Archive for November, 2006

Pray for the Pope these next few days!

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has asked us to pray for him as he visits the country of Turkey from November 28 to December 1.

Click here for my homily on the Pope’s speech at Regensburg University in Germany.  Click here for my homily on the occasion of the election of Pope Benedict.

Homily — Christ the King B November 26, 2006

Sunday, November 26th, 2006

Homily — Christ the King B MMVI November 26, 2006

Christ in Majesty by Blessed Fra Angelico

Pilate said to Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own, or have others told you about me?”

Today’s Solemnity of Christ the King is one of the newest Liturgical Feast Days of our Catholic Church.

The Church has celebrated liturgically the Feast of Easter every year since the first Easter. She’s celebrated Christmas every year for at least the past 1700 years. For 1300 years we’ve celebrated the Assumption of the Virgin Mary throughout the Church, while St. Joseph’s Day only became a universal feast in the 1600s.

But even St. Joseph’s Feast Day is ancient compared to today’s Feast, which was first established and celebrated in 1925 by Pope Pius XI.

While the feast day is relatively new, the doctrine of the universal kingship of Christ goes back even to Old Testament times.

For example, in Isaiah 9 we read “For unto us a child is born, a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders and his shall be called wonderful counselor ….prince of peace.”

Psalm 72 “He (the King) shall endure . . . . from age to age . . . . (and) shall rule from sea to sea . . . . Before Him all Kings shall fall prostrate, all nations shall serve Him.”

And then on the first pages of the New Testament, The Angel Gabriel said to Mary at the Annunciation “Of His Kingdom there will be no end.” — words which we have incorporated in the ancient Niceaen Creed we say each Sunday at Mass.

We see the pagan Magi, the wise men, bringing gold to the Manger at Jesus’ Birth, acknowledging His authority over them even as an infant, while at the same time King Herod, wrongly feeling threatened by the Infant Christ’s Kingship, is trying to kill him.

And finally at the Ascension, Jesus says to His disciples All power in Heaven and on earth has been given to Me.

So it’s plain to see that referring to Christ as “The King” has been there since the beginning of the faith. So, why then did Pope Pius XI in the early part of the 20th Century suddenly decide to make this Sunday a special feast in honor of Christ the King?

Primarily, because the world (which had just been through World War I) was forgetting that Christ is truly King over all peoples.

In his encyclical which he wrote to inaugurate the Feast, Pius XI writes:

“the rebellion of individuals and States against the authority of Christ has produced deplorable consequences: . . . . the seeds of discord; . . . bitter enmities and rivalries; . . . insatiable greed…hidden under a pretense of partisanship and patriotism; . . . .the unity and stability of the family undermined; society in a word, shaken to its foundations and on the way to ruin. We firmly hope, however, that the Feast of the Kingship of Christ, which will be in the future yearly observed, may hasten the return of our society to our loving Saviour.”

While the Pope was writing 80 years ago, his message is still as urgent as ever.

In the Gospel, Jesus stands before a man of authority. The man in authority asks Jesus “Are you the King?” The King whom the Jews say all Kings will fall prostrate, all nations will serve?

And Jesus answered “Do you say this on your own?” Jesus so hopes that Pilate is saying this “on his own,” as a man seeking the Truth, as one in authority seeking to acknowledge and serve the Source of that authority.

May we, who have the incredible gift of knowing the answer to Pilate’s question — that Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – may we ask Jesus on this solemn feast day “Jesus, are you my King? Am I really serving you with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and witnessing to Your Kingship in both my public and private life? Or am I just at best paying lip service to You?”

May this Eucharist stir our hearts to serve Him more faithfully, and to work with renewed vigor for the “return of our society to our loving Saviour.”

Homily — 33rd Sunday OT B

Monday, November 20th, 2006

Homily — 33rd Sunday OT B November 19, 2006

Last Judgment by Giotto (http://cgfa.floridaimaging.com/giotto/giotto17.jpg)

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Today’s Gospel from Mark is a segment of Jesus’ rather long discourse on the end of the world and His Second Coming, which according to Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus taught the disciples just a few days before he himself died.

Every year in November, the Church encourages us to reflect on what’s traditionally called the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.

As if to set the overriding tone of the month, we begin the month by reflecting on Heaven: November 1 is All Saints Day, the Holiest Day of the Month. We’re even obliged to stop what we’re doing that day and come to Church to honor the heroes and heroines of our faith and to remember the glories that await us if we persevere. So the Church would have us think most often of Heaven this month and throughout the year even.

November 2, All Souls Day, we shift our focus from the Blessed Saints in Glory to the Suffering Souls in Purgatory, and in doing so we also shift from reflecting on Heaven to reflecting on Death. The Church encourages us the first week of November to visit a cemetery and pray for the Souls of those buried there under the Autumn leaves, and to remember the brevity of our own life while we are at it.

And finally, in the Last few weeks of November, the readings at Mass and in the other official prayers of the Church focus more and more on such cheery topics as the end of the world, the second coming of Christ, the final judgment, and how as Daniel in the first reading puts it some shall live forever (in the glory of Heaven), others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace (in Hell).

Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell are all pretty heavy things to think deeply on, but remember that its only one month out of twelve that these things take Center Stage in our faith life (not that the rest of the year we should totally forget about them however).

Today’s readings focus mainly on the Tribulations leading up to the End: Daniel begins by saying it shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until that time.

Jesus, in the passage right before today’s Gospel passage elaborates greatly on Daniels words, and then basically says as bad as that will be, it will get even worse: after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give it’s light, and the stars will be falling form the sky and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then Christ will return. [Is Jesus being literal or figurative? In some ways a spiritual interpretation (of Christ the light of the world being darkened, Mary the Moon not giving her light, the saints not shining down on the Earth) is more frightening than a literal one.]

As you are probably aware, there are many crazy and erroneous theories about what apocalyptic passages like this one and others all mean. Many non-Catholic Christian groups for instance believe in what they call the pre-tribulation Rapture, which teaches that all “born again” Christians will be snatched away from the earth and be taken to Heaven before things get really bad. (In other words, if the Rapture were to happen right now, those of us who are saved would just disappear from the pews. If I’m saved I would vanish from the pulpit, and those left would have to go over to the Rectory to get Fr. Blain to finish the Mass – but hopefully he wouldn’t be there either!)

And then there are some Christians in this country, some in high places, that are actually trying to stir up things in the Middle East, for they believe this will hasten the Rapture and they want to get off this earth soon!

So what is a faithful Catholic to think about all these things? Will I be raptured, or “left behind”? Is the end near?

First of all, no one is being raptured. The whole erroneous (possibly heretical) doctrine of the Rapture was invented 200 years ago; for the first 1800 years no serious Christian Catholic or Protestant ever held such a position.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a great section explaining the Church’s traditional teaching on the End Times, a teaching we Catholics have consistently held since apostolic times, a teaching we believe to be the authentic teaching of Christ.

I will conclude by quoting and commenting on two paragraphs from the section entitled “The Church’s Ultimate Trial” (all emphasis my own):

CCC#675 — Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers [so one of the signs of the end times is that "many" will fall away from the Catholic faith - Fr. W]. The [final] persecution . . . . will unveil . . . .a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist [note the capital A - Fr. W], a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of His Messiah come in the flesh.

#677 — The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. [Sorry, no rapture before the end: the Church must suffer and die before she is raised eternally - Fr. W].

(#677 cont.) The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven. [My interpretation of this passage is that Satan will suspect that his time is running out, and so he will attack the Church on earth one final time, with all the forces of hell at his disposal. As the Pope and every other believer on earth is just about ready to wave the white flag in surrender, At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince, leading all the other angels and all the saints of heaven down to earth to fight the devil and win for us that final terrible battle.]

(#677 concl.) God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.

When’s it all going to happen? Jesus says He doesn’t know, and the Father isn’t telling us either. But over the past 500 years or so, and especially over the past 50 years, the branch of the fig tree does look like its at least become tender.

Let us pray fervently to God my brothers and sisters, atoning for our sins and the sins of the whole world while we do so, that those aren’t buds we’re starting to see, sprouting on that dreadful branch.

Homily — 32nd Sunday OT B

Monday, November 13th, 2006

Homily — 32nd Sunday OT B November 12, 2006

The Widow's Mite

She, from her poverty, has contributed all she had.

In the first reading, the Old Testament prophet Elijah asks the pagan widow of Zarephath to make him some bread.

So the widow uses up all the “handful of flour” and the little bit of oil she has, makes a small loaf of bread with it, and brings it to the prophet to eat.

And returning home, she finds her flour jar miraculously filled to the brim with flour, her oil jug the same, and throughout that time of famine her and her son stay strong and healthy.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, the old testament prophet Elijah here symbolizes Jesus, and the widow of Zarephath here symbolizes us.

Just as Elijah asks the widow to prepare bread for him out of what she has, so Jesus asks us to prepare bread for him out of what we have.

And just as the widow brings Elijah the bread she prepared, so you and I in a few moments will bring to Jesus the bread we have prepared.

The part of the Mass after the General Intercessions and up to the Eucharistic Prayer is called the Offertory.

Baskets are passed, and monetary donations are collected to pay for everything that goes into offering the bread: the purchase of the bread from Cavaunaugh Company in Greenville, the upkeep of this Church the bread is offered in, and the support of the priests who offer the bread.

Once the donations have been collected, the Bread (and Wine) and monetary offerings are brought up to the Altar. And then the Bread is offered by the priest to God through Jesus.

And so, the Bread we offer Jesus each Sunday (and each day) here at St. Joseph Church, in particular the very host which will be consecrated and then given back to you in Holy Communion, truly has been prepared and presented by noone else but you and me.

But as the Gospels show us, Jesus our Lord wants us to offer Him much more than physical bread at the Offertory. As the basket is passed, as the bread is brought up, Jesus wants us to make a Spiritual offering as well, an offering to Him that is more than we can spare.

And its not so much alms Jesus is looking for from us, although that might be part of it. Rather, Whatever we think we could never live without needs to be handed over in the Offertory and placed on the paten the priest offers to God.

Because the more we imitate these two widows in today’s readings, the more our jars and jugs will never go empty throughout our lives.

On the other hand, the more we imitate the scribes, who lived for themselves and gave God only of their surplus wealth, the more we risk spiritually shriveling up when famine hits.

And so our ideal at every Offertory is the total offering of the widow in the Gospel. Jesus praised the widow for her tremendous detachment and for her heroic trust in God’s Providence.

But like any other person, the widow didn’t become the saint she was overnight. She learned over time to be more generous, more self giving. And really, it was a lifetime process of learning how to let go of things and offer them to God.

And so as a young woman, she had to learn to let go of her parents when she was wed to her husband. As a new mother, she had to learn to let go of her youthfulness. As the years went on, she soon needed to learn how to cut the apron strings and let her grown up children leave the nest. And when her husband passed away, she learned how to offer him back to God and go on serving God in this life.

And despite having given to God all these things she thought she could’ve never lived without, her flour and oil, her faith hope and love, never ran dry but only increased the more she gave all she had to the Lord.

And so we too must learn throughout life that detachment and that trust in God’s Providence that the widow learned.

And finally, not only do we have the inspiring example of these two widows in today’s readings, there’s another widow that we can look to, to help us even more. This other widow, even though she was given so many riches and blessings in this life, every day offered them all back to God and used them only as He wished her to. And when, one by one, all of these blessings and riches were taken from her, she was able to let them all go and continue on in great faith, hope, and love.

So let us today and every day turn to that Holy Widow, our Blessed Mother Mary, who continued to offer to God all she had even after losing her husband Joseph and her Divine Son Jesus.

May Mary help us to contribute to the Church all we have, our whole livelihood, for no other reason than to give God the glory.

An Election Day Reflection . . . . .

Monday, November 6th, 2006

Homily — 31st Sunday Ordinary Time October 31, 2004

Christ before Pilate

Every week at Mass after the homily, we all stand and profess our Catholic Faith by saying the ancient Nicene Creed.

And every Sunday we say in that Creed the words “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.”

It’s interesting to note that the only three humans mentioned in the Creed are Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and a politician.

Politics and religion are touchy subjects to talk about. If you want to get into an argument with someone at a party, mention politics or religion, and the person throwing the party will get a bit nervous. Mix the two together and the hostess will quickly start saying “how about those Red Sox!”

But each Sunday, Christians throughout the world come to Church and mix politics with religion when they profess Jesus Christ “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified died and was buried” under orders from the state.

We Catholics believe that Jesus is God. And in the mystery of God’s Providence, nothing in Jesus’ life was accidental. Before He was born, Jesus planned to stand before the civil authority. Jesus our God deliberately chose to get mixed up in the world of politics, whether we like it or not.

Why did He do so? It would be good for us between now and Tuesday (Election Day) to reflect on the four Gospel accounts of Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate, or to watch the movie the Passion which does a great job depicting those accounts. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that every moral lesson can be learned from meditating on the Passion; I think one can learn everything about the right and wrong relations between Church and state from meditating on the Passion also.

One reason why Jesus wanted to stand before the civil leaders was so that we would realize that the Gospel, the Good News Jesus came to bring, was meant also for the political world. That not only individuals, but also the State was to repent and believe in the Good News. Wouldn’t it be great to hear Good News coming from the government for a change?

And there’s something Pilate said to Jesus that is so relevant to today, two days before a big election. As Jesus stood before him, crowned with thorns, bleeding from the government ordered scourges he had been unjustly given, Pilate said to Him Do you realize(, Jesus,) that I have the power to release you, and the power to crucify you?

And how true that is. The civil authority has the power to release, to help, Jesus — the power and the duty to give freedom and protection to the poor and oppressed. Whatsoever you do to the most insignificant of my brothers, you do unto me Jesus says. It is a power that comes from God, but God puts that power in the hands of world leaders.

But because of this, the state also has the power to crucify Jesus, it has the power if it chooses to wrongly oppress the poor, to unjustly deny fundamental rights to innocent human lives. God in no way approves of this abuse of power, but permits it because He respects our free will. And when the civil authority fails to protect the poor and innocent, it cannot wash its hands of guilt any more than Pilate really could.

My brothers and sisters, in our country today who is the “Pontius Pilate,” who is the civil authority Jesus stands before? It is you and me and every citizen eligible to vote. In this democratic society, we the people elect our government.

If we don’t bother to vote or to even register to vote we are in effect telling the enemies of Jesus to do what they want with Him. And if we vote only based on what’s in it for us, without thinking of how the person we are electing will help the poor and defenseless, we are also guilty of Christ’s suffering, death and burial in our society today.

So may we take the time if we haven’t done so already to carefully, prayerfully, and (as hard as it is, with all the spin) objectively examine the candidates running for political office, especially the higher offices, and then vote only for the ones who will do the greatest help and the least harm to Jesus the poor and innocent One.

You high school students who aren’t old enough to vote, it’s not too early for you also to start learning about the issues our country faces. And since it’s you who in the long run will inherit the legacy of whoever gets in, pray these next few days that holy and wise leaders will be elected.

May this Holy Eucharist we receive today help us all to be both faithful citizens of this world and nation, while at the same time faithful followers of Christ who will one day come again to judge all nations and bring his faithful ones to His eternal kingdom of Heaven.