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.

Friday, May 2, 2014

My Racist Rant For 2014

While I normally do not use this blog to rant and rave, I did so in December of last year when I wrote am article titled I Am A Liberal Conservative Environmentalist Patriot Marriage Equality Promoter . In this article, a fumed about terms that have so misused that they have almost no meaning any longer.

One term that I left out because I decided it needed more thought was "Racism."  In light of the recent "scandal" with LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling, the timing seems right to have a different perspective and discussion on the entire race issue. My perspective, unfortunately, is probably going to make no one happy.

 I propose that as a society, we immediately, totally and completely abandon the concept of race. Wipe it out! Gone!  
 
Why do I propose something so preposterous? The entire concept of race is an artificial construct, invented by society. Whether you look at from a scientific perspective or a religious perspective - race is a made up thing. It has also fostered inequality and discrimination for centuries, as well as influencing how we relate to other human beings.

From a scientific perspective, it can be proven through analysis of mitochondrial DNA, that every human being on the planet has a common female ancestor.  The Bible calls her "Eve."  As painful as the reality may be for some people, we are in fact one family. There is only one race - the human race.

This same scientific analysis can also prove with almost complete certainty that the human race originated in the eastern part of the African continent.  I suppose that means that if I go back far enough, I would be considered an African - American!  Superficial differences in skin color, hair texture, and the shape and size of features are mere accidents of migration and environment, and have nothing whatsoever to do with superiority or inferiority of one group versus another.

Judeo-Christian beliefs back this up. We find in Genesis 1: 27:

"God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them"
The Catholic Church teaches that discrimination in any form , whether gender, race, color, sex,  social conditions, language, or religion is meant to be eradicated as it is incompatible with the equality God gave us as we were designed in his image. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

  1934: “Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity.”

1935: “The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it.."
Eastern religions support this view also.  In Buddhism, for example, a special emphasis is placed in  on the worth and dignity of human existence in view of the opportunities and potentialities that man possesses for self-development. The unity of mankind is emphasized, and a distinction drawn between human beings and the animal and plant kingdoms.

The concept of race was invented for one group to gain advantage over another group.  The powerful or majority use it to take advantage of a minority or under-powered group as in the case of American slavery, South African Apartheid or Nazi Germany.  What an abhorrent concept.

 In the United States, the government has been as large a promoter of racism as the knights of the Klu Klux Klan.  In 1705 Virginia defines any "child, grandchild, or great grandchild of a Negro" as a mulatto. In 1866, the state decrees that "every person having one-fourth or more Negro blood shall be deemed a colored person." In 1910, the percentage is changed to 1/16th. Finally in 1924, the Virginia Racial Purity Act defines Black persons as having any trace of African ancestry - the infamous "one-drop" rule. According to this rule, ivory soap would not be considered white!

Another example of government racial mumbo jumbo deals with "American Indians" or "Native Americans"  An early treaty with the Osage tribe introduces land allotment and federal Indian policy based on "blood" degree. These ideas are broadly applied during the 19th century, most notably by the Dawes Commission in its 1887 wholesale redistribution of Indian lands. Historically, membership in Indian tribes was based on acceptance of tribal language, customs, and authority, not "blood." Escaped slaves, whites and other Indians were able to join and be accepted as full members. Although land allotment policies end in the 1930s, the government continues to base eligibility for Native American programs on blood quantum, leading most tribes to adopt blood degree requirements for membership by the late 20th century.

Blood degree!!! What a idiotic concept. If I need a blood transfusion, I don't care what was the skin color or hair texture of the donor.  So long as it typed and cross-matched correctly, bring it on.

While seemingly different,  the practice of certain minority or formerly oppressed people who use their skin color to gain economic or political advantage and obtain reparations for injustices of the past is still unjust. This includes that practices of  "playing the race card" and political gerrymandering.  While this may be called "reverse racism" that term is nonsense. Complete and utter nonsense.  Racism is racism, whether in forward or reverse.

And just how many "races" are there?  What race is someone who has a "white", "black", Asian, and Native American grandparent? What if you remove one grandparent from that mix? Is that a different "race?"  How dark does someone have to be before they are considered "black?" The colors at Sherwin Williams are nothing compared to the wondorous and numerous colors of human skin! Would you like to check off from the palette below what race a person might belong to with each of these colors?



The question of the day is  - Instead of banning racism, why do we not just abandon the entire concept of race?  What are we afraid of?  The federal government is obviosuly struggling with this.  Look at the questions on race shown below from the 2010 census.  Korean is a race? Filipino is a race?  I thought that each was a nationality? If my mother is Nigerian and my father's grandparent were from Korea and Samoa, which box do I check?  What do you think about this whole issue?
 


Thursday, May 1, 2014

What Does The Church Say About Same Sex Attraction and Homosexual Persons?

You may know or may think you know what the Church teaches about same sex attraction and homosexuality.  Or maybe you don't.  In either case.  This short movie titled The Third Way by Blackstone Film is worth watching. Not just for Catholics, not just for homosexuals, not just for heterosexuals - but for all.

Get somewhere comfortable. This movie is about 40 minutes long.  And it is mostly presented by people with same sex attraction. So, if you have a problem with that, get over it and watch it anyway.
Click here to watch the movie on Vimeo

Monday, April 28, 2014

The "F-Word"

This is an approximation of the homily I delivered at St Luke the Evangelist Church in Slidell for the the 2nd Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday , for the 11 AM and 11 6 PM Masses. The readings can be found here.




There is much to talk about today. Doubting Thomas, the canonization of two popes, Divine Mercy Sunday.  However, today I am going to give what you might think is the most scandalous Homily have ever heard in a Catholic Church.  I am going to preach about the “F-Word”.  Yes, you heard it. The “F-Word.”  You might want to report me to the pastor after this, maybe the bishop.

But first, allow me to tell you about the “F-Word.”  The “F-Word” is the official title of a traveling exhibit on Forgiveness (the “F-Word”) put on by a secular Charity in the UK  called the Forgiveness Project. Their mission is to open dialogue about forgiveness and promote understanding. You can read some of the stories about Forgiveness on their web site, www.theforgivenessproject.com. You can read about former neo-Nazi skinheads who have become promoters of racial harmony. You can read about how survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide who saw their entire family slaughtered before their eyes forgave.  You can read how a woman forgave the murdered of her only child and has started an organization devoted to reconciling victims of crimes and the perpetrators.

While forgiveness may be difficult and sometimes seem impossible, as people of faith, these are the times when we most fully participate in Jesus’ mission on earth.

In the Gospel reading today, we encounter Jesus telling the Apostles “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, 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.”

What does this mean? Sometimes the Bible is not always straightforward. Passages can be quite complicated and confusing. This, however, is NOT one of those. This is a plain, straightforward  scripture passage. Jesus sends the Apostles to continue his mission “as the Father sends me so I send you”. Jesus gives the apostles, and therefore their successors, through special outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the authority and power to forgive sins. This is what we know today as Confession or the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Although the form has changed over the years, Reconciliation has been part of the Church since the beginning.  

Do we really believe these words from the mouth of Jesus?  If so, I would think that the line for Confessions would  be longer.  I did a little research with Fr. Pat and Fr Hoai on how many people go to confession at St Luke. Between them, they hear 60-80 confessions weekly. There are approximately 7500 parishioners eligible to receive the sacrament. My conclusion is that we either have some extraordinarily holy people here or something else is going on. Pope Francis goes to Confession every two weeks. How often do you go?  If we followed the Holy Father’s example, there would be 3750 Confessions heard per week at St Luke.

Why don’t we take advantage of the sacrament more? Hear are some of the reasons that I have heard
 “I am basically a good person.    I haven’t murdered anyone.” Murder is not the only reason to Confess.  Most sinners are basically good people.  Ask yourself this question, am I less sinful than the Pope?

I have not been in so long. The priest is going to be mad at me. I am embarrassed.  There was a time in my life when I skipped Confession for nearly 15 years. Returning was one of the most joyful days of my life.  I can assure you that like the Father in the story of the prodigal son, the priest will welcome you back with great joy.   

I do not believe my sins are forgiven because I do not feel any different when I walk out of the confessional Even after Confession, we still have the weaknesses that are there because of sin. It is a common temptation of Satan to whisper, "You know those sins you confessed long ago – how do you know that they’re gone?"  Do you trust Jesus? 

 If we get to heaven and want to talk about our past sins, I imagine Jesus is going to say, to paraphrase a line from the movie Treasure of Sierra Madre  “Sins? What Sins? I don’t remember no stinking sins?” Remember, whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.



By our Baptisms, we are all called to be part of Jesus’ mission of forgiveness. Now, you say, I am not a priest, how can I as an ordinary Catholic in the pew fully participate in Jesus’ mission of Reconciliation?   We do this when we give and receive forgiveness. Not just for the extraordinary things like the stories in the F-Word Project, but in the ordinary course of our lives.  When we give forgiveness, we are participating in Jesus’ gift of mercy, and when we ask for forgiveness, we give the opportunity for someone else to participate also.  When we get into an argument. When a friend does something hurtful. When a spouse is unfaithful. When a businessman takes advantage of you? When someone lies to you. When people spread false rumors about you.  Forgive.

So what is our homework?  Remember the ABC of Forgiveness

A. Ask for forgiveness..  Even if you are not completely in the wrong.  Even if the fault is 1% yours. Ask.

B. Be forgiving. Don’t act with justice. Don’t give someone what they deserve. Give mercy.  As we pray the Lord’s prayer, we ask God to forgive us to the same degree that we forgive others. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we …”  If you are not ready to forgive, don’t pray this.

C. Confession. Jesus was not joking when he said “whose sins you forgive are forgiven, whose sins you retain are retained.”  Take more advantage of the sacrament more.  If it has been years, what better time than now to go? If you go once a year – why not twice? Twice a year?  What not four times?  You get the point.

   In closing, I would like to quote the great St John Chrysostom, arguably the greatest homilist in Church history. In a homily 1600 years ago said:
 “Have you argued with someone and hold ill will towards him? Then do not approach Holy Communion. Do you want to approach? First be reconciled, and then come near…” 
 Soon many will approach the altar to receive Jesus in the Eucharist.  Have we forgiven? Are we ready?