has a mission to stand against the societal trend to live together before marriage.  Our doubts might make us consider our weakness in the face of the call to live in purity.  But turn to God’s grace first.  Some young men may have a vocation to be priests.  They might tend to say, “That can’t be me.  God couldn’t choose me with my sins.”  Oh really?  Listen to the voice of the Master, “From now on you will be catching men.”  Spouses have a vocation to sacrificial love, to be faithful to one another, and to be open to the gift of children.  But at times it’s not easy.  There are fears and legitimate challenges and exhaustion.  Raising children takes so much.  Spouses may want to doubt the call and think themselves incapable.  But the dynamic of the Scriptures today speaks to you: “Do not be afraid.”  God’s grace “has not been ineffective.”  Maybe someone who struggles with same-sex attraction can’t at first accept the vocation to single chastity.  Could the Lord really expect a life of such purity when the world speaks the exact opposite?  Remember: It won’t be your own strength.  Think more of what God can do in you.  Maybe the invitation of God is to be more generous or sacrificial in financial giving or in lending your own talents to some area of parish life or to some Christian work done out in the world.  Is your first response fear that you won’t have enough?  How can I give more from what little I have and with my debts?  Put out into the deep and let God’s power and work bless your generosity.

What vocation and what mission might God be giving you?  What is your first response?  Is it, “I can’t”?  Or is it, “God can”?  Today we have the example of only three of the many and countless unworthy servants God calls: Isaiah, Simon Peter, Paul.  God’s grace equipped them for vocation and mission.  God’s grace filled what was lacking in them and transformed them for the task at hand.  Surely no one here could be more unworthy or less likely a candidate than Paul who had been a murderer!  If God can call and equip them, He does the same with the vocation and mission that He gives you.  He says to us: Your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.  Put out into the deep.  Do not be afraid.  May our response be: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective.”

 

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dominica IV per Annum C

3 February 2019

This weekend’s Gospel selection picks up immediately where last weekend’s selection left off.  Being made numb by the 24-hour news cycle and TV broadcasts that seem to be nothing but a series of “Breaking News” and “News Alerts,” we might not appreciate it, but Jesus’ words are a true bombshell!

As we heard last week, Jesus read from Isaiah the prophecy of what the Spirit of the Lord would accomplish in the Anointed One.  What’s the bombshell, the true “breaking news?”  Jesus said,

                “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing!”

What’s at stake?  What does this mean?  It means that with and in Jesus the time of waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises is over!  Today it is fulfilled!  In your ears, in your midst, God’s promises are here!

And how did Nazareth respond to the bombshell?  The Gospel told us, “[A]ll spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.”  But as quick as a breaking news alert, what happens in just a few brief moments verses later?  The sentiment turns and the synagogue crowd is now “filled with fury” at Jesus.  They rise up and drive him out of town.  They are prepared to kill him!  In the Gospel passage today Jesus got a clear experience of what his mission is up against in our fallen world.

Adopting an uncritical and irrational mob mentality is not unique to Jesus’ time or to folks in Nazareth.  With that in mind, I want to reflect on recent events in our society.  These past two weeks, I haven’t been able to shake the need to address the unhinged lunacy around us.  Why, why would I bother about that in a homily?  Because it’s the air that we breathe, like it or not.  This is the atmosphere in which we live, in which we raise and form our kids.  Like Jesus in his time and place, this is the setting which we are called to be prophets to evangelize in the face of hostility.  When we are dismissed and even violently opposed we are called to announce: Today God’s promises are in your midst because Jesus Christ is here and he remains here in his Church!

The last two weeks in American society reveal our communal sickness of mind and sickness of soul.  When I first saw the brief video of a Catholic boy from Covington, Kentucky, standing face to face with a Native American beating a drum, and when I heard news describe the boy’s actions as disrespectful and racist my reaction was: “Where are these alleged actions the video is supposed to show?  What is he doing that would be fairly called disrespectful or, worse, racist?”  All I could see at first was two people standing uncomfortably and oddly close to one another.  The longer video shows that those boys are not guilty of disrespect or racism.  It is absurdity that false reporting like this goes on with impunity from alleged professionals.  The result is people have been trying to ruin the lives of kids.  And it is all the more shameful and embarrassing that some Church leaders joined the pile on with the unhinged mob.  I know a priest from Covington, Kentucky, who is a chaplain at another Catholic high school there (not the one in the video).  I spoke to him this past week and he told me that his school also received death threats.  Let that sink in.  The information mobsters are so irresponsible and so indiscriminate in their rage that they are (1) crazy enough to threaten kids with death; and, (2) they can’t even manage to do enough homework to level their nonsense at the correct school involved. 

Yet, this is the atmosphere we live in and in which we must proclaim the truth that God was made flesh and dwelt among us.  For we are called to be his prophets.  And we must not proclaim the Gospel without charity, without love.  If we did, we would simply be just like so much of society around us.  We cannot be of service as members of the Body of Christ if our proclaiming of the Gospel is little more than a “resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.”  It doesn’t matter how right you may be.  If all we do is add to the noise and add to the heat then it is nothing and useless.  We are called to be prophets, and so you and I must keep ourselves filled with the love of God, armed with His presence, because it will be incredibly difficult to be evangelists in our society, just as it was for Jesus in the Gospel we heard.  If we aren’t praying daily in serious communion with Jesus to remain in his strength, if we aren’t being regularly healed of sin in confession, if we aren’t finding accountability and support in good Christian friendships, if we aren’t receiving Holy Communion with moral rectitude and utmost reverence… well, we simply won’t be up to the task!

And the next news cycle showed us just how desperately important it is that we be up to the task of proclaiming Jesus as his prophets.  It is as if some pit of hell has opened up in a matter of weeks where politicians have become so extreme in their thirst for abortion on demand that the push is on to allow it up to the moment of birth.  New York lawmakers and a Catholic governor formed a Satanic choir cheering the passing into law of late term abortion.  Within days a Virginia legislator attempted an equally extreme measure and that State’s governor, a physician, made some of the most extreme remarks yet, indicating that a living child who survives an abortion might still be dispatched even though alive after birth.  That governor is now embroiled in a different personal controversy which just might force him out of office.  But how telling is it that he is in trouble NOT because he endorsed infanticide!  This is how warped the moral compass has become.  Forty-six years of legalized abortion in this country have malformed consciences such that not only is abortion not seen for the extreme depravity it already is even in early stages, but now some of the most extreme supporters, as if without shame, can utter support for abortion up to birth and even infanticide after birth.  But folks, this is the extreme to which all abortion support tends because you can’t keep murderous killing cloaked for long in euphemisms like “choice,” and “healthcare.”  It is a poison that invades one’s whole vision.  I think this is in part the explanation for the societal landscape that we must evangelize as prophets.

I think it is providential that the first reading today reminds us of the foundation and the origin of man’s dignity, a foundation that has been rejected in popular society: God says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…. a prophet to the nations I appointed you.”  What has contributed to society’s hostility to the Gospel of life and to the Lord of life?  One reason is the perversion of sexual love through contraception and abortion.  At St. Monica we are so blessed with lots of kids.  Visitors here frequently remark about this.  I want it to be clear that we want to welcome lots more kids.  But the larger society is selfish toward life.  The result is our generosity has become so atrophied by our lust that we can no longer see things clearly.  It has become so bad that otherwise intelligent human beings play word games about what is conceived in the womb and feign compassion while promoting the murder of the most innocent.  These ways cannot be our ways.  Or else we will fail in the work of announcing Jesus as his prophets, announcing his favor and blessing.  These ways cannot be our ways.  Or else we will be little more than a noisy gong in a society where the prevailing attitude is “might makes right.”

Jesus calls us to be united to him in proclaiming that today God’s promises are in our midst.  He calls us to be united to him in such proclamation even to a hostile world.  It won’t be easy.  But just as he miraculously passed through the mob unharmed, he will do amazing things with our cooperation.  Let’s be hungry for the amazing and unexpected reversal that God will work through our cooperation and in the face of a depraved society.  I’ll tell you right now, Covington Catholic High School had better get ready for an unusually high number of future priests to come out of that school because, I predict, the crucible of the unhinged media mob has unleashed something there that God will use to astounding effect in calling those young men to be prophets.  And something tells me this will all lead right back to the March for Life in Washington, DC.  The huge attendance there by a significantly young crowd is a tidal wave of truth and charity that is already sounding the trumpet of God and the defeat of the culture of death.  That the main stream media is so afraid to give the march any fair coverage, tells you just how weak the grip is of those who promote the culture of death.  The culture of death is so desperate now that it is showing its extreme depravity in New York and Virginia.  It won’t stand.  As God’s word also said through the Prophet Jeremiah: “They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you!”  With and in Jesus the time of waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises is over!  Today it is fulfilled!  In your ears, in your midst, God’s promises are here!  Rise up, yes!  Not in fury against the Lord.  Rise up in charity and truth to proclaim Jesus Christ to a dark world desperate for mercy.