Archive for the ‘Mass’ Category

Lovingly Received — Funeral Homily for Allen Pietz, 62

June 22, 2021

Allen is a dear acquaintance of mine. Unlike many of the persons I offer funerals for, I know him really well. But today I’m going to begin by telling you about another warm acquaintance of mine and the story he once told me. I went to seminary with a fellow who is now a diocesan priest in South Carolina named Fr. Andrew Trapp. Fr. Andrew looks a lot like the actor Tobey Maguire (who starred in the Spider-Man movie franchise) and Andrew also has a Peter-Parker-like friendly goodness. Fr. Andrew got a little famous back around 2010 when he beat the champion poker player Daniel Negreanu on a TV game show. He won $100,000 and donated his whole prize (after taxes) to his parish’s renovation project. Before he was ordained, Andrew spent a summer in Paris, France improving his French and helping out at a Catholic church.

There he met a former satanic worshipper who had repented, reconciled to God, and became a member of that parish. Andrew knew that Satanists were known to steal the Holy Eucharist, the Body of Christ, for use and abuse in their rituals. (I’ve heard elsewhere that Satanists are interested in stealing only the Catholic Church’s Communion Hosts to perform Black Masses and other sacrileges.) Andrew asked the man whether it was true that Satanists test their followers using these stolen Hosts, placing a Consecrated Host in a line-up of identical, unconsecrated wafers to see if the person could identify which one it is. The man responded that he had undergone this test and successfully passed it. Andrew asked him, “How did you know which host was the Lord?” And the man replied, “It was the one that I felt hatred towards.”

No brief funeral homily can tell the whole story of a person’s life, but sometimes a particular aspect of a Christian’s life can proclaim the most important things. Allen did not grow up Catholic. He started attending Mass at St. Paul’s in the front row with Sylvia. And it was here that he fell in love with the Holy Eucharist. Sylvia remembers Allen pointing to the altar and saying, “I want that Bread.” This desire was the main reason Allen became Catholic, got Confirmed, and received his First Holy Communion here in 2020, exactly a year and one week before his death. Allen was always eager to receive the Holy Eucharist on Sundays. And whenever he couldn’t come, he missed it profoundly. Sometimes he could barely walk and he still came to Mass. What fueled this intense longing and devotion in Allen? It was the love he felt for Jesus in the Eucharist.

It was Jesus, who said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my Flesh for the life of the world.” When those in the crowd murmured at this, objecting, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you… [M]y Flesh is true food, and my Blood is true drink. Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood remains in me and I in him.” Jesus says, “Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”

In truth, Allen’s great love for Jesus in the Eucharist was only a weak reflection of Jesus’ love for Allen. And what will separate friends of Jesus Christ from the love of Christ? Neither death nor life, neither present things nor future things, neither height nor depth, neither angels nor powers, nor any other created thing will be able to separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. It is right that we pray today for the perfection and glory of our friend Allen’s soul, but we do so with great peace and confidence that Allen, who was so eager to receive our Lord in the Eucharist, will himself be eagerly received by our loving Lord.

Allen Pietz after his 1st Communion

Allen Pietz on the day of his First Communion, June 7, 2020

Believe Like Children

June 5, 2021

Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Earlier this week was the last day of classes for another academic year at St. Paul’s Catholic School. This pandemic-impacted year posed challenges, but we prevailed. Our school met in-person throughout and gave our children a full education – focused on forming not only their minds but also their souls as well. This aspect is so important, it is the reason the Catholic Church has schools. A true education is not complete unless a person learns about God, about Jesus’ saving words and deeds, and how to live, both now and forever, as a Christian like him.

This is why I encourage any of you who have children attending public school to enroll them into Catholic school for this fall. Ask our school families about how excellent a school it is. They’ll tell you. Pray on this decision, ask the Lord where he wants your sheep to be. And realize that a great Catholic education for your children is much more possible than you might think.

My favorite part of being the pastor of a Catholic school is teaching and speaking with the children. Their openness to the things of God is beautiful. In their classroom or in church, you can teach these little ones holy truths and they joyfully believe them. This openness is part of why Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” and “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Sometimes I’ll meet with a class of youngsters and their teacher in the church outside of the Mass. We remind the children how to use the Holy Water at the doors to bless themselves and to genuflect when they reach their pews. Then I love to teach them and ask them questions, questions like, “Where is Jesus here?

Sometimes kids point to the big crucifix on the wall and I tell them, “That’s only a statue of Jesus. Seeing it reminds us of Jesus and can help us pray to him, but that’s just a statue which looks like him. Where is Jesus really, truly present in this room?

The children then point to the golden box at the foot of the cross – the Tabernacle – inside of which, I explain, within a special container called a ciborium, is kept Sacred Hosts consecrated at previous Masses. At the priest’s words of consecration at Mass, these Hosts became Jesus Christ, his Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, really and truly present, really and truly him.

In our Catholic churches, what is typically located front and center? Not the priest’s chair, not a donation box, not even the baptismal font, but Jesus’ Tabernacle and the altar. This is because Jesus Christ and his Holy Sacrifice are at the center of our Catholic Faith. At the Last Supper, Jesus said, This is my Body, and Do this in memory of me. And his Bride the Church has listened, believed him, and obeyed him, celebrating his Real Presence at the Holy Mass throughout the centuries to this day.

It has been humorously observed that for second graders preparing for and receiving their First Communion it can be harder for them to believe that the round, flat, unfluffy, Consecrated Host was ever bread to begin with than it is for them to believe it is Jesus. This is because they believe that Jesus can do, and does do, the things he says. On this feast of Corpus Christi, let’s humbly turn and become more like those children, who accept that their good and loving friend, our Lord Jesus Christ, is truly here before us.

“But Him They Did Not See”

April 5, 2021

Easter Sunday

Saint Peter and Saint John Running to the Sepulchre by James Tissot.

Holy Thursday Homily – The New Passover Lamb
Good Friday Homily – The New Adam
Easter Vigil Homily – The Beginning of the New Creation

It’s surprising and remarkable that the Church’s Gospel for this Mass, the Mass on Easter Sunday morning, does not feature even a brief cameo of Jesus. In this morning’s gospel, the risen Lord does not make any appearance. Mary of Magdala runs back from his tomb without having seen him. She goes to Peter and John and reports her fear that someone has stolen his body. So Peter and John run to the tomb. They arrive and investigate, but him they do not see. And then those two disciples return home.

Later that same day, in encounters recorded by the Gospels, they would see the Jesus alive in the flesh, and touch him, speak with him, and rejoice. As St. Peter announces in our first reading:

“This man God raised on the third day
and granted that he be visible,
not to all the people, but to us,
the witnesses chosen by God in advance,
who ate & drank with him after he rose from the dead.”

Jesus did not appear to everyone, but only some, mostly his friends and others open to receive him.

The Risen Lord did not appear to King Herod, whom he met briefly during his Passion. Herod was a man of vices and pleasures and was curious and excited to see this wonder worker. But when Jesus only answered him with silence, Herod was not entertained and, no longer interested, sent Jesus away.

The Risen Lord did not appear either to Governor Pontius Pilate, who presided over his Roman trial. Pilate thought Jesus had committed no capital crime, but this cynical man of the world (who had scoffed “What is truth?”) thought life would be easier with Jesus out of the way, and so he put him to death.

And the Risen Lord did not appear to the High Priest Caiaphas, who conspired against him. The High Priest was offended by Jesus’ calls to conversion and he envied his popularity and influence among the people. Caiaphas was too proud to learn from and follow Jesus, so he condemned the Christ and became his enemy.

The hedonism of Herod, the pragmatism of Pilate, and the conceitedness of Caiaphas kept them from accepting and following Jesus. Imagine if Jesus had appeared to Herod, Pilate, and Caiaphas after rising from the dead. Would they have loved him then? Seeing his power they might well have submitted to him, but that’s very different than devotion.

Jesus did, however, appear to his disciples, his friends, following his resurrection. For example, Jesus met Mary Magdalene at the tomb on Easter morning after Peter and John had left. On Easter evening, Peter, John, and other disciples were visited by Jesus within the Upper Room even though the doors were locked. And Jesus would go on to appear beside the Sea of Galilee, to reconcile and rehabilitate Simon Peter who had denied him. Each encounter with the Risen Lord was surprising, personal, and beautiful. But at the time of our gospel reading there was only Jesus’ Easter tomb, an open door paired with an inner emptiness, which pointed to something greater, something divine, something real but still unseen.

In 1937, when the Gallup polling organization first began asking the question, 73% of Americans said they were members of a church, synagogue, or mosque. That figure remained near 70% for the next six decades, until about twenty years ago when the number began steadily declining. This week, Gallup’s latest polling indicates for the first time, a majority of Americans (53%) report not belonging to a house of worship. It’s a discouraging trend.

This seems related to a different Gallup poll published in 2020. At the end of that very trying year, surveyed Americans’ self-assessed mental health was worse than it had been at any point in the last two decades. The percentage of those rating their mental health as “excellent” fell for almost every demographic compared to the year before. Every age group, men and women; the married and the unmarried; the wealthy, the poor, and the middle class; each of these groups polled eight to twelve points lower on this question. Only one group reported higher rates of excellent mental health than before, increasing by four points despite the trials of 2020. It was those who, at least once a week, attended religious services.

Like other churches around the country, our public liturgies were suspended for awhile, about three months last year, due to the pandemic. But we have been safely celebrating public Masses in my parishes since last June. I am very pleased that none of my parishioners who have been attending Church have died from Covid; which suggests our Masses here are quite safe. But next Sunday, the weekend after Easter, will all our Masses be filled again like this?

Jesus says, To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. Jesus here is not primarily speaking about earthly economics, but of spiritual wealth. Christian discipleship requires real investment to show a great return. Like the Easter Tomb, our church door is open. Like the Easter Tomb, perhaps you find an emptiness within you. These things point to something greater, something divine, something real but still unseen. I urge you to begin coming back to Mass again, because Jesus reveals himself in surprising, personal, and beautiful ways to his disciples and friends.

The New Passover Lamb

April 1, 2021

Holy Thursday

The Lord gave specific instructions to Moses and Aaron for the feast of Passover—commandments containing secret significance only later to be revealed. Every Hebrew family had to procure a lamb, a year-old male without blemish, one apiece for each household. If a family was too small for a whole lamb they were to join the nearest household in obtaining one and feast in the same house together. The lamb could not to be eaten raw nor boiled in water, but had to be roasted, baked whole and entire, once some of its blood had been taken to be dabbed on the house’s doorposts and lintel. The whole community of Israel was to celebrate this feast and no one was to go outdoors until morning.

The first Passover was held for the salvation of God’s people, so that deadly judgment would pass over their households and they would no longer be slaves in Egypt. Once they were freed, they continued keeping the Feast of Passover, renewing and celebrating their great deliverance by God’s power. All of these were signs and symbols of things to come, of the still-greater things which came with Christ.

At the Last Supper, Jesus told to his apostles, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you.” The Gospels note the bread and wine on the table, in accord with the Jewish Passover tradition, but where is the lamb at the center of the meal?

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.

Jesus asked the apostles that night, “Do you realize what I have done for you?” Jesus is the Passover Lamb of God: an innocent young man, unblemished by sin, whose blood is poured out upon the vertical and horizonal beams of the Cross, to free and save all within his house. Tonight we gather in one house, Christ’s Church, as a family, joining with other households together at Mass, to really receive in the form of baked bread Jesus’ whole self. As St. Augustine once preached to newly baptized Christians: “Recognize in the bread what hung on the cross, and in the cup what flowed from his side. [T]hose old sacrifices of the people of God…represented…this single one that was to come.”

Jesus’ sacrifice saves us from deadly judgment and slavery to sin, and at this meal we renew and rejoice in our great deliverance through him. By God’s grace, may we always have priests and the freedom to offer the Mass on earth, and the grace to never wander off from God’s house into the outer darkness until the first light of the new dawn breaks—when Jesus Christ returns in glory.

Jesus asks his apostles, “Do you realize what I have done for you?” Do you realize what Jesus has done for you? Know that he has eagerly desired to share this Passover with you.

A Homily Series on The Apostles’ Creed for Lent (Year B)

March 21, 2021

I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried,
he descended into hell,
on the third day he rose again from the dead,

He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty
from there He will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Holy Catholic Church,
the communion of Saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen.

If you enjoy these Lenten reflections, I recommend The Catechism of the Catholic Church, whose discussion of The Apostles’ Creed was the primary source for my homilies here.

The Spirit’s Blessings Through God’s Church

March 20, 2021

5th Sunday of Lent

Right before ascending into heaven to sit at his Father’s right hand, Jesus gave his disciples these final instructions: “I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high. …You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” After seeing Jesus ascend, the disciples returned to Jerusalem rejoicing. There in the Upper Room, the apostles, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and other Christians (a group of about one hundred twenty persons) devoted themselves with one accord to prayer. After nine days of prayer—the first Christian novena—the Holy Spirit descended upon them on Pentecost.

The apostles had received this eternal, divine Person before. On Easter Sunday evening, Jesus appeared in the Upper Room and breathed upon them saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” You and I first received the Holy Spirit at our baptisms, when we were “born again / born from above…of water and Spirit,” and made temples of the Holy Spirit. But just as the Spirit came down on Pentecost and filled the disciples in a new way, inspiring and empowering them to announce, make present, and spread Christ’s Church in the world, so we receive the Holy Spirit anew for mission in the Sacrament of Confirmation.

When God the Father sends his Word he also sends his Breath, and the mission of the Holy Spirit is united to the Son’s. Our faith in Jesus leads to our belief in the Spirit and in the good things which flow from both. These blessings are brought to completion through God’s Holy Catholic Church. As the Apostles’ Creed proclaims:

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Holy Catholic Church,
the communion of Saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen.

As Jesus Christ is the Church’s body, we being his members, so the Holy Spirit is the Church’s soul, our animating Spirit. The Holy Spirit inspires the Church’s Sacred Scriptures, he safeguards her Sacred Tradition and Magisterium from error, he is the Spirit of her liturgies, he empowers her sacraments, he intercedes in her prayers, he builds her up by charisms and ministries, and he manifests holiness in her by each vocation and every saint. As the early Church Fathers said, the Church is the place “where the Spirit flourishes.” The Holy Spirit gives his people gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord; and his fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are seen in us. Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit form the Church and make her holy. At the Last Supper, Jesus prayed for the holy unity of his Church. He said, “Holy Father, I pray not only for [these apostles of mine,] but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” This loving unity is reflected in the communion of the Saints.

In today’s Gospel, some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast approach the Philip the Apostle and ask him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Philip goes and tells Andrew the Apostle; then Andrew and Philip go and tell Jesus. Jesus answers them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Jesus’ salvific mission is catholic (that is, “universal”). He has come to unite every people and nation in himself. and he sees in this overture from the visiting Greeks a sign that his moment has come. Jesus says, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” Jesus gathers them into communion with the one Church he founded, a hierarchical Church (with Christ its Head ordaining that apostles and priests to be her servant leaders) but a Church which is first and foremost interpersonal, communal. No one can baptize themselves; it requires another person. And not even a priest can absolve his own sins. Just so, we are not saved alone, but in communion with others. In the words of Pope St. Paul VI, “We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always attentive to our prayer.” As Sts. Andrew and Philip helped those Greeks in reaching out to Jesus, so we lovingly aid one another, by our prayers, penances, and sacrifices, by sharing our material and spiritual goods, helping each other on the way to heaven. But entry into heaven is impossible without the forgiveness of sins.

We believe in the forgiveness of sins. Through Jesus Christ, God’s promises spoken through the Prophet Jeremiah in our first reading are fulfilled: “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel… I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.” What was the Risen Christ’s first order of business for his Church when he appeared to his apostles in the Upper Room on Easter? After assuring them that it was really him and that he wished them peace, he gave his apostles the power and authority to forgive sins (as we noted before). Baptism into Christ washes away our past sins, but what if we grievously sin after baptism? We cannot be baptized twice. Since Christ has given his Church the power to forgive sins, then baptism cannot be her only means of forgiveness. The Sacrament of Penance is necessary for salvation for those who have fallen after Baptism, just as Baptism is necessary for salvation for those who have not yet been reborn in Christ.

There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive. There is no one, however wicked or guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided their repentance is sincere. Christ, who died for all men, desires that the gates of forgiveness in his Church should be open to anyone who turns away from sin. If you could use a good Confession, mark your calendars to come here to St. Paul’s next Sunday, on Palm Sunday afternoon. Apart from making another appointment, it might be your last chance for a Lenten Reconciliation with God.

But what good would God’s forgiveness be if death were the end of us? We believe in the resurrection of the body. Jesus tells Philip and Andrew, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Here, as elsewhere, Jesus foretells of his resurrection, for the buried seed which dies then rises from the earth. Jesus then goes on to say, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.” This is not only a call to discipleship but a promise of resurrection: ‘Whoever serves me must follow after me, from the tomb of death to the resurrection of life, and where I am (whether in heaven or in the New Creation to come) there also will my servant be with me.’ Jesus says, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.

We believe in life everlasting. And this new life doesn’t begin only once we die, or after God raises up our bodies “on the last day.” We can already taste eternal life now. From your worst sins you have had small glimpses of hell, and in Jesus Christ you have already experienced small glimpses of heaven. But our eyes have not seen, and our ears have not heard, and our hearts have not conceived the fullness of what God has prepared for those who love him. Scripture speaks of it in images: of life, light, peace, wine, a wedding feast, the Father’s house, the heavenly Jerusalem, paradise. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and death will be no more, neither will there be any more mourning or crying or pain, for these things will have passed away. And when we enter this perfect, unending life with the Most Holy Trinity and all the saints, it will be the ultimate fulfillment of our deepest human longings; supreme and definitive happiness.

In conclusion, The Apostles’ Creed ends with the same final word as the last book of the Bible, the word at the end of the Church’s many prayers: “Amen.” In Hebrew, “amen” comes from the same root as the word “believe,” expressing solidity, trustworthiness, and faithfulness. In saying “Amen” we are professing both God’s faithfulness towards us and our trust in him. The Creed’s last word “Amen” repeats and confirms its first words, “I believe,” and everything in between. As St. Augustine preached, “May your Creed be for you as a mirror. Look at yourself in it, to see if you believe everything you say you believe, and rejoice in your faith each day.” This is our Faith. This is the Faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen

At the Father’s Right Hand

March 13, 2021

4th Sunday of Lent

Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” First, Jesus is raised up on the Cross. Next, he is raised up from the tomb. And finally, he is raised up to heaven. As this week’s section of The Apostles’ Creed proclaims:

He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty
from there He will come to judge the living and the dead.

Jesus’ body was glorified at the moment of his Resurrection on Easter. Then he visited his disciples in his body over more than a month, appearing and vanishing, conversing and teaching, eating and drinking, and showing painless wounds in his hands, side, and feet. (Jesus keeps these wounds from his Passion as trophies of his victory.) And then, on the fortieth day, Jesus led his Apostles and disciples a short ways east out of Jerusalem, past the Garden of Gethsemane where he had agonized, and up the Mount of Olives which looks down over the Holy City. He raised his hands and blessed them, and as he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. He was lifted up as they looked on and a cloud took him from their sight. They did him homage and returned to Jerusalem rejoicing. Of course, one cannot fly an airplane or ride a rocket to enter God’s presence (unless the flight ends very badly). Heaven is not a place here or there, but another dimension of reality, distinct from us but not far distant. Jesus ascends in his disciples’ sight to manifest the invisible, his entry into heaven in fulfillment of what King David had foretold about the Christ, one thousand years before, in the 110th Psalm:

The Lord [God] says to my Lord [the Christ]:
“Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet. Yours is princely power from the day of your birth. In holy splendor, before the daystar, like the dew, I have begotten you.” The Lord [God] has sworn an oath he will not change: “You are a priest forever…” At your right hand is [Christ] the Lord, who will crush kings on the day of his great wrath, who judges nations…

From ancient times the right hand has been considered the favored spot, the seat of honor for your right-hand man. Being at the right hand means closeness, allowing for intimacy and confidence. You and I have a great friend in high places who “always lives to make intercession” for “those who draw near to God through him.” Jesus, the high priest of the new and eternal Covenant, has “entered, not into a sanctuary made by human hands… but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” Jesus Christ is not only humanity’s priest and advocate in Heaven, before ‘his Father and our Father, his God and our God,‘ he also sits enthroned as our king. As the Prophet Daniel once foresaw concerning Christ in a vision:

“To him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”

Jesus Christ is King, the Lord of the cosmos and of history, who dwells in his Church where his Kingdom is now present in mystery. The Catholic Church is the seed and beginning of the Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. We now await Christ’s Second Coming in fully-unveiled glory, such that he can no longer be dismissed or ignored by anyone. Jesus will return as ruler of all and come to judge the living and the dead. “‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bend before me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ … Then each of us shall give an account of himself to God.” The conduct of each person and the secrets of every heart will be brought to light before his throne. Then the wicked “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

It is very important that we take God and personal conversion seriously. Our first reading chronicles how God’s people had “added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations.” The Lord had sent them his messengers, early and often, for he had compassion on his people, “but they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets.” God’s anger became so inflamed that he permitted them to be conquered by the Babylonian Empire six hundred years before Christ. Those who escaped the sword were carried off into Babylon captivity to be unhappily subjugated there. As today’s psalm recalls, “by the streams of Babylon we sat and wept.” Many never knew true freedom and peace for the rest of their days. But eventually, the Babylonians were conquered by the Persians, and the Lord inspired King Cyrus of Persia to issue a proclamation throughout his empire encouraging the Jews to return to Jerusalem, rebuild the Temple, and worship God there. Notice how the king made this possible but didn’t force anyone to go. They were free to choose; to either return home or stay far away. Wickedness has grave consequences, in this life and hereafter, yet we do not earn our salvation by doing good deeds. As St. Paul tells us, “by grace you have been saved — [God] raised us up with [Jesus] and seated us with him in the heavens… By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.” Salvation comes from accepting God’s invitation to come home to him.

On the Last Day, Jesus will come again as our Judge, yet “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” In Christ “the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” A very powerful way to shed the darkness of sin and come into the light is through Jesus’ Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Here is another divine invitation to freedom and peace: I will be hearing Confessions in St. Paul’s Main Sacristy this Thursday, from 8 AM to 6 PM, at the start of every hour until all are heard. If those times won’t work let me know and we’ll set up something else. Maybe it’s been a long time since your last Confession? Maybe you’re nervous? You don’t need to be. I’ll help you through it. Know that when you come out you will feel absolutely wonderful. And Jesus Christ, seated at the right hand of our Father above, will look upon you and smile.

Christ Was Lifted Up

March 7, 2021

3rd Sunday of Lent

People would pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem from across the known world to worship, often bringing money to purchase oxen, sheep, or doves for sacrifices to God. So vendors had set up shop in the Temple’s outermost court exchanging foreign currencies into Hebrew coins for a percentage fee and selling animals for a healthy profit. God, however, had designated that large, marble-paved court as the Court of the Gentiles where non-Jews (that is, the Gentiles) could come to worship him at his Temple. The Father willed his Temple to be “a house of prayer for all the nations,” but the moneychangers and animal sellers were making it a noisy, smelly “marketplace.” And by charging unlawful interest and demanding excessive prices even of the poor, they were also “making it a den of thieves.

A place intended to be free for holy worship and communion with God had become unclean, profaned by sin. So Jesus personally comes to Jerusalem at the time of Passover and does something dramatic. He zealously cleanses the Temple, conquering evil, achieving justice, restoring relationship between God and man, drawing people to himself, and indeed sacrificing himself; for when the chief priests and scribes heard of this incident they began seeking a way to put him to death. Their plotting would lead to the Pascal Mystery at the heart of The Apostles’ Creed:

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried,
he descended into hell,
on the third day he rose again from the dead,
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

Why does Jesus Christ do these things? Because sin had caused the human race to fall far from God and paradise. Suffering, dying, and being barred from Heaven were our human lot. We had become slaves to sin and the Evil One, held hostage against our will. Our offenses against the All-Holy One required an incalculable repayment. And our separation from God had made us doubtful of his goodness and love for us. It was a slavery we could not escape, a debt of justice we could not repay, and a broken relationship we could not heal. But God had a plan to save us. He would aid humanity with his divinity by fashioning a remedy for us out of our weakness and suffering and mortality, that from fallout of our downfall would come the means to our salvation. By his Incarnation, the Son of God enters our sinful world as one of us and by his Pascal Mystery sets us free, cleansing us, for holy worship and communion with God. First, Jesus assumes our nature, and then he offers a perfect sacrifice.

As the Letter to the Hebrews says, since we “share in blood and Flesh, Jesus likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the Devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.” Jesus said that he came “to give his life as a ransom for many.” And lest it be unclear, St. Paul proclaims that the Lord “gave himself as a ransom for all.” Christ’s death frees the slaves and ransoms the captives, and now saints and angels sing to Jesus, the Lamb of God, in Heaven: “Worthy are you… for you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation.

To some, the idea of Almighty God dying on a cross seems impossible, unbecoming foolishness. Yet Christ crucified is the power and wisdom of God. “The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” This mysterious, hidden, wisdom, planned by God before the ages for our glory, was not understood by the devil and his demons; “for if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” In sinning God, Adam had handed himself and his descendants into the devil’s clutches, but in crucifying Christ (the sinless New Adam) the serpent overplays his hand and loses big. St. Augustine uses the image of a mousetrap in which Jesus is the bait. The devil takes this bait in putting Jesus on the Cross, but by shedding Christ’s innocent blood the devil is forced to release his claims on those who are joined to Christ. The trap snapped down and crushed the serpent.

Jesus’ sacrifice was also able to pay the incredible debt of human sins before God. All sin is wrong, but consider which sin is worse: to lie to a stranger or to betray a friend; to slap your enemy or to slap your mother? The greater the generous goodness and love that a person has shown us, the greater is the offense of our trespasses against them. So how great a crime then are our sins against God, whose love created us and from whom all good things come? How very great a debt of justice must then be satisfied? Our sins caused a debt no sinner could repay. God had commanded his Old Covenant people to offer animal sacrifices for their sins, the idea being that the creature was dying in the place of the sinner whose sins had merited death. However, as the Letter to the Hebrews says, “it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats take away sins. For this reason, when [Jesus] came into the world, he said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight in. Then I said, as is written of me in the scroll, “Behold, I come to do your will, O God.”’

Jesus Christ, God become man, perfectly fulfills the Law, keeping the commandments and doing his Father’s will. He lives for God without sin, honoring his Father and mother, proclaiming the Kingdom of God without idolatry or blasphemy, without murder or adultery, without thievery or lying or coveting, but with abundant love. And in his death, Christ obediently offers the perfect, acceptable sacrifice we were incapable of on our own; a divinely-perfected offering of humanity to God. By his Incarnation, Jesus has in a certain way united himself with every human person, inviting them to become one with him. Through his sacraments, we are more perfectly joined to Jesus to share in his life and enjoy the benefits of what he has accomplished. Christ is the Victor over sin and death, over the tomb and the underworld, over the world and the devil, and he invites us to partake in his victory.

In the beginning, though the Holy Trinity did not desire humanity to sin and fall, our freely-chosen rebellion did not come as a surprise. Before Creation, the eternal, all-knowing Trinity foreknew what it would cost to save us. And God still said Yes, “Let there be light.” Jesus Christ was freely delivered up crucifixion by lawless men according to the set plan and foreknowledge of God, as foreshadowed by the Old Testament Scriptures. But could God, if he had wished, before Creation or in the course of time, have ordained a manner for the Son’s saving sacrifice other than dying upon a Roman Cross? If so, if there were other unchosen options, then the Cross of Christ was chosen as a most effective and compelling sign for us. A less painful, less ignoble, less public, less striking death — if such a death could have saved us — would not speak to us so clearly as a powerful sign of God’s love for us as this. Jesus makes himself so vulnerable and so lowly so as to awaken a response of love in our hearts. He extends his arms on the Cross in hopes that the whole world will be drawn to his embrace. As Jesus said, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”

After Jesus died, the Apostles’ Creed says, “he descended into hell.” What are we to make of this? Death is the separation of one’s soul from one’s body. On Holy Saturday, while Jesus’ dead body laid in his sealed tomb keeping a perfect Sabbath rest, Jesus’ soul visited the souls of those in the realm of the dead. Our creed translates this abode of the dead (called “Sheol” in Hebrew or “Hades” in Greek) as “hell” because all souls there, whether righteous or unrighteous, were deprived of the vision of God. But this does not mean that the situations of the Just and Unjust there were identical. Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus describes the afterlife before the gates of Heaven had opened, showing Lazarus comforted in the bosom of Father Abraham while the uncaring, anonymous rich man (whose name is not written in the Book of Life) suffers torment in the flames.

Jesus descends to hell as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the souls imprisoned there. He does not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the souls of the Just. Jesus had said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” By proclaiming the Gospel in the underworld and inviting souls to Heaven, Jesus extends his saving victory to all the faithful people who had preceded him in death.

On the third day he rose again from the dead,
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

I do not have the time to speak much about these lines this Sunday, but in closing, note what St. Paul beautifully observes about Christ in his Letter to the Philippians:

Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave, Being born in the likeness of men, …it was thus that he humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross!

Because of this, God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every other name, so that at Jesus’ name every knee must bend in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father: Jesus Christ is Lord!

Jesus empties himself in his Incarnation, humbles himself in his holy obedience, submits himself to his Passion and death, descends to the depths of the underworld, lower and lower and then Jesus is raised up from there, higher and higher, to life and rewards, glory and honor and power, enthroned at the favored righthand of God the Father. St. Paul says to “have among yourselves the same attitude” as this in your Christian life, for as Jesus teaches, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

“I Believe in Jesus Christ”

February 27, 2021

2nd Sunday of Lent

In the words of The Apostles’ Creed:

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.

At the heart of our Christian Faith is a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth. He is the Word become flesh, “the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” Jesus comes to us as “the way, and the truth, and the life,” and Christian living consists in following him. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has said, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord

Jesus’ name in Hebrew means: “God saves.” And this name, first announced by the archangel Gabriel, expresses his identity and mission. Through the incarnation, God made man “will save his people from their sins.” Jesus is the “name which is above every name” and “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” He is called the Christ or the Messiah. These are Greek and Hebrew titles which mean “anointed one.” In Israel, those consecrated for a God-given mission were anointed in his name; kings, priests, and sometimes prophets had precious, shining olive oil poured upon them. Jesus Christ fulfills the messianic hope of Israel by coming anointed in the Holy Spirit as priest, prophet, and king, to inaugurate the Kingdom of God.

Jesus Christ the Son is eternally begotten of the Father. They are one God but two persons. This is why Jesus can say, “The Father and I are one,” and, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” while he prays to, honors, and loves his Father as another Person. The Jews in holy reverence for God’s divine name Yahweh would substitute the word Adonai in Hebrew or Kyrios in Greek, both of which mean “Lord.” So when the early Christians professed “Jesus Christ is Lord” they were not merely announcing him as a king above Caesar but proclaiming him as God from God.

He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.

God becomes man not as a full-grown adult descending from the clouds; nor as an infant, delivered in a blanket by the Holy Spirit stork. Jesus Christ is conceived as a tiny embryo because that is how human life begins. Jesus Christ is not part God and part man, or some mixture of the two. He’s not half-and-half, or like 99.44% divine. The Son became truly man while remaining truly God; two natures united in one person, true God and true man. He is born among us, as one of us, to die for us as our saving sacrifice.

Roughly 3,800 years ago, God put Abraham to the test. “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust [a sacrifice] on a height that I will point out to you.” Early the next morning Abraham saddled his donkey, took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac, and after cutting the wood for the burnt offering, set out for the place of which God had told him. On the third day, Abraham caught sight of the place from a distance. He said to his servants: “Stay here with the donkey, while the boy and I go on over there. We will worship and then come back to you.

We‘ will come back to you? Why lie to the servants? Why not just say, “Wait here”? You see, Abraham was in fact neither lying nor trying to deceive. As the Letter to the Hebrews teaches, God had promised him “through Isaac descendants shall bear your name,” so Abraham reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead, and he received Isaac back as a symbol, a foreshadowing sign of things to come. God provides the sheep for the sacrifice upon Mount Moriah. There the city of Jerusalem would be established. There the Jewish Temple would be built, destroyed, and raised up again. And there Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, would be sacrificed on the Cross. God the Father offers his own beloved Son in our place.

Born of the virgin Mary,
he suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.

Holy Mary of Nazareth and Governor Pontius Pilate of Judea stand for the two types of people in this world in regards to Jesus: those who receive him, love him, and serve him like Mary, and those like Pilate who would prefer to ignore him but who will reject and destroy the Christ if he stands in the way of their desires. But Mary who bore him and Pilate who killed him are not merely types, symbols, or metaphors – they are real people who ground Jesus’ life in real history. Jesus’ public ministry, his Passion, death, and Resurrection were not “once upon a time,” but in the early 30’s AD. As the 2nd Letter of St. Peter testifies:

“We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory, ‘This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.”

He speaks here of the Transfiguration, recounted in today’s gospel. Jesus, “after he had told the disciples of his coming death, on the holy mountain he manifested to them his glory, to show, even by the testimony of the law and the prophets, that the Passion leads to the glory of the Resurrection.” His disciples Peter, James, and John “were so terrified” at this experience, but then “Jesus came and touched them saying, ‘Rise, and do not be afraid.’

Brothers and sisters, we must take God seriously, but we need not be afraid. “Perfect love drives out fear.” The Word became flesh so that we might know God’s love. As Scripture says: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” – “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” – “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  – And “if God is for us, who can be against us?” If the Father has given us his Son, “how will he not also give us everything else along with him?” Jesus Christ, who died and was raised, sits at God’s right hand and intercedes for us.

So during this Lent, cultivate your personal relationship with Jesus, which is so very important. Yes, he is your Lord God and King, but you can personally relate to him in other true ways as well. He is your brother, for you share the same heavenly Father and blessed mother. He is your friend, for “no one has greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” and he has laid down his life for you. He is your teacher who said, “You call me ‘teacher’… and rightly so, for indeed I am.” He is your hero, champion, and star who by his excellence wins glory throughout the world. And he is your bridegroom, in whom his beloved bride and his best man rejoice. At the heart of our Christian Faith is a Person, Jesus Christ, the Word become flesh who died for you, and Christian life consists in knowing, and loving, and following him.

Living Christ’s Mysteries — Funeral Homily for Deacon Ed Feltes, 65

February 23, 2021

On the day Victor and Ramona brought their eighth son to be baptized, while his little head was still damp from holy water, Edward Joseph was draped with white linen. And the priest said (in Latin), “Receive this white garment, which mayest thou carry without stain before the judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, that thou mayest have life everlasting.” Today, we bring Ed’s body before the Lord, draping him in white cloth once more. My uncle Ed told me that as a deacon he would always say yes to doing baptisms. It was, he said, “the introduction of a new life into the Church. By baptizing them you are basically installing them into a Catholic environment and hopefully they will grow in it and not back away from it.” Ed has been a Catholic Christian for more than sixty-five years, ever since he was baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. And throughout his nearly twenty-four thousand days Jesus Christ accompanied him through life. The life of a Christian is found in Jesus Christ. And the mysteries of Christ’s life are reflected in, shared with, the faithful Christian. We see this throughout Ed’s life.

At his First Communion, young Edward approached and saw the Real Presence of his Lord held before his eyes: “The Body of Christ / Corpus Christi.” Ed received Jesus and Jesus received Ed into a more profound union, a more intimate relationship, between them. In receiving Christ’s Body, Ed was called to be the Body of Christ for this world. When Jesus tells us at the Last Supper, “Do this in memory of me,” he not only commands that we would receive him at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but that we would imitate him in his self-gift: “This is my body, which will be given up for you. Do this in memory of me.” When Ed was sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit at his Confirmation, he entered a more powerful relationship with that same Spirit of inspiration, grace, and power who led Jesus in his works on earth. The Holy Spirit’s gifts manifested through Ed not merely for himself, for his own salvation, but to serve the wider mission of Christ’s Church, that every person in this wayward world might be saved.

The main vehicle of Ed life’s work and witness would be through his first vocation: marriage. Ed and Jessica meet during his studies at Notre Dame University and the year he graduated they entered a new covenant together. Almost forty years ago, they freely committed without reservation to give themselves to each other in marriage, to love and honor each other for as long as they both would live, and to accept children lovingly from God—raising them up according to the law of Christ and his Church. Recall that Jesus Christ called himself the Bridegroom and that in Sacred Scripture his Church is called his Bride. Every Christian is called to imitate Christ, and every Christian soul is spiritually his Bride. But just as the Holy Eucharist we celebrate is not merely a symbol or a memory but Jesus’ Real Presence among us so the Sacrament of Marriage makes present the mystical marriage of Jesus and his Church, within and between a husband and a wife. In beholding a holy, Christian marriage, in its loving, mutual, and lasting fidelity, we see a sign for us and for the world. That love is real, that love is foundational, that love is fruitful. That we were made in love, made to love, made for a holy communion of love, a family. We saw this in Ed and Jessica’s strong marriage which bore fruit, not least of all in their children: in their living son, Christopher, of whom they are so proud, and four other loved children who passed away very, very young; Francis, Steven, Elizabeth, and Meagan. Ed said he looked forward to meeting them and now has that opportunity.

In his marriage, together with Jessica, Ed discerned and pursued a call within his call, a second vocation. Relying on the help of the Lord God and our Savior Jesus Christ, Ed was chosen and ordained for the Order of the Diaconate. After the laying of the bishop’s hands and being dressed with stole and vestment, he was handed a Book of the Gospels with this admonition: “Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” Deacon Ed then ministered here at St. Catherine’s, celebrating in this sanctuary and serving throughout this parish. Teaching and preaching, even though he often found preaching difficult. Ed told me that he primarily sought to advance the Kingdom by sharing his life, showing how he lived. He said, “Always live your life such that people want the same that you do.” Looking back at the end of his quiet life, Ed had few regrets, but he did wonder if he was “maybe quiet too long.” Deacon Ed understood well that we need not enter into every pointless, unhelpful argument, but the Spirit does call and help us to speak the important words people need to hear alongside seeing our deeds.

In these last years, these final years, Ed reflected Christ and became configured to him in a new way, by joining him in suffering. Ed had at least six different strokes—twice nearly dying yet surviving—and endured strokes’ debilitating effects. Ed and Jessica described these past several years to me as an experience of continuous loses and grief, but also of continuous mercy and grace. Reportedly, the devastating impact of strokes often breaks up families, but this family grew closer through the trials. I think Ed also became bolder in Christ. While under hospice care at home he never stopped offering good things to his guests; blessings, prayers, holy water and blessed salt, to anyone who visited, wherever they might be in their faith walk.

When I last spoke with my uncle Ed I asked him what he was looking forward to. He simply said, “Heaven. I poured a lot of my life into experiencing, into living life on earth with a heavenly approach.” Asked as to what his near future held, he said, “It’s really up to God. I accept everything he has for me.” Ed and Jessica related to me that it was last March, almost a year ago, over a lunch at Panera Bread, that he told her, “I’m going to go to the Lord in six months to a year.” And he was right. Ed knew he was in God’s hands, being led and offered like an oblation for his glory and as a blessing for many. Knowing that this day was not in the far-distant future, I asked Ed about his wish for all of you on this day of his funeral. He answered, “Pray that they seek God more closely and live a more Christian life. I wish they would seek God for the answers and not just rely on themselves.” So if you have seen Jesus Christ in the life of Deacon Ed Feltes, please listen and heed his words.

And now, in conclusion, like Edward heard in his Last Rites:

I commend you, our dear brother, to almighty God and entrust you to your Creator. May you return to God who formed you from the dust of the earth. May holy Mary, the angels, and all the saints come to meet you as you go forth from this life.

May Christ who was crucified for you bring you freedom and peace. May Christ who died for you admit you into his garden of paradise. May Christ, the true Shepherd, acknowledge you as one of his flock.

May the Lord forgive all your sins and set you among those he has chosen. May you see your Redeemer face to face and enjoy the vision of God for ever.

“I Believe in God”

February 20, 2021

1st Sunday of Lent

“I believe in God,
  the Father almighty,
  creator of heaven and earth.
  I believe in Jesus Christ,
  his only Son, our Lord.”

Thus begins the Apostles’ Creed, the earliest known Christian creed. Like the later Nicene Creed, it opens with a statement: “I believe” which in Latin is “Credo,” and from this the Church’s authoritative summaries of our Christian Faith are called creeds. The Apostles’ Creed is so named because it is rightly considered a faithful profession of the Faith the apostles believed and preached. Since our return to public Masses, we have been proclaiming the Apostles’ Creed together on Sundays and solemnities. For this season of Lent, I am going to do something I have never tried before. Beginning this Sunday and continuing through the 5th Sunday of Lent, I will be preaching a homily series on the Apostles’ Creed. Week by week, we will unpack this, “the oldest Roman catechism,” and explore its meaning and implications for us. The Apostles Creed begins, as all things began, with God.

I believe in God. The whole creed speaks of God, and when it also speaks of man and of this world it does so in relation to God. Each passage in the creed tells us more about him, much like how God has progressively revealed himself to us, who he is and what he is like, more and more throughout salvation history. Who is God? God is the fullness of Being and of every perfection. God is without beginning and without end. God is Truth who cannot lie. The beginning of sin and of man’s fall was due to a lie of the tempter who sowed doubt concerning God’s word, faithfulness, and love. God is love. God’s very being is love. By sending his only Son and the Spirit of love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God is an eternal exchange of love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They call us to share in their personal communion of love now and forever, but the choice whether to respond is ours.

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. God the Father is the Father of all. He is the origin of everything, of the Holy Trinity in eternity and of all Creation in history. The Father fashions the material universe and the spiritual realms distinct from and outside of himself, and by his gift he creates new life inside of them, including the angels and us. God the Father is transcendent authority, perfectly just, while providing good things and loving care for all his children.

The story of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood from the Book of Genesis communicates important truths. God is our Creator with sovereignty over all he has made. He is holy and hates sin in his creatures. God’s Great Flood aims to wash away sin from the face of the earth and then begin anew through a new covenant with Noah. Yet the consequences of the Fall were neither cured nor cleansed; Noah and his household carried sin with them onto the ark and humanity’s waywardness continued after they disembarked.

This represents a cautionary tale for us against a common human error or misconception about how evil might be cancelled or conquered in this world. In 1945, the Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to a Soviet forced labor camp for his criticism of communist tyranny. After his release he went on to write his most famous work, “The Gulag Archipelago.” In it, the Christian Solzhenitsyn shares this true insight:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

We can and should work for change in this world, but advocacy for changing evils “out there” will prove ultimately futile without accompanying spiritual change within us. But how are we to accomplish this most difficult transformation inside our own hearts? Human history and our personal experience show we cannot achieve this on our own, so how shall we be saved?

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. On the cusp of his fruitful public ministry,

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
  and he remained in the desert for forty days,
  tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts…”

After the Fall of man, the garden paradise is replaced by a desert. The animals, formerly tame in the Garden of Eden, have become wild in our fractured world. Humanity now had a great debt with God it could not pay, a vast chasm between him and us we could not cross. The first Adam died unatoned, but a new Adam has come. The Eternal Son of God entered time and space and became human to reconcile God and man and establish a new covenant between us. Jesus comes to undo the Fall, dwelling in the desert among the wild beasts, to be tempted by the ancient serpent, the devil. Jesus comes to reclaim the crown that Adam had lost. Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, would be the Lord of all. He comes and proclaims:

“This is the time of fulfillment.
  The Kingdom of God is at hand.
  Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

During these forty desert days of Lent, Jesus invites you to approach him, asking his forgiveness in the Sacrament of Confession. He invites you dwell with him, spend time with him, encountering him through daily prayer and the Holy Eucharist. Jesus would accompany and strengthen you in your earnest battles against temptation, growing you in his virtues. And he would perfect your love, forming you in his likeness, preparing you for more fruitful works on earth and for the supreme, communal joy of Heaven. Now is the time for Confession, for prayer, for the Mass, growth in virtue, and growth in love.

The Holy Spirit would lead you out to Jesus during this desert retreat of Lent. And everything Jesus does for you, everything he does within you, is to lead you back to God our Father. I believe and proclaim that this is the Father’s will for you. Yet, despite all of almighty God’s infinite, omnipotent power, only you can freely choose whether to answer him with your “Yes.”

You’re Invited to the Wedding Feast

October 11, 2020

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus speaks again today in parables. “The Kingdom of Heaven,” he says, “may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but (the guests) refused to come.” So the king invited his people to his son’s wedding feast anew. “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast!”’

Some people responded with indifference; they had other things they preferred to do instead. Other people responded with hostility; ‘Don’t tell us what to do!‘ Who wouldn’t want to attend a king’s feast? Maybe they thought the food wouldn’t be that great or special. Maybe they didn’t love the king or his son very much. Maybe they thought that insulting or openly rebelling against their king and his son would hold no consequences for them.

The king would go on to invite others to his feast, anyone his servants could find, and his hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests, he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. Some scripture commentary says owning such a garment in those days was as common as owning a winter coat is around here. Others suggest a wealthy party host like the king might provide such festal garments to his guests at the door. The king asked him, “My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?” But he was reduced to silence. He was unprepared not due to inability, poverty, or some misunderstanding, which could have been forgiven. The man had no good reason to offer. So the king had him bound, by his hands and his feet, and thrown into the unhappy darkness outside.

What are we to make of all this? In this parable of Jesus about the Kingdom of Heaven, who is the king and who is his son? Where is this wedding feast and what does it consist of? And when invited to this feast, who ignores it, who rebels against it, and who comes unprepared for it?

The King in this parable is like God the Father. And the Son is Jesus Christ; who, elsewhere in the Scriptures, calls himself the bridegroom. Where and what is the wedding feast? Where is the holy mountain of the Lord of which Isaiah speaks in our first reading, where God’s people are gathered to rejoice and feast, with ‘rich food and choice wine, juicy, rich food, and pure, choice wine‘? The Old Testament Jews probably envisioned the city of Jerusalem and its temple. Today a Christian’s first thought might be to place this feast someday in Heaven. But our temple and our foretaste of Heaven is here and now. The Holy Mass is Christ’s Wedding Feast, where Jesus gives us his very self to eat. What richer or more choice food could exist than this?

In this time of pandemic, we are dispensed from attending Mass, yet we must still obey the Third Commandment: to keep holy the Lord’s Day. If your child were getting married this weekend and you could not attend due to illness, wouldn’t you still want to watch it live-streamed, even from home or a hospital bed? If remote participation at Holy Mass is unworkable, then connect with Christ through reading the Scriptures, through praying the Rosary, or other spiritual activities on Sundays. But under normal circumstances, when personal safety is no longer a concern, why would someone spurn their personal invitation to this feast? Maybe they believe this food isn’t that special or great. Maybe they do not love our King or the Son very much. Maybe they think that disobeying the Third Commandment carries no serious consequences for them. But all of you have come here today, and that is good. Please continue to do so, as conditions and sound prudence allow. And please invite your family members and friends here as well. It’s important that they come before the Lord.

And when you come, come properly dressed. In one sense, this is literally true – we should dress up for Sunday Mass since it’s a very special occasion. But in a more important and spiritual sense we must come in our wedding garment. At your baptism, you were dressed in a special white garment. In the Book of Revelation, the saints in Heaven are seen wearing white graments washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. Through grave sin we can cast off that garment, and receiving our Lord unworthily is a serious offense, so go to Confession first when needed to be reclothed. How will we answer our King someday if we neglect to do so?

You are invited to our King’s feast. And, if you are properly prepared, he wants you to receive our Lord with very happy hearts. So let us turn to the Eucharist, and rejoice as Isaiah foretold:

Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!
This is the LORD for whom we looked;
let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!

The King declares, “Everything is ready; come to the feast!

Behold the Lamb of God,
behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.
Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb.”

A Prophet’s Reward

June 27, 2020

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus says, “Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.” So what is a prophet’s reward? Being a prophet in this world is a kind of a mixed bag.

On the positive side, a prophets’ words and deeds and their role in working miracles can give great blessings and yield joyful fruits for both the preacher and the people. For instance, the Shunammite woman in our first reading repeatedly received the prophet Elisha into her home and to her table, and he was pleased to be so warmly welcomed. First, she was graced by the holy man’s words and presence, then she was blessed through the miracle he announced: “This time next year you will be fondling a baby son.” She was overjoyed at the birth of a son, and Elisha surely shared that joy. Those who heed the word of God are blessed to see its fruits.

On the other hand, on the negative side of the ledger, the prophets and their words were not always welcomed and received. In fact, they were usually met with hostility. The Letter to the Hebrews recalls how some of the prophets “endured mockery, scourging, even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, sawed in two, put to death at sword’s point; they went about in skins of sheep or goats, needy, afflicted, tormented.” Knowing this, is it worth it for a prophet to answer God’s call?

Well, consider what else belongs to the prophet’s reward: Consider the value of living a holy life with a clear conscience. There is a great peace in doing what is right that is unlike the spiritual disquiet of sin. Consider the value of a life doing good with holy purpose, helping to save others’ souls. A selfish life lacks deeper, greater meaning, and its emptiness is a terrible taste of what Hell is like forever. Consider the value of a life that will be remembered. Remembered by people on earth? Maybe, maybe not, beyond the people whose lives you bless— but certainly remembered by God, who will reward his faithful ones with the joy of Heaven, an everlasting reward beyond our imagining. And all along this way to Heaven, you will share in the personal, intimate, friendship of God.

Now Jesus says, “Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward” and “whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward.” But where can we today find a prophet and righteous man to share in his reward? Long ago, Moses said, “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kinsmen; to him you shall listen in all that he may say to you. Everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be cut off from the people.” Remembering this, when the crowds saw Jesus perform the miracle of the multiplication the loaves they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” On one occasion, Jesus stated that the men of Nineveh “repented at the preaching of (the Prophet) Jonah; and there is something greater than Jonah here.” Then, after Jesus’ Ascension, St. Stephen the first martyr preached that the prophets had “previously announced the coming of the Righteous One…” and St. Ananias announced to Saul, who had encountered the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus, “The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One.” Thus, the one who receives Jesus Christ will receive a prophet’s and righteous man’s reward. “And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple —amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward,” for Jesus says, “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine you did it for me.

How can we receive the Lord? First of all, through the sacraments. Are you unaware that in baptism you were baptized into Christ? To quote St. Paul, “all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” And your baptism has led you here today, to receive him anew in the supreme gift of the Holy Eucharist, the Most Blessed Sacrament. (For some of you, you are blessed to be about to receive Jesus in this way for the very first time, and we’re all very happy for you.) In this sacrament Jesus Christ comes to visit and dine with you with you: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.” And if we have prepared a place for him and welcome him to dwell, Jesus stays and remains with us. The good Shunammite woman prepared room for Elisha in the highest place of her home, upon the cool rooftop, and furnished it for him with a bed, table, chair, and lamp, so that he could comfortably stay. She converted and reorganized her house for her holy guest. Jesus expects the same of us; the conversion and dedication of our lives, our souls, our homes; for Jesus wishes to dwell with us.

Receiving Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is not a one and done event. Even returning to encounter him here again at Mass every Sunday – as we are rightly commanded to do – is not all that he desires of us or for us. Jesus says, “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” Following Jesus requires us to die to sin and offer loving sacrifices like himself. It’s often hard to live for Christ. Knowing this, is it worth it to answer his call?

Consider the value of living a holy life with a clear conscience, with the peace that come from doing what is right. Consider the value of a life doing good with holy purpose, helping to save others’ souls. Consider the value of a life that will be remembered by God and those whose lives you bless forever. And consider how Christ will reward you with Heaven, an unending joy beyond imagining, and share his personal, intimate, friendship with you all along your way there. Jesus says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it,” but “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” And whoever truly receives our Lord Jesus Christ will receive the Christ’s reward.

Jesus’ Longing for You

June 14, 2020

Corpus Christi Sunday—Year A

After the suspension in March, our parish went eleven weekends without the public celebration of Sunday Masses. Throughout Salvation History, the number forty symbolizes times of purification, preparation, and longing. For most people, being away meant about eighty days (forty twice over) without physically receiving our Eucharistic Lord. For many, their yearning for Jesus in the Eucharist has never been greater. Feast of Corpus Christi homily usually focus (quite fittingly) upon the Real Presence, the beautiful truth that Jesus Christ is truly present, body and blood, soul and divinity, alive in the Holy Eucharist. As St. Paul says in our second reading, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the Blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the Body of Christ?” You are probably well-informed about this already; that’s why you have been longing for Him in the Eucharist. Today I feel moved to speak about Jesus Christ’s Eucharistic longing for you.

Jesus Christ’s desire for us is foreshadowed in the Old Testament; for instance, in The Song of Songs. There the beloved says of her spouse: “My lover speaks and says to me, ‘Arise, my friend, my beautiful one, and come! Let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.’” Later this same man, prefiguring Christ, declares: “I have come to my garden, my sister, my bride; … I eat my honeycomb with my honey, I drink my wine with my milk. Eat, friends; [and] drink!

In the Book of Proverbs, God’s personified wisdom speaks: “Let whoever is naive turn in here; to any who lack sense I say, Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.” The foolishness we must forsake is our sins, for what is freely-chosen sin if not harmful foolishness? Jesus seeks to bring about sinners’ salvation, in part, through drawing them to his meal, to share his presence, his food and drink. Jesus once responded to criticisms of his ministry saying: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, `Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.

A Samaritan woman with many sins once asked Jesus, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” He answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” Later, on the last and greatest day of a Jewish feast, Jesus stood up in the temple area and exclaimed: “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.” Before his miraculous multiplication of loaves of bread, Jesus called his disciples to himself and said, “I feel compassion for the people, because they have remained with me now three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.” Jesus wants to feed us (we who have remained with him) as well, to strengthen us on our way. The food and drink Jesus desires you and I to receive are not mere objects for bodily sustenance — it is his very self. “I am the living bread that came down from Heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever… For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.

At the Last Supper, which was the first Mass, Jesus told his disciples, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you… Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body, which will be given up for you.” Jesus earnestly desires to share his feast, this Mass, to unite with us today. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him and he with me.” Jesus is divine, but he’s also human. He dwells in Heaven, but he has human desires for you and me and our world. If you have yearned for Jesus in the Eucharist, if you have desired to receive him these past months, consider how much more Jesus Christ longs and desires for you.

St. John the Baptist’s Mass Registration

May 21, 2020


Our bishop’s current guidelines for public Masses require a measure of social distancing and limit our church’s capacity.

To attend, register your seat(s) any and all upcoming St. Paul’s Masses. A scheduled minster (usher, lector, server, organist, or sacristan) is not to reserve a seat for him or herself.

.

(Online registration is no longer required for Masses)