Sunday, October 21, 2012

Homily - 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today, the universal Church celebrates World Mission Sunday. Mission has special meaning at this time since we have begun the Year of Faith that will last until November of next year.  One major theme of the year of faith is the New Evangelization.  If we are baptized, we are missionaries.  If we are baptized, we are called to evangelize.  It is not optional as a Christian.  It’s what we do.

Pope Benedict tells us several things about the virtue of faith.  By nature, faith wants to make itself understandable to others.  Faith appeals to reason and is always oriented toward truth.  In that truth, faith has the duty to be missionary in nature.  And because of love, we Christians share that truth with the world.

The signs of the times show us our mission is not getting easier.  There are more distractions than ever, and this leads to a lack of reflection and wisdom.  We also notice the growth of humanism that excludes God.  There is an urgent call for all of us to illuminate every aspect of life with the Gospel.  The world needs to know Christ more than ever.  Jesus Christ is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and all of humanity.  When we are pressured to be like everybody else, we are to direct our whole heart toward God.  When we feel the lure of possessions, we embrace the cross.  When we are tempted to hoard God’s gifts, we give to the poor.  When we are tempted to hide our Christianity, we bring the good news to all we meet.

The purpose of our lives as Christians is to reveal God to everyone.  In revealing God to everyone, we are doing our part to save souls and in it we are glorifying God.  This sets us on course for eternal life in Heaven.  Every other good thing we do in the Christian life is related to sharing the Gospel in word and example.  The world must encounter the living God in Christ in order to know what life is.  And if it is our job to show him to the world, we must first know him if we are going to share him with others.  We can’t give what we don’t have.  Preaching the Gospel is the call of God’s children to freedom, to the construction of an ever more just and united society, and to our preparation for eternal life.

As we join Christ in his mission, we will encounter tribulation, conflict and suffering.  As Christians, we will come up against the powers and resistance of this world.  The one guarantee we have as Christians is the Cross.  But as we come up against all the negativity the world has to offer, we are in good company.  Our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that Jesus has similarly been tested in every way.  Whatever suffering we endure, Jesus has been there first.  And there’s more good news for us.  Look at the beauty of the Resurrection that is promised us on the other side of the Cross.  By virtue of our baptism, we live in hope of the resurrection just as Jesus has risen.  With God’s grace, perhaps we can even be eager to drink the cup of suffering he drank, just like James and John were as we heard in today’s Gospel.  Perhaps we will be eager to be baptized with the baptism with which he is baptized knowing that the plunge into death only leads to the glory of the resurrection.

So how do we begin?  The first step in evangelization is prayer.  It is in prayer that we nurture our relationship with Jesus Christ.  It is in prayer united to the Church that we discern God’s will.  The conversion of the world is a supernatural thing.  It is God’s work.  We don’t bring it about by our own power.  It is God’s gift to us. And like every good gift God gives, it requires a response from us.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

October is Respect Life Month

I gave this homily on October 7th, Respect Life Sunday. 

At the beginning of October, the Archdiocese held a two-day Summit: Revitalizing the Domestic Church.  The Domestic Church is the family.  The readings for Mass support the marriage and family life.  Jesus taught about marriage being a one-flesh union.  Now we have mountains of statistics that show the traditional family setting is best for society. Strong families make for a strong society just like strong bricks make for a strong wall.  The planners of the summit expected about 250 people to be interested, but 750 signed up and the event was sold out weeks before.  This shows that even if we can’t put our finger on it, we know that society is weak and the family has something to do with it.  We can instinctively tell that society is getting off track as family life deteriorates.  It is encouraging to see 750 people equipping themselves with knowledge and skills to support family life which supports the structure of society.  Respect Life Sunday and Respect Life Month give us the opportunity to renew our commitment to support family life.

Secondly, we have the opportunity to renew our commitment to end the horrible disgrace of abortion in our country.

I heard a story from a priest who gave a talk at a parish in Florida.  He arrived at the church early so he had some time to kill.  He strolled over to the beach and as he approached the beach he saw these big white signs that read: “Do not disturb the sea turtles or their eggs.  They are protected by federal, state and local law.”  Of only the unborn humans we protected by federal, state and local law.  We know that there is a sea turtle in the egg, but we pretend we don’t know there is a human being growing in the womb.

There was a house next to Auschwitz.  The people living in the house knew what was happening in the concentration camp.  They had a decision to make.  Do we do nothing? Or do we act in an effort against evil in order to save human life?  These brave people took their lives into their own hands and helped some of the prisoners escape.  If caught, they would have been killed by the Nazis.  We have a modern day Auschwitz in our own neighborhoods.  We have a decision to make.  Do we do nothing?  Or do we act in effort against evil in order to save human life?

We began Mass with the Confiteor.  In that great prayer, we ask forgiveness for what we have done and what we have failed to do.  The sin of omission is a very real sin.  This issue has nothing to do with partisan politics.  We must fight evil tooth and nail wherever we find it.

One of the ways we can support the unborn is by supporting their mothers who are afraid, scared and worried about the unknown.  Crisis pregnancy centers do great work and deserve our support.  Girls and women in crisis pregnancies should know that we will help make life as easy as possible for them during this temporary situation.  We should give them everything they need so they can choose life.  And sometimes the obvious needs to be pointed out: Nobody stays pregnant forever. It’s only temporary.  Isn’t the death of an innocent person a little too permanent a “solution” for a temporary inconvenience?  But people overcome by fear and anxiety make such rash decisions every day.

For those who have made these decisions in the past, there is great hope for healing.  We can support healing ministries for those who have the scars of past abortions.  We can let people know they exist.  There is no longer any need to carry around these secrets that cause overwhelming regret and emotional pain.  All people who have been complicit in abortion can get the healing they need in Project Rachel or any number of apostolates for healing the Church offers.  These apostolates reflect the compassionate heart of Christ.  And of course, they are confidential.  There is a loving God anxious to forgive and heal all who turn to him.  His offer of forgiveness and healing remains constant no matter what we have done.

Of course it would be better if abortion were not even legal in the first place.  We Christians have a large role to play as citizens.  We have an election in 30 days.  It is not partisan to fight tooth and nail against intrinsic evil wherever we find it.  It’s our duty as Christians!  We don’t come from the left or the right.  We come from the principle that it should not be legal to kill human beings in the womb.  Our bishops point out that a candidate for political office disqualifies himself or herself if he or she holds a pro-abortion position or any other position that is intrinsically evil.  Voting is a moral act, so we are not to participate in evil with our vote.

Let’s look at this comparison.  Would we ever vote for a person who wanted to keep slavery legal?  Of course not.  In fact, such a candidate would be sent packing from the campaign trail.  So why is there ever even a question that we would vote for someone who wants to keep the killing of human beings legal?  Enslaving human beings is an outrageous offense against human dignity.  And killing human beings is worse.

Let’s not fall into the trap of voting for pro-abortion candidates at the local level because they don’t have direct influence on policy regarding abortion.  Most politicians are climbers.  They work their way up the ladder of political power.  Whether they are pro-life or not shows their integrity as a public servant.  If they don’t want to protect the vulnerable, how do I know I will be lucky enough to be arbitrarily protected?

Many in our government think that some human beings are worthy of life, and some human beings are not, and thus may be destroyed for any reason whatsoever.  That’s not a healthy government, especially when a few can arbitrarily decide who has a right to live and who does not.  Either every human being has a right to live, or nobody does and we can destroy anyone at any time.  Let us vote according to Christian principles with a conscience correctly formed.  Archbishop Schnurr tells us, “A conscience must be well-formed by reason to discover natural law and faith to understand sacred Scripture and official church teaching.”  He also says, “opposing intrinsic evil actions that directly threaten the sanctity and dignity of life should have special claim on our consciences as we choose between candidates who do not promote all of the Catholic Social teaching.”  Jesus Christ is not running for office, so the perfect candidate is not on the ballot.

Perhaps we like to vote on economy even though it is a secondary issue to human life.  How can we have economic growth with fewer people?  It seems impossible.  Look at Spain and Greece with their 1.1 fertility rates.  Abortion is an exponential problem.  Not only are we mission 50 million Americans, but they are not here to have children.  Why did the housing market collapse?  Why do we have too much inventory?  These people are not here to buy houses.

We must also pray for our country and our world.  Pray for all who have chosen abortion in the past that they will seek God’s forgiveness, healing and loving embrace.  Finally we are to pray for the conversion of hearts, recognizing more and more the awesome dignity we have as human beings, the pinnacle of creation, wonderfully made in God’s image.

We can do something pro-life.  Call representatives in government at all levels.  Let them know we are a pro-life people.  Join in Life Chain.  Support the 40 Days for Life vigil at the abortion mills.

I’ll close with a quote from one of our bishops:  “God’s love for us is the fundamental reason why every human life must be valued and defended. It is not possible to maintain a community of justice, freedom, and solidarity built on any other foundation.”

Friday, October 19, 2012

Challenges of Decorating for Christmas

Don’t you hate when one light goes out and they all go out?  Me too, but I am not referring to any challenges like that.  In centuries past and even in decades past, Christians celebrating Christmas led the culture in such celebrations.  Christians celebrated Christmas on December 25th, so the culture celebrated Christmas on December 25th.  Since then, things have flip-flopped.  Now we have the culture leading many of us Christians in our celebrations.  Here’s an example.  Many are familiar with the carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”.  When Christians led the culture, Christmas was celebrated from Christmas Day on December 25th until Epiphany on January 6th.  Now you would be lucky to hear a Christmas carol or find a decorated Christmas tree after New Years Day.
            The shift probably happened because of secular commercialism.  Christmas gift exchanges spur big business.  I remember as a child, once Thanksgiving was over, everything was decorated for Christmas.  Now it seems like once Halloween is over, Christmas decorations are everywhere at the beginning of November.
            The Church still has a liturgical calendar that brings us these holidays; and this is where the challenges come in.  This year Advent starts on December 2, the First Sunday of Advent.  While we Christians are supposed to be focusing on a hopeful anticipation of the coming of Christ, the secular culture around us has him already wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in the manger.  We even hear Old Testament readings at Mass during Advent.  These remind us of the hopeful anticipation of the Jewish people for their longed-for Messiah.
            While we Catholics are thinking about the communal Advent Penance Service at the Parish, our friends in the secular world are inviting us to Christmas parties in the middle of Advent.  Isn’t it odd that very few people have Christmas parties in the Christmas Season?
During the beginning of Advent we Christians are supposed to be decorating things with the penitential color of violet and the Marian color of blue.  Meanwhile, the secular world is already using the red of Santa Clause.  So the challenge is:  During Advent, especially the beginning, to decorate for Advent.  Put out an Advent Wreath or a Jesse Tree.  There are ample depictions on the internet.  It looks similar to a Christmas tree but has symbols of the Old Testament genealogy of Jesus.
Since we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary on December 8th, during Advent, it is very proper to decorate things with Marian blue.  This also celebrates the huge role of Mary in bringing us the Reason for the Season, Jesus Christ. 
            During the middle of Advent, on December 17, a shift occurs.  This is a time to ratchet up our anticipation for the coming of the Messiah.  On December 17th, the “O” Antiphons begin.  You are already familiar with the “O” Antiphons from the song, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”.  There is one “O” Antiphon sung every day through December 23 at Vespers (Evening Prayer).  This increased anticipation would warrant one to trim the Christmas tree even though some people still wait until December 23 or 24.
            Finally, as the secular world forgets Christmas around the time of New Years, we Christians continue celebrating Christmas until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.   This year, the feast falls on January 13.  In many places in Christendom, people will even leave Christmas trees and decorations up until the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2, thus celebrating Christmas for a full 40 days.  But Christmas trees past Groundhog Day; that would just be crazy.

Challenge 1:  During Advent, decorate using an Advent Wreath, Jesse Tree, and the colors purple and blue.
Challenge 2:  Wait until December 17 to put up a Christmas tree.
Challenge 3:  Leave the Christmas tree up until the end of the Christmas season, Sunday, January 13, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
Challenge for the hardcore:  Leave Christmas trees and decorations up until February 2nd.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

From the USCCB

USCCB Responds To Inaccurate Statement Of Fact On HHS Mandate Made During Vice Presidential Debate

October 12, 2012
WASHINGTON—The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued the following statement, October 12. Full text follows:
Last night, the following statement was made during the Vice Presidential debate regarding the decision of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to force virtually all employers to include sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause abortion, in the health insurance coverage they provide their employees:
"With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution—Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital—none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact."
This is not a fact. The HHS mandate contains a narrow, four-part exemption for certain "religious employers." That exemption was made final in February and does not extend to "Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital," or any other religious charity that offers its services to all, regardless of the faith of those served.
HHS has proposed an additional "accommodation" for religious organizations like these, which HHS itself describes as "non-exempt." That proposal does not even potentially relieve these organizations from the obligation "to pay for contraception" and "to be a vehicle to get contraception." They will have to serve as a vehicle, because they will still be forced to provide their employees with health coverage, and that coverage will still have to include sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients. They will have to pay for these things, because the premiums that the organizations (and their employees) are required to pay will still be applied, along with other funds, to cover the cost of these drugs and surgeries.
USCCB continues to urge HHS, in the strongest possible terms, actually to eliminate the various infringements on religious freedom imposed by the mandate.
For more details, please see USCCB's regulatory comments filed on May 15 regarding the proposed "accommodation":
Keywords: vice presidential debate, HHS mandate, U.S. bishops, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, insurance plans, Catholic hospitals, charities, social services, sterilization, contraception, religious liberty, USCCB
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