Tuesday, February 28, 2012

1st Sunday of Lent 2012

We begin our Sunday observance of Lent meditating and contemplating the image of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. Mark’s Gospel, from which we read, wastes no time setting the scene: there is no sweet and gentle nativity story here but 12 verses into the Gospel, Jesus enters the war he came to win. Humanity is at war, not with each other, not with believers and unbelievers but with Satan and sin. Thanks be to God, who sent us Jesus Christ to win the victory on Easter Sunday, not for himself alone but for all who live after him.

A few nights ago on Ash Wednesday the collect, the opening prayer called Lent a “campaign of Christian service” in which we “take up battle against spiritual evil.” We take up battle because we are being attacked, so, we must know our enemy. There are seven capital sins: pride, anger, envy, lust, gluttony, sloth and covetousness. These sins are called “capital” for they are the head of all other sins. They are also called “deadly,” for they kill divine life in our souls.

The chief and root capital sin is pride. Pride attempts to set us up as something apart from God. Pride is a denial of reality, without God we can do nothing, yet in pride we believe we can do everything on our own. That is pride at its extreme, how it is found in Satan, who rebels against God’s reign. We find sin in smaller ways in our own life that are no less deadly when not rooted out. We might think of sins of pride like the weed, creeping jenny, which is small and thin, but winds its way around branch, leave, and fruit. It is almost impossible to remove. Almost.

Some types of pride we might experience: atheism, intellectual vanity, superficiality, snobbery, vain-glory, presumptuousness, and exaggerated sensitivity. Of special mention during Lent, exaggerated sensitivity is where we resist correction because we are unwilling to hear our own faults. “You couldn’t stand find out you are wrong,” we might say. Intellectual vanity is especially difficult today with so much information at our finger-tips. We need to see it ourselves, verify it, or even search for the rebuttal. I find this posture common amongst the young, myself included. It is hard to correct the self-wise man.

Jesus Christ is the answer to sin, in fact our collect, the opening prayer for today speaks of the “riches hidden in Christ.” These riches are the virtues, those substantial and real habits of our soul that, by God’s grace and good design, make our life happy and holy. The flower and crown of all virtues is love. Not just any love but caritas, self-denying love. The Catechism says of love “We love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves for love of God.” Loving God is then the standard and measure of a true lover—do my actions glorify God?

This sort of self-less or self-denying love is difficult for us to do once and a while, impossible for us to do all the time except by the grace and assistance of God. 1 John 4:10 says: “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.” So if we are to defeat sin and especially pride, then we must learn what it means to receive God’s love. The cross of Jesus Christ is that surprising answer of love. We offend God; God forgives by dying. What a surprising solution?

On the cross we see the perfection of love when Jesus Christ cries out: “My God, my God, why have thou forsaken me?” Jesus is quoting the prayer of the 22nd Psalm. Jesus is also praying for and with those atheists, those who pridefully deny that God exists. Jesus enters into their own pain out of love.

Cross posted at Pius XII Newman Center.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday 2012

I’d like to do two things: give you a challenge for Lent and then preach about vice and virtue.

This Lent, I challenge you to pray 40 days of forgiveness. The Our Father says: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” All of us here desires to receive and abide in the forgiveness of God, that means we must forgive those who have harmed us. I have printed out a beautiful and thorough prayer of forgiveness written by a Catholic priest. I challenge everyone here to pray it everyday for the whole of Lent. I am confident that if you even half-heartedly take up this suggestion you will experience great emotional healing and spiritual growth because you will be imitating Jesus, who forgave those who crucified him.

Secondly, throughout the Sunday homilies of Lent, we’ll talk about vice and virtue. So a bit of an introduction to them today would be good, especially in this season of Lent. Vice is that habit in your soul that tends towards sin. Sin typically isn’t a matter of ignorance but of weakness of will, we didn’t choose the thing we know was right. This is vice. Virtue is that habit in your soul that tends towards goodness. What we really want in life is to be virtuous, to be habitually and truly good, not just a goody two-shoes who acts good but someone truly good. We build up vice or virtue by our repeated actions.

The main vice is pride. Briefly, pride is preference of self over anything else. Pride is at the root of all sins. The greatest pride is to prefer ourselves over God. That is the pride of Satan, he and other fallen angels prefer themselves over God. Notice how pride blocks their intelligence, they know God is the source of everything they have but yet they attempt to set themselves over and above God.

The main virtue is love, not just any love but the loved called caritas in Latin or agapĂ© in Greek. This love prefers God over anything else. This love forgets about the self and seeks the good of the other. We hear Jesus speak of this love: “No greater love is there than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” We see living examples of this love in Holy Mother Church’s martyrs. They preferred love of God over and above even their own life!

May our Lenten observance cause a decrease in vice and an increase in virtue, especially in love of God.

Cross Posted at Pius XII Newman.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

6th Sunday 2012 Homily

This Sunday is the beginning of our annual Catholic Family Sharing Appeal. This is the Bishop's annual collection to raise funds for his various ministries, including Pius XII Newman Center. He has a brief message for all parishioners.
"The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. This is Bishop Paul Swain. With a grateful heart for your generosity in the past, once again I come to ask for your support of the Catholic Family Sharing Appeal.

Just a few months ago in thanksgiving for my five years as your Bishop, I led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and to Rome. At the many holy sites visited I prayed for our diocese, our parishes and each of you. As I reflect on praying at the sites of the birth of Jesus and of his death, at the sites of his resurrection and of the and of the institution of the Holy Eucharist and at the site of the institution of His Church founded on the rock of St. Peter and then praying with his successor the Holy Father in Rome, I was deeply moved and awed. From such humble beginnings and because of Christ's sacrificial love the Church has grown to touch the entire world including our local church on the prairie.

I especially recall reaffirming our baptismal promises in the river Jordan where Jesus himself was baptized. At that time the Father declared: "this is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased, listen to him." If we truly listen to him we will follow him by "loving others as he has loved us."

St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians issues a clarion call to us all as adopted children of Christ through baptism: "Be imitators of me as I am of Christ." That is the theme for this year's appeal: Be imitators of Christ. St. Paul also told us how: "all that we do," he said, "should be for the glory of God." That means keeping a holy perspective when making personal choices, when considering how to use our blessings, and when responding to the needs of others.

The Catholic Family Sharing Appeal is an important way we can be imitators of Christ who gave everything he had on the cross out of love for us.

There are many programs that your CFSA dollars support at the parish and diocesan levels and that provide special assistance to the families and individuals in need.

For instance, if you are not able to attend Mass, the CFSA offers you the TV Mass.If you have children or grandchildren needing faith formation, the CFSA can help you through Catholic schools, youth programs, marriage preparation and enrichment, and catechesis. If you or someone you know needs grief counseling or other spiritual healing, the CFSA can help you through Catholic Family Services. If your parish needs assistance in addressing financial matters or the use of new technology, the CFSA can help you through the Office of Finance and the Office of Information Technology.

The list could go on. Perhaps none of these apply to you and your family, but you can be assured that the CFSA is helping others. All of us realize that priests are called to be imitators of Christ in a special way. Those preparing for the priesthood currently numbering 23 are financially supported in their seminarian formation by the CFSA. That support is vital.

This week you will receive a letter from me describing the CFSA 2012 and providing more information for your consideration. I invite you to prayerfully reflect on how you can imitate Christ through the Catholic Family Sharing Appeal. Please remember that all funds raised over your parish goal remain in the parish.

I know that for many this remains a difficult time financially. Your prayers for the success of this appeal are a beautiful gift as well.

Thank you in advance for your continuing generosity. One way you can imitate Christ is to imitate your family members who went before and with great faith and sacrifice built the local church we are privileged to share.

May Mary Immaculate, our mother, and to St. Joseph, our patron, watch over and protect you and those you love."

Here at the Newman Center we cover 1/3 of our budget through the collection that the farmers, businessmen and families of the Sioux Falls Diocese make. Your own parents, grandparents, teachers and others you know contribute to this project. Bishop Dudley, now deceased, served East River Catholics in the 80s and 90s, he called this collection the "Family" appeal because he wanted us to see each other as the family we are through our baptism and God our Father.

Our previous Bishop, Robert Carlson, also had good advice. He reminded us of God's commandment to tithe- give a tenth of our income. He suggested we break it up in the following way: from that 10%, give 5% to our local parish, 4% to other charities (like world wide missions or local activities), and then the final 1% for CFSA.

Our Gospel passage today shows us the final lesson: why we should give. We give because we are grateful. The leper is cleansed by Jesus but then is told to keep quiet- Jesus seeks to keep his ministry under his control. But the leper is filled with gratitude and cannot contain himself. When we give to CFSA and to our local parish we multiply the mission and presence of Jesus in the world. Let us meet him with gratitude in this Mass and spread his word with grateful hearts.

Cross posted at piusxiinewman.com.