Monday, June 27, 2011

On Life and Stuff

For those who check this blog regularly, you will have noticed that things haven't been getting updated much recently. Though it's not an excuse, things were pretty hectic and have continued to be after ordination. And for the last week I have been at Camps Kahdalea and Chosatonga in Brevard, NC, where I was a camp counselor for the summers of 2005 and 2006. It is absolutely gorgeous up here and has been a great opportunity to rest a bit and just enjoy being a priest without all of the paperwork and things surrounding me in the office. Being up here, I rarely have access to the internet and haven't been writing my homilies out as I usually do. I am going to be back home tomorrow night and should start blogging regularly once again as I officially begin my parish assignment at St. George Parish in Baton Rouge and will thus officially be preaching regularly! Please pray for me to have safe travels on the way back and as I begin my assignment. Thanks so much!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

New Pentecost

Acts 2:1-11
Psalm 104:1,24,29-21,34
1 Corinthians 12:3-7,12-13
John 20:19-23
In the celebration of the Ascension of the Lord last weekend, we heard the commission that Jesus gave to the Apostles. He told them, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” What a difficult task to give to a bunch of cowards! Jesus didn’t give the Apostles a mission that brought them around to hospitable people who would listen attentively to their teachings and rejoice at finally hearing the truth. No – they were sent out as sheep among wolves. A single wolf in a flock of sheep can do serious damage; think about being one sheep in a whole pack of wolves. Their suffering was guaranteed by the Lord and certainly came to pass. In a world full of violence and murder, neglect of the poor, political trouble and corrupt leaders, racism, abortion and infanticide, human trafficking, religious persecution, war, and an overall lack of understanding of the true dignity of every man and woman, the Apostles and their followers preached a message wholly contradictory to the world. For it most of them won the crown of martyrs and certainly endured countless unknown trials before that final sacrifice. But you have to wonder: how does this group of men who abandoned our Lord for fear of suffering anything themselves come to have the courage to go before the whole world to preach and die for the gospel? They were filled with the Holy Spirit.

This group of men who are described in the Gospel today as being locked in a room for fear of the Jews are given the grace to go out into the world because the Lord sends the Holy Spirit upon them. As Saint Paul reminds us, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit,” and so we see that it is only in receiving the Holy Spirit that they are able to truly preach the gospel. Without Pentecost, they would remain the same men that abandoned the Lord and locked themselves in their own room.

Throughout his twenty-six years as Pope, Blessed John Paul II often spoke of the reality that each of us is called to continue this mission given to the Apostles, that each of us is called to do and make disciples of the nations and teach all that He had commanded. While the Apostles and those we often think of as ‘missionaries’ today had the challenge of taking the gospel to people who had never heard of Christ before – the mission ad gentes or to the nations – there is yet another type of mission to be carried out. This mission is what the Blessed John Paul dubbed the ‘New Evangelization.’ Rather than trying to take the gospel to those who haven’t heard it before, the challenge that many nations face is the reality that many of our Catholic and Christian brothers and sisters have left the faith or have virtually no knowledge of the gospel. All of  us gathered here have the mission to re-evangelize them, to be able to once again step out into a world that is not always hospitable to us and to preach the gospel just as the Apostles did in their day. We have the challenge to be that bold witness to the world that Jesus is risen, the Spirit is moving, and this life is only the first part of all eternity.

And just as the Apostles had the grace to continue the mission of Evangelization only because of the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost, we can only carry out the mission of the New Evangelization if we experience a New Pentecost in our own lives. We must let the power of the Holy Spirit descend upon us and allow Him to work through us! To use Blessed John Paul’s own words, “we must rekindle in ourselves the impetus of the beginnings and allow ourselves to be filled with the ardour of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost” (Novo Millenio Ineunte, 40).

Each of us received the gift of the Holy Spirit at our baptism, and if we were confirmed we were sealed with the Spirit once more. But just because we received the gift of the Spirit doesn’t mean we make use of it. Like when you squeeze chocolate syrup into a glass of milk – if you don’t stir it up, the syrup just settles on the bottom. The same thing can happen with the Holy Spirit. The challenge is to allow the Holy Spirit to be so stirred up inside of us that we are not just full of the Holy Spirit but that the Spirit is overflowing into everything that we do. Then we truly have the grace to carry out the New Evangelization. As I conclude the homily I invite all of you to join with me in prayer for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, that the Spirit might truly come alive in our hearts and be an impetus to change for our community.

O Lord Jesus Christ Who, before ascending into heaven did promise to send the Holy Spirit to finish Your work in the souls of Your Apostles and Disciples, deign to grant the same Holy Spirit to me that He may perfect in my soul, the work of Your grace and Your love. Grant me the Spirit of Wisdom that I may despise the perishable things of this world and aspire only after the things that are eternal, the Spirit of Understanding to enlighten my mind with the light of Your divine truth, the Spirit of Counsel that I may ever choose the surest way of pleasing God and gaining heaven, the Spirit of Fortitude that I may bear my cross with You and that I may overcome with courage all the obstacles that oppose my salvation, the Spirit of Knowledge that I may know God and know myself and grow perfect in the science of the Saints, the Spirit of Piety that I may find the service of God sweet and amiable, and the Spirit of Fear that I may be filled with a loving reverence towards God and may dread in any way to displease Him. Mark me, dear Lord, with the sign of Your true disciples and animate me in all things with Your Spirit. Amen.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Prayer and the Internet

Below is 'A Prayer Before Logging into the Internet' composed by Fr. Z at What Does the Prayer Really Say? in Latin and in English. I have found it helpful for myself and thought I might pass it along so that others might benefit also...

Omnipotens aeterne Deus, qui secundum imaginem Tuam nos plasmasti et omnia bona, vera, et pulchra, praesertim in divina persona Unigeniti Filii Tui Domini nostri Iesu Christi, quaerere iussisti, praesta, quaesumus, ut, per intercessionem Sancti Isidori, Episcopi et Doctoris, in peregrinationibus per interrete, et manus oculosque ad quae Tibi sunt placita intendamus et omnes quos convenimus cum caritate ac patientia accipiamus. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

Almighty and eternal God,who created us in Thy image and bade us to seek after all that is good, true and beautiful, especially in the divine person of Thy Only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, that, through the intercession of Saint Isidore, Bishop and Doctor, during our journeys through the internet we will direct our hands and eyes only to that which is pleasing to Thee and treat with charity and patience all those souls whom we encounter. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

He has Ascended!

Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47:2-3,6-9
Ephesians 1:17-23
Matthew 28:16-20

In the Catholic Commentator, our diocese newspaper, this week featured two major articles about Father Todd Lloyd and I being ordained. One discussed the ordination ritual and all that went on during it, while the other was aimed more at getting to know us and to know how we came to hear the call to priesthood. In the latter, I have to admit that when I read the first paragraph I busted out laughing. It reads: “Father Brent Maher has come a long way from being a rebellious heavy-metal-loving teen with dyed hair who was not only non-religious but anti-religious.” Welcome to the Diocese, huh?!

I had to laugh because I certainly have come a long way from those days to where I am now, from dyed hair and rebellion to celebrating the Mass and doing Latin chants. But in reading that little column it gave me pause to simply think about just how far I have come, how different I am today from then. In reflecting over the past week about the reality that I have been ordained a priest, I have been greatly humbled. Though this little clip from the commentator gives a small hint of my journey to God, only I myself have the full knowledge of all that truly went on. And as I come to celebrate the Mass, Confession and other sacraments, I cannot help but be stunned at the fact that God has chosen me, someone once so rebellious and anti-religious, to work in such a mysterious and powerful way as a conduit of grace to save people’s souls. As I celebrate the sacraments and contemplate my new life as “Father Maher” rather than “Deacon”, I begin to understand much more deeply the reality of St. Peter’s own exchange with Jesus, when the Lord works a miracle and St. Peter’s reaction was to fall on his face at the feet of Jesus and cry out “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

As powerful as that experience is, more mysterious is the fact that I am not just a priest for a while or just in this life, but for all eternity. As Psalm 110 says “You are a priest forever.” And as I reflect on this reality, I find it a bit frustrating because the reality is that we cannot know eternity because we are not there yet. That sense of mystery lies beyond our grasp in this life, but we celebrate a small foretaste of it now, especially in this Easter season. For me, I have the grace of my own ordination. But for our whole Church we have the mystery of Jesus’ death on the Cross on Good Friday, His Resurrection on Easter Sunday, today His Ascension into Heaven, and next Sunday the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. This sense of mystery all around us, and yet we cannot fully understand it – but we celebrate it in hopes of one day coming to have that full knowledge we will possess in Heaven.

As we celebrate today the mystery of the Ascension, we are struck by a couple of questions. How is it that God, who came down to Earth but never left Heaven, can Ascend back to Heaven to the Father and yet be able to say, “I am with you until the end of the age”? We can speak of the Eucharist and the priesthood and the Church, but in a mysterious way He is still in our midst aside from those realities of His Presence. Also, as we celebrate the Ascension, where Jesus is raised up body and soul, we have to wonder where His body went. He didn’t just leave it behind like a snake leaves an old skin, rather somewhere Jesus Christ still reigns with His glorified body. I wish I knew where, but that is not for us to know in this life. It is a mystery. Theologians have speculated on these things, but that is not for us today in the church parish. What matters for us, I would suggest, are three points.

First, Jesus is truly risen and ascended! The Son of God still reigns as King of All not just as a spirit but with His own glorified body that was offered up on the altar of the Cross. He did not simply cast it aside, but remains in that body. This is a sign of hope for us, because we too will one day be raised from the dead and hope to be glorified as He was glorified. The fact that Jesus keeps His body also reminds us of the blessedness of our own bodies and the reality that the Resurrection of the Body is not just a theological concept but a true reality.

Second, Jesus ascends to Heaven. Jesus ascends to the place that all of us long for – that place where there are no tears but only great joy and eternal adoration of the Lord, in Whose presence we will be. His Ascension opens the gates for us, that we too might be able to one day enter into Paradise and reign with Him in our own glorified bodies.

And finally, Jesus ascends not just to open the gate of Heaven for us, but also to send the Holy Spirit upon us. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to carry out that mission that was entrusted to the Apostles – and to all of us – to teach the whole world the Gospel of Christ. Only with the grace of the Spirit can we do so. And as we now wait as a Church for the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost, next Sunday, we cry out to God that He might send the Spirit upon us. We cry out and beseech Him in prayer, like the Apostles and Blessed Mother did for those nine days, that the grace of God would be poured in abundance on us. We can certainly do this via nine-day novenas (which I noted on here the other day), but we can also do what is called the nine-hour novena. For those who missed the start of the Novena to the Spirit, I would certainly encourage you to take up this practice and choose and day and at the start of each hour for nine hours, pray the appropriate prayers. Certainly this will win great favor for you. In the end, whether you pray the rote novena prayers or simply pray fervently from the heart, the goal is to truly desire the Spirit to come in a powerful to our lives because when the Spirit enters our hearts, then we are able to go out into the world and truly carry out the mission of teaching the world about Christ by our word, actions, and the way we carry ourselves throughout the day. And when we – the Church - do this, when we work out the mission entrusted to us, we shall certainly gain our eternal reward and finally enter into that heavenly banquet, where Christ, Our Head, has preceded us.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Novena Time!!!

Remember that the novena to the Holy Spirit begins today in preparation for the Solemnity of Pentecost. EWTN has it here: