Archive for September, 2006

25th Sunday Ordinary Time B September 24, 2006

Monday, September 25th, 2006

Homily — 25th Sunday OT B September 24, 2006

Pope meeting with a delegation of Muslim Leaders from the U.S. in April 2006

To paraphrase a line in the 2nd Reading:

Justice is peacefully sown for those who cultivate peace. In other words, Justice is peacefully spread when we nourish and labor over peace making.

As probably all of us know by now, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI a few weeks back visited his home land of Germany. While there, the Pope gave a speech to professors at the University of Regensburg where he used to teach. In the speech, the Pope briefly quoted a Byzantine Emperor of the 14th Century. The quotation, 32 words long, as we know greatly offended many Moslems throughout the world.

The Holy Father has at least twice publically stated that the medieval Emperors words “do not in any way express my personal thought”.

While that infamous quotation of 32 words doesn’t express Pope Benedict’s personal thought, the rest of the University Speech, some 3,735 other words, does express the Pope’s personal thoughts, and probably his official thought as spiritual leader of the Catholic Church.

So what else did Pope Benedict actually say to those University Professors? What was the Pope’s talk supposed to be all about?

Ironically enough, the Pope’s talk was all about cultivating peace between our Western Culture and the Eastern Islamic Culture! For the Pope says in the talk that both cultures are in “a dilemma which nowadays challenges us directly.” Our two cultures are clashing; we don’t understand one another at all, and this is leading to tensions and even violence and war on both sides.

The Pope says in the speech that to get out of this”dilemma”, both cultures need to change:

1) The Islamic Culture must stop spreading their faith through violence and oppression.

and 2) Our Western Culture must stop relegating God and Religion to the sidelines of society, as if faith were merely a private affair. In doing so, Benedict says our Western Culture becomes “incapable of entering into dialogue with other cultures.” Furthermore, Our banishing God from society is seen by other cultures as “an attack on their most profound convictions”.

Both of these issues must be addressed and corrected by both cultures. Which culture is better? We think ours is, they think theirs is. Jesus in the Gospel says that the greatest must be the child-like servant, eager to serve others as if they were superior to them, eager to learn from others about the good other cultures possess.

Furthermore, Pope Benedict says that the root cause of both culture’s problems lies in the same faulty notion of who God is: We both fail to see that the One, True God is reasonable.

Why should Islam not spread their faith by violence and oppression? Because God is rational, and violence is irrational.

(The Church admittedly has been slow in learning this, but she has learned it, and now repents and is ashamed of the times in the past when people may have been coerced into our faith through violent means. And so, kind of like a sober, recovering alcoholic who tries to convince a fellow alcoholic to join AA, the Pope is inviting Moslem leaders to reject the literal interpretation of jihad (Holy War) that many Moslems still hold, in favor of a spiritual interpration of waging jihad on one’s own sinful tendencies.)

The Pope mentions, however, the main problem Islam faces in changing. It is that Moslems have tended to have what is called a voluntaristic notion of God. In other words, God is all will and no reason, totally transcendent, totally beyond our human knowledge.

In other words, if you were to ask a Moslem why God commands what He does, he or she would tend to answer “He commands it because He is Allah” or “Because the Koran says so”. Period, end of story.

Whereas, Catholicism has traditionally tried to give reasons why God does what He does. In the words of St. Anselm, our “faith seeks understanding.” We attempt to do this because we hold that God is reasonable, He doesn’t act against good reasoning. Pope Benedict says “the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us . . . there exists a real analogy, in which unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness (God is so beyond and above us – ed.), yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and . . . language.”

The hopeful news is that the concept of a rational God isn’t totally foreign to the Moslem religion. In the High Middle Ages, the Moslem World began to produce theologians and philosophers who spoke of God in rational ways, very similar to how Catholic theologians and philosophers speak of Him. That big movement however suddenly died out in Islam centuries ago, never to be resurrected. The Pope in this speech is inviting the Moslems to start it up again.

But the Pope is also calling us Americans and Europeans to
resurrect a serious intellectual study of God and religion in our world today. For in our Western Culture, the place a reasonable God is most banished from is the world of Academia.

I was in Providence Thursday stopped at a traffic light, and in front of me was a car with Brown Universities new logo which the University adopted two years ago. It’s the same as the Old Logo, except the old University motto “In Deo Speramus” — In God we Hope” — has been dropped. It seems that the powers that be at Brown University no longer hope in God.

It is sad that many Professors and Intellectuals today have abandoned rational faith in God, especially since in the past, universities and intellectuals were very religious minded. How did we get to this point of dropping God and theology from higher education? The Pope gives three factors which have all led to a divorce between reason and faith:

1) The Protestant Reformation, which overemphasized private interpretation of Scripture and personal relationship with God to the detriment of communal, institutional religion, making religion more emotional than reasonable;

2) The Rise of the Natural Sciences (Physics, Chemistry, etc), which “narrowed the radius” of science and reason to the physical, whereas in the past the definition of science and reason also encompassed the spiritual; and

3) A faulty notion of inculturation (adapting the New Testament Teachings to different groups of peoples), which in order to make the Gospel message more “relevant” to a certain culture and time, sees certain essential parts of New Testament teaching as being only relevant for the 1st century Greek culture and therefore disposable today.

In response to the above factors, the Pope says we Westerners need to broaden our definition of science and reason to include not just the physical but also the spiritual. And He says that while we should try to make the Gospel relevant to all Cultures and Peoples, we cannot change the truth that the New Testament God is a God of Reason.

To prove this, Benedict quotes the famous opening lines of the Gospel of John, commonly translated as follows: In the beginning was the Word . . . . and the Word is God.

But what we normally translate into English as “Word” in the original Greek is “Logos.” Thus, St. John wrote: In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos is God.

But the word Logos not only means “Word”, Logos also means “Reason”! It is where we get the word “Logic” from.

So, Pope Benedict says, John 1:1 could also be accurately translated as saying In the beginning was Reason, . . . . and Reason is God.

Therefore, Benedict says “violence is incompatible with the nature of God, and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature.”

(In many ways, this important university speech is Part II of the Pope’s First Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love). Yes, Benedict says, God is Love, but God is also Reason.)

So there in a nutshell is what the Pope was trying to get at. And where the Pope thinks both the Christians and the Moslems need to change.

Moslem Spiritual Leaders and Western University Leaders are two tough crowds to dialogue with, but Pope Benedict is hopeful that he has God’s grace and the best interest of all parties on his side.

Let us pray my brothers and sisters for our Holy Father in his difficult job as the successor of St. Peter. And may we remember the words of the Apostle James, that Justice will be peacefully sown, peacefully spread, throughout our vast diverse world, if and only if you and I do our part in cultivating the peace our Lord Jesus, the Logos made Flesh, wishes to teach us.

24th Sunday Ordinary Time Sept. 17, 2006

Monday, September 18th, 2006

Homily — 24th Sunday OT B (CCD Sun.) September 17, 2006

compendium logo

Who do people say that I am?

We observe this weekend National Catechetical Sunday in parishes through the United States.

At the 10 a.m. Mass today, those who teach in our Religious Education Program received a blessing as they begin the School Year. CCD for Grades 1-8 begins tomorrow, Confirmation for Grades 9-10 begins two weeks from today.

In today’s Gospel, we kind of see the dynamics of a religious education program in action: on the one hand there is Jesus, trying to teach His disciples. On the other hand there is His disciples, trying to learn how to follow Jesus.

And Jesus begins by asking “Who do people say that I am?” When it comes to teaching the faith to a group of people, that question is a good one to start with: who does the average public school student think Jesus is? Who does the average teenager today think Jesus is? The average adult?

People both young and old come to CCD and RCIA classes with pre-conceived notions of who Jesus is. And just like the Gospel, some of them are mostly correct in their answers, like St. Peter was, others are only partly correct, like those who thought Jesus was a prophet, and still others are dead wrong about who they think Jesus is, like those who thought He was Elijah come back to earth.

The Challenge for the Catechist is to dispel the false notions of Jesus and to fill out the incomplete notions of Him, so that they may say with Peter: You are the Christ.

But even Peter, who knew who Jesus is, didn’t really know as much as he thought he knew. So even the best student disciple of Christ still like Peter has much to learn before he or she is ready for eternal life.
In addition to showing the kind of students must be taught, Jesus in the Gospel also gives various teaching methods which He used in teaching the disciples.

Our Lord used what’s called the Socratic Method of teaching, by asking the student questions, trying to draw the correct answer out of them: Who do they say I am? Is that right? No? Then who do you say that I am?

While Jesus every now and then used the Socratic Method, He more often used the Lecture Method, as He did in the Sermon on the Mount, and here in the Gospel when He lectures them on His passion and resurrection and later on carrying their cross behind Him.

And lastly, this Gospel shows that Jesus wasn’t afraid to teach every now and then by admonition. He rebukes Peter in front of all the other disciples. Certainly it’s not the first method Christ resorts to, nor should it be the first method of any teacher. But Christ shows us that sometimes it’s not wrong to teach by correction. (A priest mentor I once had said Christians should “encourage in pounds and correct in ounces.”)
Jesus also used at least three other teaching methods not mentioned in today’s Gospel:

Parables — Those stories where everything has symbolic meaning: The sower going out to sow; the man with the wine vineyard, the prodigal son, etc. I think Jesus taught frequently in Parables because to really get most of the parables, you have to sit down and really pray about them — there’s more to them than first meets the eye.

Jesus also used a method considered very passe and old school these days — Memorization.

When you pray, say “Our Father . . . . .” (He certainly expected them to memorize it). And at the First Mass, the center of our faith, Our Lord says: Do this in memory of Me.

While in years past, the Nuns probably went overboard on having kids memorize everything; There’s about a dozen basic prayers that every child and adult should be able to know by memory if they can, as well as the 10 Commandments, the 5 Precepts of the Church and the 14 Works of Mercy. And only the answer to the first question of the Baltimore Catechism. Everything else you don’t need to memorize.
And lastly, Jesus taught most of all by example. His example of mercy, forgiveness, humility, patience, trust in God, are seen on every page of the New Testament for us to imitate.

And so those of us who are called to teach the faith — Parents (the first teachers of the faith), Godparents, Clergy, CCD teachers — we should try to use all these methods of teaching that Jesus used to convey the faith, especially the last method of good example.

But how we teach, the methods, are only half of what makes a good religion teacher. What we teach, the content, is the other essential half. We could have great teaching methods and keep the students of ours interested and engaged the whole class, but end up giving them no content, no real knowledge of Who Jesus and His Church is.

Faith without works is dead, and good teaching methods without good content is dead also. Which means we Catechists — parents, clergy, teachers — we need to know what our Catholic Faith teaches, and then effectively convey the whole content of our faith to those entrusted to us.

I want to end by calling to your attention two new books that came out in the past few months to help us both learn the faith and teach it to others:

1) the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church — (Compendium for short). Put out by the Pope for the whole Church, the Compendium is a summary of the Big Catechism of the Catholic Church in Question and Answer Form (just like the old Baltimore Catechism). It’s a little bit easier to read than the Catechism (which isn’t the easiest thing to read, but if you have a college education I think you could handle it). It’s a lot shorter too.

But also in the Compendium are about 20 beautiful color images: icons, paintings, mosaics, frescos that teach a lesson through artwork, with side notes on what the symbolism is in the images.

And also in the back, there’s a very nice Appendix of Prayers in Latin and English, and Formulas of Catholic Doctrine (the works of mercy, the capital sins, ten commandments, etc.)

2) And finally, literally hot off the presses, just out is this “United States Catholic Catechism for Adults”.

I’ve only read a couple of Chapters, but it really looks like a good book. Most every Chapter begins with the story of a famous American Catholic. It seems a lot easier to read than the Catechism or Compendium, but at the same time it’s just as faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

So I recommend you get both, plus the Catechism they are based on!

May Jesus bless our parish as we begin this new CCD year, and may all of us who are entrusted with teaching the faith grow more and more to know just Who Jesus really is.

23rd Sunday Ordinary Time B Sept 10, 2006

Monday, September 11th, 2006

Homily — 23rd Sun. OT B MMVI September 10, 2006

Ephphatha

He has done all things well! He makes the deaf hear, and the mute speak.

This miraculous healing of the deaf man with a speech impediment is one of the most elaborate of all Jesus’ healings. Sometimes, Jesus healed with just a word or a touch. Sometimes, Jesus even healed a person a great distance away from Him with a thought.

But on a few occasions, Jesus performed a number of actions — a combination of words, gestures, and touches — before the full healing of the person took place.

In this Gospel, Our Lord does seven actions before the deaf man with a speech impediment is healed:

1) Jesus takes the man aside;
2) He puts His fingers in the man’s ears;
3) Jesus spits;
4) He touches the man’s tongue;
5) He looks up to Heaven;
6) He groans;
7) and finally, He says “Ephphatha!” — “Be opened!”

And after these seven steps, the man begins to hear clearly and speak plainly for all to understand.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus takes these seven steps to heal this man of his natural deafness and speech impediment, so that we might know the seven steps we must undergo to be healed of our spiritual deafness and speech impediments.

For how many of us can truly say we hear clearly the voice of God speaking to us, showing us the path we must take, revealing to us the true state of our souls, the vices we must root out and the virtues we must cultivate?

And how many of us can really speak clearly and articulately to others the language of God’s love and truth? Even the best of us seem to be unable to convey the Catholic Faith to the younger generation and to unbelievers, due to a spiritual speech impediment on our part, and perhaps a spiritual deafness on theirs, which are widespread afflictions in our day and age.

So let’s briefly look at these seven steps Jesus wants us to undergo in order that we might clearly hear His voice, and effectively speak His praises.

The first three, steps 1, 2, and 3, are actually steps we must take, while the last three, steps 5, 6, and 7, are steps Jesus takes in us, if we let Him do so. And the crucial middle step, step 4, is something both God and we must do together.

First step. The Gospel says Jesus took the man off by himself away from the crowd. We cannot hear Jesus if we are constantly surrounded by the noises of the world. We have to get away from the crowd, away from the cacophony of noises: the sounds of the media, the voices of people vainly praising us, or criticizing us, the noise of those telling us to buy this product, or to indulge in that sin. To be healed we must first turn aside from all that noise and enter into that quiet which is daily prayer.

Second, Jesus put His fingers into the man’s ears, blocking out the sound waves of the world. When Ludwig Von Beethoven began growing deaf, he used to carry around with him a big trumpet shaped hearing devise, like those old Victrola Record Player horns, which he’d stick in his ear to hear a person with.

Jesus wants us to use Him as a “hearing aid”. To listen using His ears only. Let he who has ears to hear, hear me. So when we’re out in the world, we need to learn to block our ears to all the world’s noises and listen only to the voice of the Lord.

The third step Jesus does is spits. What does Jesus’ spit have to do with our hearing Him and speaking His praises?

Perhaps the answer can be found in the Book of Revelation, Chapter 3, where Jesus says “I wish you were either hot or cold. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Spiritual lukewarmness leads quickly to spiritual deafness and dumbness. And unless we shake off lukewarmness, and we strive to fan into flame our faith life, Jesus will never be able to heal us.

We now come to the crucial Middle Step Four — Jesus touched the man’s tongue.

In a few moments the very same Jesus will touch our tongue, in the Holy Eucharist. And if we prepare to receive Holy Communion by those first three steps, by first turning away from the world, blocking out all voices but God in our hearts, and repenting of our spiritual laziness and lukewarmness, we also will be well on our way to being healed.

Because once a person has made it to step four, he or she just needs to sit back and let Jesus do the last three steps.

After touching the man’s tongue, Jesus looks up to Heaven. Christ looks up to Heaven after touching our tongues because that’s where we are after receiving Him worthily in Holy Communion: in the heavenly realm, joined to Him. Sursum Corda, Lift up your hearts; The Lord has lifted them up to Him.

And after that, step six: Jesus groans. He begins to groan within us! Like a baby begins to speak by first making baby noises, so we first make baby noises in the spirit before we learn to speak fully. (Some Catholics see the gift of speaking in tongues as the spirit groaning in a kind of baby Christian talk. Others also see Gregorian Chant as a kind of groaning in the spirit. In any case,) St. Paul in the letter to the Romans says the Spirit himself prays in us with inexpressible groanings.

Finally, after leading us through the first six steps, Jesus says to us “Ephphatha” — “Be Opened!” And with those words and those seven steps, we can now hear clearly the Lord’s Voice, we are now able to speak clearly the language of the Spirit.

Our words become His Words, our words become Spirit and Life, our words become living and effective, and sharper than a two edged sword.

Our deafness and speech impediments will be gone, my brothers and sisters, if only you and I acknowledge our deafness and dumbness and move those seven steps closer to Jesus.

22nd Sunday Ordinary Time B Sept. 3, 2006

Sunday, September 3rd, 2006

Homily — 22nd Sunday OT B September 3, 2006

angry pharisees

All these evils come from within, and they defile a person. But, Blessed are the pure of heart, they shall see God.

This is the central message of the whole New Testament of Jesus Christ, an interior conversion of heart which leads a person to exterior works of mercy.

Purity, or cleanness, of heart was also the central message of the Old Testament. We see this over and over again in the writings of the Prophets, and especially in the Psalms.

Today’s Psalm, for example, says The one who does justice, who thinks the truth in his heart, will live in the presence of the Lord. Also, Psalm 51: A clean heart create for me O God, and Psalm 139: O test me God and know my heart, see that I follow not the wrong path, are two other examples of the kind of purity of heart God called the Israelites to in the Old Testament.

St. James in the 2nd Reading calls this purity of heart Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father. But in today’s Gospel, Jesus meets up with a group of religious-looking people who just don’t understand what true religion should be about: the Pharisees.

The Pharisees over-emphasized the legal and ritualistic aspects of the Old Testament and under-emphasized its spiritual and moral aspects. The Old Testament had many laws, found in the Bible, which are called ceremonial precepts: laws that dealt with keeping holy the sabbath, laws on how to offer sacrifices, dietary laws on what foods were clean to eat and what foods were unclean, and finally ritual laws regarding other things or actions which made a person unclean, and rules corresponding to these which purified the unclean person.

These Ceremonial Precepts of the Old Law didn’t deal with right and wrong, good and evil. God gave them to the Israelites in addition to the moral law of the Ten Commandments as a reminder for them and as a sign to others that they were a people God had set apart from all nations to be His Chosen People.
Moses in the first reading warned the Israelites not to add or subtract to these laws. But the Pharisees of Jesus’ day not only added to them, they multiplied these ceremonial laws of outward purity, creating hundreds of new additional laws, not found in the Old Testament. And in doing so, they subtracted greatly from its main message of inward purity of heart.

It’s no wonder that the Pharisees had a hard time with Jesus, who as Son of God did away with all the Old Testament ceremonial precepts: His one perfect sacrifice on the Cross fulfilled all the Old Testament sacrifices, His Resurrection on Easter Sunday ushered in the new Lord’s Day of Rest. And from now on, Baptism into Christ is what sets the People of God apart as God’s chosen people, not adherence to ritual purity laws.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day had an especially hard time with all this because, as Christ says of them, Their hearts are far from me. The Pharisees were pure on the outside, but not on the inside.

Now, the Pharisees went to the extreme of making religion an end in itself. But this doesn’t mean that Jesus was against the outward practice of religion by His disciples. Religion is an essential tool we must use in order to cleanse our hearts of evil thoughts, unchastity, greed, malice, pride and all the other evils Jesus says defile us from within.

For the only way to get clean of all these things is to turn to God and ask Him to create a clean heart in us, which He certainly will. But it won’t be long before we defile our hearts again with folly, blasphemy, envy, deceit or some other evil, so we’ve got to go back to God again and again.

And this is what external religion is all about. Vocal prayers, organized weekly Mass attendance, hanging pictures of Jesus and the Saints in our homes, frequent spiritual reading are all meant to help keep us pure of heart, to remind us of our duty as Christians towards God and neighbor, and to remind us of the heavenly reward which awaits those who follow Jesus in this life.
So there’s nothing at all wrong with being religious, in fact, being religious is virtuous and not being religious at all is objectively sinful. But all our external religious actions, to be virtuous, need to be a reflection of the inner desire to serve Jesus with a pure heart in the world.

A great contemporary example of a very religious person, who was as exteriorly as religious as the Pharisees, but who never lost sight of the true meaning of religion, is Blessed Theresa of Calcutta.

Mother Theresa, who each day went to Mass, said the Rosary, and did a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament, once said “People say they admire my courage. I answer them that I wouldn’t have any courage if I were not convinced that each time I touch the body of a leper, I touch the same Christ I receive in the Eucharist.” In other words, Mother Theresa knew she would be a hypocrite like the Pharisees if after receiving Jesus in Holy Communion she didn’t go out and help the poor.

Her outward practice of religion gave her the grace to have a heart clean of sin, a heart Christ was able to fill with a deep love for the poorest of the poor.

May the same Jesus, who comes now to us in this Eucharist, help us understand more fully the meaning of that Beatitude which is most central to our Catholic Religion: Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.