Wednesday, May 29, 2013

HWP: Prayer for Priests

As yesterday was my anniversary of priestly ordination and it is the season (at least here in Louisiana) for ordinations, I thought it appropriate to offer a prayer for priests. From my perspective, it is a true gift to have others pray for me and let me know that they are doing so. I, like everyone else, am a sinner in need of personal conversion. By the prayers of others I am aided in that conversion and better enabled to live my priestly calling to pray for others and sacrifice for them as well. It's all quite cyclical - so let us pray for one another and grow in the grace of Jesus Christ!
A Prayer for Priests
O Jesus, Eternal Priest,
keep Thy priests within the shelter of Thy Sacred Heart,
where none may touch them.
Keep unstained their anointed hands,
which daily touch Thy Sacred Body.
Keep unsullied their lips,
daily purpled with Thy Precious Blood.
Keep pure and unworldly their hearts,
sealed with the sublime mark of the priesthood.
Let Thy Holy Love surround them from the world's contagion.
Bless their labors with abundant fruit,
and may the souls to whom they minister
be their joy and consolation here
and their everlasting crown hereafter.
Mary, Queen of the Clergy, pray for us:
obtain for us numerous and holy priests.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Focus on the Trinity

Not this Trinity...
Readings for Sunday, May 26/ Trinity Sunday:
Proverbs 8:22-31
Psalm 8:4-9
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15

As we come this weekend to celebrate Trinity Sunday, we rejoice in the great mystery of the self-revelation of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Through the Scriptures we hear of these three Persons who are One God and as I was reflecting on them throughout the past week the question continued to come to mind: where is my focus? For all of us, where is our focus? Is our focus truly on the Lord our God, or is it rather on us?

In the past century a great change has happened that moved the focus from God to men. The Church, representative of God in our midst, was the center of community life. It was the place where we gathered, found encouragement, guidance, and direction in daily life. Now the Lord has been set aside and man has become the center and focus. ‘Man is the measure of all things’ is a phrase we’ve all heard before and it simply affirms that desire of many to have us be the determining factor of what we should do. Sadly this over-emphasis on the human person and humanity as a whole has even seeped into our faith. When I first began my theology studies in New Orleans, our Spiritual Theology professor asked us at the beginning of the course what the most important thing for each of us was. “Getting to heaven,” rang from our lips and he asked if we all agreed and we said yes. To this he responded, “You’re all wrong. The most important thing for each of us is glorifying God. Getting to heaven is just the means to doing that.” It’s not about us at all. It’s about Him.

We can also see this turn towards ourselves in the everyday life of the Church in the celebration of the Liturgy. Music in the past century has taken a dramatic turn from being mainly God-oriented to people-oriented. Listen for a while at the music that we sing regularly in Mass and look through the hymnals and note how often we sing about ‘me, I, mine, us, we, and our’ instead of actually singing in praise of God. It’s more about what we get from the deal than what God does. Architecture and Sacred Art, too, are places where we see that world around us turning our gaze from the Lord to ourselves. Rare is the newly built church a structure that lifts our minds, hearts, and eyes to Heaven. Instead, we oversimplify everything to the point of it being all-too-human. Most lamentable of all is the orientation of the liturgy. The ancient practice of the Church was the have the priest and people facing the same direction in the liturgy. Often it is termed as ‘the priest had his back to the people’ but truly it was simply the priest and people together awaiting the coming of the Lord Jesus, who was traditionally believed to return in glory from the East. And so the whole community focused on the East, symbolized by the Crucifix in the sanctuary, in worship. And yet now most often the Mass is celebrated with the priest facing the people rather than joining the people looking toward God. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI so powerfully pointed out in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy, we have turned in on ourselves, focusing on what we do and making humanity the center of the celebration. Interestingly, the Roman Missal still assumes that the priest is facing the same direction as the people. But since that cannot be done just yet I and other priests –following Benedict’s example - have begun to have a cross on the altar to remember the focus is not on the community, nor on ourselves, but on the Lord God Himself. He is the center, the focus.

Those are just a few of the many ways that the world has attempted to take our focus away from God. So how do we refocus? How do we ensure that the Lord truly is the center, not only of our worship, but of our entire lives? I would suggest three practical things that I myself am still trying to strengthen in my own life.

The first is prayer. When we come to pray before God we realize immediately that God is God and we are not. He has the power. With Him we can do all things; without Him we can do nothing that is good. To pray is to recognize our rightful place before the Lord, that His majesty is so great that in comparison we are nothing  and that helps us to remove the focus from me and turn it towards Him.

The second thing is a daily examen. And examen is a practice wherein at the end of each day we pause to ask God where He was that day. We pray that the Spirit would show us how He was active in our lives – where did He give us some special grace, where did we see Him active in another person’s life, and where did we see Him but struggle or fail to respond. To be able to stop and see what God is acting and what gifts He is bestowing forces us to realize that many gifts that come to us each day through God’s gracious providence. He cares for us immensely and blesses us accordingly. If we turn back to give thanks, we recall the reality that it is He who acts first to bless us and we simply respond.

The third thing is simply to have visual reminders of God’s presence with us. Having a religious image in a prominent place at home, a crucifix over the bed, a holy card on our work desk or a rosary in our car. These and many other things throughout the day are visible reminders of the Triune God who walks with us throughout every moment of our day. Never are we alone and never shall we be abandoned. The God who created the universe created us out of love and wants nothing other than for us to turn to Him in love and respond with the same love.

As we go throughout this week, let us be especially mindful of our focus and work always to keep it on our God that in all that we do it might not be for us but for Him that we act. To conclude this homily I invite you to join me as we together turn towards Our Lord and give Him the praise that is due: Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

HWP: St. Rita of Cascia

Today is the feast of St. Rita of Cascia, a great saint of the Church who was a spouse, mother, and later in life an Augustinian Nun. Both during and after her life miracles were known to take place through her intercession and she is known to be especially powerful in 'desperate cases' and 'impossible causes'. My sister wasn't particularly amused though when I suggested St. Rita as her confirmation saint because she was the patroness of impossible causes...Anywho, she is a powerful intercessor and for that reason I have posted a prayer to her as the HWP for today. Pray well!

Prayer to St. Rita

Holy Patroness of those in need, Saint Rita, so humble, pure and patient, whose pleading with thy Divine Spouse are irresistible, obtain for me from thy Crucified Christ my request (mention it here). Be kind to me, for the greater glory of God, and I promise to honor thee and to sing thy praises forever. 

Oh glorious St. Rita, who didst miraculously participate in the sorrowful Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, obtain for me the grace to suffer with resignation the troubles of this life, and protect me in all my needs. Amen.

If you're interested in learning more, there is a nice book and movie on her life:

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Who Is the Spirit And Why Does He Matter?

Readings for Sunday, May 19/ Pentecost:Acts 2:1-11
Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-31, 34
1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13
John 20:19-23

As we come to this great feast of Pentecost, the conclusion to the Easter Season, we rejoice at the anniversary of the birth of the Church as the Apostles received the fullness of power from on high as the Holy Spirit descended upon them. While there are many things that could be spoken of, it seems that the most important is the person of the Holy Spirit. Often times in our world today there seems to be a lack of understanding of the Holy Spirit. We all know something of the person and story of Jesus and can conjure up a relatable image of God the Father in our heads. It’s easy then to pray to both of them because we can relate. The problem, though, is that we often struggle to really relate with the Holy Spirit. After all, in the Scriptures alone the Spirit is made manifest in tongues of fire as we hear today, in a breeze on the waters in Genesis, as a dove at Jesus’ baptism, as living water in Jesus’ preaching, and as a defender after Jesus ascends to Heaven. So what to make of all this and how can we relate with it? So we return to our original question: Who is the Holy Spirit? And from there we must ask also why is He important and how do we draw closer to Him?

So Who is the Holy Spirit? We could start with the basics and note that He is the third person of the Trinity – He is God just the same as the Father and Son are God. But even more personally for us, the Nicene Creed reminds us that He is “the Lord, the Giver of Life.” The Giver of Life – that one little statement really sums up the whole personality of the Spirit in relation to the world. The Spirit is life and where He is there is life. From the story of creation and making of Adam, to the ancient prophets pointing toward Jesus, to the Apostles, disciples, and ourselves today, anywhere we see the Spirit we see life. Pope Francis this past week even said that we could simply say that the Spirit is “God active in us.” When we go throughout our days the Spirit dwells in our heart to lead, direct, protect, strength, sustain, encourage, challenge, and enlighten us. It is only because we have the Spirit dwelling in us that we are able to do any good thing.

Now we can see the importance of the Spirit’s presence in our lives – with Him we have the life of God in us. Without Him, though we may be alive in the flesh, our soul is dead. And if our soul is dead we have no hope of eternal life. Sadly, this latter statement describes too many of us. Any of us that commits a mortal sin separates himself from God and the Spirit is not active in him. Skipping Sunday Mass, using pornography, sexual activity outside a blessed marriage, marrying outside the Church, drunkenness, and receiving Holy Communion after committing one of those sins without prior confession, to name a few, are the things that happen all too often and are the direct cause of the Spirit being quenched in our hearts, unable to work because we have rejected Him. And yet we walk around unaware because we can’t see this reality. Like the character played by Bruce Willis in the movie The Sixth Sense from 15 or so years back – he was dead all along but was unaware of it, thinking himself alive and well. For many in our world, and even in our community, the story is the same. We are dead but simply unaware. And when we are dead, we are unable to carry out fully the mission entrusted to us by God. In our second reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, he reminds us that there are “different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit” and that “to each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” In short, God created all of us for a purpose and has given us spiritual gifts to help us fulfill that purpose. But if we fail to let God be active in us, to be filled with the Holy Spirit, we cannot fulfill our purpose and we impact not only ourselves but others as well. After all, we are one body in Christ, and if one part suffers that whole thing suffers. So it is important and necessary for us to have the Spirit active in us not only for our good, but for the good of others and the whole Church!

So if the Spirit is so necessary for us, how can we draw closer to Him and let Him be active in our lives? The good news is that we receive the Spirit in Baptism and are sealed with His gifts at Confirmation. But we can’t stop there. In those sacraments He is poured into our souls, if you will, but we must have Him stirred up in us the same as chocolate syrup must be stirred up in a glass of milk to change it. That stirring comes in a number of ways, but the most important is the sacrament of Reconciliation. The Gospel passage today is the first appearance of the Lord Jesus to the disciples after the Resurrection and in that He gives them the Spirit and commends them to begin the ministry of forgiveness. If we have separated ourselves by some mortal sin, then the first place to go is the confessional. We have confession available everyday and we priests are always willing to meet at another time if necessary. That is the first and most important place where the Spirit is stirred up to allow God to become truly active in us. From there we must also be people of prayer. To be able to hear the Spirit speaking we must be people of daily prayer. One particularly effective mode of prayer is to pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit and His activity in our lives. There are any number of specific prayers, but picking one of them and praying it regularly is guaranteed to be an effective means of drawing closer to the Spirit and allowing Him to guide us in the journey of faith. After all, it was the Lord Jesus Himself who said “Ask and you shall receive. Seek and you shall find. Knock and it will be opened to you.” Our God is a God of faithfulness and if we make the true effort to seek His face, He will show Himself to us and we will rejoice in Him throughout this life and forever in the next. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

HWP: St. Isidore

After missing a couple of weeks of the HWP and not preaching this past weekend (thus, no homily post), it's about time to get back to the blog and start posting things again! Today is the feast of St. Isidore the Farmer, so I figure today we could post a couple of prayers for him. One is more for farmers and the other is for humility after the example of St. Isidore himself. Enjoy!

Prayers to St. Isidore the Farmer

Dear St. Isidore, you know how normal it is to cultivate the land for you were employed as a farm laborer most of your life. Although you received God's help materially through the angels in the field, all farmers are aided spiritually to see the wonders God has strewn on this earth. Encourage all farmers in their labors and help them to feed many people. Amen.

and this one....

God, through the intercession of St. Isidore, the holy farmer, grant that we may overcome all feelings of pride. May we always serve You with that humility which pleases You, through his merits and example. Amen.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Hearing the Voice

Readings for May 5/ Sixth Sunday of Easter:
Acts 15:1-2, 22-29
Psalm 67:2-3, 5-6, 8
Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23
John 14:23-29

“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”

This promise that Jesus makes to the Apostles of the Spirit’s guidance was indeed a beneficial and even necessary thing. Think about it – the Apostles were given the mission to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth and yet they only had three short years with the Lord. It doesn’t matter how brilliant one might be, that is not enough time to understand the fullness of the Gospel. Countless men and women of the Church have spent their lives in study and come up short of the fullness of the faith. So they needed the Spirit to help them grow in their knowledge of the faith and wisdom. Also, they needed the Spirit because they often struggled to grasp the deeper meaning and reality of things. They struggled to understand the Resurrection, the Eucharist, miracles and healings, key teachings, and other important aspects of Christ’s earthly ministry. It was by the gift of the Spirit that they came to grasp the meaning of these things. Like a movie that continues on until with a few minutes left some details are revealed and the viewers receive an awareness of something that changes everything else in the movie, those seemingly-insignificant details now becoming extremely important. So with the Apostles, who on receiving the Spirit came to understand quickly the true meaning of all that Jesus taught and did while among them.

Just as the Spirit came upon the Apostles in order to help them follow the Lord’s command, so also He comes to us in Baptism. There the Spirit comes to dwell within our hearts, making us Temple’s of God. And just as He taught and reminded the disciples about the things of the Lord, so too does He desire to do that with us. The question is are we really listening to the Spirit? Or are we listening instead to the voice of another?

One thing that I often reflect on is the difficulty of hearing God’s voice. The truth of the matter is that anytime we are faced with a decision about what to believe and what to do we are being bombarded with multiple voices. First we have ourselves, with our feelings, thoughts, and personal history that come into play. We have the family and friends around us with their expectations. We have the culture and society around us that has no problem telling us what we should think and do. Always in the midst of decision-making is the voice of the Devil because he seeks to lead us astray from the one voice that matters most of all – the voice of God. It’s no wonder that we struggle sometimes to hear God’s voice and follow after it confidently as the Gospel calls us to today.

Our first reading from Acts shows us that this reality of difficult in hearing God’s voice is not something new either. We hear the story of a community who is experiencing unrest because of false teachings. They lack peace because rather than following the voice of the Spirit that brings us peace, as our Gospel points out, they follow the voices of others. Because the teachings are not true, their peace is taken away. And how do they have it restored? By going to the ones who have the special grace of the Spirit in leading the Church – the Apostles. By the Apostles’ clarification on what is to be done and what avoided, peace is restored because they have once more heard the voice of the Lord.

While we don’t have disputes over circumcision, eating the meat of strangled animals and that sacrificed to idols, we do have other serious issues in the Church today that are causing unrest in the hearts of many. Things particularly here in America, and even other parts of the world, such as so-called homosexual marriage, the ordination of women, abortion, contraception, immigration, and a host of other issues are often on the front pages of papers and websites. The Apostles of the Church – the Popes and bishops – have spoken on these topics and sought to bring peace, but sadly there are still many in the Church who have rejected this teaching of the Holy Spirit and continued to press more firmly with their own desires because they fail to listen to the voice of God who leads us to Himself. In most cases it’s not out of malice toward the Church, but simply because they haven’t been able to hear clearly the voice of God speaking. These are just some of the big things though. Each one of us is faced daily with decisions that greatly impact our lives, our families and our community. And in each of those decisions we hear those many voices crying out to us. So how is it that we can come to know the voice of Truth? Prayer.

If we have a friend or acquaintance with whom we rarely speak, then when conversation takes place it can be labored, difficult, and even unfamiliar. But if we speak to them often, we draw closer and are able to talk freely and can identify their voice easily and know their heart and desires more fully. And the same goes with Our Lord. If we fail to spend time in prayer, then when those decisions need to be made we will struggle to know what to do because we are not quite familiar with the Lord’s voice to know it when we hear it. But if we make time for prayer, if we intentionally spend time speaking with the Lord and listening for Him to speak with us in that great spiritual exchange, then we become used to hearing His voice and knowing what He wants. The closer we grow to the Lord the less we need to worry about those other voices because we will see them for what they are and we will know His voice and rejoice to follow it.

My brother and sisters, Pentecost is just two weeks away now. Why not spend this time in special dialogue with the Lord. Just as soil need to be tilled and fertilized to receive seed and produce good fruits, so too does our soul need to be prepared for the gifts of God. So let us spend these last two weeks of Easter in prayer that by God’s grace we might receive well the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost and truly be able to hear His voice and joy fully follow after Him all the days of our lives, keeping the word of God and immersing ourselves in His peace.