Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Emmaus on Sermons and Homilies

Today we read the Gospel of Jesus' teaching the disciples who were on their way to Emmaus. Jesus gives the most sought after Scripture study, opening up the prophets and the law to show how His life and death fulfilled Old Covenant. Wow! Amazing! Can you imagine how holy you would be after all of that? "Were not our hearts burning within us!" say the disciples. One problem. They still didn't recognize Jesus. When did they recognize Him? The breaking of the bread- Luke's words for the Holy Mass! St. Luke uses the same phrase in the Last Supper as he does for Jesus' breaking the bread in Emmaus. The disciples only recognize Jesus in the Eucharist.

So what is more important for a priest like me? Homilies or the prayers of the Mass?

What is more important for a soul in the pews? An eloquent homily or the prayers of the Mass?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

They will gaze upon Him whom they have pierced

The National Catholic Register has a blog about the Pope's upcoming visit to the United States. There we find a computer rendering of the setting in Yankee Stadium for the Sunday Mass. Here it is. Click on it for the full image and ask yourself...who is the focus? Who is the center of attention? In Pope Benedict's Easter Vigil homily, he emphasizes the notion of Conversi ad Dominum, "turn toward the Lord."

Who are we supposed to focus on in that arrangement? B16's crest or the small crucifix?

Just asking.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Pope Benedict Confounds Press

Carl Olson of Insight Blog picks up the USA today article on Pope Benedict. It seems our beloved Pontiff doesn't fit into American social and political categories such as "conservative" or "liberal." I think we'd all be better off if we didn't try to conform our lives to Elephants or Donkeys but the Risen Lord Christ. ...or maybe I'm just crazy.

Carl Olson's Article

[This is Post #100. In a blog from my desire to cultivate a Catholic Vision, what could be better for #100?]

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Homily

May I begin with a confession? May I begin by sharing a secret?

I understand their fear.

In the early morning or late at night, when I am face to face with what our Lord asks of me, I understand the fear of the women in this Easter Gospel. When I pray and it is clear to me how our Lord desires me to serve Him as His priest, as His son, and as His Christian, I understand their fear.

I am afraid.

“Be not afraid!” says the Angel.

“Be not afraid!” says our Risen Lord.

Do we understand why they were afraid? If we look at Easter and only see bunnies, pastels, Cadbury eggs, and honey-glazed hams, then there is nothing to fear. If we look at Easter as a social event, an official arrival of spring, or a break from school there is nothing to fear. Do we understand why they were afraid?

No one fears bunnies, hams, or vacation, why were they afraid? They were afraid because Easter isn’t about bunnies, hams, or vacations; Easter is about the claim that God makes on us. All the things that Jesus said, all the things that Jesus did are magnified now that He has conquered sin and death. Jesus, in His words and actions, claims our life as He rises from the dead. That is scary.

St. Paul expresses this claim on our life in terms of yeast and dough. “Clear out the old yeast! Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” In His resurrection, Jesus claims us as His witnesses. In His baptism, Jesus claims us as His missionaries. In His resurrection Jesus calls us to be saints, and nothing less.

Of this I am fearful.

Consider the women in the Gospel. As the reality of Jesus’ resurrection sets in, as they run off to the Apostles and other disciples, they are filled with joy and fear. Joy, because their dear friend has conquered death by the power of God. Fear, because their dear friend is asking them to follow Him. This is no child’s game. This is as serious as life and death and Jesus invites all who would call Him friend to be conformed to Him- not partially, not fearfully, but fully and completely. Jesus calls us to be saints, and nothing less.

This is terrifying.

I consider my own sin, my own failings and I am afraid. I am a weak man. I am afraid. When I pray and consider my mission as a priest, how God wants to use me as His priest in this parish, I am afraid. Jesus wants all of us to be saints. If we are not afraid we are ignorant or na├»ve. Jesus desires all of us to be saints, whether we come to Mass every Sunday or if I haven’t seen you since Christmas. Jesus desires you to be saints. And so do I.

Do you think this is impossible? Do you think it will never happen? Some people brag, “The next time you see me in Church, Father, will be at my funeral!” Consider the words of St. Peter in our first reading, bolding preaching Jesus Christ. Do we forget so quickly that this is the same Peter who trembled with fear at the accusations of a maid girl? Do we forget that this is the same Peter who crumbled around the warmth and light of a fire? Do we forget that this is the same Peter who boldly said: “I will never forsake you!” and not 6 hours later had denied His Lord 3 times? This very same Peter, full of the fear of sin, is now St. Peter. Do you think this is impossible? Do you think it will never happen?

Do not be afraid! I say it to myself, I say it to you, I say it to the world, do not be afraid!

Jesus Christ has conquered sin and death by His own death and by rising from the grave He has given new and abundant life to all of us who live in the grave. Do not be afraid. Dive into the life of the Church, dive into the life of the Sacraments, dive into the life of Scripture and prayer. This same Jesus Christ who suffered and died for our sins now gives us the power to live as He lived. Do not be afraid! Listen to the invitation of Jesus to follow Him completely, to the depth of our souls. Take courage from His work. Allow His light to drive out all darkness, all doubt, all fear, and transform us into His saints.

This is my Easter prayer for you, for Fr. Joe, and for myself. Do not keep Easter at arm’s length; do not keep Easter only as candy, ham, or vacation. Dive into the life of Christ. Do not be afraid.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday Homily

We adore you O Christ and we praise you, for by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world!

As we listened to the Passion of our Lord according to John, we might have missed it. We might have missed two simple and beautiful words. Right before He died, right before Jesus breathed His last, He said; “I thirst,” two simple words.

We would be mistaken if we think that these words only refer to a physical thirst, that His mouth was dry. We would be mistaken if we think that these words simply meant “I love you,” they go much deeper than that.

I thirst, Jesus says. These are not words from the past but living words, spoken here and now to our hearts! Do we hear your name? Is He thirsting for us? Until we begin to understand these two simple words, we won’t know who He desires to be for us. When we begin to live our life hearing, feeling, and answering the thirst of Jesus with all our hearts. We could spend our whole lives asking our Lord to show us what He means by, “I thirst.”

All through Lent we examined our hearts, our consciences. Lent was a time for us to go to confession. Lent was time for us to focus on our sins and our need for salvation. Today is a day to wonder at the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Today is a day to marvel at the mercy of God on the cross. Today is a day to pray about the thirst of Jesus Christ.

And if we do not understand, let us ask our Blessed Mother, the patroness of our Parish, to pray for us. She was at the foot of the cross and she heard Jesus say, “I thirst.” Let this be our prayer as we wait for Easter, as we wait for the Resurrection.

We adore You O Christ and we praise You, for by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Holy Thursday

Getting ready for the Mass of the Lord's Supper. It also happens to be the first day of spring. We welcomed the day with appropriate Aberdeen weather.

Blessed Triduum!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bin Laden and the Pope

I was hoping to go to bed, checking the news one last time, and I found this on Drudge:Now, when you read the full article, we see that Drudge is grabbing attention. The main target of Bin Laden's message is the now infamous Dutch cartoons of several years ago. Regarding the Pope: "bin Laden said the drawings, considered offensive by Muslims, were part of a "new crusade" in which Pope Benedict was involved."

Still, maybe something to keep in mind as we approach the Triduum, especially the prayers for the Universal Church on Good Friday.

Belated Passion Sunday Homily Year A

Many thoughts go through my mind and heart as I hear the Passion of our Lord. One phrase that calls me, again and again, is "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." These words are spoken to Peter but they are spoken to me. I am Peter- bursting with enthusiasm, bragging of my faithfulness: "Though all may have their faith in you shaken, mine will never be." Mt 26:33. Then a few moments later, I'm falling asleep, I'm denying that I've ever known Jesus the Christ.

My excuses are smaller than St. Peter's. No one threatens me with death, just discomfort or curious looks, yet I still deny Jesus by my words and actions. And like Peter I have wept bitterly when I realize my sins.

Why is this permitted? Why is it that the first Pope, the Rock foundation of our Church should deny Jesus? Why do I struggle with sin?

To remind us that the Church of Jesus Christ, our Catholic faith, is founded on His mercy, His forgiveness, not our efforts. Peter, the first Pope, was also the first penitent after the Resurrection. Jesus asks him three times, "Simon Peter do you love me?" Three questions of love for three denials.

I look forward to the chance for a good confession this week. To examine my life in the light of Jesus Christ and here His mercy and forgiveness- won for me by His cross. Take advantage of the Sacrament of Confession, receive the mercy won for us all by the Passion of Jesus Christ.

"We adore You, O Christ and we praise You, for by Your Holy Cross, You have redeemed the world."

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Pope Benedict on Iraq

After today's Psalm Sunday Mass, Pope Benedict, in his Angelus address, became emotional in his call for peace in Iraq. Father Z has the text which I'll quote:
At the end of this solemn celebration, in which we have meditated on the Passion of Christ, I want to call to mind the late lamented Archbishop of Mossul of the Chaldeans, Paulos Farah Rahho, tragically deceased a few days ago. His beautiful witness of faith in Christ, the Church and his people, which despite many threats he never wanted to abandon, presses me to raise a strong and concerned cry: enough of these massacres, enough with the violence, enough with hatred in Iraq! And I raise at the same time an appeal to the people of Iraq, which for five years is bearing the consequenzes of a war which has provoked the upheaval of civil and social life: beloved Iraqi people, raise up your heads and let you be, in the first place, riconstructors of your national life. Let there be reconciliations, forgiveness, justice and respect in common life betweem tribes, ethnic and religious groups, the solid way of peace in the name of God.
May Archbishop Rahho receive the fruits of our Lord's suffering and death. And may the true peace of Christ quickly come to be in Iraq.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Church of the Young

John Allen has an interesting article attempting to put a finger on one of his "mega-trends: "Evangelical Catholicism. John Allen has frequently reported on his experience of this reality and is even devoting part of his new book to the topic. I suppose the first question is, why should we care?

When I look at my coming years as a priest, the devotion and discipleship that I hope to foster is often framed by this developing notion of Evangelical Catholicism. In these first few months, I more clearly see that my priestly vocation must be aimed at developing such Catholics. So what are they? Evangelical Catholicism isn't a whole-sale adoption of American Protestantism but rather marked by three aspects
  • A strong reaffirmation of traditional markers of Catholic belief, language and practice. Examples include the revitalization of the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass, reassertion that Catholicism alone possesses the fullness of what it means to be "church," and rejection of theological tendencies that would put Christ on the same level as other saving figures;
  • Bold public assertion of those markers of identity;
  • Personal embrace of those markers of identity, as opposed to simply imbibing them from traditional Catholic cultures, neighborhoods and families.
This final point is the most interesting one, personal embrace of those Catholic identities, counter to a culture imbibing. This has been something I've thought about before- in my Pew blog. What is this this phenomenon and how is it different from that cultural imbibing? More importantly, how do we foster it?

Allen offers two other understandings of this movement in contemporary Catholicism. One isn't worth much, but William Portier, a professor at the University of Dayton has some great insights. His understanding comes through his experience with college students whom:
"conventional wisdom and my peers would call conservative," he said. "They liked to go to Eucharistic adoration, and they didn't think the pope was a freaking idiot. They'd wear t-shirts that said, 'Top Ten Reasons to be Catholic.' Yet they also did all the things my liberal colleagues would want them to do, like going on service trips and being worried about the poor...These students have been converted [to a strong form of Catholicism.] They've been intentionally drawn to it from out of the maelstrom of pluralism," Portier said. "It's not because the pope said so, or some action of coercion by authority. They've been attracted to it, in evangelical fashion."
The second explanation is from David O'Brien, a professor Holy Cross College. His explanation is an incomplete vision of evangelicalism, in any denomination or vision. O'Brien reduces it to a by-product of America's pilgrim roots, when Allen has elsewhere identified Evangelical Catholicism as an international phenomenon. Further, O'Brien robs evangelicalism of its personal dynamism- such as Portier's observation that the young want to encounter Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

Portier makes the most sense as he connects the need for a solid individual identity before one can engage others, suggesting that
"Catholics can't meaningfully engage the broader culture without some clear sense of who they are or why they're doing it. "I don't see how people can be concerned about ecumenism, social justice, interreligious dialogue, or any of the other issues that liberal Catholics would love, unless they're located somewhere," Portier said. "That doesn't have to be a fortress, but it does have to have some kind of theological shape."

[Which seems like a basic reality of interpersonal communication, right?]

I agree with Allen that we are seeing what he calls Evangelical Catholicism. He is right on the mark to express the return of many to the Missal of Blessed John XXIII (frequently called the Latin Mass) as an effect of Evangelical Catholicism. This is a returning to the heart- the revelation of God through Jesus Christ. I also think this Evangelical Catholicism, in its reaffirmation of traditional markers, public assertion and personal embrace is precisely the fruit the Second Vatican Council wished to foster- as asserted by Pope Benedict in his December 2005 address to the College of Cardinals.

So my priestly desire to develop and foster increased devotion founded on discipleship returns to its question, how? I am not sure how, except another address of Pope Benedict continues to ring in my heart: "The Saints are the True reformers!"

This won't help my homily, but...

Now back to St. Matthew's Passion...

CNN and Online Confessions

I first remember hearing about the phenomenon of "Online Confessions" a few months ago in the fall, but CNN has pushed the issue again with another article. Suffice to say this is not the same as the Catholic Sacrament of Confession (or Reconciliation whichever name you use).

I wanted to write a sharp, insightful, and illuminative post on the difference as well as the need for real confession. Instead, I'll post a link to seminary friend, Father Benjamin. He explains the difference most eloquently.

The key difference:
Yet confession offers something that other forms of self-accusation never could, reconciliation with God and with the community. There is no need for the whole community to hear a person's transgressions, and if they are good people, they aren't really interested. The priest takes the burden on himself, and hears the sin on behalf of the community and offers their forgiveness. More importantly, the priest hears the confession on behalf of God and offers his forgiveness, through a human voice and a human face...
The biggest difference between a online admission of guilt and Catholic confession is that the first is centered on the person and on their sin. Catholic confession is centered on the love and the mercy of God, made visible in the scriptures and in Jesus Christ. The sins a person has committed, no matter how terrible, are like drops of blood in the fire of God's love. In front of that, our sins don't stand a chance.
Thanks Father Benjamin!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Homily for 5th Sunday of Lent

Sometimes I laugh out loud when I read Scripture. Sometimes I am utterly surprised by the little details, the little points that make Sacred Scripture so alive, so human. “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.”

We hear that and we think, “Poor Martha, she doesn’t understand.” Doesn’t Martha realize that she is talking with Jesus the Messiah, the Christ? Doesn’t Martha remember her conversation with Jesus when He says: “I am the Resurrection and the Life?” Poor, silly Martha.

What keeps her from trusting Jesus? Why is she more worried about smell than new life for her brother? What is missing in Martha?

What is missing in us? Why do we worry more about practical things than about the work of Jesus? What is missing in us?

Each day we are invited to come out of the tomb of sin in which we are buried. Each day we are invited to new and abundant life with Jesus Christ. Why do we refuse? We are invited to the life of Jesus through Sunday Mass, frequent confession, and by imitating His prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. This is life! We are called to imitate Jesus.

Saint Paul encourages us: “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.”

What is missing in Martha, what is missing in us? What is missing is an intimate relationship with God the Father, through Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Martha always looked at Jesus in practical terms- a guest to feed, a mourner to welcome- but she missed the depths He offered. Do we miss the fullness of Jesus’ offer?

Do we view our faith as practicalities, as pure obligation, as another thing to be done each week? Or is our faith the center of our life? Is our faith a living and giving relationship with Jesus Christ who conquers all of our concerns? Roll back the stone on the tombs of your hearts, do not fear the stench or the darkness in the tomb, Christ calls you out to fullness of life united with Him. Open my ears, Lord, that I may hear your call. I am deaf with sin, shout through my normal life to awaken me to your call. I want to live like Lazarus, I want to live in abundance, united with you, the Resurrection and the Life.