Archive for August, 2006

21st Sunday Ordinary Time B August 27, 2006

Sunday, August 27th, 2006

Homily — 21st Sunday Ordinary Time B August 27, 2006

Christ the Teacher (Mt. Angel Abbey Icons)

As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

The “back to school” time of year is now upon us, the school next door starts next Wednesday, public schools in two weeks, and this weekend many young adults have packed up and headed off to college, some for the first time.

Those of us who have already graduated from high school or college could probably remember one course that we were required to take, either in high school or in college, that we really had to struggle through in order to get a passing grade.

Of all the courses we took in school, this one course was the toughest for us; we did well in the other subjects, but we just weren’t gifted in that particular one.

But as much as we wished to just drop that course, we couldn’t. It was a required course. If we wanted to graduate, we needed to buck up and work hard to pass that course.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as our children go back to school, it’s good to remind ourselves that as disciples, as students of Christ the Teacher, school is always in session. We enrolled in the School of the Good Shepherd at our Baptism, and we must continue to learn and grow in knowledge of Christ each day of our lives, until Christ hands us our diploma on our particular judgment day immediately after we die.

And today’s readings remind us that, every now and then in this school of the Good Shepherd, Christ our Teacher will require us to take a course in our Religion that will challenge us, really test our resolve as disciples of Jesus.

What exactly that course is depends a great deal on the circumstances we currently find ourselves trying to follow Jesus in. An adolescent teenager or young adult, for instance, will be challenged by different courses than a middle aged person. A middle aged, married person will be challenged by different courses than an unmarried senior citizen. A rich and prominent person will be challenged by Jesus in different ways than a poor, common person.
Christians may struggle with different aspects of the faith depending upon whether they are male or female, whether they are living in America or living in China or Saudi Arabia, whether it’s the 3rd Century during the Roman Persecutions, or the High Middle Ages of the 13th Century, or the post-modern, post-Christian 21st Century.

Who we are and where we are will depend on what courses we struggle with, and what ones we find easier, but one thing is certain: the curriculum is standard for every baptized believer. Courses in Faith, in Forgiveness, in each of the Ten Commandments. Courses in Fidelity, in Truthfulness, in Chastity. Courses in the Cross, in Persecution, in Perseverance. You and I and every baptized believer are required to take and pass these same required courses Christ had his followers take 2000 years ago. And Christians 2000 years from now will also be required to take these same courses we’re taking now.

In today’s Gospel, we see Christ the Teacher finish up His teaching on the Holy Eucharist. The Gospel writer John, who was there, states Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said “This saying is hard, who can accept it?” And the Gospel concludes by saying many of His disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Jesus. They dropped out of His school, because belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist was just too tough for these particular disciples.

It’s very sad when every now and then we hear of people who leave the Church or even stop believing in God because Jesus enrolls them in a course that they find too challenging given their circumstances.

If only these people before throwing in the towel tried to use the many study aids Christ the Teacher gives His disciples. For every tough course Jesus enrolls us in, there’s the Bible and the Catechism as the best of reference books, there’s the writings of the Saints, and the Communion of Saints to help us. There’s the power of prayer, the power of the sacraments to help us get through the course were enrolled in. There’s our parish community, and many spiritual guides such as priests and others who’ve also struggled in the past with some of the same courses but have made it through them, who can peer tutor us. Finally, if we are really flunking out in a certain subject, the confessional is the greatest tool to get our Grade Point Average above passing!

But one of the worst things we can do is what many of the disciples did in the Gospel today: drop out, stop following Jesus, stop going to Mass, when faced with an aspect of the faith that challenges us.

But that is only one of the worst things we could do as students of Christ the Teacher. An even worse thing we can do is stay enrolled in the course, but cheat our way through it.

How often these days we hear on the news “60% of Catholics don’t believe in this teaching of the faith, 40% of Catholics think this teaching should be changed” These Catholics, when they come across a tough course they don’t particularly like, just blow off their homework, refuse to take the tests, skip the class, and then on Sunday waltz up to receive communion as if they were honors students!

That’s cheating. You might get away with it for quite a while, maybe for your whole life as the road to destruction is wide and many travel on it, but come graduation day, expect a blank diploma from the Teacher and a place with the goats.

And so as we students come here today to Worship God, some of us currently find ourselves with a fairly easy course load from Christ, others of us a more demanding one, still others the toughest course load of our lives so far.

And today some of us gathered here are currently on Christ’s high honor role, many others are barely passing, and others flat out failing some key required courses.

May Christ give all us students the grace never to drop out of this most prestigious of Schools, and may He even more deliver us from even the thought of cheating on His tests.

And May Christ, the Bread of Life, give all of us disciples of His the grace to say firmly with Peter until our graduation day, Master, you alone have the words of eternal life.

20th Sunday Ordinary Time B August 20, 2006

Sunday, August 20th, 2006

Jesus the Living Bread

Note: I preached this homily today at Ss. John and Paul Church, Coventry Rhode Island. I was invited to celebrate the Mass there as part of their 50th anniversary celebration. I grew up in this parish and received all my sacraments there except for Ordination to the Priesthood. I am also the first priest to be ordained from the parish.

Homily — 20th Sunday OT B August 20, 2006
Wisdom has built her house, a glorious, multi-roomed mansion built on a beautiful piece of land. In her dining room, Lady Wisdom has spread her table with the finest food, the best of wines and drinks. Her domestic army of waitresses and maidservants stand by to serve any and all guests who enter the House of Wisdom.
These invited guests can even move in to this mansion and make it their home, living there rent free for as long as they wish, coming and going as they please. And each day, Wisdom’s guests recline comfortably at her sumptuous table and are served at no charge the best of food for breakfast lunch and dinner, not growing overweight but feeling stronger and healthier and more alive with each passing day.
Such is the blessed earthly life of those who have accepted Wisdom’s invitation to live and dine in her House. But, Wisdom doesn’t invite just anyone to be a guest in her home. Politically incorrect woman that she is, wisdom practices discrimination.
The Book of Proverbs says that Wisdom calls . . . . out over the city: “Let whoever is simple turn in here, (and) eat of my food and drink of (my) wine.” Only the simple can dwell in wisdom’s house; all others need not apply.
My brothers and sister in Christ, it’s important to realize and to remember how very simple our Catholic faith is supposed to be, and how simply we are to follow Christ and His Church.
Now, simple doesn’t mean stupid, nor does it mean small or insignificant. Simple means clear, uncomplicated.
While each Sunday we remind ourselves of our simple faith by reciting the Creed, it might be good to remember what exactly we are saying we believe. Our simple faith is that there is only One God, who created and keeps in being everything that is — the material creation, which science can tell us so much about, and more importantly the spiritual creation which science can tell us nothing about, only faith can reveal this to us. And the greatest of all God’s creations is you and me and all human beings, who are made in this One True God’s image.

And this One True God has only One Son, who about 2000 years ago united Himself with a human soul and body within the womb of a Virgin named Mary; and from this Virgin Mother, who never had relations with a man, Jesus was born a baby in Bethlehem.
We firmly and simply and literally believe this. Whoever doesn’t is not really Catholic.
Jesus of Nazareth is both Fully Man and Fully God, He shows us both who God is and who man is, who we are. And Jesus can only be fully known through two means: His Word and His Bride.
God the Father has written only one Book, the Bible. By coming to know the Word of God, the Scriptures, we come to know the Word made Flesh, Jesus.
And God the Son has married only one Bride: our Mother, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. And by coming to know the Bride of Christ, we also come to know Jesus the Bridegroom, for the two have become one flesh. St. Joan of Arc said “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, we shouldn’t complicate the matter.”
And so if we simply turn away from what Jesus and His Church teaches to be sin, and by His grace obey the Ten Commandments as Jesus and the Church teach us to, Jesus will call us His friends and after we die He will admit us into the joys of Heaven for eternity.
But if we don’t repent of what Jesus and His Bride calls evil after hearing His voice, if we harden our hearts to God’s grace, Jesus will call us His enemies, and we risk eternal damnation after we die, Jesus warns us frequently in Scripture.
But Jesus wishes that all men and women would be saved from the reality of eternal hell, so in His great mercy He’s given us so many gifts to help us follow God:
Gifts such as the Sacraments, most notably that forgotten one, Confession; The Gift of His Holy Spirit, to console and guide us; The Gift of His Mother Mary, whom He entrusted us to while hanging on the Cross; The gift of our Guardian Angel and the Saints, who are constantly helping us in mysterious ways.
And finally, Jesus has given us the gift of the Pope, who speaks with the authority of Christ; the gift of many good priests and bishops who can lead us to a deeper relationship with the Lord; and the gift of many good Christian religious and lay people who can inspire us to greater hliness and commitment.
But the greatest, and perhaps the simplest of all gifts Jesus has given us is Himself truly present to us in the Holy Eucharist.
I am the living Bread come down from Heaven. This is my Body, this is my Blood. For 2000 years, Catholics have taken those words literally, and found in the Eucharist the source of their faith and the greatest part of their faith.
To name just two very simple persons, Pope John Paul II and Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta while alive claimed that all they could do all the great things they did because they spent an hour each day in adoration before Jesus in the Tabernacle and received Him each day in Holy Communion.
And so, as Jesus the Living Bread comes to us today on this Altar for us to eat and drink, may we all hear and heed the voice of Wisdom, calling out over the city: “Let whoever is simple turn in here, (and) eat of my food and drink of (my) wine.”

19th Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday, August 13th, 2006

top of Mt. Washington, New Hampshire

Note: I am on vacation, camping up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire this weekend. Here is my homily from three years ago:

Homily — 19th Sunday OT B August 10, 2003
The Prophet Elijah Receiving Bread  and Water from an Angel Peter Paul Rubens

In today’s first reading, the prophet Elijah, probably the holiest man in the whole Old Testament, has had it with life. The whole nation of Israel has turned from the one true God, and is worshiping false gods. Just days before, Elijah had worked a great miracle and then called down rain after a three year drought, in the presence of King Ahab and thousands of Israelites. But this doesn’t turn them back to God. In return stopping a severe three year drought, the King orders Elijah’s execution. So Elijah flees from the King and his wife Jezebel, and here we find him in today’s first reading, 90 miles from the royal palace in Beer-Sheba, in southern Judaea, very discouraged, despairing, asking God to take his life.
Instead of taking Elijah’s life, God gives him life. An angel gives him bread and command him to eat it. Elijah obeys, he eats a little and then lies back down and continues to want to die. But the angel commands him to eat more else the journey will be too long for you.
And after eating this bread again he’s able to walk 40 days and 40 nights to Mt. Horeb, also called Mt. Sinai, and there God finally speaks to him and renews Elijah’s spirit to continue to fight for the conversion of his people.
Today at St. Joseph Church my brothers and sisters, an angel of the Lord will visit you and me. This angel will command us to get up and eat the Bread God has placed before us. We must rise and eat it, or else the journey will be too long for us.
The bread the angel gives us today is even better than that given to Elijah. It will not only sustain us throughout this life, but it will also give us the nourishment to journey out of this life and into the next life when the hour of our departure has suddenly arrived.

The bread the angel gives us today is called by Our Lord Jesus Living Bread come down from Heaven.
Living Bread. Those are two words which aren’t normally put together. Any science teacher, or any child for that matter would tell you that Bread is not alive. There are living dogs, living humans, living trees, but no such thing as living bread. And yet Jesus on the night He was betrayed, took bread and gave it life: this is my Body. I am the living bread come down from Heaven. He who eats this Bread has eternal life.
Believe my brothers and sisters that the Bread present in this tabernacle, and the Bread that will soon be consecrated on our altar is alive — more alive than you or I will ever be, for this Bread is Life itself. And yet if we eat this Living Bread, no matter how weary life has been for us, no matter how discouraged or despairing we are, eating this Bread gives us new life. We like Elijah will be given strength to move on in our journey. And like Elijah, it will not be a road to nowhere that we’ll be traveling on, but a road that leads to God’s Holy mountain, where we will hear God’s voice clearly speaking to us.
In today’s first reading, Elijah, the holiest man in all the Old Testament, didn’t realize just how much he needed to eat of the Bread the Angel sent him. And how much more can you and I not realize how greatly we need to nourished by the Holy Eucharist. So if we find we don’t have any real appetite for Holy Communion, or don’t desire to receive the Eucharist more frequently and fruitfully, we need to realize that we are really in serious spiritual danger and the journey to Heaven might be too long a one to reach for us.
And many of us, maybe all of us, need to receive the Eucharist more than we realize. I recently heard someone say that the great Churches of yesterday, such as St. Ann’s here in Woonsocket, which were the centers of the community in their day, have been replaced in people’s lives by the Shopping Malls of today. It would be interesting, but perhaps depressing, to see whether more people on an average Sunday are at Church or out shopping at the mall for non essential things.
My parents tell me that when they were younger, many working people would be seen coming to Church even during the week, before or after work or during lunch time, to pay a visit to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. They would spend a minute or two in prayer, and then put a dollar in the poor box on their way out. Nowadays, we more often are seen paying a visit to Providence Place Mall, and on the way out we give eight dollars to the parking attendant! Not that there’s anything wrong with a good economy, but many of us seem to have forgot to put God and our spiritual needs first in life. May God stir up in our hearts a great hunger and appreciation for the bread of life, which today His angel brings to us, so that the journey which we all must take in this life will be a happy and healthy one, leading us to everlasting life.

Transfiguration, Sunday Aug. 6, 2006

Sunday, August 6th, 2006

Homily — Transfiguration MMVI August 6, 2006

trransfiguration by Duccio di Buoninsegna

He was transfigured before them . . . . then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them.

In the Old Testament Book of Exodus, we read how the Lord delivered His People from oppression and slavery in Egypt. After the Ten Plagues and the Angel of Death, Pharaoh finally lets the Israelites go free. And so they began their journey: through the wilderness, and on to the Promised Land.

But the problem was, how do they get to the Promised Land from here? There was no super highway connecting the city of Raamses Egypt to the City of Jericho in Palestine. There were no Road Signs, no exit numbers, no AAA or map quest. And none of them had ever been there: all the Israelites had lived in Egypt since the famine brought Jacob and His sons there almost 200 years before the Exodus.

Because of this, the LORD gave His People two sure guides to bring them safely to their final destination: a column of cloud and a pillar of fire. Exodus says that when it was daytime, they were led by the column of cloud; and when it was nighttime, they were led by the pillar of fire. These two God-given guides led the Israelites safely through the barren and dangerous wilderness, all the way to the Promised Land.

On many occasions the cloud protected them from harm. And at the Red Sea, the pillar of fire actually struck at the advancing Egyptians and immobilized them, allowing the Israelites to get across the Red Sea before being overtaken.

Today in the Gospel, we the New People of God are shown our pillar of fire and column of cloud, which are to guide us through the wilderness of this life into the promised land of Heaven. The new Pillar of Fire is Our Lord Jesus, who appears today on Mount Tabor Transfigured in His Human Nature, shining brighter than the sun upon His disciples. But then the dark cloud covers Jesus, a cloud with the voice of God the Father. This is the new column of cloud that we are to follow: the cloud of faith in God’s Revealed Word, which cannot be seen or touched.

It is by the light of this Pillar of Fire, Jesus Christ, and by the darkness of this Column of Cloud, our Christian Faith, that we are to always walk in if we wish to reach the Promised Land of Eternal Life.

In the 2nd Reading, St. Peter is writing to the Christian faithful as his life is nearing its end. And Peter tells us to keep before us those two guides: the vision of Christ Transfigured, and the Revealed Word of God the Father, the Scriptures, which St. Peter calls the prophetic message we possess, which is altogether reliable. Not partly reliable, not un-reliable, but altogether, totally reliable, is the Word of God. Peter goes on to say God’s Word is the lamp we can use to walk by when it is dark, until the dawn appears.

And such is the pattern of our Christian life. At times Jesus will shine so bright in our lives, He will appear Transfigured to us within our hearts. The way will be clear and smooth sailing to the promised land. But then, the thick dark cloud comes, and we wonder where Jesus went. At these times especially, must keep following the cloud, keep walking according to the light of faith, according to Jesus’ teachings, according to the teachings of the Church.

For another passage at the end of the book of Exodus says that the cloud and the fire were really one entity: that when night came, the pillar of fire appeared inside the cloud. And Jesus, our pillar of fire, can also only be seen inside the dark cloud of faith. As the Psalmist says in today’s Psalm, Clouds and thick darkness surround Him. We will not see Jesus shine until we stop walking by the lights of this world and begin to walk only by the darkness of faith.

And this is the great challenge of the Christian life, to step out in faith, against the tide of those faith-less people around us who follow the ways of the world. The challenge to at times not see where God is leading us, not seeing how we’re going to handle what seems to be coming up the pike, but trusting nonetheless that God’s not leading us over a cliff or into an ambush. But if we are led by the cloud of faith, just as the Old Testament cloud shielded the Israelites from harm, so the cloud of faith shields us from harm if we remain under it. And, just as the Old Testament pillar of fire fought against and immobilized the Egyptians, so Jesus fights against and immobilizes our enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil. Jesus keeps those three adversaries from overtaking us.

My brothers and sisters, in a few moments Jesus will come to us in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Some of us today will see in the Host the Pillar of Fire: Jesus will be transfigured, will shine through bright and clear; and these peoples’ souls will be filled with light and sweetness and consolation as they receive Our Lord; But others of us today will see in the Host the Column of Dark Cloud: Jesus will be overshadowed, only God’s Words, This is my Body. . . . my Blood, will assure them. These people will need to struggle, to make a conscious act of faith that what looks like bread is Christ, that God is with them, as He promised, during the tough times they are going through.

Whether Jesus comes to us bright and shining or hidden and dark, may we follow Him with all our hearts, and may He transfigure us ever more into His likeness in this life, and bring us safely to that Promised Land at the end of our journey.