Sunday, December 26, 2010

Feast of the Holy Family 2010

    Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. This reminds us that when the Father sent his Son to be with us (Emmanuel) he sent him as a little child, born of the Virgin, raised by St. Joseph, his foster-father. It seems perfectly natural to us to see this manger scene here with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. But, this is really a great mystery!

    Why did God send his Son into a family? The eternal Word of the Father is not bound by human structures. God did not have to become Man by being born into a family. Christ could have just descended upon a cloud. The fact that Jesus becomes human in a family tells us something: God loves the family. When the Word becomes man he does so in the midst of a communion of persons, the human family. John Paul II left us quite a few blessings, once such, I think, is his theology of the Body. This theology of the Body is complex but if there is one underlying theme it's that we are made in God's image and likeness, God is a communion of life and love, therefore, we fulfill our design most completely when we are living in a communion of life and love. In other words, we are made in God's image and likeness and we fulfill this no more perfectly than when we are living in families. God loves the family, and sent his son to live in the midst of a family because the family is meant to be a reflection of the very life and love of the Trinity. Now, I don't know about you and your family, but my family never quite lives up to this billing. But, this is the idea! We are supposed to be an image of the Trinity in the world. How do we get there? How do we get our families to become if not THE Holy Family, then at least A holy family?

    St. Paul gives us some insight. I know that we might all instantly focus in on what he says about being subordinate. Many of us bristle at this line, and for good reason. We know that domination goes against our fundamental freedom as God's children. But, if we jump straight to that line we don't hear how this order comes about. Earlier in the reading Paul says: Put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. He says this way before the bit about subordination. Just imagine if every person in the family was full of compassion, kindness, and humility. I don't think anyone would be afraid of subordination if we were all full of these fundamental virtues.

    How can we grow in these virtues as families? We should look to the Holy Family as a model for us. What made the Holy Family possible? First, the Holy Family would not have been possible without trust. Mary trusted in the message of Gabriel and Christ was conceived. Joseph trusted in the angel and the family was preserved from danger. What a great lesson for us, we must put our trust in the Lord, allow him to be the one to lead your family. Second, the Holy Family would not exist without Christ. It is the person of Jesus dwelling in the midst of the Holy Family that makes it Holy, invite Christ into your life as a family. Make the home a place of prayer and Sunday Mass an anchor for the whole family.

    There has only been one "Holy Family." As for the rest of us, we all have problems. But, Christ was sent into the midst of the human family to help us overcome the shortcomings in our families. We must believe and trust in the power of Christ to overcome all sin and division, even and especially, in the midst of our human families.

    Today this feast of the Holy Family teaches us about God's love for the family which is also meant to be a reflection of God's love in the world. We see that the family should be governed by love and compassion. Finally, we see the Holy Family as our model, because they trusted in God and kept Christ in the center of their lives. May it be so for our families as well.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas 2010 Mass at Dawn:

    The Feast of Christmas, the birth of Christ, is such a grand feast in the Church that we celebrate it at not only one Mass, but actually there are 4 different Masses for Christmas. Each of these Masses has their own prayers and readings. At this Mass we are celebrating the Mass at Dawn. There are also the vigil Mass, which anticipates the birth of Christ, the Mass at Night, which celebrates the Birth of Christ, and the Mass of the day which reflects on the impact of the birth of Christ. This Mass at dawn reminds us of those first moments in the life of Christ. Listen again to the words of our opening prayer: Father, we are filled with the new light by the coming of your Word among us. This Mass at dawn is held during the first moments of the day as the new light breaks over the horizon. The new light of this day helps to remind us of the new light of Christ that came into the world the first Christmas morning. At this Mass we relive, so to speak, that first morning when Christ, the light of the world, was born for us and to us.

    As we listen to the gospel today, it seems to me that we are like the shepherds. They are types or images for us. Shepherds were common, ordinary people. But when we reflect upon the Christmas story we hear that even when the great king Herod was unwilling to accept the birth of the new king, the humble, poor shepherds believed the message. So we should see ourselves as the shepherds in the Gospel. If we do so, we will see many similarities between our lives and the lives of those shepherds.

    The gospel tells us that angels appeared to these shepherds and told them the good news about the birth of Jesus. The same thing is true for us as well. When we think of angels we normally think of the celestial, spiritual beings who are servants of God, and rightly so. Now these angels we may have never seen. However, the word angel comes from the Greek angelos which simply means messenger. So the shepherds heard about the good news of the birth of the savior because messengers made it known to them. The same is true of us. None of us would be here if it weren't for the work of some messengers. None of us would know the first thing about Jesus if it were not for the work of someone who spread the message.

    After the angels left the shepherds, they had to make a decision. What would they do next? If the message of the angels is true, the shepherds had to go looking for Jesus. If we believe that the child born in the manger is God, we must look for him. If we believe that this child grew up and proclaimed the good news of salvation, we must look for him. If we believe that he suffered and died on our behalf to take upon himself the sins of us all, we must look for him. If we believe the he rose again and that we too can overcome sin and death by the power of this resurrection, we must look for him. We have to search for him. The shepherds in the story heard the message, they believed the message, but knew that was not enough, they needed to find Jesus. This became their focus, nothing else mattered. It says they went in haste to find Mary, Joseph, and the infant in the manger.

    The same is true for us. If we believe the good news, if it inspires within us a desire to follow Jesus, we have to go looking for him. There are many places where we find Him. We find him here at church, we believe that when the Christian community gathers together Christ is in our midst. We find Jesus when we pray, or when we serve others. But, most of all we find Jesus when we approach the manger.

    What is a manger? It is a place where the animals eat. This is not a coincidence. We continue to look for Jesus at a place where we eat: this altar is such a place. Having heard the good news, believing it, and knowing that we now need to find Jesus, there is no better place to look than this altar. Right here on this altar, this manger, we find Jesus really and truly present in the holy Eucharist. This is the place where we meet Christ.

    So, we have heard the message about Jesus, we look for him, and we find him in this Holy Eucharist. However, we cannot forget the last step. Once the shepherds heard the message, believed it, looked for Jesus, and found him, there was one last thing that they did: they told others. This good news was so amazing that they knew they couldn't keep it to themselves. Rather, everyone needed to hear about this good news. We too have a responsibility and we should have the desire to share this good news with others. We do this by what we say, sure. But, we also do this by our example.

    It seems to me that our lives as disciples of Jesus is presented to us by this story of the shepherds. This story takes place after the birth of Jesus. We live after the birth of Jesus. The shepherds were sent messengers who told them of the good news, we have heard this message from others. They believed this message, which made them search for the lord. We too believe and realize that if this good news is true we must follow Christ. They found Jesus lying in a manger, we find him here on this altar. Once they found Christ, they told everyone else about him. When we meet Jesus here at this Mass the last words we hear are: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Merry Christmas to all of you, and may God bless you.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bible Study Week 6 Audio

Here is the audio for week 6 of the Bible Study.

Also, just a reminder that we will not be having Bible study for the next several weeks for a bit of a Christmas break.  God bless,
Fr Jake

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Audio for Eucharist Talk

Wow, I cannot believe it is Sunday already!!!  Sorry I haven't gotten this audio online already.  Here is the audio from our talks on the Eucharist.

Joy


3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A:

Rejoice in the Lord always, I say it again, Rejoice: the Lord is near. This is the opening antiphon for today's Mass, which is why we call this Gaudete Sunday, Latin for rejoice. It is one of only two days during the Church year that we wear pink or rose colored vestments, which are symbols of joy. You may wonder where we get this color. The color of Advent, and Lent, is purple, the color of penance. And, we wear white during Christmas and Easter as a sign of our joy. The pink vestment is a mixture between purple and white. It reminds us that even in the midst of our time of preparation, we should not forget the joy of the approaching feast of Christmas. Rejoice in the Lord always, I say it again rejoice. This is a season of Joy.

I've always loved Advent. When I was little, I loved it for 2 reasons. First, because it meant I was closer to getting presents! There was nothing quite as exciting as opening a stack of presents on Christmas morning. Also, I loved it because I knew that when Advent began, Christmas vacation was not far behind. So these were the two reasons I loved Advent: school would be over soon and I would get my grubby little paws on some presents. These were not the best of motives, but they did make me love Advent.

But, something can happen to us the older we get. Sometimes we lose some of that sense of anticipation. Part of that is natural, of course. I mean if we look at what causes us that sense of joy and anticipation when we are little, much of that is gone. There is not always a pile of presents under the tree, nor do we all get a long vacation at Christmas time. Instead, for many of us Advent becomes a time of worry and anxiety. It is filled with trips, parties, shopping, and bad weather, all of which can lead to stress. How can we renew our sense of Joy and anticipation during the season of Advent? How can we heed the command of Gaudete Sunday to rejoice in the Lord always?

Our readings give us some insight. In the book of Isaiah we hear about many wonderful things. We hear about exaltation, joyful singing, the strengthening of our hands and hearts, the eyes of the blind opened, and the ears of the deaf being opened as well. When will these wonderful things happen? These things will happen when the Lord comes with salvation for his people. Jesus tells us in the gospel that this has already taken place. Jesus has already come into the world: he has already opened the eyes of the blind, healed the deaf, and made the crippled whole. We should be joyful because we remember that Christ has already come with salvation for his people.

    So, while I might have been filled with joy at the prospect of presents and a vacation when I was little, how much more should we be filled with joy if we remember what Advent is all about? Jesus Christ has come with salvation for his people. This is certainly a stressful and difficult time for many of us. There is much to do and there are many responsibilities. But, if we can keep the coming of the Lord as our focus, our joy will be great.

    For many of us, all this talk of joy can ring hollow. With my work in the confessional I know that many of us are hurting, many of us face problems in our lives, problems in our family, moral problems, financial problems, etc. Hearing me talk about joy might make you think that joy is something that we can just create out of thin air, that it is some kind of bubbly or Pollyannaish denial of the harsh reality of life. Rather, I would say that joy is a gift from God. We cannot create joy by our own willing it. If you are feeling a lack of joy in your life, pray to God for the gift of joy. Also, joy is not simply bubbly enthusiasm. Rather, joy is the quiet confidence that in the midst of our crazy lives Christ has already won, that Jesus, who was born of Mary, suffered and died, but rose for the sake of our salvation.

The command of our opening antiphon this morning (rejoice in the Lord always) is really a command to ponder the truth of the gospel. To acknowledge the fact that the Lord truly comes to save us. As a kid I may have been motivated by presents and vacations. It is not so different now. The gift is the person of Christ, truly made present even now in the Holy Eucharist, and the vacation we await is the salvation Christ won for us on the cross.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Homily for Marian High School on the feast of the Immaculate Conception

Immaculate Conception December 8th 2010:

    Today we celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception. This is the title given to our Lady to denote the fact that she was conceived without any stain of sin. This title also tells us that she was preserved from sin he whole life. This dogma of the Immaculate Conception has been around in the history of the Church for thousands of years and it was finally made an official teaching of the Church in 1854 by Blessed Pius IX.

However, when it comes to a teaching like this, many of us believe it without problem, but we can often wonder: why does it really matter? How does the Immaculate Conception of Mary make a difference in my life? Why did the Church decide it needed to go out and declare this teaching?

It got me thinking, you know it's amazing what we can get used to! There are so many situations in the world where there are terrible things going on and people have just plain gotten used to it. You all know, I'm sure because you go to Marian and we try to tell you about this, that a majority of the people in this world barely have enough to eat, have difficulty finding clean water, do not have access to things like electricity, or indoor plumbing, much less American essentials like internet and HDTV. But, we just get used to people being poor, and it makes little difference to us. Every year millions of babies die from a terrible disease. You might be thinking that I'm talking about abortion, but not really. Abortion is a symptom, the disease is the fundamental disorder in our Western approach to sexuality. As a nation, we seem to have forgotten the importance of chastity and the role of sex within marriage. The result is catastrophic: abortion, rape, pornography, diseases like AIDS, and even unwanted pregnancies, but as a nation it seems that we have gotten used to this. How many of us might be guilty of absorbing the culture's understanding of sexuality and the human body?

Perhaps the most stunning thing that we have gotten used to is death itself. Human beings were not made to die. Any time we encounter death among our friends or family, we feel their loss and we experience pain. Why? Because, death is not natural. But we have gotten so used to death, that we call it natural.

When we look around it is easy to think that the evil of sin or the evil of death is just natural. I mean we see it everywhere, so it must be right, it must be natural. The good news of the gospel is that sin and death are not natural!

Why does the Immaculate Conception matter? It is proof that the good news of the gospel is true. Mary is a bright, shining light in a world often tinted in darkness. She shows us that a human person can exist in a state of holiness. She shows us that human person can exist without sin, through her assumption she shows us that a human person can already live a life with God. Mary is for us hope! She shows us that we don't have to put up with sin, we don't have to put up with death.

How does this happen? How is Mary conceived without Sin? Our gospel tells us that answer. How does the Angel greet Mary? He doesn't say Hail Mary, like we say in the prayer. He actually says, Hail, full of grace. This title for Mary tells us exactly how Mary lived without sin: she was full of grace. There was no room in her for darkness because she was completely filled with God's light, God's goodness, in a word, Grace. What about all of us? Mary was filled with grace from the first moment of her existence. We are filled with grace gradually over time. Yet, it is the same grace, the same loving presence of God that can transform our darkness into his own light. We can never settle for sin. We can never settle for our darkness. We can never buy into the lie that we are made for sin, that sin is natural. It is not natural and it harms us. Mary shows us that we can live without sin. Human nature is compatible with grace, we just have to be open to it.

Mary did not make herself full of grace. God did the work in her. God continues to do this work in us. Every time a baby or adult is baptized, God is going this work. Every time we go to confession, God is doing this work. Every time a person is confirmed, a couple is married, a sick person is anointed, a man is ordained a priest, God is doing this work. In a few moments we will receive the Holy Eucharist, where God will continue to do this work. Mary experienced being full of grace from the first moment of our existence. We will not experience being full of grace until our last moment, in the Kingdom when it comes in its fullness. But, this does not mean that we settle for mediocrity and sin. Rather, with the help of God's grace, especially in the sacraments, God works within us to make us holy.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A radical gospel:

    Most of us, I think, fail to recognize just how radical the gospel really is. Now, this word radical has 2 meanings. First, we speak of something as radical because it is so new and startling.

    The gospel really is news. We call it Good News, but we usually focus on how it is good, not so much on how it is new. Perhaps this is one of the built-in problems of living 2000 years since the birth of Christ. We miss just how amazing this news really is. Every year as we contemplate the mystery of Christmas, the birth of the son of God into human history, it should amaze us, for we would have done things differently. Jesus is the prince of the cosmos, but he is born in a stable. He is the word through whom was made the universe, and he was born as a child, unable to speak. Wisdom itself, grew in knowledge and experience. The great savior was heralded by a humble man preaching repentance, dressed not in costly vestments but camel hair. One thing I think that we all should do during Advent is to spend some time with these Bible stories. Advent is a time for us to join in the long preparation for the coming of the savior. Try to put yourselves in the shoes of the pre-Christian people. Try to regain an appreciation for just how radical this good news is.

    Also, the word radical applies in another way. The word radical comes from the latin word radix which means root. The coming of Christ gets to the very roots of humanity and society. We hear about this in our readings today.

    First, Isaiah paints for us an interesting picture. He describes a human person, but a perfected human person. This person is filled with wisdom and knowledge, vested in justice and righteousness. We often apply this prophecy of Isaiah to the person of Jesus. In the person of Christ we see the human person healed to its very roots. In Jesus, humanity regains wisdom, knowledge, justice, and righteousness. Because of our common humanity, all of the human race is elevated and healed at the coming of Jesus. This gets to the very core of our nature. The incarnation is radical in the fact that it goes to the root of the human person. As we take an honest look at ourselves during this season of Advent, we might see within ourselves many shortcomings and faults. Ask Christ into the very core of your being. Let him enter you to your very roots and let him heal you.

    Many times in our readings we hear about the nations or the Gentiles: the root of Jesse will be a signal for all the nations and because of Christ even the Gentiles might glorify God. The coming of Christ is radical because it heals not only the brokenness of the human person, but even the brokenness of the human family. Because of the coming of Christ, all nations have access to the God of the universe. This is a new and radical concept. Remember, that God chose the people of Israel. God chose Abraham and Moses. Yet, in Christ, all of us have become God's sons and daughters. In Christ, God chooses the whole world. The divisions that exist among us can be erased through common faith in Christ. Isaiah speaks of an ideal future where natural discord is vanquished, where the lamb and the lion lie down together. We might think that this is impossible, but this has already happened in the Church. In the body of Christ there many different peoples. There are Christians from every tribe and nationality, peoples who have historically been enemies share in the same faith, the same baptism. And, if we are honest we could all do a better job of putting behind our differences and focusing on our communion with Christ.

    How does this radical communion take place? How does Jesus heal us to our roots both personally and as a human family? Isaiah says that the root of Jesse will be held up as a signal to all the nations. Jesus is the root of Jesse, and he was lifted up on the cross to draw all nations to himself. He is lifted up again here on this altar drawing all of us to himself. At every Mass we lift the Lord and we all gaze upon him is, and he becomes the source of our communion. As we await the coming of our savior we look upon him here in this Eucharist. We ask him to come into our lives. Allow Christ to heal us to our very roots and ask him to help heal any divisions we face in our lives, so that we too might glorify God for his mercy.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bible Study Week 5 Audio

Here is the audio for week 5.

Also, please note that next week the Bible study will meet on Thursday at 6:30, not Tuesday.  Thanks!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sunday, November 28, 2010

First Sunday of Advent:

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about Advent: When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present [the] ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior's first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming (CCC 524). By preparing to celebrate Christmas, we renew our desire for the Lord's second coming. Whenever we contemplate the coming of Christ into history, it makes us long for Christ to come again. You have heard it said that Christianity is a historical religion: the mysteries of salvation took place in the unfolding of history; but, it is not simply a religion of antiquity. Rather, we believe in the Christ who came, and who will come again. So as we spiritually prepare ourselves for the celebration of Christmas we should always be mindful to renew our desire of the coming of Christ. Our readings today show us the way to do this.

In the gospel Jesus tells us that we know neither the day nor the hour of his coming. This might frighten us. We have to be vigilant, always ready for the coming of our savior. However, Jesus gives us an insight into vigilance. He notes that at the time of the Great Flood people were going about their daily business: they were eating and drinking, being married and being given in marriage. It will be the same on the day of the second coming. Rather than seeing this as something frightening, we should not be afraid. Jesus is telling us that it is ok for us to be going about our daily tasks, he never tells us to stop living our lives. Vigilance does not mean that we run away from life. Rather, vigilance means that we are constantly prepared for the coming of Christ in the midst of our ordinary lives. Are you a mother or father? Go on taking care of your kids, but do it in the sight of Christ, confident that if he came back today he would approve of what you are doing. Are you a banker, teacher, secretary, priest, you name it? Whatever you do, do it as if Christ were coming back today. We do not know the day or the hour, but whenever Christ comes back we should be ready to great him.

St. Paul reiterates this, but puts it in the realm of moral action. The more we contemplate the fact that Jesus could come back any minute, the more we want to have our affairs in order: Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day. We usually think about this during Lent, but if there is something in your life, some sin you are not proud of, why not ask Christ to help you with it during this season of Advent? Ask Christ to come into your life, especially into your sinfulness, for this is what it means to put on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Isaiah tells us that all nations will come to Mount Zion, and from this holy mountain will go forth instruction. The word used by the prophet here is actually Torah. Remember that the Torah, which we usually translate as the Law, was God's precious gift to the Israelites. This was the special instruction that God gave to his people telling them precisely how they would be his people. This mystery only deepens at Christmas: the Word of God is sent into the world to teach, to give instruction, to build on the foundation of the Torah. So, another important way to prepare for Christmas is through instruction. We can never learn too much about our faith. Every year we give away hundreds of the little Advent books published by Magnificat: take one of them home and read it. This year we are going to put on an Advent series which will focus on Fr. Robert Barron's book on the Holy Eucharist (there are details in the bulletin), I invite you all to consider joining us so that you might learn more about your faith.

Our readings today give us two ways we can be vigilant even in the midst of our daily lives: conversion and instruction. These are two beautiful ways for the Lord to come into our lives, to touch our hearts and our minds and to renew our desire for the second coming of Christ.

It is certainly true that Christ has come and will come again, which is what Advent is all about. But, today as we celebrate this Holy Eucharist Christ comes in the here and now. There is no better way for us to prepare for the feast of Christmas and to renew our desire for the coming of Christ than by our faithful participation in the Mass. Here at this altar we remember the saving mystery of Christ come into the world, we pray for his Second Coming, and we receive him, here and now, in the Holy Eucharist.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Christ the King

34th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Christ the King):


 

    Today is the feast of Christ the King. This is the last Sunday of Ordinary Time. This feast of Christ the King reminds us that Christ, by his death and resurrection, has been seated on the throne of heaven, where he has already begun to reign. Still, we await his coming when his Kingdom will have no end: long live Christ the King.

    Royalty has been in the news this week. England's Prince William got engaged to Kate Middleton. I was struck by radical difference between human royalty and the royalty of Christ. We know that the royal family of England is mostly symbolic. They are a remnant of the days when Kings and Queens ruled. All that is left, it seems to me, are the palaces. When we see the clips of the engagement announcement we see glitz and glamour. But, there is no substance there. The height of human royalty, it seems to me, has boiled down to flashy clothes, expensive jewelry, extensive paparazzi, but what else? There is certainly no salvation from the royal family of England.

    How much different is Christ! Today is the feast of Christ the King where we remember Christ in all his glory, but which Gospel does the Church give us to shed light on this mystery? Today we hear the gospel of the crucifixion. The cross is a contradiction. On the cross we see the Lord of life, dead. But, what a contrast with the notion of human royalty! With Prince William we see glitz and glamour, with Christ we see blood and nails. The kings of this world have costly garments, the King of the world to come was stripped bare. The kings of this world are crowned with gold and jewels, the King of the world to come was crowned with thorns. The kings of this world used to wield power through force of armies, the king of the world to come wielded power through self-sacrifice. The kings of this world dine in costly banquet halls and eat sumptuous meals, the King of the world to come poured himself out as food and drink for all of us. The kings of this world are seated on thrones of marble or gold, Christ, the king of the world to come was seated upon the throne of the cross. We could go on and on, but I think we see the point. There is a radical difference in the royalty of Christ.

    I'm being a little too harsh on human kings. People turned to kings, and we to our governments today, for peace and security. We hear that the people of Jerusalem went down to King David and begged him to be their king. There is a great desire in the human heart for peace and security. And while we are here in this fallen world, we strive to find that peace and security, and we should. However, we realize that this longing of every human being will never be perfectly fulfilled in this world, which is why we await the coming of Christ our King. True peace and lasting security are only to be found in Christ. He is not the king of our own choosing, we never would have imagined a king who suffered on the Cross. But, it was through this suffering, this self-sacrifice, that Christ defeated sin and death, the two greatest opponents of peace and security.

    The feast of Christ the king is an important reminder for each of us. We long for peace, but we will only find it in Christ. We will not find salvation in glitz or glamour, we will not find it in palaces or in the White House, salvation does not come from armies and power; salvation comes from Christ seated on the throne of the Cross. Like the people who went up to King David, let's approach Christ the King, let's ask him to be our King. Let's ask him to lead us and to guide us into the peace and security we long for. At every Mass we pray for the coming of God's kingdom. Every Mass is like a journey to the throne of God where we ask him to be our King: long live Christ the King.

Bible Study Week 3 Audio

Here is the audio from week 3.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bible Study Week 2

Here is the audio for week 2

My talk on the New Translation of the Missal:

Last week I was in Syracuse for the Diocesan Catechetical Institute Day. They asked me to give two talks. The first was on the new translation of the Roman Missal. I decided to post the text of the talk below.

Let's start with the first question that most people have: Why are we doing this?  Why do we have to have a new translation?

Where to begin?  Let's begin in 1962.  What big event happened in the life of the church in that year?  The second Vatican council of course.  This council affects everything we do in the church today.  But its effects are felt nowhere more than the liturgy.  We all know that the liturgy changed after Vatican ii.  The document from the church on liturgy is named Sacrosanctum Concilium. This was the first document published.  

1. This sacred Council has several aims in view: it desires to impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change; to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church. The Council therefore sees particularly cogent reasons for undertaking the reform and promotion of the liturgy.

One such way that the council decided to renew liturgy was the allowance for vernacular liturgy.   

36. 1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.

2. But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters.

3. These norms being observed, it is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, 2, to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used; their decrees are to be approved, that is, confirmed, by the Apostolic See. And, whenever it seems to be called for, this authority is to consult with bishops of neighboring regions which have the same language.

4. Translations from the Latin text into the mother tongue intended for use in the liturgy must be approved by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned above.

However the mass was not simply translated into English.  Rather all of the liturgical books of the church were revised.  

21. In order that the Christian people may more certainly derive an abundance of graces from the sacred liturgy, holy Mother Church desires to undertake with great care a general restoration of the liturgy itself. For the liturgy is made up of immutable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These not only may but ought to be changed with the passage of time if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become unsuited to it.


 

In this restoration, both texts and rites should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things which they signify; the Christian people, so far as possible, should be enabled to understand them with ease and to take part in them fully, actively, and as befits a community.

What we have now is often called the mass of Paul vi because it was under his papacy that the mass was reformed.  This mass was published in 1972.  Because there was a great desire to see this new mass in the vernacular as soon as possible all the countries of the worlds quickly translated this mass into the vernacular languages.  We have been using this translation.

However, in 2000 pope John Paul II promulgated a new version of the missal.  This book was, is, largely the same as the 1972 book but there are some differences.  For example, there are many more saints now since John Paul, he canonized many saints.  Also, there were some changes to the prayers and instructions to the mass.  All of these changes required us to have a new translation of the 2000 missal.  However, in the 30 years between the writing of these two books many things have changed, including our understanding of the best way to translate our prayer books.

Now, at the risk of putting you to sleep allow me to speak a little bit about the art of translation.  There is an old Italian adage that goes Traduttore, traditore: to translate is to betray. In a way, translate means to hand over.  The idea here is that we hand over the thoughts of an author into another language.

But, we shouldn't think so negatively because we deal with translation all the time.  What language was used in the writing of the bible?  The Old Testament was largely written in Hebrew with some Greek.  The New Testament was written wholly in Greek.  So if you have ever picked up a bible to read it chances are you were reading a translation, unless we have some Greek and Hebrew scholars out there.  But, we should remember that even these gospels are translations.  What language did Jesus speak?  While we cannot say for sure that he didn't know some Greek or Latin we can be sure that he spoke Aramaic which was the language of his time and place.  So, even the gospels themselves are translations.  Soon after their writing, Latin began to replace Greek as the lingua Franca of the ancient world.  Church fathers like Jerome quickly set about to put the bible into the language of the people.  That is what the Latin vulgate is all about.  Vulgate means vulgar or language of the people.  That is why Latin was accepted as the language of the church.

However, for reasons that are hard to explain in the short amount of time that we have, Latin became the official language of the western church.  Latin is still the official language of the church.  Only now we are encouraged to pray in our vernacular languages.  It is still recommended, however, that we all know some Latin especially priests and seminarians.  So there is nothing wrong with translations.

How many of you have ever learned a new language?  One of the things you quickly realize is that there is no exact science to translation.  Rather, there are many ways to say things in several languages.  The key is to try to say something in one language that means the same thing in another language.  For example, how do you say thank you in Spanish?  Gracias.  This is the word used for thanks.  But does this word actually mean thanks? It comes from Latin the phrase is gratias ago tibi which means to lead grace unto thee.  The idea here is that grace and favor should be given to the one who has done good to me: in a word, thanks.  But when we translate gracias as thanks, some of the flair and originality of the original language is missing.  Nothing we can really do about that...  To translate is to betray.

Now, let's talk about translation principles: first, dynamic equivalence.  This principle hold that a good translation is one in which the basic thought of the original language is rendered in the basic thought of the target language.  The best word we have to explain this process is paraphrase. 

A different principle is called formal equivalence.  This principle holds that a good translation does not so much bring the thought into the target language, rather it brings the actual words into the target language.  This could be summarized as a literal translation.

Now I should tell you that the last translation we had was a paraphrase where the new translation will be a literal translation.  I will talk more about why we made that switch in a few moments.

What we have been talking about is a little bit abstract.  Let's look at some texts and see what I mean.

Go over the Gloria in some detail.

So you see some of the differences between a paraphrase and a literal translation. Now, why did the church think it so important to make that switch?  The answers are found in this book: liturgiam authenticam, which is the 5th instruction on the vernacular translation of the roman liturgy.  As you can tell it sounds like a real page turning spell binder...  But it really is a beautiful little document.  It was issued at the behest of jp2 in 2001. With the new missal the pope wanted us to reexamine the way we translated liturgical texts.

This document explores the use of language in prayer.  It begins by citing Vatican II: 1. The Second Vatican Council strongly desired to preserve with care the authentic Liturgy, which flows forth from the Church's living and most ancient spiritual tradition, and to adapt it with pastoral wisdom to the genius of the various peoples so that the faithful might find in their full, conscious, and active participation in the sacred actions – especially the celebration of the Sacraments – an abundant source of graces and a means for their own continual formation in the Christian mystery.[1] 

     We are people who are part of a long and storied tradition.  We are not slaves to a precedent, rather we are inheritors of a rich history.  This history is concerned with the same thing that concerns us today: our continual formation in the Christian mysteries.  So the reforming of the liturgical books helps this process along.  However, the document contends that certain expectations should hold: (LA 3)  the greatest prudence and attention is required in the preparation of liturgical books marked by sound doctrine, which are exact in wording, free from all ideological influence, and otherwise endowed with those qualities by which the sacred mysteries of salvation and the indefectible faith of the Church are efficaciously transmitted by means of human language to prayer, and worthy worship is offered to God the Most High.[3]

What does this look like?  In other words what kind of language fits this bill?  19. The words of the Sacred Scriptures, as well as the other words spoken in liturgical celebrations, especially in the celebration of the Sacraments, are not intended primarily to be a sort of mirror of the interior dispositions of the faithful; rather, they express truths that transcend the limits of time and space. Indeed, by means of these words God speaks continually with the Spouse of his beloved Son, the Holy Spirit leads the Christian faithful into all truth and causes the word of Christ to dwell abundantly within them, and the Church perpetuates and transmits all that she herself is and all that she believes, even as she offers the prayers of all the faithful to God, through Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.[19]

     Now for time's sake let me summarize few more of the basic concepts presented here.  The document states that the reform of the liturgy helps to accomplish these things.  Also it states that the work of translation itself furthers the reform.  But, some people might wonder why we have to stick with the Latin texts at all. The new Latin texts are themselves a work of reform and renewal.  We should remember that.

When it comes to translation there are some guidelines the language should be understandable.  But, it does not have to be everyday language.  In fact it is a good thing for us to develop a separate language for prayer.

One tendency in translation that should be avoided is the temptation to render everything that is implicit explicit.  Also the translation is not the place to explain difficult things.  For example, in the creed it is said that Jesus is consubstantial with the Father. Is this an easy word to understand? No, but we have translated it one in being, which might be an explanation of the word, but the Creed is not the place to explain the word.

Some have said that there is a desire to use language as it comes from culture.  This document says instead, wouldn't it be great if culture was influenced by the language of the liturgy.  This has already taken place if you think about it.  Don't people say, in a totally secular culture: mea culpa?  Now it is not super common but you could certainly imagine it.  That is a case where liturgy influences culture.

Allow me to summarize, there are two major points here which seem to be driving the new work of translation.  The first is accuracy.  The church has found in the past 30 years that it is better to be accurate even if it means that we use language that might not be the easiest to understand.  The important things that we are being faithful to the Latin original which the Church believes is able to lift our minds and hearts to the transcendent realm.  The second principle that we discover is related, the Church recommends that we develop a sacred vernacular.  This is a kind of language that we use for a certain purpose, namely to praise God.  This sacred vernacular will remind us what the mass is all about.

Here is where I would like to leave you with a few thoughts.  Remember that this talk was called "getting the most out of the mass." What is the liturgy?  Here is the definition I memorized in school: The liturgy is a complexus of sensible signs by means of which, God, in Christ and through Christ, in the Church and through the Church, sanctifies man; and Man, in the Church and through the Church, in Christ and through Christ, renders worship to God. This is what the liturgy is and this is what the liturgy does. I firmly believe that we have been doing this for 30 years. One thing I want to make clear is that the fact that we are getting a corrected translation is not to say that the Mass has been wrong for 30 years. It has been the Mass, where God sanctifies us and we worship God. But, this new translation will be an improvement. We will take something that is good and make it even better.

What can we do to prepare ourselves?

  • First thing to do is to evaluate the new prayer texts. Start to get familiar with them. Your handout contains the people's parts of the Mass. Look over them and see how they are changing.
  • Keep a positive attitude. The only person who likes change is the man wearing wet pants. Change can be hard. Especially when it comes to something as personally important as the Mass. This is the heart and summit of the Church's life, to change it might cause us some stress. But remember, we are not getting a new Mass, we are just getting a new translation.

I'm convinced that this new translation will help our prayer lives. First, this sacred vernacular will help us lift our minds and hearts into a more prayerful place. I find the language to be more beautiful.

21st Sunday Ordinary Time

CURRENT:

Father, help us to seek the values

that will bring us lasting joy in the changing world.

In our desire for what you promise

make us one in mind

and heart. Grant this…


 


 

NEW:

O God,

who shape the minds of the faithful to a single purpose,

grant your people to love what you command

and to desire what you promise, that,

amid the uncertainties of this world,

our hearts may be fixed where true joys are found.

Through our Lord…


 

Second, this new translation will cause us to stop and actually think about what we are saying. Many of us have so memorized the words of the creed, for example, that we just rattle off the fact that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, etc. A new translation will make us work a little, which might actually help us to recall the importance of what we are saying.

It has been said about other things, and it is certainly true of the Mass: you get out of the Mass what you put into it. The Mass is the greatest thing on earth. Yet, we can limit its effectiveness in our lives by our lack of participation. This new translation should continue to foster our participation in the Mass. It may require an effort on your part as you begin. Also, many of you will be asked to help your parish implement the new translation, so that means even more work. But, whatever you put into your preparation for the new missal will be paid back abundantly.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Bible Study

Hello everyone,

Sorry for the delay.  Here is the link to last week's audio recording. 

This should be a fun Bible study.  We will be going through 1st Corinthians.  A study like this allows us to take our time and really dig into this great work.  Don't worry if you miss a day.  I think you can still come and enjoy discussing any section of Paul's great letter.
God bless,
Fr Jake

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Christ gives us a message of Hope:

32nd Sunday of ordinary time


 

    In today's reading from St Paul he gives us a beautiful little prayer: May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word. It seems to me that Jesus is doing this very thing in the gospel today. He tells us about the resurrection.

    As you may be aware we are coming to the end of ordinary time. In a few weeks we will celebrate the feast of Christ the king, which is the end of the church year. Every year around this time the readings for mass start to take on an eschatological dimension. Now, don't be afraid of this word. Eschatological means having to do with the last things: death, judgment, the end of the world etc. Now, from the perspective of Hollywood and many people in the world today, eschatology is frightening. When we think of the end of the world we see visions of earthquakes, tsunamis, and other terrifying things. And while these things might take place, they are not the focus of Christian eschatology. Rather, the focus of Christian eschatology is always the resurrection. And the resurrection is always good news. In fact it is central to the entire gospel message: those who believe in Christ, even if they die, will live forever. So Jesus is giving us good news indeed, the resurrection is certainly the encouragement and hope that Paul is talking about in his prayer today.

    What will the resurrection be like? To be honest we really do not know "eye has not seen, ear has not heard what God has in store for those who love him." So whenever we are speaking about the resurrection we must remember that it is quite mysterious, the resurrection lies beyond the veil and it is clouded in mystery. That being said, we can say some things about the resurrection. First, we can say what the resurrection is not. The resurrection is not simply resuscitation. I think the Sadducees from today's gospel were under the impression that resurrection means we simply get up and keep living our human lives. Jesus corrects this mistaken concept. No, he says, the children of the age to come will be like the angels. So we will certainly be different. We should remember to read this passage in light of the rest of the Bible. Jesus says today that we will be like angels, but we read elsewhere that he will raise our mortal bodies to make them like his own in glory. We know that angels are spiritual beings without bodies, Jesus is not saying we will lose our bodies, he is just saying that our bodies will be spiritualized. What does this mean? We will find out on the last day.

    Still, Jesus does give us an insight into that last day. He tells us that they are neither given nor received in marriage. What could this mean? Marriage means "till death do us part," but what about the other side of eternity? Jesus tells us that we are not married in heaven. Why not? Marriage is a sacrament. Like all the sacraments, these are signs of eternal realities. When we experience these realities for ourselves the signs will pass away. What is being expressed in the sign of marriage? Love, right! Marriage is a sign of love, two people agree to give of themselves completely for the rest of their lives by a commitment of love. St Paul tells us in Ephesians that this is a sign for the relationship between Christ and his church. However, on the last day this sign will be fulfilled. There is no marriage in heaven, not because there is no love in heaven, there will be a fullness of love. The love between a married couple today is supposed to be the sign of love between God and the human race. On the last day we will experience this union in its fullness. No wonder we call this good news! What exactly will this look like? Eye has not seen, ear has not heard... But isn't it exciting? Doesn't it sound wonderful: complete and total union with God forever? Certainly this gives us the hope St Paul mentions in the second reading. It is this hope which brings our RCIA candidates and catechumens here today. They are seeking nothing less than to be with God forever. Let's continue to keep them in our prayers as they journey toward Easter.

    We believe that all those who are joined to Christ will be raised with him on the last day. But, we don't have to wait until then to experience this communion. Jesus said in John's gospel: I am the bread of life, whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood, even if he dies, will live and I will raise him up on the last day.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Life with Christ:

31st Sunday OT Year C:

Today we hear the interesting story of the conversion of Zacchaeus. It is certainly a story of conversion. Through an encounter with the person of Christ, the tax collector is transformed. But, I think there is more in the story. It not only tells us about how Christ can call people who don't know him; but, it also tells us how Christ can help us to deepen our relationship with him.

First, look again at the first line of the gospel: Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through it. This translation is a little bit clumsy. The Greek simply says "he entered and went through Jericho." This is not just a throw-away line introducing the parable. Rather, I think it means something more profound. Jesus is passing through the city, he makes himself available, he draws near to his people. Christ is no distant landlord; rather, he draws near, he passes through the city. How much more is this true after the resurrection! Jesus is no longer bound by space and time. Just as Jesus drew near to ancient Jericho, we know that Christ draws near to each one of us. Jesus is always passing by.

Next, look at Zacchaeus. What do we hear about him? First, he is a tax collector. We heard about a tax collector last week as well. Luke is showing us these characters to remind us that Jesus associates with sinners. Remember, in Luke's gospel we hear that Jesus is the good shepherd who leaves the 99 and goes in search of the lost sheep. This story of Zacchaeus is proof of this fact. Jesus passed through Jericho to find this lost sheep. This is still true today. Jesus passes through our "town." He doesn't run away from us, even though we are sinners. Rather, he continues to look for us, to seek us out. This fulfills what we hear in the first reading: God is the great lover of souls! God loves us so much that he sent his Son to seek out what was lost.

So, Jesus comes to us. What about our end of the relationship? The gospel tells us that Zacchaeus desired to see Jesus. What a beautiful way to put it! Even the sinner, says St. Luke, desires to see Jesus. Every human being has an innate desire to see Christ!

One thing I often ponder is the preaching of Jesus. What must that have been like, to hear Christ himself? What did he say? He must have been persuasive. Would I have followed him? I hope so. Worse yet, would I have even gone out to see him? It is easy to say that we would have gone out to meet Christ, but would we? Why did Zacchaeus seek him out: he wanted to see Jesus. In the person of Christ we encounter something that resonates with us: God's great love for the world! In Christ we find our origin and destiny. In the encounter with Christ we find the God who made us. We also find in Christ the communion between humanity and divinity. This is why JP2 always quoted Gaudium et Spes 22: it is Christ who fully reveals man to himself. Jesus shows us our origin and destiny. No wonder we want to see Jesus! This is why all people are innately drawn to this mystery. This is why Jesus was persuasive. Not so much what he said, but who he is, is persuasive.

Still, Zacchaeus knew that there were obstacles in his way. The gospel says he was short of stature. He would not let this get in his way, he climbed the tree. What keeps us from seeing Jesus in our lives? We know that Jesus is passing through, we know that he is always drawing near; but, there are things that keep us from seeing Jesus. Rather than give an exhaustive list, how about I just pick one that many of us deal with: time. Many of us fail to see Jesus because we are busy, there is little time. But if we are going to have a relationship with Christ, we have to spend time with him. We have to "see" him. It might take a heroic effort, but it is worth it. Carve out some time in your life. Start small if you have to: 5 minutes in the morning, 5 minutes in the afternoon. Don't let your crazy schedule keep you from seeing Jesus. Find some time to see Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. As you probably know, we have exposition of the Blessed Sacrament here at St. Matt's every Saturday morning from 11-12 during confessions, as well as a communal Holy Hour once per month. These are wonderful ways to see Jesus.

I think we would all like to be like Zacchaeus. We would all like to be converted in the same way by having an encounter with Christ so powerful that we leave behind all our sins. This story teaches us an important lesson. Before any conversion comes a desire to see Christ, followed by an encounter with Christ. Conversion is not a product of our best effort, it is a product of Christ working within us. This is St. Paul's prayer: we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Humility and Supplication:

30th Sunday OT Year C:

    A couple of weeks ago we heard the story of the 10 lepers. If you remember Jesus healed all 10 lepers, but only one returned to thank God. The point of that story is conversion. Christ comes to heal us, we return and give thanks. A story like that one is easy for us to accept. We think of leprosy as an image for sinfulness. Christ can heal sinfulness and help sinners on the way to conversion. Today's gospel is more unsettling. This passage is not directed at the "sinners," it is directed at the "saints."

The first thing to remember when we contemplate this passage is the objective state of things. As an impartial observer, which person would we rather be? Jesus carefully chose his examples today. The Pharisee does everything correctly. First, he avoids sin: he does not commit adultery, he is neither greedy nor dishonest. Second, he does acts of virtue: he fasts and tithes. We should not construe the parable to mean that these things are bad. They are not. In many ways, the Pharisee is giving us a model to follow. It is good to fast, tithe, and avoid sins. On the other hand, the tax collector is an image of the grievous sinner. Tax collectors were famous for their dishonesty. So, Jesus is certainly not condoning dishonesty and sinfulness. Jesus is certainly not saying that sin is ok.

If that is not the point of the parable, what is? We just looked at the objective state of things: one man committed acts of virtue, one vices. What about the subjective state of things? Let's begin with the tax collector: what is going on inside of him? O God, be merciful to me a sinner. His disposition is one of supplication: he is begging mercy from God. Also, his is a humble disposition: he was in the back of the temple and would not even raise his eyes to heaven. (As a brief aside, this is why Catholics always sit in the last pews…) From an objective standpoint he is certainly a sinner; but, from a subjective point of view there is hope for him. He has that which is necessary to grow closer to God: humility and supplication, which is why the book of Sirach says that the prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds and goes straight to heaven. Humility and supplication are essential for a relationship with God. What about the Pharisee? Objectively he is doing everything well. Subjectively, he is a mess. Listen again to how Jesus introduces the prayer: "spoke this prayer to himself." Despite all his good actions, the Pharisee is not in communion with God: he spoke the prayer to himself. There is not a hint of supplication in the prayer of the Pharisee, the whole point of his prayer is self-congratulation. There is certainly no humility: he took up his place and called attention to how much better he was than the rest of humanity.

So Jesus is not saying that it is better to be a huge sinner. What he is saying is that everything we do must be directed toward having a relationship with God. Our actions can certainly lead us away from this relationship, which is why it is so important to grow in virtue. But, our external actions alone do not guarantee a healthy relationship with God. In fact, they can be for us a source of pride, which leads us away from God. No, what is essential is to develop a relationship with God, which is predicated on humility and supplication. This internal disposition allows for conversion, allows for a healthy relationship with God.

How can we be sure we maintain our humility? I mean the more we try to live a life of holiness the easier it is to fall into the trap of the Pharisee's pride. Let's look to St. Paul: I am being poured out like a libation. This is a beautiful image for Christian life: we should always be poured out. If we are always pouring ourselves out in prayer, pouring ourselves out in service of our families and community, then it is hard to fall into the kind of pride that can cut us off from God.

Where can we find another example where in great humility someone pours himself out for the good of others? Oh… how about the Holy Eucharist?

Vocations’ Day:

This past year Bishop Rhoades named me as assistant vocation director for the diocese. This past week I was asked, in that role, to offer Mass at Marian and St. Joe High Schools. The theme for this homily was vocations. I ask everyone reading this blog to pray for vocations.

Vocations day homily:

    Today we are having our annual vocations day. You know that this means that we are here to talk to you about religious vocations: the vocation to be a priest, brother, or sister. This is true! We are here to talk to you about these things. But, I want to give you a little bit of context. The religious vocation does not come out of nowhere.

What does the word vocation mean? It comes from the Latin Vocare, which means "to call." A vocation then is one's calling. Who is doing the calling? What are we talking about here? We are talking about God. He is calling you to something. God has a plan for each and every single one of us: holiness. This is the universal vocation. No matter what you might think God is calling you to be, you are most certainly called to be holy. But, Holy is one of those words that everyone knows what it means until I make you give me a definition. It is hard to pin down. What is holy?

The Biblical concept of holy always relates to God. Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of hosts. So holiness is something that pertains to God. What things were called holy in the Old Testament? The temple was called holy. Why? God dwelt there. The vessels were called holy. Why? Because they were set aside for the God's use. The same is true today. As you all know I'm the associate pastor at St. Matthew's Cathedral. How many of you have ever been in that Cathedral? So most of you know that it is a pretty big space, what would you think if the next time you walked in that Cathedral if I decided play baseball in that Church? You would instantly know that I shouldn't be doing that. Why? Because God lives there in the tabernacle. The Church is a holy place. What about sacred vessels? What if you walked into the rectory where I live and you saw me drinking my morning coffee out of a sacred chalice? Wouldn't that be offensive? Why? That chalice has been set aside and is only to be used for sacred things.

Apply these two concepts of holiness to ourselves. God lives inside each one of us. This is our theology. We believe that on the day of our baptism, the Trinity began to live within us. God dwells in us. Also, we believe that on the day of our baptism we were consecrated, set aside for the service of God. This is very important. How often do we live like God is living inside of us? Yet, how easy is it for us to fall into sins of gossip, bad language, impurity, being uncharitable toward others? What about service? We were set aside for service of God. Yet, when we do our own thing, ignore our neighbors, and skip Mass we are not doing this service. Whenever we think about holiness this should be the first thing we think of. We are holy because God dwells within us and we were set aside for the service of God and our neighbor.

Now some of you might be thinking: Great! I never signed up for that. I mean, isn't it a drag to have been made holy? Now I have to go around being holy. The answer, of course, is no. Holiness is the pathway to happiness. Who made us? God. Why did God make us? To know, love, and serve him in this life so as to be happy with him forever in the life to come. God made us, and he made us to be happy. Think of holiness as the instruction booklet of the human person. If I want to be happy, if I want to do what I was created to do, I have to live up to this holiness. What would happen if I bought a blu-ray player but instead of putting the disks in the slot I jam bananas in there? It wouldn't work. The same is true for us when we sin. When we sin we are violating the very fabric of our being, we are ignoring the instruction manual for happiness.

So what is the key here? First, dwell with God. God lives within you. Get to know God. Speak to him often. Develop a prayer life. Get to know Jesus. Spend time with him in the Blessed Sacrament. If being holy means that God is living within you, you need to establish a relationship with him. Second, serve God. We do this first and foremost by our worship. Whenever we gather to pray at the Mass we are offering perfect worship. That's why we need to go to Mass every Sunday. The Church tells us to go to Mass on Sunday's because it is good for us! It leads to happiness.

These are the ways in which you live out your call to holiness. The more you do this, the more you will be able to then look and see exactly how this calling to holiness will be lived out in your particular circumstance. As I said, holiness is the universal vocation. Marriage and celibate priesthood or religious life are the specific vocations. Every single one of you is called to the universal vocation, and every single one of you is called to a specific vocation. But, you will never be able to figure out your specific vocation unless you are living the universal vocation.

When I was discerning a call to the priesthood, I found the greatest place to pray was at Mass. Every time I went to Mass, and when the priest held up the Eucharist, I prayed: God tell me what you want me to do with my life. Today as we celebrate this Holy Eucharist, let that be your prayer: God, tell me what you want me to do with my life. And, pray for the courage to follow the Lord.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

All Scripture is Inspired

29th Sunday OT Year C:

Today in our second reading St. Paul teaches us about Scripture. The holy Bible, the Sacred Scriptures, have been called the Word of God. St Paul tells us today that they are capable of giving us wisdom for salvation. Wow, wisdom for salvation! How often do we think of the Bible in these terms, do we make the Bible an important part of our lives? Have we, like St. Timothy, known these Scriptures from our youth or do we need to get to know them?

Many people can be somewhat intimidated by the Bible. First of all it is a big book, there are actually 73 books in the Bible: 46 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. It can also be a difficult book to read: Sure, books like Genesis or the gospels are full of narrative, which makes them easy. But, books like Leviticus, or even the prophets can be very difficult to read. Then there are many things in the Bible which are difficult for us to understand, like our gospel passage today: is Jesus saying that God is like an unjust judge? Actually he is not. Rather, Jesus is employing a story-telling technique that makes a connection between two things that are only barely alike. If the unjust judge will deliver justice because of persistence, how much more will God, who is supremely just…

Yet, for all its difficulties and obscurities, the Bible is worth the effort. It is the word of God. Paul says: all Scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, refutation, and training in righteousness. Inspired by God! The word St. Paul uses here is theopnuestos, which literally means "God breathed." What a beautiful expression! God is the one who breathes out the words of Scripture. They are written by human authors, but God breathes in and through them. It is almost as if the human writers provide the voice, but God provides the air that breathes out the words. What an unbelievable treasure we have here! When you hold the Bible in your hands, you are holding God's word, God's breath. The Bible is not just some ordinary book or novel.

Paul says that Scripture is useful for teaching. Today in the first reading we hear about the role of Moses in the battle versus Amalek. We hear how God worked through the hands of Moses to give aid and strength to his people in their time of need. When we read the Bible, we learn our story. We are the spiritual descendents of Moses. The Bible is our story, and when we read it the Bible teaches us about where we come from.

Paul says that Scripture is useful for the training in righteousness. In our struggle against sin and our desire to be faithful disciples of Jesus, the Bible can train us in righteousness. Look at the Gospel, Jesus teaches us to pray without becoming weary. There are many of us, here in this parish, who are weary. One of the most humbling aspects of being a priest is the fact that people share with me their struggles: Many of you are struggling with a family situation. Many of you are struggling with an illness. Many of you are struggling with some kind of sin. Christ is telling us in the Scriptures that all of us struggle, all of us grow weary. Yet, Jesus tells us to keep up our prayers, remain faithful even in the midst of our struggles. This is truly training in righteousness: even in the midst of our difficulties, even when we are weary, the only way through these tough times is faithfulness.

Paul gives Timothy a stern command at the end of the reading: proclaim the word. This command is given to each one of us as well. Drawing close to Christ, being his disciple, always includes an evangelical aspect. The faith cannot remain our own personal possession; rather, the faith impels us outward to share the good news with others. This is another important reason for us to become well-acquainted with the Holy Bible. Not only can these inspired words give us the wisdom for salvation, but when we share them with others, we share with them this wisdom as well. The better we know the Scriptures, the better we will be able to help others get to know Christ.

In the Holy Scriptures we encounter the Word of God: Jesus Christ himself. No wonder then that the Church has always read the Bible when it gathers around the altar. Here at this holy Mass we encounter Christ, first when we read the holy Scriptures, second in the Holy Eucharist. The Holy Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, and the Bible is the Word of God. The holy Mass helps us to fulfill our mission: to proclaim the word. Here we are strengthened by the Holy Eucharist and formed by the word of God so that when we go forth from this Mass we can share with others the wisdom for salvation.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thanksgiving, and not the turkey kind

28th Sunday OT Year C

Today we hear of the Samaritan leper returning to Jesus to give thanks. All of Christian life is a life of thanksgiving. In fact, I would go even further, that all of human existence finds its meaning in thanksgiving. It is so important to be thankful.

I am reminded of a time when I was in the seminary. One day I received a package in the mail. This package was a care-package from the youth group I was a part of before I entered seminary. Inside there were snacks, cookies, and other little things meant to brighten my day. I opened the box in the mailroom, and there was another seminarian in that room. I don't remember exactly what I said, but at some point I said: "I need to send out a thank you note after getting a box like this." He looked at me a bit puzzled and said: "I never do that." What? "I never send out thank you notes." I was shocked, and a little disgusted. This guy was a deacon, which meant he was less than a year away from being a priest. He had been in the seminary for years and must have received countless boxes, gifts, cards, etc, and he never once sent a thank you note. I was really troubled by this. Thanksgiving is essential to what it means to be Christian, how would he be able to preach this message if he never gave thanks.

What does it mean to give thanks? It is actually a process. First comes the gift. I received a gift from the youth group. This means that I have to recognize it as a gift. No one had to give me anything. When that youth group decided to send me a present, they did so out of love. I recognize that it was a free gift, and I accept it. This recognition and acceptance is essential. The next step is a reciprocation of love. When we find ourselves in the presence of love, it should make us want to return love. A thank you note is a small thing in the grand scheme of things, but it says that I have recognized the gift, accepted the gift as a gift of love, then I have shown my love and appreciation by reciprocating this gift in whatever way possible.

Apply this on a grand scale: We are not responsible for our existence. Everything we have comes from God. I did not make myself. I am also not responsible for my continued existence. Nothing I have really came from me: my intuition, work-ethic, creativity, vocation, everything. Every breath you take, every dollar you make, every minute of your life is a pure gift from God.

[The following section will not be read at Mass, but I want to post it on my blog As many of you know, I am the Chaplain to Marian High School. These past two weeks have been very trying. I ask you please to keep Marian's students, staff, and faculty in your prayers. About two weeks ago, a student died, she was only 16 years old. This past week a Mother of 5, two of whom are current students of Marian, died in her sleep. Just yesterday I attended the funeral. There has been much sadness and many heavy hearts at Marian over the past two weeks. Yet, even these experiences teach us, in a mysterious way, to be thankful. There are no guarantees in life. Every day is a gift. Every person is a gift.]

What to do with a gift? First we recognize it. The more we realize that everything we have is a gift from God, the more we will appreciate it. When we recognize a gift, it is important to accept it. We see everything around us as a gift that comes from God, and we know that he gives us these gifts out of love. When we experience God's love, the only appropriate response is love, the appropriate response is thanksgiving. When we recognize that God gives us everything out of his life-giving love, the appropriate response is self-donation. When we give of ourselves to others, we are returning God's gift of love. When we gather here to worship almighty God, we are returning God's gift of love.

The leper in the gospel understood the appropriate response to Jesus' gift of healing was to return and give thanks. Naaman in the first reading took this even one step further, he recognized that to give thanks to the God who saved him meant that he needed to worship God. But, why did Naaman need to take that dirt?

Let me return to my story. Do you think that seminarian who refused to send thank you notes was thankful? I think he probably was. But, what was missing? He never expressed his thanksgiving. Naaman took that dirt because he knew that God dwelt in Israel. He knew that if he were going to worship that God, he could not simply do so internally. He understood the connection between worship and thanksgiving. For him to give thanks, he had to express his internal gratitude with external praise.

It is not coincidence that Christians named the Blessed Sacrament Eucharist. The very word means thanksgiving in Greek. When we gather here, every Sunday, we give thanks to God. Is there any wonder we are drawn to the Eucharist? The worship we render to God here at the Mass is the very thanksgiving we offer to God for all that he has given us. But, God is not to be outdone in generosity. When we recognize that everything we are and everything we have are gifts that come from God, and when we accept these things as gifts of love, we come here to give God thanks and praise. God goes one step further, he gives us the Eucharist, the body and blood of his son, the greatest gift of all.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Faith in action

27th Sunday OT year C

If you had faith you could uproot this tree… Have you ever been able to uproot a tree with your faith? Me neither. Does that mean that we don't have faith? No.

What is faith? We have a difficult time understanding this concept in our modern world. Ever since the time of the Enlightenment, faith has come to mean something intellectual. To say "I believe" means "I agree." I believe that if I jumped off St. Matt's bell tower I would be very badly injured, etc.

But faith is ever so much more than just intellectual assent. First, faith is a theological virtue. This means that faith is a gift that comes from God. It is not a product of our own will and desire. Faith is a gift of grace. That is why the prayer of the apostles should be our prayer: Lord, increase our faith. Notice that Jesus doesn't ridicule the apostles for asking for faith. Rather, he just goes on to show how powerful faith can be. All too often we think that faith is something we do; rather, faith is a gift from God.

Another major problem in our modern world is that we tend to think of faith as something that is just internal. But faith is more than just our belief in God. Faith also includes what we do with this belief.

Listen again to the words of St. Paul: stir to flame the gift of god you have received. So it is God's gift, our job it to fan that gift into a flame. For we did not receive a Spirit of cowardice, but one of power and love and self-control. In other words, we will fan into flame the gift of faith God has given us when we love and show self-control. So, we need not only faith, but we need also to be faithful.

We pray as did the apostles: Lord, increase our faith. He does this especially in the Eucharist. Then when we go forth from this Mass we fan that gift into flame when we love those around us.

Now we will have a chance to make a pledge to the annual bishop's appeal. You will each be given a chance to put your faith into action. We ask that you please be generous as you support the work of the Church throughout our diocese as well as here in our parish.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Kathryn Strickler

It is with a heavy heart that I make this post.  I ask all of you, in your charity, to pray for the repose of the soul of Kathryn Strickler.  She was a Junior at Marian who died on Friday from complications due to her diabetes.  Her funeral is scheduled for Saturday evening.
Eternal rest grant unto her O Lord,
And let perpetual light shine upon her.
May she rest in peace, Amen.
May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God,
Rest in Peace, Amen.

In Paradisum deducant te angeli, in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lazarus at the door

26th Sunday OT Year C

    We have often heard it said that the gospel should comfort the afflicted, but afflict the comfortable. Today's reading certainly falls into the "afflict the comfortable" category. Jesus is giving us an important lesson. It simply is not sufficient to worry about ourselves and our own needs. It is an absolute command of the gospel, a command from Christ himself, to love our neighbor. The rich man in the gospel is tormented in the flames for all eternity because he failed to help Lazarus.

    Personally I find this parable particularly difficult to take. If you listen carefully you will notice that the rich man never even notices Lazarus. Jesus tells us that Lazarus was at the rich man's door, but he never says that the rich man walked past him. It never says that the rich man spurned or abused him. It never even says that the rich man exploited Lazarus or did any other thing against him. In other words, the rich man didn't do anything to Lazarus, which is precisely the point. In the sacrament of confession we are quite good at confessing our sins: those actions against God, others, or self. But, when we examine our conscience do we even notice those things that we have failed to do? The scariest thing about the story of Lazarus is that the rich man never even noticed Lazarus. How many people just like Lazarus do we walk by on a daily basis? How often is there some good that we should be doing that we simply fail to do? How often are we wrapped up in the concerns of our own lives, our own families, our own situations that we fail to help those in need?

    Today we will see a video about the annual bishop's appeal. You will see some of the many things the diocese does with the funds collected in the annual appeal. Many of these worthy efforts are like Lazarus sitting at your door. You may not have even noticed that the diocese has had a huge increase in seminarians, but with that increase comes a great need for financial support for their education and formation. You may not have noticed that the diocese is increasing its catechetical efforts, especially toward young adults. You may not have noticed all the many programs the diocese offers to prepare couples for marriage. You may not have noticed the many charitable outreach programs funded by the Bishop's appeal. This video may point out many ways you can help those in need, ways you never noticed before. So that, unlike the rich man in the parable, we will not neglect to help those in need.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Feast of St. Matthew

25th Sunday OT and Feast of St. Matthew:

    Today in the gospel we hear something we expect: you cannot serve both God and mammon. But, we also hear something we do not expect: the master commended the dishonest steward for acting prudently. I think we all know by now the dangers inherent in money. Money is a tool, it is neutral of itself. However, it is an extremely sharp and delicate tool. Think of all the good you can do with money: support your family, serve the poor, support the parish, etc. But, the more one handles money, the easier it is to slip and be hurt by this tool. It is easy to give in to the prevailing culture of consumerism. It is easy to think that our worth depends on how much we have. It is easy to think that we need the bigger house, the nicer car, the cushy life. Falling for this mentality is quite harmful for our spiritual life. Jesus is exactly right, pursuit of wealth for its own sake becomes a religion with money as its god, making it impossible to follow Christ.

    St. Matthew is a great model and inspiration for us. Do you remember the story? St. Matthew was seated at his customs post, he was a tax collector. In the Bible, a tax collector is synonymous with a person who has bought into the consumerist mentality. They were known for defrauding others. They would charge more than was necessary for the tax and keep what was left for themselves. Yet, when Jesus approached him and told him to follow him, Matthew left behind his job, his wealth, his unhealthy attachment to money, and he followed after Christ. If you ever struggle with consumerism, ask St. Matthew to pray for you.

    But, the other part of the gospel is a bit more troubling. It sounds like Jesus is asking us to be dishonest. We get the example of that crooked steward who knows his days are numbered. So he calls in his boss's customers, rips off his boss to try to find favor with the customers. How is this an example of Christian living? Jesus explains: the children of this world are more prudent than the sons of light. In other words if we look around us we see many examples of people working hard to attain their goals. Think, for example, of world class athletes: they put in long, hard hours to attain their goals. They push themselves, straining to achieve success on a football field. And they do all this for something that is passing: a football game, for example. Yet, do we work that hard for something that is eternal, our eternal life? Jesus is telling us that we should use all of our human ingenuity, our drive, our prudence, our cunning, not only for our own advancement, but also for the spreading of the gospel. We often use our gifts and skills to succeed in work, sports, or society; but, do we use them for the promotion of the gospel?

    Again, St. Matthew is our model. St. Matthew was an educated man. We know this because he was able to write, only a few could write in those days. This made Matthew one on the upper echelon of society. But, instead of using his skills only for his own promotion, he decided to use his gifts and skills for the promotion of the gospel. And look at the result! For 2000 years now Christians have been reading his gospel as a way to grow closer to Christ. At one point in his life St. Matthew was this dishonest steward, using his gifts and skills for his own good; but, after his encounter with Christ he felt it necessary to use his talents for the promotion of the gospel.

    How is God calling you to service? I am absolutely sure that each and every one of you has some special gift, some special skill, that God wants at his service. We might be tempted to use these gifts for our own good, but through the prayers and example of St. Matthew we should put them to use for the gospel.

St. Matthew is our patron saint. This means that our parish should take on the personality of its patron. We too should strive to serve God, not money. To put our gifts at the service of the gospel. If the things we do take us away from our relationship with God, we need to leave them behind and follow the Lord. Ask St. Matthew to pray for us, to help us all leave behind our customs post and follow the Lord.

 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

God’s Outlandish Love

24th Sunday OT Year C

    Today in the gospel we hear one of our most well-loved parables. The parable of the prodigal son always speaks to us. Each one of us hears something different when we hear this parable. Sometimes we feel far from God, our sins and our bad choices make us feel like the prodigal son. Yet we know that we can always come back to God, who is the Father in the story, who catches sight of us while we are still distant. Sometimes we are challenged by the depiction of the older son. Are we ever jealous of God's mercy? Are we judgmental and harsh, when God is loving and merciful? Other times we are inspired by the example of the Father in the story: how many of us are hesitant to rush forward and forgive the person in most need of our forgiveness, especially those in our family. Yes, the parable speaks to every one of us.

But, when I was reading this gospel this week something new struck me about the parable. If you notice Jesus tells three straight parables. In the first two parables the theme is quite easy to detect: we hear that God is the good shepherd who seeks the lost sheep and he is like the woman who seeks after her lost coin. God goes after the lost. Yet, in both stories something else happens as well: the shepherd and the woman both rejoice at the return of the lost sheep and coin. We notice this same thing in the story of the prodigal son. When the son returns the Father throws a great banquet. One theme that runs through these three parables is the great joy of God. God rejoices when the lost return. God rejoices when the sinner comes to his mercy. The central character in the three parables is God, not us. These parables are about God's mercy. Sometimes we lose sight of this fact when we read the parable of the prodigal son: Jesus is trying to teach us about the generosity of God's mercy.

Last week a parishioner asked me if I had been ordained for a year yet. No, I was ordained on Oct 31st, so not quite a year. But, her question got me to thinking about this past year. It has been quite amazing. To be a priest is more fun than any human being should be allowed to have. And some of the greatest moments I've had over the past year came in the sacrament of confession. I cannot tell you how amazing it is to help people with their burdens. People come to me hurting, sad, weighed down by their sins and because of God's gracious mercy I'm allowed to say to them: I absolve you from your sins. I think that part of what makes these experiences so profound for me, the minister, is that I get a front row seat for the conversation between the prodigal son and the Father, I get to be there when the good shepherd finds the lost sheep, when the woman finds the lost coin. The joy and enthusiasm of God for the repentant sinner flows through me in the sacrament of confession. This joy is a foretaste of the kingdom of God.

If you think about it, heaven is the party described in today's parables. The Father in heaven sent his Son to bring back those who were lost. And when the son returns with all the sinners who trusted in him, there will be an everlasting banquet. This banquet is more than we deserve. No shepherd would throw a banquet when he finds a lost sheep, no woman would call everyone to tell them she's found a coin. But, God's mercy and love is outlandish. He loves us so much that he sent his son Jesus to bring us back to Him, to search for what was lost.

In a few moments we will receive the body and blood of Christ, which is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. Here at this Mass it is not so much that we find Christ. Rather, Christ finds us. And while we sometimes feel like we are still a long way off, Christ catches sight of us and brings us into communion with him, for he is the good shepherd who came from the Father to seek out what was lost.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Truth is Beautiful

23rd Sunday OT Year C

    Jesus never swindles us. No, he tells us right up front the risks involved in discipleship. Whoever cannot carry his/her cross and follow after me cannot be my disciple. These are harsh words from Jesus. But, they are so true. All he is saying is that it is impossible to be a disciple half way. Discipleship includes trial, suffering and self-denial. And when it comes to discipleship, Jesus asks for 100% percent of us: nothing less will do.

This is a strange passage if you think about it. Jesus is not doing much of a pitch job here. Think if we did the same thing with our RCIA program. If we told people all about the difficult side of Christianity: the self-denial and sacrifice that it takes to be a Christian, we might not get too many takers. So, what's Jesus doing in this passage?

Listen again to the first passage: great crowds were traveling with Jesus. These people were already with Jesus. Why were they there? Jesus drew these people. If we understood for just one second the truth of the Incarnation, we would die of delight. Though we were lost and could not find our way back to God, he loved us all the more and sent his only son to save us. Jesus Christ is God!!! If you have never been struck by the amazing beauty of this fact, think about it. Jesus, a man born 2000 years ago to a poor peasant girl named Mary, who traveled around teaching Good News, was not just some preacher. He is God! God became human so that humans could go back to God. It is important for us to listen to the teachings of Jesus, listen to the teachings of the Church, to be formed by the Word of God. But these things all require something fundamental: a basic attraction to Jesus. The good news of the Incarnation is so amazing that if we stop to think about it, we will automatically want to be close to Jesus. The truth is beautiful, and of itself we are attracted to it.

In a similar way, this is what St. Paul is doing in the second reading. In this short letter, Paul is asking a disciple, Philemon, to welcome back Onesimus not as a slave but as a brother. Now Paul, as an Apostle, could have been more direct. He could have commanded Philemon to release Onesimus, but he doesn't do that. Rather, he presents his case in a way that should appeal to Philemon: won't you welcome him back as a brother. Paul is hoping that Philemon will be so attracted to the beauty of the teaching, namely that each human person has innate value, that he will be moved to release Onesimus from slavery.

The Truth is Beautiful! Ultimately, we cannot be Christians simply because our parents wish it, we cannot be Christians simply because it is the right thing to do. We will never follow God's commands and precepts, we will never be able to live out our faith: the cross that Christ asks us to carry will be too heavy, unless we are swept off our feet by the beauty of Christ.

One place where we are always able to encounter this beauty is here at the Holy Mass. Right on this altar we see Jesus! In the Holy Eucharist we encounter the person of Christ, we see his body and blood. Christian discipleship is not for the meek of heart. It takes courage and determination to follow Christ, to pick up your cross and to follow him, to denounce all the things of the world that lead you away from Jesus and cling to Christ. All of these things will be impossible without a deep love for Christ. A love deepened and strengthened by the power of the Holy Eucharist.

Jesus never swindles us. He just stands before us as he is: fully God and fully man. He invites us to follow him. He tells us straight out the cost of discipleship: denial and self-sacrifice. But we must ask ourselves a question: having encountered the beauty of Christ, is there anywhere else we would rather go?