Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sin Matters

Readings for Sunday, September 30/ 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Numbers 11:25-29
Psalm 19:8, 10, 12-14
James 5:1-6
Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

Our readings this weekend, especially the pericopes from the Letter of St. James and the Gospel of Mark, could be simply summed up in two simple words: sin matters.

In the past few decades there has been a great emphasis and growth in devotion to the Divine Mercy of God. With the revelations of Our Lord to St. Faustina last century there came the Divine Mercy chaplet, novena and, with Blessed John Paul II’s support, the Divine Mercy feast on the Sunday after Easter. Rightly so, our world today needs to be reminded of God’s great love for us and the fact that no matter how far we might stray from Him or what sin we might commit, He is always ready and willing to welcome us back home. But just as the Lord implants that reminder of His mercy into our hearts, so also does the devil. It seems strange to say that the devil would remind us of God’s infinite mercy, but it is quite true. In the midst of temptations and inclinations to sin, one old piece of spiritual advice is to reflect on how it will grieve the Lord and how sin wounds our relationship with the Lord. But the devil likes to keep us from doing that or to push those thoughts out of our mind. Rather in the midst of temptation he quietly whispers, “But God loves you so much. He understands that you’re not perfect. And hey, you can always go to confession. He’s so merciful that He would never turn you away.” He says these things hoping to instill in us a knowledge that we can always turn back later, despite falling into sin in the moment. And that knowledge is often the thing that we use as permission to sin; we know we can be forgiven and so we take advantage of that Mercy and actually commit a sin called presumption – presuming that we will be forgiven and doing things anyway knowing that we can just confess it later. The interesting thing, though, is that as soon as we fall into sin, the devil’s story changes instantly. No longer are we reminded of God’s mercy but instead are to recall God’s justice: “Look what you’ve done. You’ve given up again. You’ve let God down. Not like it’s new…look at all the other times that you’ve done it before. You are so far from being what He wants you to be.” And in this he hopes to bring us to despair, at which point we forget the mercy and give ourselves over to sin.

In response to this the Lord gives us a rather vivid and violent image about cutting off limbs and gouging out eyes. Imagine hold a meat cleaver to your hand and trying to get up the courage to cut it off – it would be painful, it would take an great amount of trust and commitment, and it would be emotionally intense. But the thing is that the Lord doesn’t want us to actually cut off limbs and gouge out eyes, because the sin doesn’t come from outside. As we heard a few weeks ago, sin comes from our hearts, from the interior.  We must be willing to allow sin to be cut out from our heart and our life if we want to attain eternal life; it will be painful, it will be emotional, and it will surely take great commitment and trust. So we must ask God for the grace to cut sin out from our lives. And He rejoices to give us that grace because He knows the effects of sin because He felt them in every wound of His Sacred Body during the Passion, most especially on the Cross. He longs to bring us healing and to keep us from sin. Moreover, He desires to keep us from the final reward of sin – Hell.

When the Lord gives that image of Gehenna, it would have spoken quickly to the Jewish people because Gehenna was a real place. Outside the city of Jerusalem there was a huge valley where they would burn the refuse from the community, as well as the corpses of animals and criminals. Because there was always something being tossed in here and there the valley was a smoldering put of death that was less than pleasant to be around. And even though it is only a shadow of how bad Hell would be for us, the image is well-conveyed: it is to be avoided at all costs.

The other image that Our Lord uses is that of the millstone being tied around ones neck as they are cast into the sea. Another vivid image, the Lord uses it so remind us that while we must be clean from all sin personally, it is not only for our benefit. None of us is an island unto ourselves and while we might think our sins are private and don’t affect anyone else, they in fact impact everyone else. Every time I come to this passage I can’t help but think about a specific instance in my own life. When I was a teenager I was a less-than-pleasant person to be around. I dressed in all mostly black clothes, wore lots of chains and bracelets, listened to immoral and even satanic music, and had an absolutely negative outlook on nearly everything. Suffice it to say I was not the best model to follow after, but the problem is that one person did. A relative of mine looked up to me and began to listen to the same music, dress the same, think the same, and imitate other undesirable traits of mine. I eventually converted to the faith and came out of that, but my relative hasn’t fully done so yet. And to be honest, I have a bit of fear in my heart that on my judgment day one of the things that Lord will question me about will be that relationship – why I wasn’t a better model, and how my sins led astray one of his little ones. That’s my own personal situation but all of us have them in some fashion. When parents and godparents have children baptized they agree that they will do everything in their power to raise their children up in the faith and yet when I go to help on retreats or at PSR classes, when children disagree with the Church on things like sexual morality, obligation to attend Mass on Sundays, and other things, quite often their response to why they shouldn’t be worried is because their parents aren’t. They’re not receiving the guidance positive witness they need. In reality, it’s not just parents and godparents either – it’s all of us, young and old and everywhere in between. Every single one of us has someone in the world that looks to us for some sort of example. It could be a relative, a friend, a coworker, or a random person we don’t really know, but they are either built up or torn down because of the actions that we commit. And woe to us is we are tearing them down!

In the end, we have an obligation to fight against sin if we want to get to Heaven. So while sin matters, grace conquers. And as Catholics we have a lot of tools in our spiritual bags to help us receive that conquering grace. We have the saints of God to intercede for us. We have the Archangels and our guardian angels to watch over us. We have the sacraments to sustain us. But most of all, we have the Lord God dwelling within and among us. In our first reading we hear the Jewish people running to Moses to make him stop the elders from prophesying after receiving the Spirit of God. To this Moses simply responds ‘Would that we all would prophesy! Would that we all had the Spirit!’ At Pentecost the Spirit descended upon the whole Church, not just a select few. In our baptism we each received Him personally into our souls. It is now for us to listen to His voice and follow where He desires us to go, cutting out the sin that needs to be cut out and thus becoming the witnesses we were created to be – not only for ourselves, but for our children and for our world. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Standing at the Foot of a Cross

Below is a little talk that I was asked to give at the Baton Rouge 40 Days for Life Prayer Vigil. The 40 Day campaign prays to end abortion and heal the wounds it causes in individuals, families and our culture. It begins today (September 26) and continues until November 4 - please consider joining in it with your prayers but also with your presence, if possible, at the abortion clinic near you. For the Baton Rouge and Louisiana area, more information is on the official website HERE.

Standing at the Foot of the Cross: Prayer at the Abortion Facility

Throughout my formation for priestly ministry one thing we frequently heard was that with all of our training and preparation, the often most influential part of our ministry would not be the part that we would speak with our lips but rather the part that we would speak by our lives. While the right word or prayer can sometimes be a powerful thing in ministering to others, quite often it is simply our silent presence that impresses itself most deeply upon a person’s heart and memory.

When 2000 years ago Our Lord climbed upon that Sacred Cross on Calvary to win for us salvation, He did not do so alone. With Him, the scriptures tell us, were His mother Mary, the Apostle John and several others who remained at His side until the end. In the silence of their hearts they bore the pain of seeing the Son of God pierced and dying; and yet they remained with Him, trusting all the while that the Father’s goodness would prevail. And indeed it did so in a most glorious way.

Now in our own day Our Lord is inviting us to follow in His footsteps and those of Mary, John and the others on the way to a new Calvary and a new Cross. All throughout the year, but especially in this 40 day period of intense prayer, we are called to be the Mary and John to a whole host of women who are in the midst of their own personal Calvary, quietly accompanying them with our prayers and presence in the midst of their sufferings, trusting all the while that God’s goodness can triumph still.

The thought of going to pray at an abortion facility can be an intimidating one. When I first began to pray at abortion facilities several years back, I often worried about what to say, what to do, and all sorts of other things. I quickly began to realize, though, that the most important thing was simply to trust in God and show up, knowing that He had the details covered. None of us on this side of Heaven can know how God’s plan is going to unfold, so it is not for us to worry about it. Rather, we are called to simply come before the Lord, place ourselves at His disposal, and offer prayers to Him on behalf of those in need. And when that happens, then we begin to hear the beautiful stories like that shared by Mrs. Elaine; stories of healing, stories of transformation, stories of minds and hearts being changed.

My brothers and sisters, we need to be out there praying. The world around us needs us out there. The parents and children need us. The abortionists and their employees need us. And God needs us. For as St. Paul reminds us in his Letter to the Romans: “How are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!’” And we indeed have good news to preach – good news that there is a better way, there is help, there is healing and there is a God whose love conquers even the most difficult of trials. Armed with this good news, let us place ourselves in God’s hands as we cry out with the words of the prophet Isaiah: Here I am, Lord. Send me.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Why the long prayer?

Readings for Sunday, September 23/ 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Wisdom 2:12, 17-20
Psalm 54:3-6, 8
James 3:16-4:3
Mark 9:30-37

On most Sundays the goal of the homily is to break open the scriptures and see the riches they hold and how they apply to our lives. But this Sunday I want to do something a little different, which I hope will enhance your experience of the Mass. Many of you have noticed that I tend to use some options in the liturgy that aren’t always done – such as the altar cross, the maniple and the chalice veil. They all have  a reason for being used and in time I hope to be able to explain more about them if the chance is available. But today I want to focus on something that your eyes can’t notice but your ears can and your knees probably as well, namely the fact that I tend to use a different Eucharistic Prayer than is commonly used. The Eucharistic Prayer being that beautiful prayer of consecration for which you are kneeling between the Holy, Holy, Holy and the Our Father.

You’ll may have noticed that I tend to use the one that is longer and there is a purpose, and it’s not just to make you kneel longer and offer up your sufferings to the Lord to pour grace upon needy souls – although that’s not a bad thing to do! The one that I use is Eucharistic Prayer I and it has a beautiful history in the Church. And this is a large part of the reason that I use is exclusively on Sundays and Solemnities – because it helps to reconnect us with our heritage as Latin Rite Catholics.

When the Apostles were given the great commission to preach the Gospel to the ends of the Earth, they went out and began to form communities throughout the nations. Over the years these communities grew in the faith, evolving in little ways here and there according to local custom. And because they didn’t have texting, phone, email or facebook, they didn’t always know exactly what the others were doing – nor did they really concern themselves with it because they were all doing essentially the same thing. Though here and there one might experience different prayers, liturgical celebrations, vestments, and the like, they were all Catholic. The Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, of which we and over 95% of Catholic are a part, was one of those particular churches and thus has a particular history.

In the early church the prayers would change a little bit here and there. In our Latin or Roman tradition, around the mid-fifth century the Roman Canon was a staple of the Latin liturgy. The Roman Canon is what we know today as Eucharistic Prayer I and it has been almost exactly the same, with a few minor tweaks along the way, since the 400’s. Also, this was the only Eucharistic Prayer used in celebrations of the Latin Rite until the Second Vatican Council, so for 1500 years this was the Eucharistic Prayer of the Latin Rite. Most of the saints that we honor today never knew another Eucharistic Prayer than that one. And for this reason I like to make use of it in communal celebrations because it really unites us with the centuries-old history of Roman Liturgical practice.

That’s a good history lesson and all, but the question is how can we use it to help us enter more deeply into the Sacred Mysteries that we gather to celebrate?

First, it is very humble. All throughout the prayer it continually speaks of beseeching, begging and asking the Lord to accept and receive our gifts. It’s a very humble wording and it rightly reminds us of our right relationship with God – that we are not on the same plane with God. That we rely on Him for everything and that we are blessed to be here and even stand in His presence, much less receive Him into our flesh.

Second, the prayer reminds us that the Mystery we celebrate is primarily a sacrifice. We come not simply to gather at a communal meal but to experience in our own time the Sacrifice of Calvary – all throughout the prayer we hear words like offer, victim, sacrifice and others, as well as the connections with the sacrifices of those who have gone before us in faith. We are here to enter into the Cross and receive Our Lord in the flesh and this prayer makes it abundantly clear.

Lastly, and I think most importantly, it reminds us that all of us are celebrants in the liturgy. We all have a gift or gifts to offer. From my own personal history there were times in my life when I thought the offertory was the time I could check out because the priest was doing his thing, the choir just sang to fill the time and I just had to pass the collection basket along to the next person in the intermission. But the reality is that the Offertory of the Mass is, behind the Consecration and Holy Communion, arguably the most important part of the Mass for us. Rather than check out, it is the time for us to offer ourselves to the Lord. To place on the altar alongside the bread and wine the people we know are in need of prayers, the graces we need from God, and all the events of our week.

In the Eucharistic Prayer you may have noticed a couple of pauses that aren’t usually there. Before the consecration the prayer says “Remember Lord your servants…” and then there is a brief pause. In the text there is a letter ‘N.’ where the priest is asked to called to mind a name or names. This arises from the ancient practice of offering Mass for people, living or dead. So when I pause for a that moment in the Mass I am calling to mind the person or people for whom the Mass is being offered and you are invited to join your petition in at that time. Actually, more than invited, you’re somewhat expected. If we listen to the continuation of the prayer, it says, “and all gathered here whose faith and devotion are known to you. For them we offer this sacrifice of praise or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them….” The prayer is mindful that the priest could be offering Mass for someone not present, but also that the people present are to be offering their sacrifice as well in union with that of the priest. Following the consecration there is another place where a similar line is prayed for those who have died, and another pause is made for us to call to mind those who have gone before us that we want to pray for.

It’s a most beautiful gift that Christ gives to us not only in being able to celebrate these mysteries but to unite them to Himself. You see, what happens in the Eucharist is similar to what happens to us! Simple bread and wine are brought forward, changed by the power of the Holy Spirit and used to change us and those around us by His grace. In a similar way the Lord invites us to offer our intentions, our friends and family, and our entire lives on the altar alongside the bread and wine that we ourselves might be transformed and thus be the transforming power at work in the world by God’s grace. But if we fail to enter into the Offertory and Eucharistic Prayers, we can miss that tremendous source of grace right before us.

So as we prepare to pray that ancient prayer of the Church and offer to God the Body and Blood of His Beloved Son, let us also offer up some particular intention today. During the offertory, call to mind someone by name or some particular grace for someone and spiritually place it on the altar of the Lord, that receiving the gifts we offer, they might be accepted, blessed, transformed and bestowed on us in return. 

***If interested in learning more about the Roman Canon and the beauty of the prayers it contains, check out Fr. Milton Walsh's book In Memory of Me: A Meditation on the Roman Canon.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

We Need More Sisters!!!


Let us not only pray for more vocations, but also invite and encourage them.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Will we Walk?

Readings for Sunday, September 9/ 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Isaiah 35:4-7
Psalm 146:7-10
James 2:1-5
Mark 7:31-37

The beauty is in the detail. If most of you are like me, it’s easy to hear a story and in our head think “Oh, I know that one!” and miss the fine details sprinkled all throughout it. While the stories are certainly helpful and formative, the real riches of the scriptures are in the details. Today’s passage from Mark’s gospel is interesting in that it begins by noting the Our Lord went from Tyre to the Sea of Galilee by way of Sidon. For those of us unfamiliar with the layout of Israel this is easily passed over to get to what we perceive as more important things. It is worth noting though because Sidon is north of Tyre, when the Sea of Galilee is the opposite direction. For us it would be like going from Gramercy/Paulina to Thibodaux by way of Hammond. This small detail though is quite intentional from the Lord’s perspective.

Remember the last time we saw Our Lord in that area of Sidon and the Decapolis, just two chapters earlier. He cast out unclean spirits into a herd of swine and the people begged him to leave. They sent Him away rather than seek His healing. This time, as we hear, He receives a much warmer reception. But the fact that He intentionally went there rather than straight to the Sea of Galilee seems to speak of the reality that God never quits trying to draw us closer. Though we may fight against Him or even ask Him to get out of our lives at some points, He is always willing to come back in hopes that we’ll receive Him where before we rejected Him.

This sets the background of the rest of the story then because it is a story of coming back to God when one has been away. Even the man who is healed by the Lord helps us to understand something of the mission Jesus is on. Mark describes the man as having a speech impediment. That particular phrase is used only one other time in the whole Bible and it is in the passage we read from Isaiah today, a passage which had an emphasis on bringing the exiled Jewish people back to the Lord in Jerusalem and the signs that would accompany this return to God; signs such as the deaf hearing and the mute speaking. Mark is pointing out by his words that the Lord Jesus is accomplishing this work before our very eyes!

Going even further, we are shown not only the Christ is here to bring us back into a right relationship with God, He shows us how it happens. By taking the man aside from the crowd Jesus is honoring the reality that each of us is unique. Rather than being considered just as one of many things to accomplish, He shows that God works with each of us individually, in our own way, in our own time as we are able to receive Him. The physical touch of Christ is His acknowledgment that we are in need of physical, visible reminders of our renewal in the Lord. And the lifting of His eyes to Heaven helps to remind us that it is not a simple human person who has helped us, but God Himself.

We can take this story and simply lump it in with the many other healings that Jesus did in His ministry two thousand years ago. Or we can look at the details and find something much more incredible to contemplate – the reality that just as our God called the Jewish people back to Himself after they strayed, He does the same to us. It’s not just a story about a man who was healed two thousand years ago or a people brought home 2500 years ago. It’s a story about us. You and me, and how God is coming to us again today to take us aside for a moment to continue the healing He longs to effect within us.

So as we sit here for a moment in this sacred liturgy, this time set aside to worship our God, the Lord comes to us as He came to the deaf and mute man and takes our hand to lead us to find peace. The question is this: Are we willing to walk with Him?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Because the Church says so...

I've often found myself in discussions with friends, family, and random people who refuse to accept "because the Church says so" as an acceptable response, equating it with a lack of education and inability to think for oneself. To that point, this article by Ms. Emily Stimpson gives a beautiful response. 

“Because the Church says so” is indeed reason enough to believe something when you have thought long and hard about what the Church is, by what authority she teaches, and what duty you owe her.
Since Day One, the Church has professed to being Christ’s Bride, Christ’s Body, and the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. She has likewise professed that she is the guardian of both Sacred Revelation and Sacred Tradition, guided by the Holy Spirit in her interpretation of both and protected by him from teaching error on matters of faith and morals (See: Acts 15 and 1 Clement).
If you believe the Church is all that, if you believe she is what she claims to be, trusting her teachings—even when you struggle with them—is the only sensible response. If you don’t believe the Church is what she claims to be, not trusting her teachings is equally sensible. But calling yourself a Catholic is not.
The full article is worth the read and can be found at the blog HERE

Sunday, September 2, 2012


Readings for Sunday, September 2/ 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8
Psalm 15:2-5
James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Are our words and actions empty? Or is there something behind them? This is the question the Lord poses to us this week. Our readings from Deuteronomy and the Letter of St. James both speak of the necessity of following the ways of the Lord, of being ‘doers of the word and not hearers only,’ as the apostle puts it. But placed alongside the Gospel passage we come to see that while works are good and necessary, they are all for nothing if our heart is not in them.

The Jewish people had a great system of laws, especially about what constituted being clean or unclean, which determined to what extent one could participate in religious ceremonies. These laws were often quite detailed and so one could easily get lost in the externals and forget the Lord behind it all. For instance: a hollow vessel made of pottery could become unclean inside but not on the outside, and if it became unclean on the inside it had to be smashed into pieces small enough that the largest piece would not hold enough oil to anoint the little toe. A flat plate without a rim could not become unclean, but one with a rim could become unclean.  Also, and I thought most amusing, a three-legged table could not become unclean. If it lost one leg, or even two legs, it could not become unclean. But if it lost all three legs, it was officially a board, which could become unclean. These are just a few of the numerous laws that the Jewish people of Jesus’ day lived by. It would be easy to get so caught up in the externals, insuring that you had fulfilled all of the little requirements that the relationship with the Lord came as the cost.

We Catholics are a lot like our Jewish ancestors, in that we too have many rituals, rules, and rote prayers that we recite. And the challenge that the Lord gives to us, like that given to the Jewish people, is not to get caught up in the externals of the faith such that we forget the internal realities that must lie behind them for us to be truly spiritual people. This is difficult because it’s easier to come and simply rest in the externals of things rather than the deeper sense. As a seminarian and as a priest I feel this temptation quite often. Did I say Mass today? Yes. Did I pray that Divine Office as Mother Church requires of me? Yes. Did I do everything my role as associate pastor requires of me, and that which the pastor asked of me? Yes. That’s easy to say because it rests in externals. To ask whether when I celebrated Mass I was fully attentive and not letting my mind wander and think about all the things going on around me is quite another thing than simply doing Mass. To ask whether I prayed fervently and sought to hear God’s voice in the union of my prayer is much more than simply reading words from a page or reciting prayers with my lips. And to check of my ‘to do’ list for the pastor is much easier than to ask whether I did everything humbly, joyfully and generously. Our Catholic faith is a beautiful one and one that expresses itself in very visible ways. But if we have nothing behind the words we say and the actions we do then we are fooling only ourselves.

And so I ask again. Are our words and actions empty? Or is there something behind them?

Papal Intentions for September 2012

Let us join the Holy Father in praying for these intentions especially during this month of September:
General Intention: "That politicians may always act with honesty, integrity, and love for the truth".
Mission Intention: "That Christian communities may have a growing willingness to send missionaries, priests, and lay people, along with concrete resources, to the poorest Churches".