Saturday, October 11, 2014

Wedding Garment - Sunday Homily

St. Augustine says that the wedding garment is the response to the commandment to love God and neighbor. It is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from a genuine faith.

He contrasts this love with a much lesser love. It’s amazing to see that people were distracted from God in Augustine’s time just as they are now. He died in the year 430. That’s over 1500 years ago. You’ll be amazed at just how similar people 1500 years ago were to us now. Augustine says the love of the wedding garment is not the love for play actors. Just like now many are obsessed with what actors in Hollywood are up to. That’s why People magazine exists. He says the love of the wedding garment is not love for their favorite charioteers and huntsmen. That’s just like now. Sometimes we overemphasize sports. Sports are good things. Our ability to play them is God’s gift. So sports can be played in a way that gives Him the glory but that’s not always the case. When I was in Honduras one summer, I could tell the priest kept preaching about soccer. I couldn’t understand all the Spanish but I kept hearing that word futbol. He said some of the men there will neglect their families and get all wrapped up in watching soccer.

Very often, we hear our Lord refer to Heaven as the eternal wedding feast. It’s actually His most favorite analogy. God wants to be married to us, in a sense. He wants to be closer to us than a husband is to his wife. At a wedding feast, we have a bride and groom. A marriage of bride and groom has taken place. In Heaven, a marriage is taking place: The marriage of Christ the groom with His bride the Church, That’s us!

God calls all of us to the wedding feast. In fact, God is calling and reaching out to us nonstop. That’s the topic of the Lord’s parable in today’s Gospel. We respond by keeping on our wedding garment. In the parable, the guest without the wedding garment is probably a Christian who loses his zeal and becomes complacent. This is the character who concerns us.

Upon arrival at a wedding feast, each person is issued a wedding garment. If a guest would have the nerve to take off the garment during the wedding feast, this would be a huge insult to the bride and groom. It would show that the guest is not interested in their marriage and is just along for the ride, maybe to get the free prime rib. Even though the guy insults the king by taking off the wedding garment, notice how the king continues to reach out to him. He even calls him “friend.” But in his stubbornness, he refuses to respond. The New American Bible says that the wedding garment is the repentance, change of heart and mind, that is the condition for entrance into the kingdom. And it must be continued by a life of good deeds.

We know that God is the giver of all good gifts. This includes the things we enjoy. One of these gifts is our freedom. This freedom or free will that God gives us is awesome. But in that freedom, we are also free to reject God. And it’s sad that so many of us reject Him.

Just by noticing the beauty of creation, we should enjoy the certain hope that the next life is going to be even more awesome than this one. But in our freedom some of us choose the things of this world and reject the hope of the next. We become satisfied with the status quo.

Even though we have the tendency to reject God because of our fallen nature, He will always continue to provide for us the most bountiful feast of his Son. We just have to choose it. We just have to keep on our wedding garment. We have to show God that we are still interested in a relationship with Him.

Sometimes we become complacent like the guy without the wedding garment. We may be tempted to think that as long as we show up at Sunday Mass we’re OK. But the Lord calls us to go deeper in our relationship with Him. He calls us to trust Him completely.

At a recent archdiocesan conference, I heard a talk by Author Sherry Weddell. She recently wrote a book called Forming Intentional Disciples. A disciple is a learner, a pupil, a follower of a certain teacher. The one we follow of course is Jesus. An intentional disciple makes a conscious commitment to follow Jesus in the midst of His Church as an obedient disciple and to reorder one’s life accordingly. That’s what it means to keep on the wedding garment. Sherry walked us through the levels of commitment to reach this ideal. The vast majority of people get scared and disengaged on the way. We get scared, distracted by the world and take off the wedding garment.

The wedding garment keeps us genuine. It keeps us from putting our faith in the Sunday Mass compartment. The love of God permeates every aspect of our lives. As Christians we put our faith into everything we do, not just Sunday Mass. We put our faith into our jobs, our families, how we deal with others in society.

The wedding garment shows that we are 100% aligned with God. When we respond, He gives us the grace we need to keep the wedding garment on. It’s good to enjoy the abundance of God’s creation. Like the fine foods and choice wines that Isaiah mentions in the first reading. We should be a happy and joyful people. We have been redeemed and we should act like it. And St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians that we just heard: Abundance or hunger does not matter. We are still called to remain faithful. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. We should rejoice in knowing that we can do all things in God who has strengthened us.

I don’t know what the wedding garment looks like, but people will notice when we have it on because of our joyful witness. And God brings us to the feast to enjoy rich foods and choice wines for all eternity.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Reflection on Matthew 22:1-14

I didn't like the bulletin insert from a certain publishing company's website, so I took a crack at writing a quick one myself:

From the way things unfolded in history, we can see what the Lord was teaching in the parable of the wedding feast. First, St. Matthew tells us Jesus is speaking to the chief priests and the elders. He is inviting them to conversion. Of course, the king in the parable represents God. He dispatches servants to summon the invited guests. From history, we know the servants represent the Prophets and the invited guests were God's chosen people, the Jews. The Lord's parable would have cut to the heart of the chief priests because they know that their own ancestors killed the Prophets. And Jesus is showing them that the Jews are largely not responding. In the parable, the king sends his servants to invite "whomever you find." This means that not only the Jews are invited, but the Gentiles are too. Jesus sent his disciples to the whole world--Jews and Gentiles--with the Good News of salvation. God invites, but we must respond. All guests are given a wedding garment when they come into the feast. The refusal to put it on illustrates a refusal to respond fully to the invitation of the host and is an insult to the host. In his infinite mercy, God continues to reach out to us like the king reached out to the man without the wedding garment with the words: "my friend" in the midst of insult. Still he refused to respond. How can we respond to God's love today?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Jesus and the Canaanite woman - Sunday homily

This passage about Jesus and the Canaanite woman produces some of the funniest biblical commentaries.  Commentators range from the mildly crazy to the ludicrous.  For example: One says the woman caught Jesus off guard. Another says Jesus insulted her. One says it “depicts the woman as an aggressive single parent who defies cultural taboos and acts to free Jesus from his sexism and racism by catching him in a bad mood with his compassion down, besting him in an argument, and thereby becoming a vehicle of his liberation…” In my high view of Christ, I disagree with all those.  I say he knows her faith, and he knows the thoughts of his disciples.  So He says their thoughts to show it to them. 
 
We see a major shift of great significance happening in the Gospel today and it is supported by both of the other readings and the psalm.

As today’s Gospel begins, it seems that salvation is only for the Jews, or as Jesus calls them: “The lost sheep of the house of Israel.” So that’s the historical mindset at the time. Only a few will be saved. Then after the Canaanite woman persistently asks that Jesus heal her daughter, we see that salvation is for all peoples.

Isn’t this good news? Only the Jews were going to be saved, but now the nations can be saved. That includes us. That should bring us great joy. We get a glimpse of this every time we participate at Mass. As the priest says the words of Jesus consecrating the wine that becomes His Precious Blood, he says: “[It] will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Not just a few, but many. Salvation is offered to many nations, not just one. Salvation is offered to the multitudes. That’s awesome!

Our first reading and psalm both predict this shift that the nations will have the opportunity for salvation, not just the Jews. Several hundred years before Jesus, Isaiah foretold that foreigners would come to the Lord’s holy mountain. Isaiah called God’s temple a house of prayer for all peoples. This is a new idea for that time. And St. Paul supports it in our second reading when he points out that the Gentiles are offered salvation.

What does this mean for us? The Gospel is our invitation to accept the Lord Jesus and have faith in Him. We are also called to imitate the faith and perseverance of the Canaanite woman.

We see at first, Jesus is hesitant to heed her request and heal her daughter. Why? Is He testing her? Maybe.  But he is definitely allowing her to be a witness for his followers. He is even allowing her to be a witness for his closest disciples. We know these guys. Sometimes their faith was weak. With great perseverance the Canaanite woman is a witness to faith in Jesus.

We could acknowledge that having a chronically ill or possessed child would have been a terrible trial for the Canaanite woman, and it could even have wrecked her spirit thus sending her into the despair of defeat. Then it looks like Jesus may be adding insult to injury. But he knows her heart. He knows she has faith. And that faith is a game changer. She does not despair in her difficulty, but she perseveres.

St. John Paul II says faith is the adherence of the intellect to the Truth revealed, a submission of the will, and our gift of self to God. This Canaanite woman had all three of these aspects of faith. She had adherence to the intellectual idea of Jesus as Messiah. She called him Lord and Son of David. She had submission of the will and offered her gift of self to God. In great humility, she risked ridicule and discomfort approaching Jesus asking him to heal her daughter. In humility, she acknowledges her own insignificance and it pleases the Lord. When Jesus used the analogy of feeding dogs, she didn’t pipe in and say: Hey, wait, how dare you insult me?” In her great humility, she said even the dogs get the scraps.

In her humility, she was able to show great faith. And her faith seemed far more advanced than even some of Jesus’ closest disciples. They would learn that salvation is offered to all who believe in the Lord and keep His commandments. Our national origin and social condition don’t matter.

God has offered both Jews and Gentiles a common path to salvation through the cross of Jesus Christ. All have sinned. All need salvation.

All have been offered salvation in Christ.

We see a really awesome parallel happening: In the mystery of the Incarnation, God takes on human flesh. He uses the human to bring us to divinity. He is using this opportunity with the Canaanite woman to bring the disciples to a greater righteousness.

Jesus already sent the 12 to the lost sheep of Israel. Now, He is getting them ready for a wider ministry. They have great work to do. They have to learn to be a conduit not obstacles for people to meet the Lord.

Eventually, at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus finally sent his disciples to make disciples of all nations. He gives the Church its universal mission, its catholic mission. The Lord gives all of us that same opportunity to be witnesses to him with our faith.

The faith and perseverance of the Canaanite woman moved Jesus. Our faith and perseverance move Jesus as well. Jesus’ silence makes her belief that much firmer. Can we persevere in prayer through the silent times?

This Eucharist gives us the grace and strength to witness to our faith in Jesus every day. Let us be insistent in that faith and persevere in prayer. Let us respond by acting on that faith in our daily lives.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Undercover Boss


The following is my homily from Sunday, May 4, 2014 – The Third Sunday of Easter:

This Gospel passage might have been the inspiration for the TV series “Undercover Boss”.  I’ve only seen, at most, maybe one and a half episodes of the show.  But from what I’ve seen, the boss usually undergoes some kind of conversion.  The boss realizes that procedures and policies are inadequate and need to be better communicated to the employees.  So the boss sets up new processes to fix the issues. 

But in this Gospel story, we see a conversion in the two disciples.  They are still stuck in the old mindset.  St. Luke tells us they were looking downcast.  Why?  They have heard reports of a vision of Angels announcing the Lord’s Resurrection and an empty tomb!  And they are still looking downcast?  Then one of them says: “We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel.”  Aha, there’s the issue.  They missed the Lord’s invitation to conversion.  Jesus did redeem Israel, but it wasn’t a redemption that fit their mindset or agenda.  They wanted Israel to become politically free from the oppression of the Romans.  They are looking for a worldly redemption.  Jesus offers them a different redemption, one that frees them from the oppression of sin and death.  And not only did the Lord redeem Israel, He redeems the whole world, all of humanity, you and me.  That’s the Good News.

And this Good News comes with an invitation to conversion, just like it did for those two disciples.  The Lord calls us to a conversion of heart according to his agenda, not some worldly agenda we might have.

In this Gospel, we see the most awesome catalyst for this conversion of heart that all of us need.  It has two parts: Liturgy of the Word, and Liturgy of the Eucharist.  St. Luke tells us Jesus interpreted the Scriptures for them.  That’s the Liturgy of the Word.  St. Luke said He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.  That’s the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  That’s what we are doing right here today.  The Lord Himself gives us the means to transmit the Good News to the entire world and down through the ages: the Holy Mass.

Notice in the Gospel, after their conversion, understanding and embracing the Lord’s agenda, and letting go of their own, what do they do?  They go and share the good news with others.  They are normal Christians and they are called to spread the Gospel.  You and I are charged with the same task: spread the Gospel.

We have a great opportunity to invite people to this most awesome catalyst for conversion of heart.  Many Catholics blow off Sunday Mass.  They are missing out in this intimate encounter with the Living God.  They are missing out on the profound joy and fulfillment that comes from the conversion of heart to which the Lord invites us.  So we have the opportunity to invite them.  We all know people in this situation.  Perhaps we can make a resolution to invite at least one person to come and encounter the living God on an upcoming Sunday.

The living God is not only here for us to encounter during Mass.  He stays… right here in this tabernacle.  We can come in and make a visit, and adore the Lord who is present in the tabernacle, Body, Blood, Soul, Divinity.

Some people don’t come to Mass and don’t spend time adoring the Lord because they say they don’t feel anything happening.  Notice the disciples in today’s Gospel.  They didn’t notice until later that their hearts were burning within them.

It reminds me of a Catholic speaker who uses an analogy.  When he started surfing, he spent four hours surfing in overcast weather without sunscreen.  He figured since he couldn’t see the sun or feel anything, he would not get sunburned, but he did.  His roommate, an experienced surfer, told him it doesn’t matter what you see or feel.  Something is still happening.  A few weeks later, the same novice surfer went surfing on a cold sunny day without sunscreen thinking once again that he would not get burnt in the cold temperatures because he didn’t feel anything.  After a second bad sunburn, his roommate asked him: “How many times to I have to tell you it doesn’t matter what you feel?”

The disciples noticed later that their hearts were burning within them.  Perhaps we will notice something later today, maybe next week, maybe next year.

Let’s continue our intimate encounter with the Living God.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

New Contracts

In the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, teachers of all the archdiocesan schools were introduced to their new contract last week.  I see the new contract as an enormously positive thing; however, some people seem negative about it.  I think this negativity comes from fear and ignorance.  The first thing to point out is that the standard has not changed.  By signing the contract, teachers are agreeing to the exact same standard to which they have agreed for years.  But now, they are able to do it with more clarity.  Before, in the old contract, the language about Church doctrine and scandal was vague.  Now common areas of scandal are spelled out clearly.  One would think that more clarity and more information would be a positive thing, making one freer to make a decision as an adult.
Secondly, it seems to me that few people take the time to find out why the Church teaches what she does.  When we go to such effort, we find out that the Church's teachings are the most loving set of doctrines in the world.  We find that her teachings are reasonable, based on both reason and revelation from Christ.
I am confident that those who sign these new and improved contracts in good faith and embrace the Church's teachings will be holier and more fulfilled.  Mission accomplished!  Some human beings would be on the way to salvation.  And the ripple effect would cause those around them to be more likely on the path of salvation also.  However, it seems that we are wired as human beings to think that living according to Church teaching will make life boring or sad.  The happiest people I know are those who strive to live the Faith.  The saddest and most miserable people I know are those who reject Church teaching and try to find fulfillment in worldly things.
One concern I have heard is that our Catholic schools may lose some of the better teachers because of the new contract.  I think the answer to this supposed problem is in the contract itself where the teachers are now referred to as "teacher-minister".  This makes it clear that teaching at a Catholic school is not just a job but a ministry, not just a job but a mission.  I would hope that parents would not lament the loss of supposed "better teachers" who may not be witnessing the way to Heaven.  Inversely, I would hope that parents would celebrate the teachers who embrace the Church's teachings and show their children the way to Heaven.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The UN is not a friend

It has been awhile since I have read up on the amount of our money the United States government alocates to propping up the UN.  I don't even want to look because it will probably make me sick to see how my tax dollars and those of so many hard working Americans are being spent to prop up such a corrupt, anti-American, anti-Christian, pro-abortion organization.

This past week's "report" from the UN child protection committee is clearly not a true report but a piece of anti-life, anti-Catholic propaganda.  In their corruption, they clearly want to control the Church.  In reality, just like the hijacking of airliners, the sexual abuse of minors at the hands of clergy is largely a thing of the past.  There are effective safeguards in place to prevent terrorists from taking over airliners.  Plus, the other people on the airliner will not tolerate it.  Since 9/11/01 several terrorist attempts have been stopped by the people.

Sure, more stories of abuse will come out in the future, but we notice that these cases are almost exclusively from decades past.  In the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, effective processes were put in place way back in 1993, nine years prior to the issues that came to light in 2002.  Notice how the vast majority of cases are decades old not new.  At every level: local, national and global, effective child protection measures are in place and working extremely well.  Plus, the people will not tolerate it.

The thing that blows me away is the lack of intellectual honesty in the "report".  This UN committee says the Vatican has to do more to protect the little ones from harm but then also says the Vatican has to do more to allow the killing of the little ones in the womb. 

I pray that some day the rest of the world will notice that the Church's teachings on contraception and homosexuality are the most loving and reasonable in the entire world.  Contraception has only, and will only weaken families by opening the doors for further infidelity and spousal abuse.  Since the family is the basic building block of society, we have a weak society when we have weak families.  One would think that the UN would try to do what works for making a strong society: strong families.

It is not politically correct to point out the fact that practice of the Church's teaching would eradicate AIDS in Africa and everywhere else in the world in just one generation.  Don't have sex before marriage.  A simple blood test shows if a prospective spouse has AIDS.  Maybe think twice about marrying that person.  If only the UN would put our resources behind that agenda!

The Church has been a constant voice of the demand of Christ to love all people no matter his or her sins, background, religion, race, etc.  There is no other option besides love and respect for all.  This UN "report" charges the Church with the opposite without showing any evidence.

Where do they get the gall to demand the Church change unchangable teachings based in natural law reasoning?  So much more could be written on the hypocracy of the UN and their lack of reason.
Here are some excellent links to more information:

http://www.hli.org/2014/02/un-committee-statement-requesting-changes-catholic-moral-teaching-egregious-attack-religious-freedom/

http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/vatican-un-oversteps-its-boundaries-in-report-conclusions/

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Catalytic Converter

I have chosen a new name for my blog.  The old one, "The Faceless Man", was the name of my first blog post as I wrote about the liturgical "East" of ad orientem.  Christ is the focus of the liturgy, not the priest, who is merely a faceless man standing in persona Christi leading the faithful in a procession to the Father.

I have chosen "Catalytic Converter" for several reasons.  First, I am a bit if a gear head.  As I child I enjoyed working on my own bikes.  Then in high school, I enjoyed working on two different 80cc dirt bikes, my 1963 Fairlane, and my 1981 Mustang, which actually had catalytic converter issues and was too slow to get out of its own way and really didn't deserve the name Mustang.  I continued tinkering on my 1990 Ford Probe, 1988 Ranger, and 1992 Toyota pickup.  However I notice that the older I get and the newer my cars get, the less I am able to work on them.  I was able to do very little on the 2008 FJ Cruiser and now even less on the Diesel engine of my 2013 Volkswagen.

The second reason for the new name is that another gear head may accidentally stumble upon my blog and hear the Good News of the Gospel.  Or a thief who steals catalytic converters for the scrap money may stumble upon it and have a conversion experience.

The most important reason for the new name is in reference to the Holy Spirit.  At an archdiocesan priests' convocation last year, the Most Reverend  Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R, Archbishop of Indianapolis, gave a keynote address to the priests of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.  In the address, Archbishop Tobin referred to the Holy Spirit as the "Catalytic Converter".  That imagery blew me away.  Isn't the Holy Spirit the most awesome Catalyst for everything good we do?  And isn't the Holy Spirit the true Converter, even though we are sometimes tempted to take credit?

In the Gospels, Jesus tells us of the crucial importance of conversion that we may live.  Since then, Holy Mother Church has been passing on to each generation the importance of our need for daily conversion.  My prayer is that all of us will open our hearts to ultimate Catalyst and Converter, the Holy Spirit.