Sunday, May 19, 2019

Love One Another: What Did Jesus Mean By "Love"?

The following is a close approximation of the homily I delivered for the 5th Sunday of Easter Year C  during the 4:00PM vigil Mass and the 7:30 AM morning Mass.  The scripture on which this is based can be found  at this link.

 Love is the most misused and overused word in American English.  The first definition in the dictionary is “an intense feeling of deep affection.” We refer to things, activities, and people that give them pleasure as something that we love.  I love walking on the beach, I love a good glass of bourbon.  Love is used in place of fondness, affection, lust… you name it.  In today's gospel Jesus gives a simple order: love one another. What does Jesus mean by love? I would like to tell three brief stories.

By the time she was 12, Agnes knew her role in life. She left her home as a teenager to devote herself to taking care of the poorest of the poor and the dying.  Agnes won the Nobel Peace prize in 1979 and donated the $190,000 award to charity. You may know Agnes better as Mother Theresa or St Theresa of Calcutta.

Closer to home, Francis left a comfortable home in Bavaria, and came to the US to minister to German speaking immigrants. He turned down an appointment as Bishop, and eventually become pastor of St Mary’s Assumption in New Orleans where he cared for yellow fever victims. Francis Xavier Seelos, exhausted from working around the clock, caught the disease himself and died.

However, one does not need to be a nun or a priest, declared Saint or Blessed, to love as Jesus commanded.  It is for all of us. There are regular everyday lay people from Slidell that have done the same. You may have read the recent story in the paper about a man from Slidell, Reece Cousin, who died in the Florida surf.  He was engaged to Shelli Oulliber, who came into the Church at St Luke and was a former member of the RCIA team.  Shelli and Reece were caught in a riptide. As they struggled to escape, Reece used his last bit of strength to pick up and throw his fiancĂ©e to safety,

Based on these three stories, I would like to propose this definition of Christian love – “Deep, perpetual affection, motivated solely for the good of the other, put into action.” For people of faith, this is the type of love the Jesus commands us to have for each other.

You may be wondering why I used the word “perpetual” in my definition.  Love for one another, reflects the perfect love of God in the trinity and the perfect love of God for us. Once God loves, it is never withdrawn. No matter how often and how badly we sin God still loves us the same.  That is how we are to love.  You might look at ourselves as an empty glass. God loves us so much that he fills us up. He keeps pouring and pouring and we overflow. That overflow that keeps coming is the love we share with each other.

In Acts 2:44 to see how much the early Christians loved.  All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they shared with anyone who was in need.”   Sell our possessions.  Give to anyone in need.  That’s a hard teaching, even when it comes to members of our own Church.  But Jesus takes it to a completely different level.

Recall in the sermon on the plain in Luke 6: “But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Give to everyone who asks of you…” If we cannot love like Jesus with our friends, relatives, co-workers or classmates, how are we going to love those who hate, curse and persecute us? Yet it must be possible, or Jesus would not have said to do it.

How can we love our enemy who hates us, when we cannot even give up our pew at Mass because it is where we always sit?  How can we sell our possessions and give to anyone in need when we cannot see our way clear to support the Church financially?  How can we show the world that as Catholics we love each other, when the people in the Church who always sit way in the back, don’t even know the people who sit over by the choir?

I am certain that neither Mother Theresa, Fr. Seelos, nor Reece Cousin loved like this 100% of the time. None of us are perfect, and we all fail to love perfectly at least some of the time.    Going back to the full glass analogy, some of us have it so filled with other things – attachment to possessions, pleasures, people, our ego, even what other people think of us – that there is just not much room for God.  Some of us feel so unworthy of God’s love, that we put our hands over the figurative glass and are in effect saying – God is not welcomed here.

First, we need to turn over that glass, and empty it of our attachments and make the maximum room for God to fill us with his love.

Second, for God to fill us with His love to overflowing, we must completely accept this statement – There is nothing bad that I can do to make God love me less AND there is nothing good that I can do to make Him love me more.  All we must do is accept God’s love, remove our hands from the top of the glass and let it flow in. 

What is for homework?

When learning a skill, we often turn to someone who has already perfected it and have them show you how. The Church recognizes men and women as Saints not because they were perfect, but because they were imperfect and overcame these imperfections to allow God to love them and in turn to love others in the same way. They serve as examples for each of us. Pick a saint, read about their lives. Better yet, read something that they wrote to understand this way of love.  Some the I recommend are St. Augustine, St Rose of Lima, St Therese of Lisieux, St Maximillian Kolbe and St. Ignatius of Loyola.   If one of these does not strike you, just pick one or two that you like and learn the way of love as they did.

If there is any doubt of God’s love, as we prepare to receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, we can think about this – the creator of the universe humbled himself so low that he allowed Himself to be tortured and executed. By virtue of this sacrifice, he gave us the Eucharist.   He further humbled himself to be really and truly present in this little piece of bread, in the small sip of wine. It is through the Eucharist that we become intimately untied with our Lord and Savior who becomes our spiritual nourishment, leading us to everlasting life.   If that is not love, what is?

Sunday, April 28, 2019

God Is Not Fair - He Is Merciful

The following is a close approximation of the homily I delivered at St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Slidell, LA for Divine Mercy Sunday, the 2nd Sunday in Easter, April 28,2019

 Americans seem to believe strongly in a concept of justice which we call fairness.   If someone commits an offense, they should pay the penalty. Seems fair, right? Except, when you are the offender.

 Years ago, I was driving right around the corner from my house and my mind was completely in another world.  A sheriff’s deputy was there to kindly escort me back to earth.   Sir, did you know you were driving 50 in a 35 mph zone? I could not lie to him. I responded: I live right around the corner. I complain about speeders here all the time.  I can’t believe I did that.  My mind must have been on another planet.    All he said was Driver’s license and insurance card, sir.  As I sat and waited, all I could think about was the fine for the ticket, that my car insurance was going to skyrocket, and that I was going have to tell my wife.  After what seemed like forever, the deputy returned, handing me a non-moving violation for having my seat belt unbuckled (it was buckled) and told me to drive safely and have a nice day. What that deputy did that morning was not fair. It was not fair at all.  It was merciful

As people of faith, on this Divine Mercy Sunday, we celebrate that we have not a fair God, but a merciful God, who forgives us, no matter how big or how often we fail.

In the Gospel today, the resurrected Lord appears and tells the apostles As the Father has sent me, so I send you.  Why did the Father send Jesus to earth? To reconcile God and sinful man.  In this passage, Jesus is commissioning the Apostles, giving them his authority, to go out and reconcile men and all their sins with God.  Then he gets more explicit.

He breathed on them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained. Clearly Jesus gives the apostles the power and authority to forgive sins. It’s very hard to interpret this passage differently.   The only other time in the entire Bible that God breaths on man is in Genesis 2:7 The LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.  The unmistakable message from John is that forgiveness of sins is so life giving that it is equated with God giving life to mankind.

It is also clear from early Church writings from as early at 60 AD, that the Apostles handed this power down to their successors in ordination.   This is why we must, like it or not, confess our sins to a priest.  Jesus said so! Notice that while Jesus commissioned the Apostles to forgive sins, he did not tell them how to do it.  But because the apostles and their successors had to decide which sins to forgive and not to forgive, they had to know what these sins were.  The sinner had to confess them. Over time, the forms in which the sacrament has been administered have changed. In the very early Church, publicly known sins were often confessed openly in church, though private confession to a priest was always an option for privately committed sins.

Penances were performed before rather than after absolution and were much harsher than those of today. A person who denied the faith might go through a period of 2 or 3 years of public penance before being re-admitted to full Communion at the Easter Vigil. I for one am grateful that I do not have to stand in front of the Church and admit all my sins nor go 3 years as a public penitent wearing sackcloth and ashes.  Over the years the Church has realized that its role is to dispense Mercy with a bucket rather than with an eyedropper.

Maybe you can relate to this. I often do not go to Confession as often as I plan or need. The main reason is simple - pride.  I do not like admitting to that I made yet another mistake.  I despise confronting my own shortcomings, the ways in which I knowingly turned away from God and chose sin over love.  I hate committing the same sin that I resolved to avoid just a few weeks ago. But I always feel the weight of the world off my shoulders after Confession.

It can seem difficult to go to Confession, especially if months or years have passed or if you have done something that you feel is particularly terrible.  What will father think about me?  This is too embarrassing to say out loud.  Be assured, you cannot shock the priest.  He is there to dispense mercy, not judgement. And I also assure you that when a great sinner makes a good Confession, heaven is dancing! Recall in Luke Ch 15 in the parable of the lost sheep:  I tell you that … there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

Some may be turned off from going to Confession to a priest because of the abuse scandals. Don’t let it.  The priest is not forgiving you.  He is acting in what is called in persona Christi – in the person of Christ, participating the Church’s ministry of reconciliation of which Christ is the head.  Christ is doing the forgiving.  If you are waiting for a priest without sin to hear your confession, it is not going to happen. In fact, if you are looking for a bishop, priest or deacon who is perfect to preach a homily or perform any sacrament, you are out of luck. We are all sinful men, and all fall short.

One final thing, as we move into the Liturgy of the Eucharist and prepare to receive Holy Communion, we will pray the Our Father, and all say forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. How many times have you prayed that? What does this mean? This leads to your homework.

I would bet my last dime that most of us have unforgiveness in our hearts towards at least one person.  Probably more than one. Maybe your parents or siblings were mean to you. An unfaithful spouse.  Someone who committed a crime against you or your family. A student teased or bullied you in public. A coworker who treats you badly. Maybe you have hard feelings and unforgiveness against someone in this Parish. A member of the clergy did our said something that hurt you.  Fr. Pat, possibly.  Maybe me.

When we pray the Our Father, we are saying, God, you are an endless fountain of mercy, but … only let me drink from that fountain to the extent in which I show mercy to others.  Your homework this week is to show mercy to the person on top of your list. And then find another and another and another.  If you are thinking – Deacon, I can’t do that, it just is not natural. You would be right.  It is not natural…it is supernatural.  And when you are done forgiving, will you not only be able to drink from that fountain of mercy that Jesus offers, you can bathe in it. Thankfully God is not fair.  He is merciful.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Beating Your Slaves, Topless Sunbathing, and Decency: What Do You Think?

The following is the text of a talk on decency I gave the Knights of Columbus Council #9973 in early 2018. 

I have been asked to speak to my brother Knights on the topic of decency.  What, you may ask, is decency?  It was only 200 years ago when behaving decently meant not beating your slaves. There was a point in our not too distant history, that if someone insulted you, the decent thing to do was have a duel to the death.  The last recorded duel in the US was fought in California, on September 13, 1859.

Up until the 1930’s, topless men sunbathing on public beaches, was considered indecent. As late as the 1830’s, it was considered indecent to read in bed.

In many parts of the Arab world, giving someone the thumbs up sign is considered indecent. It is equivalent to giving them the middle finger in the US.

There are almost as many definitions of the word decency as there are sources of definitions. However, one that seems to come up the most often is this one.

“Behavior that conforms to accepted standards of morality or respectability.”

That definition leaves us with a very big problem. It in essence means that decency is never really defined. If means that if as a community or a society we decide that viewing explicit sexual activity online is decent, then it is decent by declaration. Does decency really change over time?  Who is doing the “accepting of the standards?” 100 years ago, who would have imagined that abortion, same sex unions, and euthanasia would be considered “decent”?   What will be considered decent in another 50 to 100 years?

Was whipping your slaves every really “decent”? Since slavery was never decent, the question of the decency of beating them or not is a non sequitur, it does not follow and makes no sense.  Was topless sunbathing for men ever really indecent?   It might depend on if the man looked like Jackie Gleason or Jackie Chan and exactly who was doing the looking and what they were thinking!

And then you add the problem of cultural differences!! Two thumbs up.

Because of these complexities, no one could possibly give you a complete list of what is or what will be decent in every time, culture, and situation.  So, what I would like to do is borrow an analogy of musical instruments from the great Christian author C.S. Lewis.

Imagine that everyone in a large group is a musical instrument.  Before playing in the band or orchestra, you would need to make sure that you were in tune and playing the best that you could play.   Trumpets need to sound like trumpets, French horns like French horns, and so forth.  A clarinet should not sound like a piccolo, and a piccolo should not sound like a concert flute. In other words, we need to be, act like the best versions of ourselves we can be. God put in this specific place and time. He put us in our role as sons, husbands, brothers, friends, employers and employees.  Scripture 1 Cor 6 – Did you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, you do not belong to yourself? 

Next, we need to make sure that we are playing in the correct key, using the same sheets of music as all of the other instruments. We need to come into the song when it is our proper turn, or the music will not sound right.  Imagine if the tuba played when the clarinet was supposed to chime in.   There would be no harmony.  The second part of decency, then, could be considered acting in harmony with those around us.  No thumbs up in Kuwait.  Galatians 5:14 For the whole law is fulfilled in this one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  And Mt 7:12 Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.

Now, many would say, that this enough.  I am in tune and in harmony with everyone. I am acting decently, right?  What if you are a member of the LSU Golden Band from Tiger Land and you are all playing the Notre Dame fight song when LSU enters the field. You are all playing the wrong music!

There is one thing we have not yet considered: the conductor.  The purpose of human life as a whole: what tune does the conductor, our eternal, all knowing, all powerful God, want us it to play?  Are we acting according to the will of God?  Scripture Mk 3:35 - “For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

In summary, if you act as the person you were intended to be, in harmony with all of those around us, and according to plan of God, the great conductor, you will always be acting with decency.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Listen and Obey: Entering Into Holy Silence

The following is a close approximation of the homily I delivered at St Luke the Evangelist Church in Slidell, LA for the 2nd Sunday of Lent, Year C.  The scripture readings on which this is based can be found by clicking here.

There are many ways of listening. Turn on music or the tv and have it playing in the background and we hear but might hardly notice what is going. There is a student listening to a professor’s lecture, in order to understand.  Then there is the listening that most of us husbands do… you know…. My wife is describing in detail her innermost struggles of the day …. And I am hearing and thinking…. What time is the tip-off for the LSU basketball game.

 Another type of listening is when a parent is instructing or correcting a child.  The parent expects that the child is paying attention and will obey the parent’s instruction.   As people of faith, this is the type of listening that God asks of us.

The word transfigure means transform outwardly for the better. Today’s Gospel describes Jesus’ transfiguration. He took Peter, James and John up a mountain to pray. The apostles fall asleep and wake up to see Jesus dazzling, chatting with Moses and Elijah. Suddenly, they hear the voice of God the Father - "This is my chosen Son; listen to him."
Biblical Hebrew has only about 8,000 unique words. Contrast that to over 171,000 in English. Because Hebrew has so few words, each may have many meanings. The Apostle’s spoke Aramaic, linguistically very close to Hebrew.  Both languages have a single word that means both listen and obey, shema (shmah)  

As Peter, James and John spoke Aramaic, shema is the word that they must have heard. The Father was telling the Apostles to listen to and obey the words of Jesus.  The word "Shema" is also the name of the prayer that Jesus and other observant Jews up until today say every morning and evening. It begins "Shema, O Israel! The LORD is our God…”  Listen and obey.
How do we, in 2019, obey God?  

To obey, we must first listen to Him to know exactly what he wants for our lives. There are 3 reasons we do not do this very well. First, many really don’t believe God will speak to them, so they don’t even try to listen. Prayer becomes like a radio broadcast of which no one may be receiving. God speaking to people is something that only happened in the Bible and to saints of old.  It does not happen anymore and certainly does not happen to them.  I can assure you that this is simply not true. God speaks to us. The problem is the listening.

Second, we are not patient. We may try to listen, but we don’t keep our attention on Him long enough.  We must listen attentively and wait on God, as His time is not ours.

The third and main reason is that we don’t enter into silence. Our world is noisy. In last week’s Gospel, Jesus went into the desert for 40 days of fasting and prayer. He went to be totally alone in silence and nothingness where no one or nothing could distract Him from prayer.

There are numerous other verses in the Bible that show the importance of silence in our walk with God.  For example,           Psalm 46 Be still and know that I am God.  In 1 Kings, Elijah heard God not in a great wind, an earthquake or fire, but in a still, silent whisper.  I counted 18 distinct occasions in the Gospels where Jesus went off in solitude, to a quiet or desolate place to pray.  Lent is a time for us to grow closer to God by listening to Him.  In a world full of talking, TV, music and ringing phones, it is of utmost importance to go into silence.

I can attest to the tremendous power of silence. My first silent retreat was at Manresa in 1991.   When I arrived Thursday afternoon, I was thinking – no phone, TV, computer, no nothing for four days.  This is crazy.  I arrived as a man who was barely Catholic. Church on Sunday (usually) and that was about it. Never went to Confession. Daily Mass - never.  Rarely prayed. I even remember trying to convince my wife that we did not have to go to Mass on Holy days of obligation because it was just something that the Church made up to increase collections! She told me to hit the road on that.

 The silence was so soothing, that by Saturday morning I could understand how people were attracted to the monastic life.  And in that silence, during my first Sacrament of Reconciliation in 15 years, I fell completely in love with Jesus and his Church.  When I arrived back home, my wife said that I looked like a different person.  I looked different because I was different. In a small way, I was transfigured. And here I am today.

What is for Homework?  I am assigning, what might be considered something radical. In this world of 24-hour noise, silence is counter cultural.  That is what I am asking of you. You can begin with little steps - keep the radio off in the car. Get rid of the headset.  Talk less, listen more.  Turn the TV off. Get your daily life quieter, even if it is just a little.  If you eliminate noise and non-stop activity from your life outside of prayer, you will find it easier to enter into silence during prayer.

Then, start working toward some silent, contemplative prayer.  Silence does not mean just no talking.  We need to quiet our minds and our bodies. Start with a simple prayer Speak Lord, I am listening – Try 5 or 10 minutes each day in silent contemplation. Work your way up to 20 minutes to an hour at least once a week. That is 5 or 10 minutes every day and 20 minutes to an hour once a week.  The best place by far is in front of the Eucharist in the Adoration Chapel.  If that is not possible, find a quiet place and time in your home, yard, Church, park or wherever. If you find it hard, that’s fine. Don’t give up.  The last thing the enemy wants is for you to hear God speaking to you. He would much rather have you hear his temptations. \

Speaking of the Eucharist, Jesus will be present, body, blood, soul and divinity right here on this altar in just a few minutes.  For those who are able to receive Him in Holy Communion, that same Jesus will be inside your body.  Why not start your first 5 minutes of silent listening during Communion?  Speak Lord, I am listening. He will never be closer.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Trust In God, Ice Cream Sprinkles, and Walter Cronkite

The following is a close approximation of the homily I delivered the weekend of February 16-17, 2019 for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.  The scripture readings on which this homily is based can be found by clicking this link.

Trust – a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.  How many of you remember Walter Cronkite or Chet Huntley?  For those who do not, they were news broadcast anchormen in the late 50’s, the 60’s and early 70’s.  More than 90% of viewers believed Walter Cronkite was very trustworthy.  Chet Huntley was not far behind.  According to a November 2018 survey the two most trusted news anchors are Lester Holt and Anderson Cooper, considered very trustworthy by 32 and 29 percent of viewers, respectively.  People no longer trust the government, the media, or the Church.  There is little arguing that we have a crisis of trust, not just in our country, but around the world.

As people of faith, none of this should concern us, as we should be heeding scripture – trust in God, not in man.

In our first reading Jeremiah makes it very clear who to trust.  A person who puts his trust in men is compared to a dead bush, sitting in lava. A person who trusts in God is depicted as a tree planted next to a stream that still produces fruit even during a drought.

In the responsorial Psalm we heard over and over “Blessed are they who hope in the Lord” Hope, in this context is not like hoping you will win the Powerball.  It is a confident, calm trust.  The Gospel today, is sometimes called the sermon on the plain.  It is a series of blessings and woes.  The blessings go to those who trust in God despite being poor, hungry, weeping or persecuted.  The woes go to those who are rich, well-fed and laughing. Not because there are not good and holy rich people, because there are. But because of their success they tend to fall into the trap of trusting in themselves and their own ability rather than God.  

To trust someone, for example, an investment adviser, we learn about their reliability over time and examine their knowledge and qualifications You look at their capability and determine if they tell the truth?  You also ensure that the adviser works for your best interest.  By this standard, is God trustworthy?

Let’s look at God’s resume. He is certainly reliable. We say God is immutable, meaning he never, ever changes. With regards to his capability, he has all powers that might be imagined. He created the universe out of nothing.  He willed all things into existence.  As for knowledge. God knows everything – everything that has ever happened, everything that will happen, every thought. He sees all of eternity – before time began and after time ends – like a giant mural. All at once. You might say that all creation exists within God’s imagination.

With regards to truth, his Son says, “I am the way, and the Truth.” And finally, He certainly works in our best interest. He sent His only son to be born as a lowly human, to suffer and die for each of us, personally. God wants the best for you and I, which is to spend the rest of eternity joyfully with Him in heaven.  Would you agree that God is certainly well-qualified to trust? So why don’t we?

I believe that there are two primary reasons for this.   The first is that most of us have a very short-term perspective.  Daily, we are more concerned with our health, wealth, feelings and even the New Orleans Saints, then we are concerned with our souls and relationship with God.   The second is that many of us do not really know God, as in have a relationship with Him. If you do not know God, how can you trust Him?

To remind you of not just your mortality, but your immortality, imagine that the Church was filled with ice cream sprinkles – from ceiling to floor. (I have always wanted to work sprinkles into a homily!)  All of them are white except 500-1000 which are green.  The white ones represent our eternal lives, the green ones represent our months of life here on earth.  Where do you place your attention?  On the few green ones or the trillions and trillions of white ones?

In reading about the lives of many Saints who trusted God completely, I find, among other things, they have these characteristics in common.

First, they were completely immersed in the Word of God. They regularly read scripture, studied it, and even memorized favorite verses. How many scripture verses can you recall by memory?

Next, the saints had daily prayer time, usually at least, a few minutes or an hour or two each morning, centering themselves in Christ, bring their cares and concerns to Him, and asking Him to reveal His will.

To discern God’s will when praying, they listened quietly more than they spoke.  For major decisions in their lives they prayed, waited for a sign or confirmation, and then proceeded when they were certain of God’s will.  But first, they consulted others such as holy friends, a spiritual adviser, or member of the clergy. This is the opposite of what modern Christians do. We make decisions, on our own, get into a mess, and then ask God to help us when things look hopeless.

How, even if you pray and discern how do you know if you are discerning God’s will or are hearing from your own imagination?  At first, it is not easy. Just like any other skill, trusting God and discerning His will takes practice. For me, one way that I can be sure when I pray about something that God is answering me is when I receive an answer that I do not like!!

What is for Homework?

To learn to trust God, to be a saint, do what the Saints did.  You must get to know God.   If you are not at least somewhat comfortable with Bible, I am sorry to say that you do not know God very well. It’s hard to trust someone you don’t know.  Bible study groups can be very helpful.  Check the bulletin or website or start your own.  Also, I have mentioned this previously, but I highly recommend the Catholic Bible in a year.  15-20 minutes a day, and after a year, you have read the whole Bible.  Find some favorite versus and memorize them.

Prayer time.  Every day.  Without question.  It must become a habit like brushing your teeth.  It needs to be separate and apart from any prayer time with the community, spouse, friends, or children. Just you and God. And in that prayer time, take your needs, concerns and questions to the Lord.  Ask for His input on the big and not so big decisions in your life.    Should I date this person? Marry that person? Should I even marry at all?  How many children should we have?  Is moving there a good idea?  What is my best career option?  Do I have a vocation to the clerical or religious life? Allow at least part of that prayer time in silent listening.  I believe that God often does answer our prayers, but we are too busy talking to hear.

Find a spiritual friend – a priest, deacon, spiritual advisor or just another prayerful friend that you can talk to about your discernment.  If you think God is leading you into a direction, you could be wrong.  If a one or two others discern the same for you, there is much less chance of that.  And as you continue trusting more and more in God, it will become easier and easier to discern his will in your life.

Trust God. Submit your will to his.  Become a saint.  Or …. take your chances relying on yourself. Because as Walter Cronkite would have said…. That’s the way it is, Sunday February 17, 2019 and for all eternity.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Quid Mihi et Tibi est: Understanding Bananas and the Blessed Virgin Mary

The following is a close approximation of the homily I delivered at the 6 PM Mass on Sunday, January 20, 2019 for the 2nd Sunday in ordinary time. The scripture readings on which this is based can be found by clicking this link.

I am going to give you a list of three facts and give you a moment to think about what they all have in common:
  • ·         Bananas grow on banana trees
  • ·         Catholics worship the Virgin Mary
  • ·         The Declaration of independence was signed on July 4, 1776   
Does anyone know what these facts have in common?

Each of these facts is, in fact, not a fact but are false statements.  For gardeners, or those who have a little knowledge of botany, you know that banana trees are not trees but giant herbs, related to the ginger plant.   A little knowledge of history will tell you that 12 of the 13 colonies ratified the Declaration of Independence on July 4, but it was not signed until almost a month later.

For Catholics, a little knowledge of scripture and salvation history will help you to understand and explain the place and proper role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in our salvation.

If you think way back to last March, we celebrated the feast of the Annunciation. The Angel announced to Mary that she was to be the Mother of God.  Mary, who could have said no, cooperated with God in his plan of Salvation. At that moment, Jesus was made flesh.  Mary carried Jesus - body, blood soul and divinity inside her for 9 months, contemplating what her life was to be like.

 We recognize this most important moment, the Incarnation, when we pray the Hail Mary.  The first phrase Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with thee echoes the initial words of the Angel.  The second phrase – Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners  acknowledges Jesus as simultaneously true God and true man – Mary could not be the “Mother of God” if Jesus was not the God-Man.  It also acknowledges Mary’s powerful role as an intercessor for all humanity.
The Wedding at Cana - Paulo Veronese
Mary as intercessor brings us to today’s Gospel. Wedding feasts at the time of Jesus were nothing like the 3-hour wedding receptions that we have today.  These feasts were huge celebrations lasting 5-7 days.

The text does not say why Mary got involved. I can only imagine that she overheard members of the groom’s family desperately discussing the situation. Running out of wine at a first century Jewish wedding was a social gaffe of such great magnitude as to bring shame on the entire family. Mary tells her Son --- They have run out of wine.  Jesus’s response at first may seem to be disrespectful.   Woman, how does your concern affect me?  Imagine this exchange between a modern mom and her son – Son, we have company coming over. I would like you to make up your bed and clean your room.    And the son responds – Mom, to quote Jesus …. Woman, how does your concern affect me?
Knowing Jesus would not break his own commandment and be disrespectful to His mother, I decided to research the Latin and the Greek for these verses.   Instead of  how does your concern affect me, the Greek and Latin are almost identical. The Latin says quid mihi et tibi est  - what to you and to me is this?  The term “Woman” is not used as an insult here, but rather the opposite. It means more like “My lady”  It connects Mary with GN 3:15, the woman who will crush the head of Satan, with Rev 12:1, the woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet, and the woman on Calvary, when in his dying breath on the cross, Jesus gives Mary to John as his mother, and as mother to all of us in the Church. 

The Latin goes on to say nondum venit hora mea -   My hour has not yet come.   The term my hour in the New Testament always refers to Jesus’ passion and death.   Rather than saying Woman, how does your concern affect me, read it    O exalted lady, What is this to you and to me?  The hour of my glorification has not come.   In other words …  What does the problem of this groom have to do with us..   You do realize that this is going to eventually lead to my passion and death?    And Mary responds by telling the waiters.  Do whatever he tells you? 

Jesus did not need Mary to tell him that the wine was out.  Yet Mary acted as the intercessor, confident that her son would help this couple out.  At the Annunciation, Mary cooperated with God in bringing Jesus to life. At the wedding at Cana, God cooperated with Mary, submitting to her intercession, helping some insignificant, unnamed couple at a wedding.  By miraculously changing 120 gallons or so of water into the finest wine, he let the world know that he was not an ordinary rabbi, but a worker of great signs. He set off a chain of events that would lead to his Passion, death and resurrection. That is what makes it a possible for you and for me to enter heaven.  All through Mary’s intercession.

 That is how Catholics see and honor the Blessed Virgin Mary.   We give Mary honor. In fact, we give her extreme honor. The word in the catechism is hyperdulia.  We do not worship her. Worship is for God alone.  She was the first and remains the primary intercessor to her Son.  And that is how you should explain Mary to anyone who asks.

In the many approved Marian apparitions – Fatima Portugal, Guadalupe Mexico, Akita Japan, Kibeho Rwanda to name a few– Mary shows that she is just as concerned for our needs today as she was for the couple who ran out of wine at their wedding.   And most importantly – she is always pointing to her son- do whatever he tells you.   Do whatever he tells us! That's why Marian devotion should not and does not take us away from Christ.

What is your homework?

Obviously in a few minutes I cannot tell you everything there is to know about the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is important that you know and be able to explain these two things – Do Catholics worship Mary? No, we give her great honor?  Why? Because Jesus honored her and she was in is the primary intercessor to her Son.

This week, more important than becoming an expert on Mariology is to do what Mary has said at all these apparitions. We should all begin to pray the rosary, fast, turn away from sin and most importantly – do whatever her Son tells you to do. If for some reason this week, you cannot pray the rosary every day, at least pray the Luminous mysteries on Thursday and contemplate how important Mary’s role at the wedding at Cana is to you and to me and to Jesus.

Shortly, many of us will have the opportunity to spend some time being more like Mary than we might have ever realized.  Just as she carried Jesus inside of her for those nine months, those who receive the Eucharist we will be carrying the same Jesus inside, body, blood, soul and divinity of us.  Contemplate that for a little while. Are you properly prepared?  

Monday, December 17, 2018

Joy,, and Kevin Durant: God Speaks To Us In Ways We Would Never Expect

The following is close approximation of the homily I delivered December 16th, 2018 at St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Slidell.  The scripture readings on which this is based for the 3rd Sunday in Advent Year C, can be found by clicking this link.

Did anyone here watch the Saints play the Buccaneers last week?  How many of you had that sinking feeling when the Saints were playing terribly and were way behind?  How many of you were jumping for joy when Taysom Hill blocked that punt?  Well, that was not really joy.  That might have been happiness.  It comes and goes.  I will explain shortly.

Monday morning after the game I was surfing through some of national sports reporting outlets to see what they had to say about the Saints.  On the home page of an article with the following headline caught my eye. "'Had it. Lost it.': The Warriors and the elusive quest for joy"

 Hmmm.  Joy.  That is the theme of the Mass this coming Sunday.  I wonder if God is speaking to me?  So, I read on because God sometimes speaks to us in ways we might never expect.  A star NBA forward is one of those unexpected ways.  The article quotes Kevin Durant when being asked about his team that is slumping after winning 3 out of the last 4 NBA championships.  Durant speaking about the importance of joy for a winning team said:

"I feel like a lot of people confuse joy and happiness, … happiness is a feeling that it's fleeting …you can go back and forth all the time…  joy is something that you can stand on. And when you're enjoying what you do, you don't mind the adversity, the tough times, the challenges. The little obstacles you got to climb to get to where you want to go.”   Profound words from an unexpected source.

As people of faith, to attract people to or back to the Church, we must become people of real joy.

We hear “Shout for joy, . . sing joyfully, . . . be glad and exult with all your heart,” in the first reading from the prophet Zephaniah. In the responsorial, we sung  Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.  St. Paul writes in the letter to the Philippians    Brothers and sisters :Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all.

What the world presents as joy – pleasure, good times, and material wealth -- leaves us empty because it is all temporary.  Good times pass, possessions become obsolete or outdated, riches are spent, feelings of pleasure fade away.  What then?  I would like to offer a Christian definition of joy – Joy is the peaceful and certain knowledge that almighty God loves me unconditionally and is in control of all the details of my life and every detail in the entire universe. It is the confidence that everything is going to eventually work out to the greater glory of God.

 No doubt that there are times when we simply don't feel very joyful. We are overwhelmed by our burdens and our worries.  At those times, when we hear the preacher or the scriptures commanding us to be joyful, we might catch ourselves thinking, "Yeah - right! You have no idea what I am going through." 
But it actually it was not easy for Paul to say “be joyful.” During his life ,  Paul was shipwrecked, imprisoned, beaten, starved and stoned. He shared his message of joy in Christ to the Gentiles despite his suffering.   And when Paul was finished sharing the joy of the Gospel amidst all of his sufferings, his earthly reward, was … beheading.    Obviously, St. Paul is writing about a different kind of joy than what the world usually thinks about.

The early Christians attracted people to the faith because of their joy.  Despite the fact that many were publicly and painfully executed for their faith in many cruel ways, the worst being dipped in tar and used as human torch streetlights. Still, early Christians were so joyful that for every one that was executed, 10 more came to the faith to take their places. And the faith grew and spread.

Last week we introduced the Dynamic Catholic program. At a high level, its goals are this:

1) To make parish life more vibrant and meaningful to the faithful members of the Church, bringing out what is joyful and best about our Faith, getting those here to the next level of involvement.

2)      To help stem the tide of people, especially the young, who are leaving the Church

3)      To attract back those who have already left the Church for whatever reason.

Are worthwhile goals?  To achieve them, we each must become a person of joy.  In our Gospel today, we hear John the Baptist describe Christian baptism as one with fire and the Holy Spirit. Many Catholics, including some in this Church, appear as if they were baptized with lemon juice and vinegar. That attracts no one!  The God who created the universe loves us. What do we to be sour about! We all must become people of such joy that others will be beating down the doors of this Church to become Catholic? Do you believe we can? If the parish believes that we can, we might achieve these goals.  If not, we have no chance.

What is our homework? John Bosco, a 19th century Italian priest known as the joyful saint offers a guideline of 6 points to become a more joyful Catholic.  I have printed them on these little pieces of paper. I will stay after Mass and hand them out… .  Your homework is to put them somewhere you will see them. Read them several times a week and put them into practice. Each point is followed by a brief John Bosco quote.  Here is a slightly abbreviated version.

Live for God alone – “Give God the greatest possible glory and honor Him with your whole soul. If you have a sin on your conscience, remove it as soon as possible by means of a good Confession.”

Be a servant – “Above all, be willing to serve others. Be more demanding of yourself than of others.”

Be careful in your associations – “Do not trust those who have no faith in God and who do not obey His precepts. Those who have no scruples in offending God …will have many fewer scruples in offending you and even betraying you when it is convenient for them.”

Spend carefully – “If you do not wish to be ruined, never spend more than you earn.”
Be humble – “Be humble. Speak little of yourself and never praise yourself before anyone. …He who seeks only praise and honors is sure to have an empty head fed only by wind”

Carry your cross – “Carry your cross on your back and take is as it comes, small or large, whether from friends or enemies…”

We pray that when our time on earth is finished, we will hear our Lord say “Well done good and faithful servant enter into the joy of your master” . And we will be able to look over your shoulder and see all the people who have followed you, because of your joy.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Your Home Is For Sale: Are You Ready?

The following is a close approximation of the homily delivered during the 11 AM Mass at St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Slidell LA.  The scripture on which this is based can be found by clicking this link.

Our first reading and the Gospel today clearly are describing the end times, the final judgement and the second coming of Jesus.  Pondering prayerfully over these scriptures this past week, I could not help but think about this question:–As Christians - are we ready? 

There are important events for which we spend a lot of time and effort getting ready.  Thanksgiving is Thursday and there are 20 people coming for dinner – are we ready?   Christmas is 33 days later and there is decorating to do and gifts to buy – are we ready?  But the best analogy I could think of for our spiritual life while preparing for the end times, the final judgement and the second coming of Jesus is living in a house while you try to sell it.   If you have ever sold a house, you might be able to relate to this.

One of the first things you do when selling a house is clean out the clutter. It’s hard to sell a house that is full of miscellaneous things that we have become attached to over the years.  It is the same with the spiritual life and getting to heaven. Many of us have filled our lives with attachments to things, people, even our status and reputations.  Cleaning house, removing our attachments, and focusing on our eternal destiny is an essential part of the Christian life.

Scripture is filled with examples of getting rid of attachments.  The story of Abraham shows this when he is willing to obey God’s command and sacrifice his son, Isaac. This same is found in Jesus when he sacrifices his own life so that we might have eternal life. Also, in a Gospel reading last month, you may remember the man asking Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus told him Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."  Jesus was telling him to remove attachments. The man could not do it for he had many possessions.

When selling your house, there is the inevitable cleaning, polishing and probably a bit of painting.  If the house is dirty and does not look good on the inside, it is going to be a tough sell.     And so, it is with the spiritual life. Frequent reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, devout reception of the Holy Eucharist, and a regular prayer life can be likened to keeping our houses clean.  In the sermon on the mount from Mt  5, Jesus said  Blessed are the clean of heart for they will see God.   It is safe to assume that the converse true, that those without a clean heart will not be blessed, and they will not see God.

Real estate agents will tell you how important having good “curb appeal” is in selling a house.  According to a recent article in MoneyTalk “Your house needs to be framed up: It needs to look like a picture when people pull up. They expect to see tasteful paint colors, well-trimmed grass, new bark, fresh flowers — the whole deal.”  The author goes on to write that this may involve exterior repainting, cleaning the roof, pressure washing sidewalks and driveways, trimming trees, and re-doing your entire landscape for starters.   It is a lot of hard work.

While faith is of utmost importance, our path to eternity is not just all about faith. There is a lot of hard, yet joyful work.  Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick and imprisoned, give to the poor, bury the dead, comfort the sorrowful, forgiving, praying for the living and the dead.  A lot of work indeed.  The works of mercy

I remember when we sold our first house.  We were in a state of constant anxiety, as we never knew when a real estate agent was going to call and say “Is it OK if I bring someone over to show your place?  We are outside your house.”  We never knew the day or the time when this would happen, so we constantly had to be ready.

  In today’s Gospel Jesus says  "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."     He is referring to his second coming which he describes a few verses earlier  "And then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory..”  Like selling a house, you must constantly be ready.

Why do we need to be constantly ready?  Because regardless of when Jesus comes again or when the world ends, your end times happen when you die. We do not know if today will be our last one.  Each one of us will receive our particular judgement on that day, which determines where we spend eternity.  Contrary to a popular misconception, Purgatory is not a second chance for sinners to get to heaven.  It is a state or place for those who die in God’s friendship to become purified before they go to heaven.

And contrary to another growing and popular heresy – everyone does not go to heaven. There is a hell.  It is real.  You do not want to go there.  In describing his second coming, Jesus goes on to say  and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.  Only the elect, those who live and die in God’s friendship go to be with God.  What happens to those who do not?

This is made clear in our first reading from Daniel: "Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.  Everlasting horror.  That is the brutal reality of hell.

For homework, I would like for you to say one Hail Mary, slowly each day this week.  Contemplate on the words pray for us now and at the hour of our death.     Why do we ask the Blessed Mother to pray for us at only these two moments? Now and the hour of our deaths are the most important moments in our lives, as they are the only ones we have for certain. Neither tonight, nor tomorrow is guaranteed. The hour of our death.  We will face it, sooner or later.

And as you travel around town and see a House for Sale sign, let it remind you to ask yourself, the most important question of your life - am I ready?

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