Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Slaves of All

A small chain worn as a reminder of Holy Slavery
Readings for Sunday, October 18/ 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Isaiah 53:10-11
Psalm 33
Hebrews 4:14-16
Mark 10:35-45

As you all know, I’m something of an amateur runner. A very amateur runner. One thing that I’ve learned in the past few years of preparing for races is that I’m very bad at setting my own steady pace. I start off at a good quick pace, feeling confident that I can keep it up. And so I begin at 11-12 minute miles. Then after a half mile I’m at 12-13 minute miles. Before the second mile is done I’m often slugging along at 15 minute miles, which is more of a quick walk than a slow run. Not only do I tend to slow down over the time but I find myself out of breath and occasionally unable to finish the intended distance I had set as a goal. In contrast I find that when someone else sets a moderate pace and is consistent with it that I can usually keep up and run for longer distances. And breathe.

That image came to mind as I was praying with the Scriptures for this weekend because it seems that James and John are out there trying to set their own pace and it doesn’t work out so well for them. They walk up to Jesus and in a statement that shows what is either great boldness or great stupidity: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Jesus humors them a bit, knowing the foolishness of such a request but using it as a teachable moment. Upon hearing their request for the seat at the right and left of the Lord’s glory, He immediately responds, “You do not know what you are asking.” He knows what His seat of glory would look like and it was anything other than a comfortable kingly chair; it was a cross. If James and John had understood the reality of their request they would surely have shrunk back in fear and willingly abandoned their desire. The problem is that they were trying to set their own pace and had the Lord let them pursue it, they would surely have been unable to run the full race. Thankfully it is the Lord who always walks with us in our eagerness so as to bring us back to the place where we need to be. He enters into the darkness so as to guide us back into the light.

“Whoever wishes to be the first among you must be the slave of all.” With these words Jesus helps to point the disciples back in the right direction. We all know that as Christians if we seek to exalt ourselves we will be cast down and if we humble ourselves we will be lifted up. And yet we still struggle. Jesus uses this strong language to challenge us to keep up the struggle and indeed to place ourselves in the last spot of all. In the day of the Lord there were essentially two types of people who did the lowest forms of work: servants and slaves. Servants were free persons who did the work for the money. Slaves, as we know, were simply perceived as property of the master. A servant could leave his labor and go elsewhere, but a slave was unable. A servant received a reward for their labor; a slave was simply carrying out their duty. A servant gave a part of himself; a slave gave everything.  A servant sets his own path in some sense, but a slave is simply directed in the way to go. The labor may look the same, but the interior reality is far from the same.

It might startle us a bit to hear Jesus tell us to be slaves, but this is a common theme in the Scriptures. Jesus Himself alludes to slavery also in the last line of the Gospel just proclaimed with the reference to ‘ransoming the many’ – a description of purchasing persons. To this we can also add the other passages in which we are reminded that we all were “purchased, and at a price.” We all were born in original sin, slaves of the evil one and the desires of our flesh. But it is Jesus Christ Who has bought us for God, who set us free from slavery to sin and invites to take up a new slavery, a holy slavery, a slavery not of obligation but of love.

Holy slavery seems like a strange idea, since we are brothers and sisters of the Lord, and Jesus Himself refers to us as ‘no longer servants but friends’. But it is Our Lord that first sets the standard of holy slavery. In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul speaks of Christ “taking on the form of a slave” – He took on humanity. His life in the flesh is not one that seeks to accomplish His own will but the will of the One Who sent Him (God the Father). It is a life in which He willingly submits to follow the pace of the Father out of love for Him. And He invites us to join ourselves in doing the same.

Holy slavery has a great tradition in the life of the Church, but came alive in a new way in the late 1600’s in the preaching of St. Louis Marie de Montfort. St. Louis wrote a book called True Devotion to Mary and numerous saints and popes of the Church have spoken of it as “the highest form of devotion to Our Lady”, “a decisive turning point in my life” and spoke of the graces of following his method of devotion to Mary. And that devotion was holy slavery to Jesus through Mary. The encouragement is to give everything we have to Mary, that she might bring us to Jesus. She is so powerful because she alone among humanity was free from sin here entire life, from conception until her Assumption, and so can help us to follow the divine pace rather than rely upon ourselves and our own plans.

To this end, I will be consecrating our parish to Our Lady on December 8th of this year, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which will also mark the beginning of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. What I propose to you though is that you don’t allow it simply to be ‘Father consecrating the parish to Mary’ but rather to have each of us consecrate ourselves to Mary that same day as a parish. I have in the back of the church copies of a book titled “33 Days to Morning Glory” which everyone is encouraged to pick up and take home. It is a method suggested by St. Louis of taking 33 days, mirroring the 33 years of Christ’s life, to prepare our hearts by reflecting on our relationship with Jesus & Mary. To conclude in time for the consecration on December 8th, you would begin on November 5th. So I invite you to join with me in taking up or renewing this holy slavery. Together let us give everything to Jesus through the hands of our most loving mother Mary, knowing that though the rewards will be many, the great reward will be the consolation and joy that wells up in the Heart of Jesus that we are joining with Him in this labor.

Read more about Holy Slavery HERE.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Gaze of Love

Readings for Sunday, October 11/ 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Wisdom 7:7-11
Psalm 90
Hebrews 4:12-13
Mark 10:17-30

When in high school I was required to take an elective in my senior year, I opted for psychology because the teacher had a great reputation among the students and the class seemed pretty interesting. In the course of the semester, I was fascinated by the various experiments that had been conducted through the years. As I was praying with the Scriptures for this Mass one of them came to mind – Milgrim’s shock experiment. The setup was such that the subjects would be brought into a room and sat down at an electric shock machine that was supposedly hooked up to a person on the opposite side of a curtain. It wasn’t actually hooked up, but they were told it was. The machine had a gauge indicating voltage of increasing number from ‘slight shock’ to ‘severe shock’ and were told that they were to press the button when the person on the other side of the curtain was incorrect in their answers. Over the course of the experiment the first shock would elicit an ‘ouch!’ from the person at the first shock. Then as it progressed, the voltage was increased and the person at the button would be told to press it despite cries from the other side, pleas to stop pressing the button, and even a shout that they had a heart condition and a thud with silence following a severe shock. Through the course of the experiment the person at the button continued to submit to the authority as they demanded over and over again ‘press the button’.

It came to mind because the ability to press the button largely arises on account of the fact that they were unable to see the person on the opposite side of screen and thus had some ability to de-humanize them and block out the reality of what was taking place. It ultimately gets to the point that seeing someone can change things. The media knows this all too well. When those commercials come on for the ‘adopt a dog’ program they don’t show the dog just walking around. They show a close up of the face and add slow motion to highlight the eyes – those guilt-fostering little eyes that make you want to give them money. I don’t give them money. I change the channel – and that’s the thing. When we’re encountered with a gaze into the eyes of another, be they animal or human, there is a choice to either return the gaze or to turn away.

The Lord knows the power of that gaze Himself quite well, He who made the eyes and gives us the power to see, and employs it at certain times in the works He performs. In the Gospel we just heard an account of a young rich man who comes and throws himself at the feet of Jesus and essentially asks ‘How can I get to Heaven?’.  The Lord responds with the Commandments and the youth acknowledges how he has followed them. Then, St. Mark tells us, Jesus ‘looking at him, loved him’ and called him to sell all and follow in his way. Looking at him, He loved him. The two descriptions are the same action. It was the look of love.

Jesus loves the young man first and then calls him to follow the way that would lead to the Cross. At this the man turns away and leaves sad. He turns away – he can’t stand the gaze of Christ and so he turns away, he changes the channel, puts Christ behind the curtain. He doesn’t want to feel the pain of guilt or regret and so he turns his eyes away so as to make it hurt less. The riches he had were too much.

Here we can get into the discussion of the ‘eye of the needle’. Some suggest it was a literal gate to the city of Jerusalem that was small enough to let in travellers for the night but too small to permit them even a bag on their back, much less a large camel. Others claim it simply emphasizes the absurdity of trying to fit a camel through an actual eye of a needle. Either way the basic point is the same: when we come to serve Christ, we have to be willing to leave things behind. We have to be willing to let go of everything in order to gain Heaven. ‘When our heart is, there also our treasure will be’ Scripture tells us. Where is our heart? On things of heaven or things of earth? Are there things that keep us from returning the loving gaze of Jesus? When I hold up the Sacred Host at Mass and we see God face to face, are we able to love Him with all of our heart, or is something there in our heart that compels me to turn away, to de-sensitize myself to a guilt or regret?

The gaze of Jesus happens to us every Mass. He looks at us and loves us. And He waits for us to look and love Him too. My sweet Jesus, I love You. Increase my love for You.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Going to the Breach (no, not the beach)

Readings for Sunday, October 4/ 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm 128
Hebrews 2:9-11
Mark 10:2-16

The year was 1571. The Church was experiencing attacks from all sides and was reeling in response, trying to bring some calm to the storm that had brought such devastation. Some years before Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the local church and started a revolution that resulted in the breaking up of the Body of Christ. Others soon followed in his footsteps of protest and continued the divisions. The Council of Trent went to work to bring about some healing in the Body and to revisit Catholic teaching when so many things came to be questioned. As if this weren’t enough, the Church experienced attacks from outside as well. The Ottoman Empire had continued to grow in power and spread steadily toward Christian Europe. The nearness of the armies was a cause of great concern, as European culture and the future of the Christian faith itself both hung in the balance with each victory by their Muslim opponents. Fortunately the Holy Spirit had been at work and brought Pope Pius V to be elected Pope. He, seeing the invasion draw nearer, encouraged the whole Christian community to pray the rosary daily for a positive outcome in the battle that would soon take place, and so it was done. October 7 of that year saw the Holy League ships stumble upon those of the Ottoman Empire at sea and, though lacking strategy and with fewer men and ships, the battle was begun. Miraculously the Christian army came out victorious, the spread of the Ottoman Empire was kept at bay, and the Holy Father proclaimed a universal feast of ‘Our Lady of Victory’ for October 7 on account of the power of the rosary and Our Lady’s prayers. This feast continues today under a new title, Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, and will be celebrated again this Wednesday for over the 400th time.

The feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary highlights the fact that the rosary is not just a way for us to meditate and encounter God in His mysteries. It is also a very powerful weapon. St. Padre Pio knew this well as when he was too ill to move around he would ask the friar assisting him ‘Brother, get me my weapon’ and it was the rosary that was placed in his hand. Indeed the rosary, when prayed collectively and with fervor and focus can change history. So I invite you to join with me in praying the rosary for a new battle that is taking place. This new battle is not one involving weaponry or military tactics – it’s a battle that is being waged against the family in the world today. St. John Paul II often noted that ‘as the family goes, so goes society’ and we need only take a cursory glance around to see that society is not doing so well. Mass murders & genocides, name-calling and hatred in all directions, a loss of respect for human life in general. In our own community where years ago you had no need whatsoever of a lock on your front door, today we have not only locks but bars and alarms. Society is not doing well and the reason is because the family is not doing well.

Today (Sunday) begins the Synod on the Family that we’ve been waiting for since this time last year. Bishops, cardinals, theologians, and lay men and women from across the world gather once more for three weeks to discuss the family – the gift of the family, the challenges faced by families today, and the vocation of the family. Pray the rosary for the participants at the Synod, that they might be able to discern what is it that God desires to highlight in each of these areas and how it is that the Church can help families in their journey together toward the Lord. But pray not only for the Synod participants, but pray also for your own families. ‘This Hail Mary is for Aunt Suzie, this one for cousin Johnny, this one for grandma or grandpa…” Never underestimate the value of those prayers prayed with a pure heart and loving intention. It can change history.

At this point I want to change course a bit and get into the scriptures we just heard, but I want to focus the homily specifically to the men here today. I recognize that there are a number of women here and I don’t mean to exclude you from the points being made. I’ve been to many a talk on Holy Matrimony and though I’m not married and will never be getting married, the talks still encouraged me in my own vocation and faith. I pray, ladies, that the same can be said for you about what follows.

Men: this week Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix issued a letter to the men of his diocese entitled “Into the Breach” (found HERE). I have copies available in the back of the church for every man here to pick one up and take it home to read through. It’s a simple document that looks at us and discusses the role of Catholic men in the Church, what it means to be a Catholic man, what a Catholic man’s spiritual life looks like, and the importance of fathers, grandfathers, godfathers and so on. In essence it helps to break open what we heard in the scripture just a moment ago.

The Lord Jesus is tested once again with a question about whether a man can issue a bill of divorce to his wife. Jesus inquires what Moses said and they happily respond that Moses permitted it. “But for the hardness of your hearts Moses permitted it!” the Lord responds, but from the beginning it was no so. Jesus acknowledges the teaching of Moses, but demonstrates that such a thing was more of ‘Plan B’ when men weren’t strong enough to live the commandments. He then moves to ‘Plan A’ when God first created man and woman, husband and wife. Genesis is the model that we are called to follow because we have the grace of Jesus Christ at our fingertips and can do all things through Him who strengthens us. And so the call is to return to the first model, that set up by the Lord God Himself. I want to highlight for our reflection three points:

First, Adam is cooperating with God in the building up of the world. Later on we will see an Adam who has sinned and is hiding behind the bushes, scared to encounter His Lord. But that is not yet. Here Adam is fully present to God, assisting in the work of the Garden’s beautification. My brothers: what does our union with God look like? What does my relationship with the Father look like? How do our conversations with Him go? Am I aware that there are supposed to be conversations to begin with? Am I in union with God, or am I sometimes hiding behind the bushes afraid of what might happen if we step forward into the path of the Creator? What does my relationship with God look like?

Secondly, Adam gives a name to Eve. In this context, to name something was to exercise some dominion over it. In naming the animals Adam was taking up a responsibility in caring for each of them and ensuring that they would be able to attain their own perfection. In the same manner the Lord creates Eve and Adam gives her a name, ‘woman.’ The man Adam now has an obligation that he’s been given by God to protect, to care for, and to build up the life of woman and all that issue forth from her, their children, not because she couldn’t but simply because it was his calling. This was actually the first fault of man in the scriptures. Often we think it’s that Eve at of the forbidden fruit, but if we are attentive to the details it says that she ate it and gave some to her husband who was with her. The problem was that the serpent (the literal meaning would be more like ‘dragon’) came to trick Eve into eating the fruit and Adam, though there, failed to step into the breach and defend his wife. We see here the ancient fulfillment of the words spoken by Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph evil is for good men to do nothing.” The invitation is for me today to not fall into the same trap. What the family needs today are men willing to step into the breach and fight for the life of their loved ones, not just in the earthly sense but also in the heavenly. To have men who are the first to call the family to pray together. The first to lead the blessing at meals, to do a family rosary, to sit down with the Bible and pray together as a family, to lead by example at Mass and in celebrating our faith in the midst of the world by selfless service to others. Are we willing to step into the breach in that way?

The last point for our reflection is that when Adam beholds the woman he joyfully shouts ‘At last, bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’ and he clings to his wife. Clings to her! The other day I wrapped up some veggies on a plate and when I tried to get the cling wrap off the plate, I had quite a time. It was tight on the plate and when I tried to peel part of it, other parts stuck back to the plate. It wasn’t that cheap stuff that just easily peels off and is quickly set aside; it clung to the plate. It’s about a willingness to be faithful first and foremost. To cling to one’s spouse and never to permit anything to come between you. And to show your love for her, and for your larger family, by signs of loves – embracing them like Jesus, blessing them, give your wife a kiss when you come home or when you leave, to exchange signs of affirm over and over the fact that you are one flesh. It is often the case that we men are reluctant to be vulnerable, to open our hearts to others, or to allow our love to be shown or spoken – but these are things that our families need and deserve from us.

This is the way that God desired it to be from the beginning; alive in God, willing to take up our mission, and able to cling to our beloved. My brothers, the battle is begun and casualties have already resulted. May God grant us the courage to step into the breach for love of Him and for love of the gift that is our family.

Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, pray for us.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Papal Intentions for October 2015

Papal Intentions for October 2015

Universal Intention: That human trafficking, the modern form of slavery, may be eradicated.

Mission Intention: That with a missionary spirit the Christian communities of Asia may announce the Gospel to those who are still awaiting it.

Prayer for the Pope

V. Let us pray for Francis, our Pope.
R. May the Lord preserve him, give him life, 
and make him blessed upon the earth, 
and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies.
Our Father... Hail Mary...
O God, Shepherd and Ruler of all Thy faithful people, look mercifully upon Thy servant Francis, whom Thou hast chosen as shepherd to preside over Thy Church. Grant him, we beseech Thee, that by his word and example, he may edify those over whom he hath charge, so that together with the flock committed to him, may he attain everlasting life. 
Through Christ our Lord.