Thursday, November 13, 2014

Regaining Reverence of Sacred Places

This is an approximation of the homily I delivered on Sunday November 9, 2014 at St Luke the Evangelist Church at the 6:00 PM Mass.  This is the feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St John Lateran in Rome.  The scripture readings can be found by clicking this link.

Aren’t there certain things in life that we just do, but we really don’t know why we do them? Take the handshake.  Do you know how it came to be?  In the ancient times, people traveled mostly by foot. They carried swords for protection, usually hanging under their cloaks on the left side.  When strangers where passing on the road, they would extend their right hands to show their swords, and then clasp hands to show that they were friendly and were not going to stab each other. It evolved into what we know as the handshake.

What about the military hand salute?  In the middle ages Knights in armor raised visors with the right hand when meeting an opponent. This practice gradually became a way of showing respect, evolved to tipping that hat, modified to touching the hat, and since then it has become the hand salute used today.
 So why am I talking about the salute and the handshake? Today we celebrate the feast day of a building. The Cathedral of St John Lateran not St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican is actually the Cathedral of the Pope. It was originally a palace and was dedicated as a Church this day in the year 313. Although there are only small pieces of the original building remain, it is the oldest Church in Christianity. Why do we have the dedication of this building as a feast day? Is it a tradition like saluting or shaking hands that no longer has its original meaning?  To the contrary, the Church puts this feast on the calendar to remind us of the importance of church buildings as sacred space set apart for a special encounter with God and as people of faith we ought to treat them as such. 

 While God is in fact everywhere, today’s Gospel confirms that certain places are sacred, set apart and should be treated with special reverence.  If that were not the case, Jesus would not have flown into a rage, flipped over the tables, and driven the money changers out of the temple with a whip. He did this because that by their actions, the moneychangers were defiling the most sacred place on earth at that time. 

Prayer is simply lifting our hearts and minds to God.    And that is also the purpose of the Church building. The music, art, and architecture are to help us lift our hearts and minds to heaven.   In centuries past, the church was seen as an image of heaven. Its design and d├ęcor were based on the descriptions of heaven found in the Scriptures. Its high ceilings and arches drew your mind and heart up, up to God. Stained glass was intended to image the jeweled walls of heaven as described in the book of Revelation.

In the Catholic Church, a ceremony known as the Rite of Dedication of a Church and an Altar dedicates the building as sacred space, set apart for God and His people. Among the things that are done during this rite:

The altar is anointed with Sacred Chrism, the same oil that is used in Baptism and Confirmation. The altar becomes a symbol of Christ, which means “the anointed one”.

The walls are anointed to signify perpetual dedication to Christian worship. Incense is burned on the altar to signify the sacrifice of Jesus. The incense also signifies the prayers of the people reaching the throne of God. 

In the very early Church, Mass was celebrated in underground cemeteries and in homes.  As the Church flourished, lavishly ornate buildings were constructed with the intention of …lifting our hearts and minds to God. The problem was that over the centuries people began to believe that God dwelt exclusively in these ornate churches. People went to church, participated, received communion and went home without knowing who was sitting next to them. Worshippers forgot that we are come to church to worship God as family.

Lets go back, for a moment, to the Dedication of a Church. Thee first things that is blessed, before the altar or the walls are blessed, are the People, because the Church is a living temple and each member is a spiritual altar. This what Paul is referring to in the 2nd reading when he says YOU are God’s building and Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

To remind us of this, and of the community aspect of worship, Vatican Council II introduced some liturgical changes such as exchanging the sign of peace. But we may have swung from the extreme of attendance at Church being for God and me alone to the other extreme where Mass is a communal thing and God is not the center.  Many have lost the sense of the church as a sacred place, to the point that the conduct of some in our churches today borders on irreverence. In some Churches that I have been in, I can almost imagine Jesus making a whip and driving us out like he did with the moneychangers.

Practices that were meant to remind us that we are in God’s presence when we enter the church have been almost abandoned. These include such things as dressing appropriately, signing oneself with holy water, properly genuflecting, avoiding unnecessary chatter, and whispering when one has urgent cause to talk in church.

The next time you are in Church, look to your left and look to your right. I am sure you will see plenty of empty spaces.  There are over 5000 Catholics in our parish.  If only half of them came to Church every Sunday, the Church would be standing room only every week.  But look at the empty spaces.  The loss of the sense of the sacred might be one reason why people are no longer interested in attending Mass. If we come to church thinking that it is going to be entertaining like a concert or just another social gathering, we will find it boring.  But when we realize that the church is a holy place, a place of encounter with God, the Mass become an uplifting rather than boring experience.
Because the Mass is the ultimate prayer, everything that we do and say in this Church should not only lift our own hearts and minds to God, but also help those in the community to do the same. I think you would all agree that there is some attire that is appropriate for the beach or the gym that may be distracting to your fellow worshippers and therefore is not appropriate for Mass.  Likewise, attire meant for a formal ball may be equally distracting to others.  

When I was young, there were no “Shhh” signs posted at the door, yet it was just generally known that there was no talking in the sanctuary. You were quiet out of respect for the Eucharist and to allow others in the Church to communicate with God without distractions.   If there was something urgent to say, it was said in hushed tones and virtually no one could hear it.  Now days, movie theatres and golf courses can sometimes be more quiet and reverent places than our churches.

So what is your homework?
I am going to leave you with two questions to ponder on this week. First, What can I do to help bring a sense of reverence back to this Church and to every Church that I attend? And second, What am I going to do about it?

Today’s celebration of the dedication of St John Lateran, is not just some ancient practice that has lost its meaning. It invites us to renew our faith in the church as a house of prayer, of awe and reverence, and to cultivate habits and practices that make it easy for God to encounter us and us to encounter God whenever we enter Church, especially as we prepare to receive Jesus sacramentally in the Hoy Eucharist.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Wedding Banquet

The following is a close approximation of the homily I delivered at the 4:30 PM Mass, Saturday October 11 and the 7:30 AM Mass on Sunday  October 12, 2014 at St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Slidell.  On Saturday, I had the privilege of preaching to the 4th Degree Knights of Columbus, with the Most Rev. Ronald Paul Herzog, Bishop of Alexandria, Louisiana as the principal celebrant. The scripture readings are for the twenty-eight Sunday of Ordinary Time and are available by clicking this link.

30 years ago,  I received a beautiful engraved invitation from the President of the large multi-national company for whom I worked inviting me to a banquet – a banquet honoring the employees of the year….  I was going to be one of the guests of honor. 
The banquet was like nothing I had ever seen before or since. Everyone was dressed up. There was a lavish cocktail party with gorgeous ice sculptures scattered throughout and exquisite flower arrangements on each table. There were more knives and forks on the table then I could count.  Being an Irish Channel boy, I had never seen more than one knife, fork, and spoon at a place setting in my life and was quite nervous that I would commit a social gaffe by eating the wrong dish with the wrong fork.

The food was indescribably good. The menus were all in French and I am not exactly sure what the food was, but I assure you it WAS delicious.  There were different wines with each course and sorbets to cleanse the pallet between. 

 In the days leading up to it, I had my hair cut, my best suit dry cleaned, my shirt pressed, my shoes shined and a bought a new tie. For such an important occasion, I needed to be dressed appropriately.

Contemplating over the Gospel this week, I could not help think back on that banquet, and imagine that in all its splendor, it was nothing compared to the heavenly banquet prepared for us.  And just as I got all cleaned up and groomed for that banquet, as people of faith, we also need to be dressed appropriately for the heavenly banquet.

The parable in today’s Gospel, as many parables do, has two distinct messages, depending on your historical perspective. One message was for those who heard this parable directly from Our Lord’s mouth in Jerusalem in are about the year 33.  The other message is timeless, and applies to all Christians regardless of place, space or time.

Lets first look at the message to those in Jerusalem.  To put the parable of the Wedding Feast in perspective, it is important to realize when and to whom it was preached. Our Lord is not speaking to his disciples, but to the scribes and Pharisees.  The preaching of this parable is just after his triumphant entry into the City on the day we now call Palm Sunday. A few days after this parable, Jesus is going to celebrate the Last Supper with his friends, and then suffer his agonizing passion and death followed by his glorious resurrection.

The Wedding feast is symbolic of the eternal celebration in heaven. The King is God the father, the bridegroom is Jesus. The servants that he sent out to invite the guests who were abused,  and even killed are the Old Testament prophets.  The King being enraged and destroying the city refers to the destruction of Jerusalem that would take place in less than 40 years.

The King ordering his servants to go out on the roads and invite whoever they find to the banquet refers to the end of the exclusive place and status that was set aside for the Jews and the opening of the Kingdom of God to all people.  Inviting all into the banquet -  this is exactly what the Apostles did after Pentecost and what we are all called to do – invite all into relationship with Our Lord.

And although the average Christian today might find the symbolism a little difficult to grasp, the scribes and Pharisees new exactly what Jesus meant.   In fact, it enraged them. This is made evident by the verse that is immediately after today’s Gospel that reads:

Then the Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech.

But we are not Jews, and we are certainly neither scribes nor Pharisees, so what it is it saying to us today, here and now in Slidell Louisiana?

That might be best understood by going back to the Rite of Baptism. In Baptism, there is part of the rite that is entitled “Clothing With The White Garment” Here is the white garment that we use at saint Luke (holds up one of the baptismal garments.)  The prayer during that part of the Rite is:  you have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.

Consider your soul, as symbolized by the Baptismal garment, as YOUR wedding garment. And now we return to today’s Gospel. That guest without the proper wedding garment – might that be you or I, who at the end of our earthly lives shows up at the gates of heaven with our white garment torn, our immortal souls, tattered and with the ravages of sin.  Unfit to enter the heavenly banquet, we are tossed out because many are invited, but few (not all, not most) … few are chosen.  That sounds like bad news… few are chosen to attend the heavenly banquet.

There is not only good news, there is great news!   God has provided us with the Church who gives us rules and laws to follow to help us keep our Baptismal garment clean.  The moral rules, the Beatitudes, the Commandments, and the Catechism are not there to cramp our style or ruin our fun.  Consider them like the danger signs on high voltage wires, there to keep us safe from harm.

What is your homework?

There are 2 very easy assignments this week.   Each morning this week, as you pick out your clothes,  make sure that they are clean, and neat and appropriate for the occasion, I suggest that we take a moment to consider the state of our souls.  Ask yourself this question -  is MY wedding garment neat and clean enough for the occasion - to enter the heavenly banquet?

Second, today, before we approach the altar today to receive Jesus, in the Eucharist,, ask yourself that same question.

Because we never know the day or the time when we might receive the invitation, it is important that each of us keeps our Wedding Garment clean at all time. And from time to time, when our garments get a little soiled, the Church provides a dry cleaner like no other. One that can take our garments, our souls, dirty and torn and tattered and make them come out looking as pristine as the day we were baptized.  That is the great gift of the sacrament of reconciliation.  It makes us presentable for the Eucharistic banquet ... and for the one with angels and saints in heaven.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

In Hoc Signo Vinces - In This Sign You Will Conquer

 The following is a close approximation of the homily I delivered at the 9:00 AM Mass, Sunday  September 14, 2014 at St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Slidell. This is the feast of the Exultation of the Cross.  The subject of the homily was - the Cross.
In Catholic churches, we don’t serve mocha lattes during services.  You will not see a painting of the Laughing Jesus hanging front and center. The goal of Mass is not to entertain us, or simply to make us feel good. You will see neither a 20 piece contemporary band nor a flashy multimedia show on the altar. In Catholic churches, our eyes are drawn to a Crucifix, and there we gaze at the dead body Jesus hanging on a Cross. And as today is the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, the cross is a most appropriate topic for the homily.  I have started every homily in the last 6 years,  with a life image connected to the readings to help relate the scripture to everyday life. Today, I offer you this crucifix (pointing to near life size  crucifix hanging over the altar)  as your life image and ask everyone to take a few moments to focus on the image of Jesus hanging on the cross before I begin my story.
This story is recorded in Church history.  However, it does not rely simply on Church history, but is also recorded by two separate Roman historians.   Here goes. On October 27 in the year 312 the pagan Constantine was fighting his brother-in-law Maxentius for control of the Roman Empire at the battle of Milvian Bridge.  He looked up to the sun and saw a cross of light above it, and with it Greek words usually translated into Latin as In Hoc Signo Vinces, meaning “In this sign,[you shall] conquer;". 
Romans were still crucifying people at the time of Constantine, so the miracle of seeing that this would be the sign of his victory must have puzzled  him up, as well as his advisers. That night, Constantine had a dream. In that dream he spoke with the risen Lord confirming his vision in the sky that day.  Constantine’s soldier painted that sign, the sign of the cross, on their shields and the next day he led his army to victory. He became the Emperor of the Western Roman Empire. Truly in that sign Constantine conquered.
His mother, Helena, was a devout Christian.  As Emperor, Constantine ended the era of persecution of Christians and made the Church legal, ushering in the Christian era.  The Feast of the Exultation of the Cross that we celebrate today commemorates the dedication of the Basilica of the Resurrection in Jerusalem in 335 AD. The Basilica is built on Golgotha, where the crucifixion of Jesus took place and where it is said Helena found the relics of the True Cross.

The cross is a symbol of complete contradiction. That it became the most recognized religious symbol in the world, a symbol of God's love, forgiveness and redemption, is a miracle also. In the ancient Roman world, it was the symbol of degradation, suffering and death. Crucifixion was so brutal that it was reserved only for conquered peoples and slaves. A Roman citizen was never crucified.   
I ask you now to fix your gaze back on the cross or close your eyes as I continue.  What we see on our crucifixes in our homes and churches is a sanitized version.  Reality is closer to what was seen in the movie, The Passion of the Christ.   Crucifixion was the worst form of execution imaginable.  Victims usually hung on the crosses for days before they eventually suffocated.   They were degraded by being hung on the cross naked, not with the white loin cloth seen on most crucifixes. Victims were hung low enough so that the dogs and wild animals could chew on their legs, but not do enough damage to cause death.  Birds commonly pecked on victim’s eyes and flesh. Even the location of the nails was chosen to maximize pain.   Victims were left on the cross for days and even weeks after they died while their flesh rotted.  The sights and smells of dozens of crucifixion victims along the roadways was enough to strike terror into the conquered citizens and keep relative peace in the Roman Empire for hundreds of years.

So why am I telling you this story in all its gory detail? In hopes the next time you hear the verse from today’s  Gospel:  For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life ,or  see someone hold up a John 3:16 sign at a ball game or see a cross or a crucifix on a church, or even make the sign of the cross, that you will have a deeper appreciation and gratitude for the sacrifice Jesus made for us. This sacrifice is what we really celebrate today.
Consider the reason why Jesus was crucified. He was not crucified because he was a Holy man. He was crucified because, as far as the Romans were concerned, he was a troublemaker.  He challenged the leaders of Jewish society on moral, ethical, religious and social issues and got the people stirred up.  He disturbed the peace. He went against popular culture, society, and conventional wisdom.

This is very much what we have to do today as faithful Christians.  We must go against popular culture, conventional wisdom and societal norms.   We must follow the historical moral teachings of the Church no matter how difficult.  There are Churches out there whose message is that God wants to bless you in this life.  Do good things (especially give money to the preacher) and God will bless you abundantly in this life.  Think positive and do positive things, and your life will be positive. It is no wonder that those Churches are filled with ex-Catholics and former Christians of many mainline denominations.  The message that they send is attractive.  It is seductive.  And it is a lie.  That, my friends, is not Christianity. Christianity offers the cross, not a cozy place in society. It offers the cross because it knows that by being faithful to the teachings of Jesus, we will be in constant friction with the greater overall society, friction that causes much pain.
Catholics were fed to the wild beasts and covered with tar and set on fire to be used as street lights in ancient Rome.  Oppression, discrimination, torture and killing has been the norm for members of the Church from the very beginning: in Great Britain during the Protestant Reformation, during the French and Mexican Revolutions to name a few.   During WWII, the Nazis murdered nearly 8000 Catholic priests.
In our day, Catholics are being ridiculed in the media and by the government for being against abortion, sex outside of marriage, contraception, same sex unions, embryonic stem cell research and euthanasia. Laws are being passed and legal decisions are being made that will force Catholics to violate their consciences or face prison sentences or fines.  The seal of the sacrament of Reconciliation is under attack. Catholic social service agencies are being forced to choose between following their faith or worshipping at the altar of so-called sexual equality. Catholic and other Christian businesses are and will continue to be sued for discrimination and lose large financial judgments if they refuse to take part in same sex unions by supplying goods and services such as reception halls, photography, and wedding cakes.
This means’s that if we choose to live by the Catholic faith, if we refuse to deny Jesus Christ and his teachings, we will eventually be facing our own crucifixion of sorts.  We will be unwelcomed as political candidates. We will not sit on editorial boards of major news organizations nor will we be welcomed on the faculties of most universities.  It will become increasingly more difficult for faithful Catholics to have successful military careers Catholics will not be able to have careers as actors and entertainers.  The practice of medicine and law will become increasingly difficult for faithful Catholics.
Will we ever face actual physical crucifixion for our faith? We pray not. Something like that almost seems unthinkable in our time. Just as it seemed unthinkable as it was to the Chaldean Catholic families in Iraq who have had their sons and little children crucified in front of their homes to strike terror into then and induce them to leave the country.

So what are we to do? What is our homework?
Outside the main doors of the Church ia monuments.  On one side is the Commandments, the other is the beatitudes. There are Ten Commandments, which are the law. There are eight beatitudes which are Jesus’ instructions on living your life in love.  If you knew , followed, and lived nothing other than these 18 things you would be well on the road to living the life that our Lord asks of us.  I encourage you, to take a few moments after Mass, and contemplate these monuments.  Take your whole family. Those monuments are not just there for decoration, yet most of us pass them each week without a second thought.

Then, over the next 6 days, learn and discuss 3 items each night with your family.  What do they mean? How are these calling us to live our lives?  And if living according to these 18 things causes us to carry a cross, so be it.
Our real battle on this earth is not against society. It is not against the government.  It is not against Islam.  It is against Satan, and the power of evil.  But just as Jesus told the Emperor Constantine 1700 years ago, he tells you today,  in hoc signo vinces, in this sign, you too shall conquer.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Who Is Really In Control?

The following is a close approximation of the homily I delivered at the 6:00 PM Mass, Sunday August 10, 2014 at St. Luke the Evangelist Church.  The readings are for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time and are available by clicking here.

Before I begin this homily, I would like to give a disclaimer and a warning.  The disclaimer is that I am going to reveal some information from a private conversation between my 17 year old son Daniel and myself.    I do so with his knowledge and permission.  The warning is that this is the first homily that I have delivered in six years without having it first scrubbed by my wife, Pam!

On July 23rd, we received a phone call that every parent dreads. Daniel was in the ER in rural Virginia. At 17 years old he had developed type-1 diabetes while on a Jesuit service project in Appalachia and was seriously ill. After 3 days in ICU we were able take him home.  Fast forward 2 weeks to today, he is adjusting to his new life, carefully watching his diet, taking insulin shots, and sticking his finger 10-12 times a day to check his blood glucose.

One night after playing racquetball together this past week we were talking about a decision weighing on him -  trying to decide whether to wear a device called a continuous glucose monitor (CGM).  The CGM has a sensor that sticks in you and to you and does glucose readings every 5 minutes. It warns you if your sugar is getting out of range and reduces the number of finger sticks to just 2 per day. He originally said that he was not sure if he wanted wear something on his body all of the time. I could understand that. That night he confided that the real reason he was not sure about the CGM was that by ordering it, he was accepting that this was a life-long condition and he was no longer in control.  I understood that even more.  I shared with him that having incurable cancer is certainly not something I would have chosen and would be overjoyed if it could be taken away.  However, struggling with it is a constant reminder for me that I am not really in control and has greatly increased my realization that I am utterly dependent on God.  Daniel replied – “ You know, I have been thinking the same thing. Order the monitor.”

 As a people of faith, we must realize that God is the one in control and trust him a little more each day.

Today’s Gospel occurs on the Sea of Galilee right after Jesus feeds the 5000. You can deduce from the text that the Apostles set out in the late afternoon. The Sea of Galilee is not very big, about ¼ the size of Lake Pontchartrain.  With 12 men rowing it should take a couple of hours to cross, with a good wind and a sail, even less.  Yet we find the apostles still far from their destination in “the fourth watch of the night.” - around 3 AM. They had been on their little 27’ open boat in a storm for 10 to 14 hours.

On the Sea of Galilee, winds come down from the mountains in the east (the Golan Heights) and cause terrible and sudden storms, with waves over 10 feet high. So imagine what the water of Lake Pontchartrain looks like with huge white caps and this is our scene.

My favorite depiction of this is an 19th century French painting showing the apostles wet and worn out together in the boat.  In the distance, Jesus is surrounded by a bright glow of light walking in the darkness toward the apostles, his feet just on the surface of the water.I can imagine Peter spotting Jesus in the distance and is completely locked onto him like radar onto a target.  Watching every move he makes. Blocking everything else out.  Peter is so focused on Jesus and his command to “come” that he does the impossible – he walks on the water.  What happens next? Peter gets distracted.  What does the text say – when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink . You can be certain that Peter knew about the winds.  He had been in the boat for hours. What is going on?
Peter certainly had faith.  He had just participated in feeding the multitude, just the day before he had seen Jesus cure many sick people. And he not only expressed his faith in Jesus by challenging him to let him walk on the water, but then he leaps out of the relative safety of the boat to walk on the rolling waves! Yes, he had faith. More than I would have in that situation.  It’s just that his trust in Jesus falters momentarily and he forgets that Jesus is the one who is in control, just for a split second.  But even Peter’s reaction when he started sinking was an expression of faith Lord save me!

As Christians, we may be doing fine in our walk of faith.  But then, we get distracted with the storms that are going on around us, and we begin to sink.

Sometimes it is not the storms that distract us, but the times when everything is going well. We have dream job, a lovely house, our family is great, we are in great health. All is good and start to forget about our dependency on God.  We feel like we are in control, on top of the world. In reality, none of us are in control. Control is an illusion.  Things can change in a minute. Your dream job gets eliminated in corporate merger, a parent dies, we develop a life-threatening illness, your dream home gets infested with termites.

This Gospel tells us that when the storm comes up and things seem their darkest that Jesus is close. In today’s Gospel when the Apostles invited Jesus into their boat, the storms subsided and the winds calmed down. So it also is with us.  When we invite Jesus into our lives our storms will calm down.  Not that bad or unpleasant things won’t happen to us – I assure you that they will. Bad things happen to good people all of the time. But with our eyes focused on Christ, locked in like radar, we can have, as St Paul wrote to the Philippians, the peace that surpasses all understanding – regardless of the storms going on around us.

What is your homework?

We must daily develop and strengthen our trust in Jesus. It does not happen naturally and without effort.  Somewhere in this church there are people who are facing their own storms. Maybe it is you, maybe the person sitting next to you.  Maybe its an illness, your own or you are the caretaker of someone who is seriously ill; financial hardship, or maybe extreme loneliness. You may be filled with sadness or fear.  When you look down, all you see the hardship. Your homework this week is to look up, keep your eyes on Jesus. See in your problems the opportunity to turn over all to Jesus, to acknowledge that He is in control. A simple prayers I suggest for you this week is -  “My Jesus I trust in you".

And somewhere else in this church are people who’s life seems just perfect.  You seem completely in control. That can be even a more dangerous condition than for those who are struggling.  For those who are like this, your homework is to take a little inventory of your life. Ask yourself these 2 questions - Am I giving thanks to God at all times for all things? Do I recognize that I am not really in control?  Otherwise, when you face you storms, you could sink.

 And when that happens I suggest  Peter’s prayer from the Gospel – Lord save me!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Pulling Weeds and Being "Judgmental"

 The following is an approximation of the Homily delivered for the Sixteenth Sunday or Ordinary time, July 20, 2014 at St. Luke the Evangelist Church, Slidell LA. The readings for this Sunday can be found  here at the USCCB web site.
Does the name Nathan Brown ring a bell for you?  Probably not. 17 years ago he went to a Louisiana prison for 25 years for attempted rape. 3 weeks ago he was on the front page of the Times Picayune,  on WWL-TV, Fox 8, MSNBC and various other local and national news outlets.   On June 25th, Nathan Brown walked out of prison after a Jefferson Parish judge overturned his conviction. You see, he was unjustly judged. The Innocence Project took on his case. Results from DNA testing of crime scene evidence proved that another man was actually the guilty person. (Read about Mr Brown here and listed to the interview.)

When asked how he made it through all of those years in prison for something that he did not do, he said:  I kept the faith, I prayed for other things… I knew that God was going to prevail in this matter also.  I knew that God would prevail in this matter.  What a beautiful testimony to faith.  

Each one of us as a people of faith, should also be confident that God will prevail in all matters.

In today’s Gospel, we hear the parable of the wheat and the weeds. Jesus explains it as follows: Jesus is the Sower, the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom (those who are going to heaven). The weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age or the final judgment, and the harvesters are angels.

But what is the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds telling us today? Many lessons can be learned, but I would like to discuss just two.  First, the wheat and the weeds grow up together and it is hard to tell them apart until the wheat is ready for harvest.  And isn’t it that way in our lives today. The people who are weeds are hard to tell apart from those who are wheat. There are weeds in our families, the business world, in our government.  And has been made painfully and publicly obvious, there are weeds in our Church; in the pew, on the altar, among the hierarchy, even at the Vatican.   And even though we know that by far the vast majority of our clergy are good and holy men, with each news story about Church scandal that hits the airwaves, many feel ashamed to be Catholic.  These feelings are understandable, but it should not be the case. These scandals are nothing new and it should not shake your faith.   There have been weeds in the Church from the very beginning. Looking at the Apostles, one of the most trusted, Judas, betrayed our Lord.    When things in the Church seem bleak, we should draw confidence from the words of Nathan Brown, God will prevail in this matter also.

The second lesson comes from the question the servants ask the master: "Should we pull out the weeds?"  The farmer says, don’t get into the weeding business. Let the good and the bad live alongside each other.    I will sort this all out at the end.  The parable calls us to refrain from judgment, to trust that we don’t have to be the ones in charge. Someone else (God) also has an investment in the field in which we labor and he will prevail in the end.

It also is a parable of mercy; while things will be sorted out someday, the farmer tells his servants to wait until harvest time, leaving maximum time for mercy.  The first reading emphasizes this message of mercy: But though you are master of might, you judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us; and in the responsorial psalm we sing Lord you are good and forgiving.

Should we pull out the weeds?  This question also strikes at the core of one of the greatest points of confusion in the Church today – what does it mean not to be judgmental. ? Does it mean we cannot oppose evil or point out errors in conduct or morality? Empahtically no!!  When we correct a person for their own good or for the good of the Church we are doing the right thing. We can—and must—warn others, without hatred or anger, or an air of superiority when they commit sin.  That is one of the 7 spiritual works of mercy, known as admonishing the sinner.

So, if our children or grandchildren are living in sin, is it judgmental to tell them the error of their ways?  No. Not only is this OK, but as Catholics you are morally obligated to do so.

What the parable of the wheat and weeds speaks about, what we are forbidden to do and what is left to Christ alone is to determine or state the condition of someone’s soul, if they will enter the Kingdom of Heaven or whether that soul will, by its own actions, condemns itself to the “fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”  To proclaim to someone that they are going to hell because of their sinful lifestyle would be what is forbidden in this parable.  This is what Pope Francis is referring to with his famous quote "Who am I to judge?"  But point out the error of their ways and help them with a way out of sin would be an act of mercy and of love.

What is our homework? I am fairly certain most are not going to like this assignment at all.

Most of us know and love people, Catholic people,  who are living a seriously sinful lifestyle, with their souls in danger.  I am not referring to people who smash their fingers with a hammer and say bad words like I do. I am referring to people who are completely and totally immersed in sinful lifestyles. Go home. Look around.  Make a list, written or mental. Then, contemplate onthis.

We often say nothing to them for the sake of peace, so that we can get along.  We must not make peace a higher priority than Truth or their immortal souls.  We must resist the false shame that society inflicts on us by saying that we are being judgmental. Remember, correcting a sinner is a work of mercy.  Yes, it is possible to correct poorly to nag and correct too much.  However.  if we are honest with ourselves, I think we will find that we more often we have failed to correct at all rather than overcorrect..  

I challenge you to take just one person on your list and help them get to heaven.  Point out gently and with love, the danger in which they are putting themselves and show them a way out. It may be a little nerve-wracking.  You might stumble on your tongue a bit, but God will to prevail in this matter also.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Homily Trinity Sunday Year A: The Effects of the Trinity

 The following is an approximation of the Homily delivered for Trinity Sunday 2014 at St. Luke the Evangelist Church, Slidell LA.  I am not placing a link to the readings for the day, as this homily is based on the theology of the Holy Trinity in general, and not any of the readings in particular.

There are a number of things in life that we don’t fully understand, but we still believe in. Take for example, the sun.  By a show of hands, how many of you believe in the sun?  By a show of hands, how many of you understand that the sun gives off light that lets us see during the day, allows plants to grow, and burns our skin if we get too much of it?

 By a show of hands, how many of you fully understand the nuclear fusion process in the sun where two atoms of hydrogen are combined to create helium-4 and energy starting when two protons combine to form a deuterium atom, a positron and a neutrino?

By a show of hands, who understands why the corona of the sun (the outer edge of its atmosphere) is more than 200 times hotter than the surface?  (This is somewhat of a trick question, as astrophysicist don’t even understand this!)

Yet, we believe in the sun even though we don’t fully understand. We believe because we see its effects, the light that we see and the warmth we feel.  As a people of faith, we can also be confident in our belief in the trinity by observing its effects.

  In a little while, we will recite the creed. Do we believe or are we just reciting because everyone else is?  Are you reciting the Creed because it is printed in the missalette? How do we know that God is 3 persons?

According to the Cathechism of the Catholic Church, the Trinity is the most fundamental and essential teaching in our faith.  The Trinity. But what do we understand? What do we really believe? This, in a nutshell is what the Church has taught from the beginning:

·      In the one divine Nature, there are three Persons - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
·      The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is not the Father: no one of the Persons is either of the others.
·      The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God.
·      There are not three Gods but one God.

Even if you don’t fully understand the Trinity, most would agree with this statement – God is love.  Follow me carefully.  God IS love.  Not that God feels  or has love.  This is the most profound statement in all of Christianity.  Have you ever thought what it means to BE love?

Think about this. God existed before any created things – before the universe, before our sun or the earth. If God IS love and existed before any creation, then God must be a community. If God were just one person, he could not be love, because love cannot exists by itself. By definition, love at a minimum requires 3 things 1) a person to do the loving 2)someone to receive the loving  and 3) the love itself. A trinity, with the lover, the beloved, and the love could be a perfect being who IS love.

Just like we believe in the sun because we observe its effects, there are effects of the Trinity that we can observe to help our belief.

Lets look at the Father first. Who can look at all of creation and believe that everything just came to be randomly on its own?  It takes a greater leap of faith to believe that the entire universe came to be accidentally then it does to believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful God who willed everything into existence.  The vastness, complexity and orderliness of all creation affirms that the first person of the trinity, God the father, the creator of all exists.

What are the effects of the Son? Think about these 3 facts.
·      Almost every disciple who knew Jesus personally willingly died a horrific death rather than deny his identity as the son of God. It would be difficult to believe that so many accepted martyrdom for a lie.
·      Christians throughout history to this current day willingly give their lives up rather than deny that Jesus is the 2nd person of the trinity.
·      There are now over 2 billion adherents to a religion that he started that promises nothing in this life.
The steadfastness of his witnesses and the vastness of His Church are the visible effects of the Son.

What are the effects of the 3rd person of the trinity, the Holy Spirit?
·      It is the Holy Spirit that inspired the writers of Sacred Scripture read by millions every day
·      The same Holy Spirit who inspired the College of Cardinals to elect Pope Francis.
·      It is that same Holy Spirit that gives courage and inspiration to this lowly Deacon from the Irish Channel to stand here and speak to you today.
That our Church even exists after 2000 years under the direction of weak and sinful people is evidence of the powerful effects of the Holy Spirit. 

I have saved the most important question until last - what are the effects of the Trinity on you?  We come to Mass and hear the word of God. We experience the Holy Spirit being called down during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  We receive Jesus, body, blood, soul, and divinity during communion.  And because God is an indivisible Trinity, we have also received the Father and Holy Spirit. One would think experiencing God in such an intimate way every week that Catholics would be the happiest people on earth. Sadly many of us walk around as we were baptized in lemon juice or vinegar instead of with water in the name of the Trinity.  Many are sourpusses, not full of joy.

What is our homework?

By virtue of our Baptisms, each one of us is called to evangelize, to spread the faith.  It is difficult to evangelize if we walk around like sad puppies?  Who is going to believe the good news from a sourpuss? Your homework assignment is very simple - leave Church today and be bubbling over with joy like a bottle of champagne shaken and opened. And keep that joy.  And when someone asks you why you are so happy, tell them the reason - that you have an intimate relationship with the God who is pure love. The blessed trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

And if you don’t fully understand, that’s OK. I don’t either.  God knows it is more important to believe than to understand.