Monday, December 26, 2016
Readings for Sunday, December 25 / Christmas Day: (4 Options are permitted; the homily did not
center on one set in particular)
Monday, December 19, 2016
Readings for Sunday, December 18 / 4th Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 7:10-14 | Psalm 24 | Romans 1:1-7 | Matthew 1:18-24
As we begin this fourth Sunday of Advent. this fourth week, this last full week of the Advent season, as we look forward to the day of the coming of the Lord, we continue our reflection on reconciliation. The second Sunday of Advent I spoke on the way in which Christ came among us for the first time, of how the Infant Jesus taking on our flesh began that process of reconciling all of creation with the Lord God, and drawing humanity to Himself by His way of taking on our flesh, but also to join all of creation with us in the same. Last weekend we reflected on the way in which in Christ, creation was waiting for it's reconciliation in completion. And indeed we wait for the last day of the Lord Jesus, the day in which He will come in His glory. in which reconciliation will be completed and fully accomplished. This weekend, I want to reflect on the way in which we come to be with the Lord and prepare ourselves for that last day. Indeed, the entire time, from the day on which Christmas took flesh until the day He comes again in glory, it has one single purpose. We fill it with so many things, but it has one actual purpose: It's to give us an opportunity to encounter Jesus Christ. It's what St. Peter tells us in His letter as well. He says the Lord delays, so that many might come to know Christ Jesus and be saved. So the Lord, waits, for us, to come to know and love Him. Again, we fill it with a lot of things. Necessarily so in the sense, we get caught up with the things of this life; we get caught up with our homes, work, with the things of the world around us. We get caught up doing good and homily things - spending time with our family and our friends. In the Church, we also lose sight of things sometimes, and we get consumed with other things than what is the central reality of things we ought to focus on. So often we simplify our Catholic faith into a system of "do this, don't do that," rules and regulations. The reality is, our life is more than rules and regulations; our faith is more than rules and regulations. It's not about busying ourselves with many things, but about concerning ourselves with one thing just like St. Mary Magdalene - to know Jesus, to encounter Christ.
In the end, when the Lord comes in His glory on the last day and we are all judged, or if He doesn't come before our death, at the hour of our death, we will stand before the judge, and our salvation for eternal life or eternal death will come basically in conjunction with one simple answer, our own answer. Remember that when Jesus was with His disciples, He was with the twelve after everyone had gone, and He asked them. "Who do people say that I am?". They began to think and respond with the things they had heard, "Some say you are John the Baptist come back again, some say Elijah another one of the great prophets." But then Jesus responds to that question which every single one of us must answer for ourselves, "Who do you say that I am?". Because the answer to that question determines everything, and it manifests to Christ what He already knows, but it manifests to us and to all of creation, something that can often be hidden to us. The answer to the question shows us how much we know God and how much we love Him. That's our entire life. We can have so many things, so many blessings, but if we never know God, we fall short of our purpose; fall short of the reason God created us in the first place.
There are many ways in which we come to encounter God, to encounter Christ. In our own church, there are a whole variety of symbols and signs that speak to us of God. We can look to the Paschal candle near the Baptismal font, the Paschal candle which is light and consecrate on the Easter Vigil, and a hymn is sung to it, a hymn to Christ. We sing to the candle as Christ - the light come into the world to cast out darkness. The crucifix in the sanctuary that speaks to us of the love of God reminds us of what Christ did for us. In the celebration of the liturgy, the priest acts in the person of Christ. When the priests says, "This is my body ... this is my blood," he says it not himself, but as Christ. It's Christ who speaks these things. And you, the members of the faithful of God, members of the body of Christ, to see one another as Christ, to allow Christ who dwells within you to speak to others and to see Him. These and many others are ways in which we can encounter Jesus in this time, but there are two ways I think, and invite you to reflect upon and take some action on this week, two ways in which Christ is primarily with us: in the scriptures and in the Eucharist. They are the two main parts of the Mass: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. As it is typically described in liturgical books: the Word and the World made Flesh.
In the first reading today, we hear from the prophet Isaiah and he comes and prophesied a gift from God that a virgin will conceive and bear a son and they will name Him Emanuel, God is with us. We heard the fulfillment of that passage in the Gospel reading as they come and the angel appears to Joseph, and Mary is that one spoken of from of old. Mary, his wife, is the one who is to conceive, though a virgin, and to bear a son - God with Us, Emmanuel. It's the name of Jesus because the name means "God Saves," and God has come to be with us, to save us.
When Jesus was about to ascent to His heavenly Father at the end of His earthly life, one of the things He told His disciples was that, "I will be with you always." He told the disciples, I believe it was at the Last Supper, "I will not leave you orphans." I will not abandon you, I will be with you always. Again, Christ is with us in so many ways, but most especially and concretely in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist.
What I invite each of you to do is to spend some time with the Lord this week in those two ways. Again we know it's the Christmas season, some of you may still have some Christmas shopping left to do, some of you may have some decorating to do, some of us have parties and these types of things going on. But we hear all the time that Jesus is the reason for the season, right? Except it's the thing that seems to happen the least, is the time we spend with Jesus. We get consumed with so many other things. So my invitation for you is to come and rest with the Lord, to come and place yourself in the presence of the Eucharist in the church, and to sit with Christ - to know that He is with you and to be with Him. The church of St. Ann is open all day each day, the church here is open various times throughout the week. The church at St. Mary's in New Roads has the adoration chapel where you can go and adore the Lord face to face in the Blessed Sacrament. Whichever of those options works best for you, I encourage you to take one, and to really speak some time. If the best you can do is five minutes, good, it's enough. If you can do more, good because it is about the encounter with Christ. It is about speaking to the Lord and allowing Him to speak to us. As you would go to the chapel or the church, I would invite you to bring along with you a Bible. The written word of God speaks to us; He comes to us and remains with us.
So often as we go before the Lord, we desire to hear the Lord to speak to us, and we desire to speak to Christ. At least we should. What we see in the Eucharist is not just a thing, it's a person - a person who loves us and desires to speak to us. It's Christ our God, Emmanuel. And so, we speak to Him and we look for Him to speak to us. Where is the way He speaks to us most concretely than in the scriptures? A lot of times we think the scriptures are hard to understand and I think more often than not we over-complicate them, we over think things a little bit it seems. But to be able to pick a place and simply read from the Word of God - start in the Gospels maybe and to hear Jesus speak to you. If you want some other place, go to the letter of St. Paul, St. Peter or St. John; those letters written to other communities like us and to hear them speak. Go to the Psalms - St. Augustine said that the Psalms capture every single human emotion, and to come and allow our hearts to be lifted up to the Lord through a psalm that may speak something that we don't even have the words yet but which Christ does. To go and to speak to Him and to listen - to know Jesus. That's the entire purpose.
On the last day, our judgement will not be a surprise to any of us. If we know Jesus, it shouldn't be a surprise that He knows us. And if we don't know Jesus, it shouldn't be a surprise that He doesn't know us. And so we come. We place ourselves in Him presence. We come to be with Him who is indeed with us. We pray for the grace to love Him more deeply and to seek His face as we go forth from here each day. Come, Lord Jesus. Come O Come, Emmanuel.
*Check out the 10:45 mark of the audio to see what happens when parishioners think there's a fire in the church during the middle of the homily!
Sunday, December 11, 2016
Readings for Sunday, December 11/ 3rd Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 35:1-6, 10 | Psalm 146 | James 5:7-10 | Matthew 11:2-11
As we come on this Third Sunday of Advent, we come with this rejoicing spirit about us. This Gaudate Sunday as it's often called is where we light the rose colored candle and have the option of wearing the rose colored vestments and things are supposed to seem to have a little extra pep in our step spiritually speaking as we know that the time of the Lord draws near, that Christmas is just a couple of weeks away. The prayers of the Mass also echo that same reality. In fact, the word "gaudate" for Gaudate Sunday draws it's place from the first words of the Mass - the entrance antiphon - quoting St. Paul's letter to the Philippians as he writes to them saying, "Rejoice in the Lord always! Again, I say rejoice. Indeed the Lord is near."
It's good for us to rejoice, but it's that latter part, "for the Lord is near" - for many it's a time of rejoicing, but for many others it's a reality of fear that the Lord is near, a concern of the heart. This came to mind as I was thinking of my own experiences in that same reality. And the memory came to mind from my experiences with my parents. Two instances of when my parents came: one of which where I was rejoicing and another which filled me with fear. Rejoicing - it was a time when I was at the house and still pretty young, and there was nobody else at home. It was at night and things were dark, and I was scared because I had heard a noise and I was pretty sure that noise was someone in the house about to kill me. And so, I grabbed my handy golf club and walked around the house ready to bash whatever it was that was there to attack me. I searched every corner of every closest of every room and nothing was there, but there was still this great concern in my heart. And so when my parents drove up in their car in the drive way, it was this great sigh of relief, "They're back! I'm safe. Good." It was this rejoicing knowing that I was safe in the care of my parents. An opposite time was when my parents went to go to the LSU football game and left me at home saying, "Brent don't invite anyone over and don't go anywhere. Just stay here. Play video games, do whatever." They left, and I figured I at least had about four hours or so, so I called my friend Stephen. Stephen came over, he called some other people who came over. We had a pool party in the backyard, and then we decided to go ride bikes around the subdivision, and so off we went. We were making laps and having a good time, when Stephen's mom walked out of his house as we rode by and said, "Brent! Brent! Come here." So I rode over and Stephen's mom said that my mom said I needed to come home right now and that she was waiting for me. The return of my parents was anything but rejoicing in that moment.
Rather it was a great a great fear because I know I was about to get torn up. And it was this recognition that both of those instances were very similar: my parents were gone, I was by myself, and depending on what I chose to do, one filled me with rejoicing at their return and the other with fear. It's the same with Christ Jesus.
Our Lord Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father and reigns in glory now and we await his second coming - whether He comes back and He finds us in rejoicing or fear depends upon us and how we have chosen to live. Last weekend, I spoke about the reality of reconciliation of how the Lord comes to us at Christmas and how He took on our flesh that first Christmas day. A time of rejoicing. A time of being reconciled with God, of not only humanity, but all of creation, is drawn to God, as if pulled by a magnetic. But it hasn't been completed, yet, of course. And so we wait for that final reconciliation, when all things are finally one with the Lord. And that day is the second coming of Christ where the fullness of everything comes to the end - the Last Day.
The Last Day, again, can be a thing of rejoicing in our hearts or it can be a thing of great fear and trepidation. Depends on how we are experiencing our relationship with God in the moment. Where are we with the Lord? This time of year, at the end of Ordinary Time, as well as the beginning of the Advent season, is a time where the Church invites us to reflect upon those things, what the Church calls the "last things" - death, judgement, heaven and hell - the four last things. They are not pleasant for us to reflect upon. Most of us don't take great jot in reflecting on our death and judgement, it's not something we sit and dream about all day looking forward to. Most of us. And yet, it's a reality that every single one of us will face. Jesus Himself tasted death, as did our Blessed Mother. St. John the Baptist, of whom none born of women was greater, he too tasted death - a beheading. Every single one of us, everyone who calls himself a human person will taste death. Whether we are ready for it or not, it will come. And the Church invites us indeed to prepare. Reflecting on that, the Church has said from the beginning, that upon the death of a soul, the death of an individual in this world, they are immediately standing before the judgement of God. They are immediately standing before the Lord and He weighs our life. Were we merciful? Did we show love? Were we forgiving? Did we seek to serve others and the Lord before ourselves? Were we consumed with sin? Were we attached to the things of the world so much that we prefer them to God? And all of these questions will come forward to give us one single answer: Do we desire the Lord above all things or not? And that's the question.
The answer to that determines where we go. For those who die before the coming of the Lord, there are three options for us at our judgement: heaven, hell or purgatory. Hell is the place of eternal separation from God, eternal isolation, eternal pain because we are not even able to love. We won't be able to love anyone else or concerned with anyone else because we will be so concerned about self, and it's a pain for us, a suffering, and a grievous and it goes for all eternity. In the opposite direction, we have heaven, the place where the righteous are called to enter in the heart of God, where we have the communion of the saints, being joined with others, with the saints and the angels, to be filled with all joy, all peace. Where there is no suffering whatsoever, and it too last for all eternity. The great majority of us, I think or at least I pray, will go through purgatory. The place by which our soul is cleansed, purged, of attachments. It's not God punishing us, per say, but us needing to be cleansed to enter into the One who is all holy Himself, to enter into God. Those three places will be the options before us. Purgatory - everyone who goes through purgatory ultimately winds up in heaven, so even there in the midst of purification, there is still great joy because you know you will one day get to the heavenly gate.
That's the course of the normal life of each of us who are called to death before the coming of the Lord. But for those who are still living, things will be a little bit different. On the last day, when the Lord God comes in His glory, we know not when, we know not how, but He will come. The scriptures like it to a bolt of lightening that strikes in the sky, as it may strike in one place, but as it goes forth, it's seen all throughout the area. And such the same with Christ. It's been pondered before, who thinking in very earthly terms, have said that if the Lord comes, surely He'll have to come in time zones. He'll come in eastern time, so that I can see it on the news, we can report, and we have at least a good half hour or so to be able to straighten things up before the Lord comes. If only. But no. When the angel blows the trumpet, as Revelations says, the Lord will be made manifest to each and to all at once. And then each of us will stand to be judged, even without tasting death, there will be judgments. It will be the last day. And at that last judgement, things will be a little bit different because for the souls who have died before the coming of Christ, they will stand as souls. Those who are heaven right now, hell, purgatory, are just souls. They don't have a body. But we profess every week in the Creed, "I believe in the resurrection of the body." We are not talking about the body of Christ; we are talking about your body and mind. We will have bodies at the end on the last day. We don't know what they will look like. We don't know if they will be a little leaner. Maybe I have a little more hair on top and a little less grey, who knows. Whatever our body will look like on that day, it will be glorified. It will be different, changed. And then everyone will stand before God. Those who are still living when Christ comes will stand before Him body and soul. Those who have died will be raised up and will receive their body again. They will receive their body again. From dust we were created, to dust we will return, but then God recreates us again from the dust to give us a body. And so everyone will stand before God, the living and the dead, and will be judged once more. Except at that judgement, there is no purgatory. It's heaven or hell. Period. And it's not that there is an option to change. It's not that those who were in hell before of an opportunity to experience contrition and repentance of heart and they can get into heaven now. No. They are simply condemned in their spirit as well as their flesh. And such the same for those in heaven. They can't have done something bad, they couldn't have messed with the angels a little too much, cause a little ruckus in heaven and now merit hell. Rather, they have their salvation in the spirit as well as in the flesh. And in the end, there it will remain. Flesh and blood in heaven. Flesh and blood in hell. Depending on how we experience our Lord's coming, whether with fear or with joy.
So the Church invites us, challenges us, compels us in a sense, to reflect upon these things, to give them serious attention. All throughout the Church, the saints over and over again have encouraged us to reflect upon the last things because if we don't reflect upon them here and now, we won't be prepared for them when they come. If we don't prepare for death now, when death comes, we feel like we have some work to do. How often it is seen. And so we prepare for the Lord. As we contemplate this second coming of Christ, whether there is fear or rejoicing in heart, if there is rejoicing, good, may it increase - if there is fear, rejoice, because there is time to be reconciled. Again, this time that we have on this earth, however long the Lord permits, is a time to be reconciled with ourselves, to be able to turn away from sin, to be able to detach ourselves from the things that are unhealthy for us, to reconcile ourselves with others, and to be reconciled with our God.
It's the normal course of the Christian life - to draw more and more into the heart of God, and more and more in union with one another. If we are ready, good. If we are not, get there. It's the call of Christ. He's coming. We called upon Him and He will hear us. Come Lord and save us. Come, o come, Emmanuel.
Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Readings for Sunday, December 4 / 2nd Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 11:1-10 | Psalm 72 | Romans 15:4-9 | Matthew 3:1-12
You may recall from last weekend I mentioned that the word Advent means literally "to come to" and it's this season in which the Church invites us to reflect upon the Lord Jesus coming to us, particularly in His coming at Christmas - the first time He came - and looking forward to the day that He will coming again - His glorious coming on the Last Day. And so, as we go through the Masses and prayers of this season, we hear it over and over again, the references to the coming of Jesus. It's important for us to reflect upon those things, and so for these remaining three weeks of the Advent season, we'd like to look at those "comings."
Today we will reflect on Christmas - the first coming of the Lord, next weekend we will look at His coming in glory, and the weekend after that, we will look at the ways in which He comes to us in the meantime, the ways in which the Lord makes Himself presence and available to us on the days between Christmas, His coming 2000 years ago, and the glorious coming whenever it may be. And so to reflect upon the first coming of the Lord, that first Advent, the Nativity, the day when the Lord Jesus was born to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
I want to begin by asking the simple question: Why does it matter? Again, if you remember that the purpose of these homilies going forward is to ask the basic questions, and so what does Christmas matter at all? Why is it that on Christmas we celebrate with even solemnity - the Church gets decorated that much more, we put lights everywhere, we have special music, special songs - all throughout our life, we experience this joy that is supposed to accompany the Christmas season, and not only for us who are here pretty regularly, but even for those who are not particularly close to Christ, there is something still about the Christmas season that speaks to them. It happens so much that it's regular in the Catholic faith that we know on Christmas and Easter, there are a large number of our brothers and sisters that come and show up for Mass - we call it the Christmas and Easter Catholics, it's a regular thing, we've named them. But there is this reality that there is a large group of people, who are not otherwise here, are drawn by the mystery and the celebration of Christmas. The question is - why? Why is it that the whole world rejoices in that time? The simple answer I would suggest to you, whether we know it or not, is reconciliation.
Our first reading today from Isaiah, He speaks of the days that the Lord will come, the days when Christ would be made manifest, looking forward to His first coming - Isaiah, writing some 600 years prior to the birth of Jesus. And so he is looking forward to the day saying, ‘These are the things that will mark the arrival of the Savior …’ There will be a time of peace and a time of harmony, justice in the land, no longer will there be these greater divisions and separations. He goes even further saying that it's not just humanity that is affected, but even the animals, the strange and striking images that we seem of the wolf and the lamb lying next to each other, the calf and the lion being friends, and how the lion will eat hay on that day, a sign of the harmony and reconciliation of creations. I was reminded of the creation museum, a museum built by fundamentalist Protestants up in Kentucky. From their perspective, it's a completely Biblical account, non-scientific, of what creation would've looked like according to the scriptures and what the timeline would've looked like for the world. One of the things that I laughed at and intrigued by was they said that at the time of Noah's Ark they still had the dinosaurs, and so their claim was, that on the ark, they had the T-Rexes, and by the miracle of God, the T-Rex did not eat all the other animals for the course of 40 days and 40 nights. Rather, the T-Rex calmed it's nature and ate hay. I laughed - not really sure I'm buying the whole T-Rex eating hay thing - but ok. What they were getting at was they were trying to harmonize that creation was not supposed to against one another, but rather there is supposed to be this fundamental harmony - that the lion and the lamb should be able to be next to each other without harm. Such is not the case, but it was in the beginning.
If we think back to Genesis, the first days of creation, we see that the Lord God created all things. He created the heavens, the earth, all the things of the earth, all the animals, and He created the human person - Adam and Eve - male and female He created them, and everything He created He say that it was good. He looks out and rejoices at these things. Adam and Eve were created in what the Church calls "Original Holiness" or "Original Justice"; there was no division or separation between God and creation. How many times have we come to prayer and been distracted by other things? How many times have we not gone to prayer because we had other things we needed to do, or felt we needed to do at least? How many times have we struggled with the will of God because what I seem to want and what God seems to want are two different things? That's not how it was supposed to be though. Genesis describes the relationship of humanity with God as purely perfect, that God walked with them in the Garden, not that God was walking with them two by two on legs, but it was a symbolic description that there was complete union; there was no separation.
But that came to cease with the choice of sin. Adam and Eve, whenever they chose to eat of the tree of which they should not have eaten, everything changed. This is the point that I think is important for us - EVERYTHING CHANGED. A lot of times we focus on the person, that Adam and Eve were changed, but it wasn't just Adam and Eve, it was all of creation. Adam and Eve would recognize that immediately after they sin, they hide from each other. They see each other's nakedness and are ashamed. So it shows that two relationships have already been broken by sin: the relationship with other people and the relationship with myself. Whereas I used to have harmony in my nakedness, not there is discomfort and shame because of what they had done and they hide from each other. And not only from each other, but from God, because when God comes back to the Garden and makes Himself manifest, they hide in the bushes fearful of what God would says. So many divisions have happen just in that one event.
But it doesn't stop there. The scriptures speak of the Lord God coming to Adam and saying that on account of you and your sin, the earth is cursed; because of you, you have to toil by the sweat of your brow to bring forth food and the earth will bring forth thorns and thistles. It used to be a harmonious of God and man, especially with the Earth, but now it’s divided. For those of you who don't like to go out and labor in the field and you get upset whenever you get thorns and thistles or your walking the yard and things get caught in your foot, you can thank one person, his name is Adam. All of creation is cursed.
Because it's not just us - you and me - but it's the whole world - it's written into everything that exists that we are waiting for a Savior, we are longing for a Savior. We are longing to be reconciled and go back to the way it was supposed to be. St. Paul speaks of it explicitly in the eighth chapter of his Letter to the Romans. He says, "The whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now, and not only creation, but we ourselves, as we wait adoptions as sons, the redemption of our bodies." The whole creation is groaning, it's longing for reconciliation. Longing. The lion and the lamb, they don't know it, but they want to be reconciled. And that's what Christ comes to bring and that's why we celebrate Christmas with such joy. Whether a person knows it or not, whether a person believes in Jesus or follows Jesus, every human heart and everything that all creation knows in the depth of our being, that on December 25th something has happened. They may not explain it in such words - we may call it family tradition or whatever we want - but that something that speaks to the human heart and draws us to church on December 25th is a longing of our hearts for reconciliation. A longing to be healed - to go back to the way it was supposed to be in the beginning but is not now. It's not something we have to learn; it's written into our nature. We want reconciliation and we want it badly. That's why we celebrate the joy of Christmas because we recognize that Christ is coming and He has taken on our flesh. Christ has become and made Himself a bridge - the great divide between God and humanity - He made Himself a bridge as He stretched out His arms on the cross, for us to be united once more, to be reconciled with God but also with each other and with ourselves.
We know that this isn't completed yet because we still struggle with God, with others and with sin in ourselves. It's a process of allowing the Lord to reconcile us little by little, to heal us little by little. So we come week after week to experience Christ in the flesh once again here in the Eucharist. To allow Him to reconcile us sometimes where we aren't really aware there are divisions. That's my invitation to you this week - to reflect on where in your life and where in your heart you need reconciliation because every one of us does. Not a single one of us is perfectly reconciled with everyone and everything but there is always at least a little something. St. John the Baptist comes and says, "Prepare the way," clear all of the stuff, get ready for the Lord to come. Let's work on the reconciliation and all it to come in its fullness.
What is your struggle today with yourself, with your own heart? The things that we struggle with in our sin - bring it to the Lord and pray for healing. Reconciliation with other people; most often it's somebody we love in our own family, our own flesh and blood. We know that happens because we love people so deeply and so we say things knowing that they love us so much and they will probably forgive us. But sometimes it doesn't happen. Allow reconciliation to take place - either to extend it or receive it. Not only with others but with the Lord too. To draw close to God. To know that sometimes our love draws a little cold that the divisions are there separating us and we allow ourselves to build up walls because - whatever it is - it keeps us away from Him. It's an invitation to prepare the way, to be reconciled. The Lord came 2000 years ago and we will celebrate it once again in just a few short weeks.
Let us pray that the grace of the Lord will be with us today to help us begin and continue that reconciliation that He came to be able to affect within our hearts. Let us draw close to the heart of Jesus. Let us be reconciled. Come, O Come, Emmanuel.
Thursday, December 1, 2016
Universal Intention: That the scandal of child-soldiers may be eliminated the world over.
Mission Intention: That the peoples of Europe may rediscover the beauty, goodness, and truth of the Gospel which gives joy and hope to life.
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.