Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - First Solemn Mass of Rev. Jerome Krug

Dominica XIII per Annum C

First Solemn Mass of Rev. Fr. T. Jerome Krug

30 June 2019

A newly ordained priest was looking down the long line of faithful awaiting his first priestly blessing.  Among the many familiar faces the new priest spotted a man he did not recognize.  When the man arrived at the front of the line he told the new priest that though they had never previously met he had come to participate and to see what an ordination was like.  In that line, on that day 20 years ago this Tuesday, I imparted my first priestly blessing to that man, your father, Father.  Your dad and I had no idea then how that intersection of our lives would be only the first of many for years to come.  Fr. Krug, you were six years old on that day.  Moving forward from that day, I came to know your dear mother, you and your siblings, and even extended family.  It has been a real joy over the years to experience so many other intersections of our lives: my years as an assistant priest in Edmond when you were a child, visits and meals at your home, my time in vocations work when you met with me to tell me you had decided to go to seminary, and now to be the Pastor of your home parish during the years of your seminary studies, your ordination and First Mass.  Over these 20 years I have been accustomed to looking upon you as a spiritual son – but now also a brother priest.  Father Krug, I am very proud of you!  This parish is very proud of you!  To have the title “Father” resound within these walls, knowing that it refers to a son of our parish, is such a tremendous blessing to us!  As you now take up a unique place at the altar of sacrifice, we ask you to prayerfully remember your home parish as you hold in your hands the greatest gift of God to us: The Real Presence of Jesus Christ in his sacrifice for our salvation!  We marvel at the working of God who has blessed our parish in so many ways.  We continue to pray for you.  We ask God to bless all the different vocations that are discovered and lived here.  We look forward to more young men here, more sons of our parish, one day bearing that title “father,” which you have just accepted.

There is plenty in the Scripture selections of this Holy Mass to instruct all disciples in all vocations and, in a particular way, to instruct a new priest.  That instruction comes, as we might expect, from Jesus’ words, but also, perhaps unexpectedly, from a small detail that could be easily overlooked, a detail we might call his “focus,” or maybe better stated, Jesus’ “intention,” what the Gospel described as that resolute determination of his to go to Jerusalem.

The first lesson for us comes from Jesus’ words which reveal to us the demands of being his disciple.  In the Gospel selection we discover the urgency of being his disciple and the demand of having the Lord as the central focus of our life.  To the invitation, “Follow me,” one person responded, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.”  The Lord answered back, “Let the dead bury their dead.  But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”  Another person along the Lord’s journey promised to follow yet added, “but first let me say farewell to my family at home.”  The Lord answered, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”  How significant are Jesus’ words about the urgency of his call to be a disciple and to follow him?  Consider these words of the Lord as compared to a similar scene in the first reading.  Upon being called by Elijah the prophet, Elisha said, “Please, let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, and I will follow you.”  Notice that Elijah permitted Elisha the momentary hesitation.  He said to Elisha, “Go back!  Have I done anything to you?”  The contrast here shows us how much more Jesus expects and demands when he says, “Follow me.”  Jesus’ words demonstrate to us that even the most serious and natural of human tendencies and responsibilities, as good as those are (like burying the dead and maintaining family relationships), if understood in proper order, are less important and less urgent for a disciple than is the call to place Jesus and God’s kingdom first in our lives.  Am I making too much of the urgency and the radical nature of the response Jesus expects?  Consider that for as solemn of a duty as there was in the Old Testament to parents and family, who was the only One who came ahead of that?  The answer is in the order of the Ten Commandments.  Honoring God comes before honoring even parents.  Only God could demand first place before parents.  The response Jesus makes to those who want to first go home before following him is an implicit revelation of his divinity.  He is God.  He comes first.  He gets to make that claim on us.  Is Jesus the center of your life?  So much more urgent is Jesus’ call that even just setting your hand to the plow but still looking back reveals you have the wrong priorities and a different center for your life.

 To this urgent call the response of the consecrated religious, of the priest, of the married man or woman, or of the single person will not all look the same.  However, what is very clear and common to us all is that nothing and no one can come before our response to Jesus and to the urgency to proclaim God’s kingdom.  For the priest, the response to this urgent call will be evident, even before his preaching and ministry, in his daily life of prayer, in his time spent in silent meditation on the Scriptures, in his care for his spiritual life and soul, and in a particularly critical way in his celibacy lived in a chaste way as a gift for the Church.  Fr. Krug, as a priest you will be surrounded, rather like Jesus, by the crowds with their demands and expectations.  The priest can never be satisfied with letting anything come before the Lord.  You will, of course, be keeping the Lord in the center of your life by serving the legitimate needs of the people.  There need be no false dichotomy between action and contemplation, between ministry and prayer.  However, it can be very easy for the parish priest to have busy days with lots of activities and to convince himself he is doing the work of the Lord.  But if the priest does not first and always begin with sitting silently with and before the Lord of the work, you can bet something or someone other than Jesus has crept into the center of his life.  Fr. Krug, the gift of celibacy, which you formally accepted at diaconate, can serve as a reminder to you that you really have no one other than the Lord; and celibacy received and integrated into your life can give impulse to an intense life of prayer.  That gift accepted by the priest, becomes also a gift to the rest of us in the Church who benefit from a chaste love available for service and who likewise see in the priest the eschatological reminder that we are each called to a relationship with God that excludes all the idols, whether internal or external, that we so easily enshrine.

But what about the second lesson today, that small detail in the Gospel selection that might be easily overlooked?  It is a lesson that I would say applies uniquely to a priest.  Jesus was “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.”  What can that tell us and tell a new priest about responding to the urgency of the Lord’s call?  As the Gospel says “when the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled” Jesus was focused and absolutely determined to go to Jerusalem.  This “being taken up” refers to the events of Jesus’ exodus, his passage from death to glory in the resurrection and ascension.  This ninth chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel begins the long travel narrative that lasts for ten chapters until you finally arrive at the end of chapter nineteen.  There you see the specific destination in Jerusalem for Jesus’ resolute determination.  Jesus was NOT simply going to Jerusalem, for upon arriving in the city, chapter nineteen says: “And he entered the temple” where he drove out those who were making it a den of robbers (cf. Lk. 19:45).

An interpretation of this focus of Jesus in the Gospel is that the Great High Priest was resolute and firm in his intention to process to the place of sacrifice.  Why did the Samaritans refuse to welcome Jesus on his journey?  Simply because he was a Jew and because of their historic ethnic antagonism?  Not at all!  Jesus’ resolute determination to go to Jerusalem and to the Temple creates a direct conflict for the Samaritans in their view that their temple is the true sanctuary.  The Samaritans, in other words, refuse Jesus because they reject the Jerusalem Temple as an alternative temple to their own.  Their refusal of Jesus is a specifically religious objection and strikes at the very heart of who is God and what is the true sacrifice.  That Jesus remains resolute when some dismiss his focus on the sanctuary offers a lesson for a priest.

Dear Fr. Krug and brother priests, as St. Benedict instructs in his Rule (43:3), “Let nothing be preferred to the work of God.”  The monastic use of “work of God” is understood as the sacrifice of praise offered to God in the entirety of the Sacred Liturgy.  Is it too much of a stretch to say St. Benedict is highlighting something not altogether dissimilar from Jesus’ firm intention to make his way to the place of sacrifice?  The determination of Jesus instructs us priests that nothing – nothing – not parents, nor family, nor possessions, nor honors, nor hobbies can come before the urgent call to unite ourselves to Jesus in his determination and in his priestly sacrifice.  That is, to unite ourselves to his own greatest work, to the obedient trust by which Jesus accomplished his exodus, his being taken up.  This is not to be understood as a call to see our sanctuaries as some type of eccentric playground where the priest remains in obscurity.  It is also not a call to ignore the many ways a priest must sacrifice for his people outside of the sanctuary.  But it is to say that nothing is greater or more important or more urgent for the priest than to himself be united to the sacrifice of Christ and to unite his people to that same sacrifice made present in the Sacred Liturgy and on the sacred altar.  For ultimately, we must admit, the journey Jesus resolutely begins in the Gospel today has for its destination not just the city of Jerusalem and not only the Temple therein.  Ultimately, his journey is about his arrival to the sanctuary and the altar of the Cross and, through his resurrection and ascension, the final destination is his being taken up to his rightful place in the heavenly city and the sanctuary of God’s throne.

If this is Jesus’ firm intention and if a priest should model this urgency by that same resolute focus on bringing himself and his people to the altar of the Cross, we can appreciate the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in its document on the Sacred Liturgy where it says, “the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the font from which all her power flows” (Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10).  If that is to be more than just nice sounding teaching or a slogan, I will say quite openly, that it needs to be more clearly seen in pastoral leadership and planning.  Almost like an inhospitable Samaritan many dismiss any consistent and resolute focus in pastoral leadership on the dignity of the Sacred Liturgy.  We rightly talk much these days about mission and evangelization and pastoral planning, but if we want vitality and power to accomplish those lofty hopes, we must begin with a resolute focus on our own procession to the sanctuary and to the sacrifice of praise offered to God in the whole of the Sacred Liturgy.  We priests must not fail to keep that focus.  And though the lay faithful do not offer the sacrifice in the same way as the priest, they too must make sacrifice and keep this resolute focus of Jesus so to be gathered and incorporated into his determination to save us by means of his great exodus made present in the Paschal Mystery.  If we, priests and faithful, lose that focus we fail to tap into that font that gives power for our response to the Lord’s urgent call.  If the evidence of priestly ministry reveals more determination and focus on our office business hours, on money, on programs, and construction projects then we are not following the Lord’s example.  If our people are to be called into this great procession and helped to avoid along the way the distractions and temptations to call down fire upon the inhospitable and to choose other persons or other things before God, then we priests must be firm in our focus and resolute intention that the sacred liturgy is the summit of all of our directives and the source of power for mission.

Today, for the first time, Fr. Krug, you lead us to the place of Jesus’ resolute determination, to his sacrifice at this altar.  May what we receive from this font of power help us place nothing before the Lord, such that the words of the psalmist are truly our own: “You are my inheritance, O Lord.”

Audio: Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, First Holy Mass of Thanksgiving Fr. Thomas Jerome Krug

Audio: Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, First Holy Mass of Thanksgiving Fr. Thomas Jerome Krug

Today we rejoice as a son of our parish, Fr. Thomas Jerome Krug celebrates his first Holy Mass of Thanksgiving. In his homily for this most special occasion, Fr. Stephen Hamilton, reflects on the formation of his new brother in the priesthood of Christ. Listen to the end for a few remarks from Fr. Krug. Hallelujah!

Read More

Audio: The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Audio: The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

The central and fundamental mystery we encounter is the inner life of God, the Blessed Trinity, poured out for our creation and for our salvation.  Though it remains mystery we use our minds aided by the Holy Spirit of truth to seek to understand it more and more, recognizing this faith in the Holy Trinity is the very foundation of all as we await the final unveiling of the mystery of God in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Read More

The Most Holy Trinity

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Proverbs 8:22-31; Ps. 8; Rom. 5:1-5; Jn. 16:12-15

16 June 2019

Observing the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity this weekend we commemorate in the Sacred Liturgy the central and fundamental mystery that we receive and accept in faith.  The very being of God is the center and foundation of all we believe.  The mystery of the Holy Trinity expresses our faith in God Himself, how He exists – not just that He exists – what His inner life is like.  This aspect of our faith is something purely of God’s revelation, that is, His showing of Himself to us.  In other words, no human mind on its own would come up with the concept of a Trinity, that the one God exists as Three Persons, were it not for God revealing this about Himself.  When we profess faith in the Holy Trinity we mean that the being or substance of God is one and that His inner life is a communion of Divine Persons in relationship.  Each of the Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is equally and fully God.  In other words, they are completely equal in substance.  We do not believe in three divine substances, three gods, joined together.  We do not believe that the three Persons are a division of the divine substance, as if each Person is one-third God.  Rather, we profess belief that the substance of God is one and undivided and that the inner life of God, as revealed to us, is a perfect communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It is God who shows this about Himself and reveals this truth to us.  It is what we learn from the Sacred Scriptures.  On the authority of God who makes Himself known we accept and profess faith that God is a unity in Trinity and a Trinity in unity.

I suggest that there is something in us that is not at ease with mystery.  We want answers to everything and we think we are owed such answers.  If this unease with mystery existed before our time, I think it has been exacerbated in our time by the ubiquitous presence of the Internet and smart phones.  At our finger tips are the answers to most everything in the world.  That availability puffs up our self-centered pride in our expectation that we should have all the answers.  And even more problematic is the related attitude that develops in us when something remains mysterious and is not immediately and easily understandable and discernible to us.  In the face of mystery not easily understood, that even more serious root problem is the tendency to consider the mystery itself as somehow of less value to me personally because I cannot understand it.  In other words, we might tend to view the mystery itself with more suspicion before we would first admit the limitations of our own mind.  The mystery is suspect; it can’t be my mind that is suspect.  This faulty proposition says answers should come easily and if I can’t understand or grasp something then maybe it’s not true or, perhaps more likely, it is viewed as having less value.  This faulty proposition says if I can’t understand something – and grasp it easily – it somehow lessens the value of my experience and isn’t beneficial or “real” to me.

But that is not how the wisdom of ancient thinkers operated.  And that ancient wisdom is the very foundation upon which we rest today.  In the face of questions about how God revealed Himself and what it means to believe in God, ancient thinkers pondered, and questioned, and had fierce debates, even physical fights, to stretch the limited mind to understand God and the world around them.  Their philosophy and theology is a rich deposit given to us and upon which we must rest to remain in the truth.  It is also a deposit we are duty bound not to change, but rather only to develop in continuity and to further expose the truth already contained in what we receive.  This is why Sacred Tradition in our faith is so vitally important and is not to be rejected except at our own peril.  Today’s first reading from the Book of Proverbs offers us a selection of ancient wisdom that impacts our understanding of the mystery of the Holy Trinity.  In the early Church and among the Fathers of the Church, it was widely held that Proverbs chapter 8 (our first reading) described in veiled and mysterious language the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God before the incarnation.  The “wisdom of God” is the subject and the one speaking in today’s first reading.  This wisdom of God is described as acting alongside and with the Lord God in actions that sound much like the story of creation in the Book of Genesis.  This wisdom of God that, as Proverbs says, is “possessed” or “begotten” or “beheld” existed with the Lord God before all things.  As this ancient wisdom was further explored and, later enlightened by the aid of Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit of truth, the New Testament in the First Letter to the Corinthians describes the incarnate Son of God in a way that should not surprise us.  St. Paul write, “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24).  No wonder in the Creed our Catholic faith is careful to say both what we do believe and what we do not believe when we say of the Son of God, “begotten, not made, consubstantial (meaning of the same substance) with the Father,” or as we hear in the Latin, “genitum, non factum, consubstantialem Patri.”  The same equal divinity of the Holy Spirit is revealed by Jesus in the selection of the Gospel we heard today.  Notice, Jesus does not speak of the Holy Spirit merely as a force, but as a Person with personal pronouns: “But when he comes…. he will guide you…. he will speak.”

Is it an authentic value in our faith that we should know and grasp everything immediately, and do so easily?  Or is it actually good for us in the face of mystery to remember that we are not the topmost being, nor the topmost intellect in the created world?  The mysterious and somewhat cryptic words of Jesus in the Gospel certainly encourage humility and patience as he clearly says that his apostles cannot bear or understand now all that he has to say.  Jesus requires of them humility and patience to await the Holy Spirit when he comes.  The event of Pentecost and our reception of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments means we have now the benefit of the Holy Spirit to help us receive the truth of God as Trinity and the truth of other mysteries we profess.  Yet, there is still mystery and we must become comfortable with it.  If we fail to accept mystery and the reality of our own limitations we will actually impede God’s work in us and we will develop the false notion that places ourselves at the center of all things.  We are not meant for a one-time interaction with God by which we comprehend everything about Him.  We are meant for a lifetime of communion and growing relationship.  The Scriptures cannot be fully understood by us, and actually aren’t meant to be, as if we will ever remove all mystery.  In fact, the Scriptures are the living Word of God, made for a lifetime of reflection by which we continue to grasp more and more, if we will allow it.  It may surprise that even the Sacred Liturgy is not supposed to be immediately and easily understood on all levels.  In fact, immediately grasping and understanding everything about our worship is not an authentic Catholic principle of liturgy at all.  It is actually good that mystery remains in our worship.  Our experience of mystery in no way lessens the value of worship, unless we have made the mistake of thinking the focus of worship is ourselves and our preferences, instead of purely the worship that God is owed.  We come here to encounter mystery that transcends us, that is above and beyond us.

The central and fundamental mystery we encounter is the inner life of God, the Blessed Trinity, poured out for our creation and for our salvation.  In humility and patience we receive this faith.  Though it remains mystery we use our minds aided by the Holy Spirit of truth to seek to understand it more and more.  Rather than dismissing the mystery of the Holy Trinity as too complicated, or trivializing it as not relevant to our lives, we recognize this faith in the Holy Trinity is the very foundation of all we are from the simplest Sign of the Cross made with reverence and care, to the divine grace that comes in the Sacraments poured out from the Holy Trinity, to the final unveiling of the mystery of God we await in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Pentecost Sunday

Dominica Pentecostes

9 June 2019

This weekend we come to the climax and the conclusion of the holy season of paschaltide and the ascensiontide.  The season of Easter concludes with the Solemnity of Pentecost, the fulfillment of Jesus’ resurrection promise to send the Holy Spirit.

Just as we Christians in the New Covenant have an annual cycle of feasts, so did the Jews of the Old Covenant before us.  There were seven major festivals for the Jews.  Two of those Jewish festivals have come over into a new expression in the New Covenant and they find their place in our annual cycle of liturgical feasts.  One of those is Passover, which we celebrate at Easter.  The word “pascha,” coming into Latin from Greek, means “Passover” and it is the same word for “Easter.”  That’s why we make reference in our Catholic faith to the paschal (or Passover) mystery, the paschal (or Easter) candle, and the season of Easter as paschaltide.  The second of those Jewish festivals that comes over into the New Covenant is Pentecost.

The Christian imagery of fire to represent the Holy Spirit is so common such that we likely don’t think much about it.  Thus, in the Acts of the Apostles, when we hear that tongues of fire descended upon the apostles and disciples when they received the Holy Spirit, it sort of just seems right to us.  But we can have a deeper appreciation for the Holy Spirit as fire when we look into the Jewish understanding of Pentecost, which we have adopted.  Jewish Pentecost occurred 50 days after Passover, just as our Pentecost arrives 50 days after Easter.  Among the Jewish feasts it was one of three that required pilgrimage, a holy journey to observe the feast.  Over time the Jewish Pentecost, while remaining a harvest feast, took on a spiritual meaning as a celebration of God’s giving of the Law in the Sinai Covenant.  It is in this context of Pentecost as a Jewish celebration of God’s giving of the Law, the Ten Commandments, that we can have a deeper appreciation of why the Holy Spirit descends as tongues of fire.  Another way to highlight this is, why, for instance, didn’t the Holy Spirit descend as a dove at Pentecost, as He had upon Jesus at his baptism?  Listen to the account from the Book of Exodus about God’s giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai (an option for the first reading at the Vigil Mass of Pentecost).  Amid cosmic signs of thunder and lightning and thick cloud and a very loud trumpet blast, Moses brings the Israelites out of their camp to the base of the mountain to meet God.  The Book of Exodus says, “And Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire” (Ex. 19:16-18).  Out of that fire God speaks and Moses, on behalf of the people, goes up and receives the Ten Commandments.  So, notice the parallel: In the Old Covenant at Mt. Sinai, God descends in fire upon the Israelites who are composed of twelve tribes.  In the New Covenant account of Pentecost in Acts of the Apostles, God the Holy Spirit descends in fire upon the twelve Apostles who represent those twelve tribes, and likewise descends upon other disciples gathered with them.  This descent and its connection to God’s presence in fire on Mt. Sinai, we can say, is a revelation of the divinity of the Holy Spirit.  It likewise helps us understand that in our Christian observance, we have at Pentecost a new giving of the Law, a giving of the Law not on stone, but descending upon us, taking on flesh within us.  God’s law does not remain outside of us, but indwells within us.  Pentecost is an interior gift.  This interiority is a significant difference in our Christian observance of Pentecost.  We celebrate now the promise of Jesus fulfilled, namely that the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us and empowers us from within to live God’s commands.

Being empowered from within by the Holy Spirit of God, gives us another critical focus for Pentecost and what it means for us today.  At Pentecost the Apostles and other disciples, by receiving the Holy Spirit, are anointed and consecrated for mission, that is, to be sent out to continue proclaiming God’s kingdom in word and action, and to continue the saving work of Jesus.  I would say that Jesus’ accompanying action of breathing on the apostles and disciples as they receive the Holy Spirit highlights this sense of “going out,” this outward impulse and mission.  After all, breath comes from within and goes out from Jesus.  And breath can also move objects in its path.  Likewise, the early Church, and we who receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit at confirmation, are empowered from within, anointed and consecrated, moved and sent out to actually work for and share in the mission of Jesus.

On this Pentecost, to have a rich understanding of our own being sent out on mission, I want to highlight two words from the Gospel selection.  I’m going to bet they are not the words you might expect.  What two words?  The word “as” and the word “so.”  It seems like a preacher would have to work pretty hard to get something worth saying out of such seemingly inconsequential words, right?  But listen to how the words “as” and “so” feature in Jesus’ action of breathing and saying “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  Jesus says, “AS the Father has sent me, SO I send you” (Jn. 20:21).  Think about what those simple words reveal about what Jesus expects by giving the Holy Spirit, this new giving of the Law internally with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Let me flesh those words out and insert them in this context.  “As the Father has sent me,” OR “Just as,” OR “Just like,” OR “In the same manner as” the Father has sent me, Jesus says, “so I send you,” OR “even so,” OR “in the same way,” I send you.

Upon being anointed and consecrated by the descent of the Holy Spirit, with God’s Law dwelling within in them, the apostles and disciples on that first Christian Pentecost had a deeper share and responsibility for the mission of Jesus.  Do we consider that for ourselves?  God’s Law, God’s very self, the very Holy Spirit of God is not given to us such that we are just some nice box or receptacle to hold the Holy Spirit.  No, Jesus gives us his promise of the Holy Spirit to push us outward into mission, to greater responsibility for his own mission, a mission that is first in the mind of God the Father.  “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  In the second reading, St. Paul wrote “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit” (1 Cor. 12:7).  Do you take time to consider what gift of the manifestation of the Spirit has been given to you, and for what benefit?  Do we ask the Lord that in prayer?  Do we ask other members of Christ’s Body to help us identify that?  We should!  The Holy Spirit is given to us who belong to Christ.  It is not given so that we simply become a receptacle to contain it.  It is given so that we are transformed and more deeply conformed to Christ.  It is given so that we go out and transform the concrete reality of the places where we live, and move, and have our being (cf. Acts 17:28).  Do we view Pentecost, our own confirmation, and the gifts of the Spirit given in times of particular need… do we consider those gifts given to us as requiring an outward thrust, an outward mission?  We should!

The collect of this Mass (of Pentecost Day) makes an allusion to the “divine grace that was at work when the Gospel was first proclaimed.”  It makes that allusion because receiving the Holy Spirit in our time carries the implication that the Gospel must still be proclaimed here and now and that the Lord gives divine grace to do it.  Receive the Holy Spirit, aware that as the Father sent Jesus, even so he sends you!

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?

Read More

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

Read More

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

Read More

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!