Sunday, April 8, 2018

Who is responsible for the death of Jesus?

There’s a popular catch phrase in the Church: “Meet the people where they’re at.” Proper use of the English language reminds us never to end a sentence with a preposition, so the phrase could be adjusted to: “Meet the people where they are.” Either way, I think it applies to this situation.
The week before Palm Sunday, I overheard someone express disapproval with a homily I gave two weeks prior at the school Mass. This person admitted to not being at that Mass, but evidently heard that it might not have been appropriate for children. So, it goes like this:
On that Friday, which is now almost a month ago, the Gospel was one of those ones we hear frequently during Lent, where the Jews are trying to kill Jesus. It even uses the words: “The Jews were trying to kill him.”
The kindergarteners were not at Mass, only 1st through 8th grades, and the normal assembly of adults and infants. As the school children hear these Gospels, which they should, they may think that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. But hopefully they are learning their Faith, and my homily only came as a reminder of what they have already been learning.
So, I pointed out in my homily that it might seem like the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus, but as the story played out, the Jews didn’t actually kill Jesus, but the Romans did. Then, I asked the rhetorical question: Are the Romans responsible for the death of Jesus? Maybe we could place all the blame on Judas for his betrayal…
What does the Church teach in the name of Christ her founder? The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us in paragraphs 597 and 598 that the personal sin of the participants is known to God alone, and that Jesus and St. Peter asked God to forgive the participants for their ignorance.
I remember I had to learn this in second grade before going to confession. Why did I have to go to confession in the first place? For my sins. And why are my sins a big deal? They put Jesus on the Cross. I learned the reality that I was a sinner, and that God loved me enough to go through all of that for me. At the age of reason, we are supposed to be able to understand this. If we can’t understand it, we cannot be ready for Holy Communion either. I let the first graders know since they had not yet reached the age of reason, they had no responsibility for the death of Jesus.
The Catechism quotes Sacred Scripture and the Tradition down through the ages that “sinners were the authors and ministers of all the sufferings that the divine Redeemer endured.” The Church admits that we Christians have the gravest responsibility for the torments inflicted upon Jesus. The Catechism quotes St. Francis of Assisi: “It is you who have crucified him and crucify him still, when you delight in your vices and sins.”

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sunday Homily

Today’s Gospel reminds us of God’s mercy. One major point our Lord makes is that we are to be thankful for His generous gift of mercy. But in the parable we notice some grumbling. This may remind us of a character in another parable, the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Of course it is wrong to resent God’s lavish mercy given to others. We are called to be thankful that someone has been saved. We should rejoice that God has compassion on everyone he has created. Furthermore, this Gospel is consoling for us if we have loved ones who remain far from the Lord’s vineyard.

We have received an invitation. We are called to be faithful laborers in God’s vineyard. We are called to help to bring about the kingdom, to do some good in the world. It’s a matter of stewardship. Our lives are not our own. Every day is God’s gift. Every day is an opportunity to love. We have a job to do so that more people can know Him.

We are honored to work in the vineyard. The landowner in the parable represents God. The vineyard represents God’s Kingdom. Therefore, marketplace represents the world. We are called out of the marketplace of the world into the vineyard of God’s Kingdom. We become members of the Church by being called. The English and German words for “Church” come from the Greek word “Kyriakon” which means “of the Lord.” So, if we are the Lord’s, we were called out from where we were. The Spanish and Italian words for “Church” come from the Greek word, “ecclesia” which means those who are called out.

St. Gregory the Great asks how energetically are we working in the vineyard? Will our friends or relatives be able to say at the end of their lives that we were concerned about their ultimate good? When we look at our lives, we should notice this is the location of the vineyard. This is where God inserted us. This is where he invites us to work. It is in our very own family setting where God has invited us to become saints. The temptation is to wait for “better opportunities” or for things to become more perfect. Waiting is idleness. The spiritually idle are those who don’t know Christ. Of course, this is not good. Many people will or will not know Christ because of our example. St. John Paul II says there is no place for idleness.

Through the Prophet Isaiah in our first reading, God says “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.” Jesus further illustrates it in the parable. The landowner is relentless in inviting laborers into his vineyard. He goes out five times. God is taking the initiative in reaching out to us all the time. We are unworthy. We have rejected him every time we fall into sin. Why don’t we hear him? Maybe we’re not praying. Maybe we’re distracted by trivial things of the world. Plus, he’s hiring rejects. That’s why they haven’t been hired yet. The worldly mindset says the rejects get rewarded but not at the level as the elite. Jesus challenges that mindset.

In the parable, why did some laborers grumble? Perhaps it shows a lack of conversion of heart. St. Thomas Aquinas: “he is properly evil who sorrows over goodness.” Even if we have been in the Lord’s vineyard our whole life, He is still calling us to continual conversion. In our continual conversion, we grow in the virtue of charity, the greatest of all virtues. The more enlarged my heart is from practicing charity, the more reward I will be able to accept which is the Lord’s free gift. If we develop habits of practicing charity we will recognize the Lord who is Charity. If charity is foreign to us, the One who is Charity will be foreign to us. That’s why we reject Him when He calls us.

We also notice the landowner didn’t force workers to come to his vineyard. He invited them. This reminds me of the saying: God created us without our consent, but he will not save us without our cooperation. God respects our consent. That’s why the reward can be so awesome. That’s why the laborer can receive the wages that are coming to him. These wages are God’s blessings. His ultimate blessing upon us is Himself, communion with Him now and Heaven for eternity. Heaven = God. The workers hired late were headed toward eternal rejection, but thanks be to God, they accepted his invitation. What about us? Perhaps we can recognize God’s mercy and generosity and accept His invitation to continual conversion.

Some scholars say that those hired early in the parable represent the Israelites, and those hired later represent the Gentiles, the people of the other nations. It is also equally valid to say those hired early represent cradle Catholics who stay faithful, and those hired later represent converts and reverts to the faith. Our attitude should always say “Welcome home!”

Call to conversion is for all. Our first reading says it well: “Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked his thoughts.” That’s you and me because we have fallen into sin. Then Isaiah continues: “Let him turn to the Lord for mercy.” We enter into these sacred mysteries where God offers us an abundance of grace so that we can be effective in sharing Christ with the world. We can follow the command of St. Paul: Conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Urge the President to veto any bill that funds Planned Parenthood

Urge the president to veto any bill that funds Planned Parenthood.
Why this is important:
1. Planned Parenthood is the country's largest provider of abortions. Every direct abortion is the killing of an innocent child in the womb.
2. Planned Parenthood has recently been implicated in selling the body parts of the children that are killed in their facilities.
3. Since numbers one and two above are both evil, I do not want to pay for it with my tax dollars.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sanctity of Human Life Sunday Homily

Here we are back in Ordinary Time. Many people active in the Church will often be heard saying: “There is nothing ordinary about Ordinary Time.” It gets its name from the ordinal numbers, the numbers that show an order, such as first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and so on. One problem is that in English, the word “ordinary” means plain, normal, mundane.
We just came out of the Christmas season where we focused on Jesus’ birth and the Mystery of the Incarnation. During Ordinary Time, we do not focus on just one aspect of the Paschal Mystery but on the fullness of the Mystery of Christ.

Today in the Gospel, we hear St. John the Baptist say: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Behold love. Behold the one who offers himself as a gift so that we may have life and have it abundantly. That is the definition of love. St. John the Baptist and all the saints have been imitating the love of Christ for 2,000 years. They realized that love is sacrificing one’s own comfort for the good of another, and they imitated that love. That sacrificial love of the Lamb of God is the Good News for us.

You and I are also called to imitate that sacrificial love. Parents make sacrifices every day, so their children may have life and have it abundantly. There is nothing more beautiful. There’s also some bad news today. Love’s opposite runs rampant in our land. Some who get the news they are parents ask the child to sacrifice her life for the comfort or convenience of the parent. This is the opposite of love.

Many pro-life groups observe today as Sanctity of Life Sunday in our country. It gives us the opportunity to acknowledge the precious gift of human life. President Ronald Reagan designated January 22, 1984 as the first National Sanctity of Human Life Day. That date was the 11th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton Supreme Court cases that legalized abortion in all 50 states through all nine months of pregnancy. Now we are up to 44 years since this national disgrace has been legal. And it happens over 3,000 times a day in our land. Meanwhile, many married couples waiting to give sacrificial love through adoption continue waiting.

Today the words of Isaiah from our first reading have special meaning. “Now the Lord has spoken, who formed me as his servant from the womb…” He also adds the line: “I am made glorious in the sight of the Lord…” Isn’t it amazing that we are glorious in the sight of the Lord before we even get a chance to do anything, just because we exist, and are made in His image.

Isaiah also mentions we are dedicated to specific tasks in the Kingdom. But, if I am not allowed to live, my specific tasks in the Kingdom will not be accomplished. The Lord formed all of us to be His servants from the womb. All of us have a unique task to serve the Lord and each other, no matter if we are wanted or unwanted in the womb.
No reason will ever justify taking the life of the child in the womb. Some may say:  The mother is poor.  She can’t afford a child. We don’t fight poverty by killing the poor. Sacrificial love demands that we generously support mother and child. It is up to us to actively change the culture of death into a culture of life. We can’t be shy about speaking up. We have to get engaged in the battle for God’s most precious gift of life. If we don’t know what to say, we can find out what to say. We can ask someone engaged in pro-life work how to get trained. We have to let our politicians know we are pro-life, and killing the unborn is not acceptable. It is our duty to let them know with our voice and with our vote. Now is the time to pray and act.

Please pray for our parishioners who are traveling to Washington for the March for Life on the 27th. We have a group of 11 brave souls. We will brave the winter weather to give a voice to those whose voice cannot yet be heard. We will make a small sacrifice so that others may have life. Every year, I see the hundreds of thousands of youth, in great joy, showing this great love, and it gives me great encouragement.

If the anniversary of Roe and Doe is on January 22nd, why is the March for Life going to be on the 27th? The 22nd falls on a Sunday, and the organizers of the March always make sure it happens on a weekday when the Congress in is session. A new congress took office earlier this month. Some have started working on pro-life legislation. And some have started to fight it. It is up to us to let them know we are pro-life and hold them accountable as the ones charged with protecting the public whenever someone tries to kill the public.

Most importantly, we must always remember to pray for the healing of those who suffer the wounds of past abortions. Many of them were told lies. They were tempted into despair. Many of them were convinced they had no choice, that there was no hope. The burden of regret is becoming more well-known for both men and women. Nobody needs to carry that burden. The Church has many excellent healing ministries. You and I can show the open arms of the loving mercy of Jesus Christ. He will bring them to healing through us. We can be God’s instruments of hope for the world.

Speaking of hope, it is a major theme of Ordinary Time. We wear green vestments because green is a symbol of hope. The color reminds us of renewal, rebirth, immortality, generosity of spirit, and eternal life. It reminds us to focus on the One who is truly life giving. In hope we remember that God has not abandoned us. He is active in our lives. He loves us more than we love ourselves. He invites us into eternal life with Him.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Liturgical Postures #8 of 8; Excerpts from Second Sunday of Advent

Did you know the Sign of Peace is actually optional? The missal says: “If appropriate, the Deacon or the Priest, adds: Let us offer each other the sign of peace.” So don’t be alarmed if you go to Mass somewhere else and the priest leaves it out. Mass is still valid and perfectly licit, or legal, without it. When I was in high school work, there were many times we had to invite the students to offer the sign of peace before Mass even started. In certain situations, the liturgy could easily get off the rails. It could lead to the tendency to completely forget about Jesus and the mysteries being celebrated. We are here to worship Him.

So what is the meaning of the Sign of Peace? The missal reminds us this gesture “expresses peace, communion, and charity.” We could spend years unpacking each of those. It is good for us Christians, to join ourselves to the Lord Jesus in this act of worship of the Father, who is the origin of peace, communion and charity. Jesus is our peace, we don’t manufacture it ourselves. Jesus is the source of our communion, we could not manufacture it ourselves no matter how much we tried. Since we are in communion with him, we are in communion with each other by association. He is the one that makes our communion real. Our communion with Him is the only reason we can signify it with the sign of peace in the first place.

The liturgical books further remind us that the sign of peace is not focused on the reconciliation of brothers and sisters. All of that was already signified earlier in Mass. In the Penitential Act, we said: “I confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters that I have greatly sinned.”

The important thing is that we keep in mind the Sign of Peace is a symbolic action. By making the sign of peace with the people next to us, we are saying we are at peace with everyone, not only everyone present in the building, but also with everyone in the Universal Church, and hopefully everyone in the world. Because of this symbolism, it is not necessary or proper to try to offer the sign of peace to as many people as possible.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal reminds us: “It is, however, appropriate that each person offer the sign of peace only to those who are nearest and in a sober manner.” The people nearest us are the people on either side of us. If it’s not in a sober manner, we could be distracted from the sacred mysteries we are celebrating.

The appropriate form of the sign of peace in this country is a hand shake. Some people who are closer may embrace or even kiss each other if it is appropriate.

Looking at the big picture, we should keep in mind at that time of Mass that Jesus is exposed, and present, on the altar: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Some of the faithful in some parts of the Church would be scandalized that the faithful would turn their backs to the Lord who is present in the Blessed Sacrament. This Advent season is a special time to long to be in the Lord's presence.

Since our beginnings 2,000 years ago, Catholics have always been very good at fostering community. We have always had better community building than any other faith-based group in the world. The important thing is that we remember we are at Mass to worship God.

All this being said, it is never appropriate to walk around, away from one’s place in the pews. I especially ask parents to be vigilant in keeping your children of all ages in your care. Since reconciliation between brothers was already signified at the Penitential Act at the beginning of Mass, it would not make sense to go seek out our enemies at this time, let alone our friends or the people we like the best.

Another reason for a sober sign of peace, is because of what is going to happen next. We should long to witness the liturgical action of the priest breaking the sacred host. It reminds us that Jesus’ body was broken for us in His death on the Cross. The one who is fully God and fully human went to a horrible gruesome death so we could have eternal life. That is good news, and we should desire to witness it.

This also signifies that the many faithful are made one body by receiving communion from the one bread of life which is Christ. This leads us to our ultimate sign of unity: Holy Communion.

The faithful are invited to receive Holy Communion. The word “communion” means “one with.” We are made one with Jesus because He makes us one with him. When we receive the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus, we are one with Him if we receive in the state of grace. And if all of us are one with Him, we are one with each other. It is a unity that Jesus makes real, not one that we can fabricate, manufacture, or invent on our own.

In receiving Holy Communion, our body language is speaking volumes. We are saying our union with the Church is real. We are saying we believe everything the Church teaches. We are saying the pope is our spiritual father. We are saying we are in the state of grace and have prepared ourselves to receive. We are saying we are not conscious of any grave sin since our last confession. If these things are not true, we are telling a lie with our bodies and committing a sacrilege, treating something holy in an unholy way. If these things are not true, we should never receive communion just because everybody else does.

How do we receive? The universal, worldwide practice is to receive Holy Communion on the tongue while standing. The United States and some other countries have received special permission to receive Holy Communion in the hand, but this is not the universal practice. Other countries use the posture of kneeling for Holy Communion. So, we should be careful when traveling to other countries. We don’t want to scandalize or offend the faithful.

Holy Mother Church also asks us to make a gesture of adoration before receiving. In 2002, the bishops of this country asked us to make a bow of the head that symbolizes our adoration of the Lord who we are receiving. I think we do a really good job with that. Even though this is the preferred gesture in our country, some people genuflect or receive while kneeling. These are also acceptable.

The things I have shared with you over these past couple months are in no way exhaustive of the fullness of the mysteries being celebrated. The Lord invites all of us into the mysteries more fully in order to worship Him and encounter Him more fully. We can never finish learning this no matter how long we live.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Liturgical Postures #7: Excerpts from First Sunday of Advent

Happy New Year! Today we begin the new liturgical year on this First Sunday of Advent. If we are beginning a new year, and we are in Advent, why is our Gospel reading from the end of Matthew’s Gospel? The Lord reminds us the world is passing away. So He invites us to rethink being invested in the world. Advent reminds us: The King is coming. We don’t know the day or the hour. The Lord invites us to faithful service for the Kingdom. We have the opportunity to prepare to meet the Bridegroom, the Master, the King of all the nations.

The closest we can get to the King this side of Heaven is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. So let’s unpack the sacred mysteries. When I first thought about doing a series on liturgical postures, I was going to call it this: “Should we hold hands during the Our Father, and everything you ever wanted to know about liturgical postures, gestures, and non-verbals”. And I thought about holding the series once a week in the evening. As I continued to pray about it, I realized it is much too important for only a handful of people to hear. So I decided the Sunday homily would reach more people with this important topic. If we were in a classroom setting, I would ask the question: In what ways do we show our unity at Mass? I could write all the answers on the board.
People might answer with some of the things we have already covered: Common posture like sitting and standing; Some might say: responding together, singing together, maybe the sign of peace, which we haven’t covered yet. Some might even mention the most awesome and ultimate way we show our unity. And it’s not holding hands at the Our Father, it’s receiving Holy Communion.

We’ll finish with that next week. Today we pick up where we left off at the Our Father, or the Lord’s Prayer. The priest gives the introduction with his hands closed and then he opens his hands to the orans position as he says the words: “Our Father”. From what we already covered about the orans position, we know it is one the priest uses at Mass to collect the prayers of all the faithful into one as it is presented to the Father in Heaven. I already mentioned that the orans position is an ancient prayer posture and it is appropriate for people to use in their devotional lives of prayer. However, at Mass, it could confuse the meaning of our common posture especially if people are doing different things, since unity is one of our goals. 

So we might ask: What are the people to do? We already covered the priest: he has to hold his hand out in the orans position because he is collecting the prayers of all in his role of leadership. We can explore this question more deeply if there is a deacon present. Actually, in two weeks, we will have a deacon here to preach at Mass. You will notice that at the Lord’s Prayer, the deacon will have his hands closed in prayer the whole time. He is not permitted to open his hands in the orans position during the Lord’s Prayer. So we might ask: If a deacon, who is an ordained minister, serving at the altar during Mass, in an official capacity, prays the Lord’s Prayer with his hands closed, why would the lay faithful open their hands like the priest does? It would be more appropriate for the faithful to imitate the deacon, rather than the priest. 

What about the other question: Should the faithful be holding hands during the Our Father? I would answer with another question: Why just during the Our Father? Why did we not hold hands during the opening hymn, the Collect, during the readings, during the Gospel, during the Eucharistic Prayer? So my answer would be, it would only make sense liturgically if we were holding hands during the whole Mass. And I’m sure we would all agree that would be strange. Some people have wondered how holding hands crept its way into the liturgy over the past few decades. I heard one person guess that people were imitating the priest in the orans position and then they started to bump their hands into each other and then they just decided to grab each other’s hands. My theory is that some families hold hands during grace before meals and they have tried to introduce it into the sacred liturgy.
And then, after the Our Father, why do some people raise their hands really high when we say: For the Kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and for ever.”? I have no idea where that comes from. But we can learn something from concelebrating priests. That’s when there is more than one priest offering Mass at the same time. After we say: “Deliver us from evil,” the concelebrating priests have to close their hands. Only the one main celebrant can keep his hands open showing his role of leadership in prayer.

Several years ago, Bishop Foys across the river had all his parishes in the Diocese of Covington do catechesis on why is would not be proper to hold hands during the Our Father at Mass. He actually asked the faithful of his diocese not to do it. I’m not here making a rule today. But I am trying to unpack what is proper and improper at Holy Mass and why we are doing what we are doing.

I have always wondered: how prayerful can it be to hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer? I am thinking more about the prayer or am I distracted by the other person’s hand? When I was teaching high school, I would see students use it as an opportunity to mess with each other. I remember two seniors rubbing each other’s fingers trying to get the other one to giggle. Even since I’ve been pastor here, I have seen children using it as an opportunity to misbehave.

So we have this opportunity to ask ourselves this question: In this liturgical new year, how can I, or how can our family, celebrate these mysteries with greater devotion? How can we understand more and more why we do what we do as a Church? How is the Lord drawing me into His presence?

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Liturgical Postures #6 - Excerpts from Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

This is the Solemnity, or great feast, of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. It is true, He is King of the Universe, but is He King of our hearts? By calling ourselves Christians, we are saying we are followers of Christ, thus making Him our King.

We are in the midst of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass worshiping the Father, in Jesus as the King of the Universe, through the Holy Spirit in the way He showed us He wants us to worship Him. We have been examining the profound meanings of the gestures, postures and non-verbals of Holy Mass, so we pick up today where we left off last time.

We were standing getting ready to lift up our hearts to the Lord in the Eucharistic Prayer, which is the center and summit of the entire celebration. Because it is the ultimate prayer of thanksgiving that sanctifies us, and because it is the prayer that offers the Sacrifice of Jesus Himself to the Father, the prayer itself demands that all listen to it with reverence and in silence. (General Instruction of the Roman Missal)

In the Preface, the priest offers the prayer of thanksgiving to the Father in the orans posture. Once again, this is a reminder that the priest is offering the prayer to the Father on behalf of the people, and gathering their prayers to his. This is the prayer that usually begins with the priest saying: “It is truly right and just…” At the end of it, everyone joins the angels and the saints in singing "Holy, Holy, Holy" to the Lord, God of hosts. In this song, we are praising God and showing our unity in worship.

After this, all the faithful kneel in adoration of the Lord who is about to be made present on the altar. If we can’t kneel, we are supposed to stand in adoration. Sitting would not be a correct posture unless standing would become burdensome. Then there is also the issue of the people behind the person who would have to stand, so such a person would probably have to stand near the back. Even though it is not a correct liturgical posture, some people will sit to blend in better with those who are kneeling so they don’t stick out like a sore thumb. If we can kneel, we should kneel. If not, we should stand, without being overly conspicuous. If we cannot stand, we can sit. It is good that we are here. My goal is to present the profound meanings of our common posture thus encouraging the faithful into a deeper experience of encountering the Lord in these sacred mysteries.

After the priest consecrates the bread and wine and they become the Body and Blood or our Lord, by the power of God, he elevates them to show them to the people. The server rings the bells the remind us of the substantial presence of Almighty God. He is present in His substance: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Some of the faithful have gotten in the habit of striking the breast at this time. This is an acknowledgement of the fact that I am in the presence of God, and I am not worthy to be in His presence. As the Eucharistic Prayer continues, we hear language about offering Jesus, the Spotless Victim,  to the Father. The Second Vatican Council tells us there is more: that the faithful would also learn to offer themselves, and so day by day to be consummated, through Christ the Mediator, into unity with God and with each other, so that at last God may be all in all (1 Cor. 15;28). We could write a doctoral dissertation just unpacking the meaning of that sentence.

At the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest holds up the sacred elements, expressing glory to God. This in confirmed and concluded by the people’s acclamation: Amen. The Amen is usually sung, showing that it is an act of praising God, it is a sign of unity, and it shows that the people make it their own.

After the Amen, the people stand for the Communion Rite. This posture of standing is meaningful because we are about to encounter and greet someone very important, the most important person ever, Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Unpacking these mysteries today gives us the excellent opportunity to ask ourselves today: Is He King of my heart? How can I praise him and live my life this week to secure His throne right there in my heart where He belongs?