Archive for September, 2008

Homily – 26th Sun. OT A September 28, 2008

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Homily – 26th Sun. OT A            September 28, 2008

We return this Sunday to Jesus’ proverbial vineyard with its owner and its workers.

Last Sunday, we saw the vineyard owner going down to the marketplace where people gather to look for laborers to hire.  This week, we see the vineyard now a family-run operation, with the owner calling his two sons to go out and work in the vineyard today.

And as we just heard, one son says “Yes, anything you want, Father, I will certainly do” but then he blows off working in the vineyard and does his own thing.

Meanwhile, the other son says “I won’t go work in your vineyard today Father, I’ve got my own things I’m going to do” but later on in the day he changes his mind and goes.
Jesus tells the chief priests and elders of the people “that son who said he would go, but didn’t? — that’s you guys.  That son who initially said he wouldn’t go but ended up going?–that’s the tax collectors and prostitutes and other sinners who’ve turned away from their lives of sin to follow me.”

And my brothers and sisters in Christ, this Gospel is an important one and a challenging one for us who try to take our Catholic faith seriously.

Because what Jesus is saying is that the holier we get, the harder it’s going to be to give our hearts and wills over to God, and the easier it will be to want to do our own will instead of God’s will.

For the chief priests and elders of the people were holy people, with many virtues and admirable qualities.   They had temptations to greed and lust like the prostitutes and tax collectors did, but they learned over the years to acquire the virtuous habits of detachment from material possessions and  almsgiving, chastity and self control.

The chief priests and elders of the people were also probably honest, pious, and prayerful men.   Yet, as Jesus said, they were on the road to damnation, while the repentant tax collectors and prostitutes were on the other side of the road moving in the opposite direction of salvation.

This is because the many good virtues of the chief priests and elders of the people were vastly outweighed by their one big vice, which was pride.

With the tax collectors and prostitutes, the spirit was willing to follow God, but the flesh was weak.  And with the help of Jesus, these people were able to overcome their weaknesses and work productively in God’s vineyard.

But with the chief priests and elders of the people, the spirit was unwilling to follow God, but the flesh was strong.  They had the strength to follow God if they chose, but lacked the will power to choose it due to their pride.

What the chief priests and elders of the people lacked was the most important virtue of humility, which enables us to recognize our absolute need for God, no matter how holy or virtuous we are.

As St. Paul says in 2nd reading, Jesus, who was the holiest man ever to live, did not regard equality with God, did not regard holiness and virtue something to be grasped or clung to.

Our Lord didn’t cling to his own will, but clung rather to his Father’s Will, even when God’s Will meant a humiliating and painful death by crucifixion.  And because of his loving and humble obedience, God the Father greatly exalted Jesus.

The chief priests and elders of the people, however, did regard Godliness something to be clung to.  They willfully clung to their righteousness so much, that when the Messiah came in their midst in the flesh, they refused to follow Him.

Let us ask Our Lord Jesus, who at this Mass will come to us in the Flesh, Body Blood Soul and Divinity, for the virtue of humility, that whatever God asks of us, we will promptly and willfully, in loving obedience, go and do the work in His Vineyard that He has prepared for us.

Homily — 25th Sunday OT A September 21, 2008

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

Homily — 25th Sunday OT A September 21, 2008

Your ways (are not) my ways says the Lord God in today’s first reading.

Man’s ways are not God’s ways — nor are Man’s business practices God’s business practices, as we see in the Gospel.

As we end a week of serious economic turmoil, and begin a new week of serious economic uncertainty, the Church providentially invites us to reflect upon a very different kind of corporate entity run by a very different kind of CEO. The kingdom of Heaven, Jesus says, is like a landowner who owned a vineyard.

Yes, God the Father is the CEO of a 36 billion acre vineyard which stretches from one end of the globe to the other. And those who work hard for this Vineyard, and invest all they have in it, never need to worry about job cuts or lay offs in the vineyard, for God will always have works of mercy for his laborer to do.

Nor does a laborer in God’s vineyard ever need to worry about the vineyard going bankrupt or defaulting on a mortgage, for God has an infinite supply of spiritual riches with which he pays his laborers.

No, the government will never need to step in and bail the Vineyard out; for the Vineyard has seen many governments come and go during her 2000 year history; it has even stepped in and bailed out a few governments herself down through the years.

Yes, Wall Street could crash, the global economy could go into a recession, — hopefully not, but even if it did, through it all, the Lord’s Vineyard alone would remain Rock-Solid in it’s rich spiritual assets.

Certainly, we all want to pray fervently these days that Wall Street doesn’t crash, that the economy does remain strong in the short and the long term.

But we also want to pray even harder that more laborers, that more people in our world today, that you and I will accept God’s invitation to go and work in his vineyard.

And so in these tumultuous times, may we busy ourselves in doing the works of God in the hours we have left on this earth.

God will certainly pay a just and most generous wage to all His employees, far more than they really deserve, no matter how late in the day they start, so let us all start anew in learning God’s ways and in conducting ourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Homily — Exaltation of the Holy Cross 9—14—08

Monday, September 15th, 2008

Homily — Exaltation of the Holy Cross            9—14—08

This Sunday, we interrupt the normal Sunday in Ordinary time, with it’s usual Green Vestments, to celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which from ancient times has been celebrated every year in the Church on (this day,) September 14.

The Feast was originally established to celebrate the Anniversary of the Finding of the True Cross of Jesus in Jerusalem on September 14,  326 by St. Helen, the mother of the Emperor Constantine.

Since the 7th Century, the Feast also Celebrates another historical event.  In the year 615, the Persians conquered Jerusalem and carried off the True Cross, bringing it back to Persia with them.

Nine years later, in the year 624, Christians regained control of the city, and as part of the surrender agreement the Persians had to return the Relic of the True Cross to the city.

The Emperor himself triumphantly carried the True Cross back to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Mount Calvary, reportedly taking off his royal robes when he arrived at the base of the hill and carrying it the rest of the way as Jesus did, dressed in only a loincloth.  This triumphant Return of the Holy Cross to Jerusalem is also commemorated in today’s Feast.

While good evidence exists for the historicity of St. Helen’s finding of the True Cross, enough counter-evidence exists to make some “doubting Thomas'” question whether the wood venerated as the Cross of Jesus really is the True Cross.

St. Cyril, who was the Bishop of Jerusalem when the Cross was found, states that within a few years of it’s discovery little slivers of the True Cross were being widely distributed; he says  “The holy wood of the Cross bears witness . . . . and from this  place is now almost filling the whole world, by means of those who in faith take pieces from it.”

Even today, every Catholic Bishop wears what’s called a Pectoral Cross on a silver chain around his neck, and inside the cross there is a tiny relic of the True Cross (if you ask them, many Bishops will open them up and show you it).

But some cynics have joked that if you took all the relics of the True Cross and put them together, you could build Noah’s Ark with them!   In the late 1800’s however, a Jesuit priest who “was not amused” did a painstaking scientific inventory of all the known relics of the True Cross, and concluded that you couldn’t even build a Cross one third the size of the True Cross with all the known pieces that have come down to us.
Whether St. Helen found the True Cross or not, however, doesn’t really so much matter.   What does really matter is that there is a True and Holy Cross.

What really matters is that 2000 years ago, a real live tree began to grow up somewhere in the Roman Empire.  When this tree reached a certain size, it was cut down, and the lumber was made into two wooden planks as real and as hard as the pews you are now sitting in,  — two wooden planks, that were fastened to each other in the shape of a cross.

And onto these real pieces of wood were nailed the Sacred Hands and Feet of Our Lord Jesus Christ, making it humanly impossible for him to get off.

And on this Real Wooden Cross, Jesus hung for three hours out of love for us sinners, His Precious Blood soaking into and forever staining the Wood of the True and Holy Cross for all times and ages.

This is what really matters, this is what the Church really celebrates on this day:  the Good News that through the Holy Cross, God has truly entered into our suffering.   The Good News that when we have trials and Crosses from which it is humanly impossible for us to escape from, Jesus our God is intimately there with us in the  midst of our suffering,

And just as God the Father greatly exalted His Son because He bore the Cross with love and patient acceptance, so will God exalt us when we bear our Crosses in union with Christ’s True Cross, and lead us through the Cross, to the glory of Christ’s Resurrection.

Homily — 23rd Sunday OT A 9-7-8

Sunday, September 7th, 2008

Homily — 23rd Sunday OT A 9-7-8

In all of today’s Mass Readings, we are given a little lesson in what is commonly called Fraternal Correction.

“Fraternal Correction” is when one Christian admonishes a brother Christian who is sinning, in the hope that his brother may see his sin and repent of it.

In the first reading from Ezekiel, we learn how giving fraternal correction can at times be a moral obligation on our part. God says to us through the prophet If. . . .you do not speak out and dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death.

So, at times our silence in the face of our brother’s sin is a serious sin in itself, a sin of omission on our part.

However, the great moral theologian St. Thomas Aquinas states that there are times when it would be better not to fraternally correct an erring brother. Just as one of the conditions for a Just War is that there needs to be reasonable hope for success, so in fraternal correction, one also must have a reasonable hope for success that the correction is going to lead to the person’s repentance.

So, if after prudent consideration and prayer for the Holy Spirit’s Gift of Counsel, we judge that any attempt at correcting our brother would only make that him even more hardened in his sin, charity would have us refrain from doing so, at least at the present time.

And in the Second Reading, St. Paul tells us that the fraternal correction Ezekiel and Jesus speak about in the other readings is rooted in this virtue of charity. Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another St. Paul says. It is love, and not justice or hatred, that should motivate us to correct an erring brother.

Going back to St. Thomas Aquinas, he teaches that the goal of fraternal correction is to get the sinner to see how harmful his sin is to himself. It is not to tell him “Hey, can’t you see how miserable you are making me and others by that sin of yours?” Charity actually demands that we not say that to the brother who sins against us; Charity demands that on the contrary we bear the wrongs of others with patience and forgiveness. But when we show a brother that we care not for ourselves but his own well being, our fraternal correction will be all the more effective.

Finally, in the Gospel, Our Lord Jesus shows us the proper way we should go about giving fraternal correction: if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.

Too often, instead of having the charity and courage to speak face to face with the erring brother, we are tempted to commit the sin of detraction by mentioning a our brother’s faults to other’s behind his back, as a means of “venting”.

Jesus teaches us that we should either discuss problems we’re having first with our brother, or else keep the matter between ourselves and God.

But, if after speaking with the person who has sinned against us, the person does not listen, Jesus says to then tell one or two others only of the matter, maybe a priest, or a close friend who you know will not spread gossip. Again, this is out of love for our sinful brother, to preserve as much as possible his good reputation, and to give him a chance to repent.

Jesus finally goes on to say that in those rare circumstances when, after private admonition, and after repeated warnings from the Church, an erring brother still obstinately persists in public grave sin, He says we are then to treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. In other words, consider him no longer a brother Christian. This is commonly called the penalty of excommunication.

But even in those rare cases when the Church, as a last resort, imposes excommunication of one of her members, she only does so with the hope that the person will then see the seriousness of his sins, come to his senses, and finally ask forgiveness and return to full union with the Church community.

As we reflect this weekend about our duty to at times charitably give and receive fraternal correction, let us conclude by remembering the last lines of the Letter of St. James, which shows us how important this act of charity is to the Christian Life.

St. James says: My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his (own) soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Homily — 22nd Sunday OT A 8/31/8

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

Homily — 22nd Sunday OT A                    8/31/8

I had quite an eventful night here at the Parish this past Thursday evening.

A little past six o’clock I’m sitting at my kitchen table eating dinner, when outside I hear this smashing sound coming from up the driveway.   I ran into the living room and on to the side porch, and see that one of the big windows in the school gym, the top most one closest to Mendon Rd, is all smashed in like someone through a big football through it.

Now, several weeks ago some vandals had thrown a couple small rocks at the front of the school, breaking a glass door and putting a small hole in one of the classroom windows, and we had just got them fixed two weeks ago.  I’m saying to myself “what, has the KKK or some other anti-Catholic group come to Rhode Island and targeting our school?”

But I’m looking up the road, and there’s all these cars stopped at the light — nothing suspicious.  I looked up and down the street, in back of the school — no ones around.   So I go inside the gym to see what the heck they threw that made such a big hole in the window, and when I get in the gym, there, on a table about 10 feet from the window, is this big wild Turkey, pretty stunned but still standing!

“Oh brother” I say.  How am I going to get this wild Turkey out of the school gym?   So I called the police, and said “hello officer, this is Fr. Woolley pastor of St. Joseph’s, you’re not going to believe this, but there’s a wild Turkey just crashed through the gym window.”  He said “Are you sure it’s not a fake Turkey that someone threw in there?”  “I didn’t get to close to it, but it looked pretty real to me.  Do you think you can get the animal police down here to take it out?”

It ended up that the school janitor opened the back door and chased it out, and the turkey, who amazingly didn’t seem hurt, ran across the parking lot and across the field and into the woods.

It appears that what happened was the Turkey was sitting on the telephone wire going to the Rectory, and must have saw either a tree or it’s own reflection in the window, and dived at it.   Larry Poitras, the school principal, came a few minutes later, and said “good thing this didn’t happen Tuesday night, while Bingo was going on!”

In today’s Gospel, we see St. Peter getting about as rude an awakening as that poor wild Turkey did.    In last Sunday’s Gospel, Peter was flying high and feeling pretty proud of himself.  He had declared before the other disciples His belief that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and Jesus was so pleased with Simon Peter’s statement of faith that He declared Peter to be the Rock on which He will build His Church.  Furthermore, Jesus had just promised to give Peter in the near future the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven — the authority of the Papacy — after Jesus had Risen and Ascended.

But immediately after this first Papal Coronation, Jesus begins to tell the disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly . . . . and be killed.  And Peter takes Jesus aside and says “No way Lord, I’m not going to let that happen to you.”

And then Peter smashes through the school gym window:  Get behind me, you Satan!  You are an obstacle to me.  Jesus says to him – a better translation is you are a scandal to me.

No sooner does Jesus say that The gates of hell shall not prevail against my Church than Satan does try to prevail against the Church through tempting Peter.

And Peter must have felt as stunned as that wild Turkey did Thursday night, as Jesus, the One he knew was the Son of the Living God, was calling him Satan and a scandal.

Peter needed the rebuke though, because he truly was thinking as man does, not as God does — he wanted a Christianity without the Cross, a Catholicism without self denial and persecution.

And certainly, the best of us can fall into that temptation Peter fell into.  Taking up our Cross and following after Jesus is difficult — if it wasn’t difficult, it wouldn’t be the Cross.

But what drove the saints of old on to embrace the Cross, and what continues to drive the aspiring saints of today on to accept and embrace trials and persecution, is what the Psalmist and Jeremiah in the first reading speak about:  The thirst God puts in us for holiness.

In the first reading, we see Jeremiah at a point in his life where following God and speaking the truth has caused him much suffering in his personal and public life.  On the one hand, Jeremiah feels duped by God, he like Peter expected an easy road if he followed God.  But instead of an easy road, he says The word of the LORD has brought me derision and reproach all the day.

But while Jeremiah’s mad at God on the one hand, on the other hand he has this great thirst in his soul to keep following him to the Cross:  I say to myself . . . . I will speak in His name no more.  But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart . . . .and I can’t hold it in.

And as the Psalmist says For you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts, like the (parched) earth thirsts.  For your Love is a greater good than life.

And it was this same thirst for God the Father, this same thirst to bear witness to the Truth, that made Jesus unafraid of the Cross.  And it was that lack of thirst in Peter that made Jesus rebuke him and call him Satan and a scandal.

Let us pray at this Eucharist, that Jesus will put that thirst that He had for God the Father into our hearts, that we will seek throughout our life only to quench that thirst for holiness, and not the thirst for comfort and the passing things of this world we are at times tempted to quench.

For if we do, when the Son of Man comes with His angels in His Father’s glory to repay all according to his conduct, we will soar eternally with the Eagles, and not crash with the Turkeys!