Remember…

If we dig into the history of worship, way back beyond the coming of Jesus Christ and even farther back than the Old Testament takes us, we see a few trends. We see that human being are innately religious. We see that the first human communities were formed around worship sites to help care for them so that people might come to perform and observe rituals to the gods. If the rituals were not done correctly, the people feared that the now-displeased deity would inflict punishment of some sort upon the people. As a result, a specialized group of people with the knowledge necessary to ensure that rituals were performed correctly developed. This priestly class became the people tasked with mediating between humanity and their gods. The priests were responsible for ensuring that their idols were fed and clothed properly and expected the worshippers to provide the necessary goods and materials to care for their gods.

When we look at the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and his followers, we find something different. Yes, we see holy sites and a specialized class of priests, and on first glance it looks very similar. But the priests act very differently. Our God specifically prohibited the making of images. Our God specifically tells his people that he does not eat the flesh of animals offered to him. The priests of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not there to provide for God. Our worship of God adds nothing to his greatness, but our worship of God is valuable for a very important group of people: us. By worshiping God, we express our desire for his closeness to us and his presence in our life.

In the liturgical celebrations commanded by God in the first reading tonight, the most important command is to remember. God says that This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the Lord, as a perpetual institution. What must we remember? God comes to our aid. When his people cry out to them, he is not a passive observer. This is why he sent his Son: to save us from the mess we got ourselves into. But these things are easy to forget. So we must memorialize these events. We must remember.

The Priesthood of Jesus Christ, in which Fr. Drew and I participate, assists us in remembering God’s love for us. The pinnacle of the worship of our God is the celebration of our Eucharistic Liturgy, and the pinnacle of the priesthood is the celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy, which in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church we call Mass. In the Mass, we do this in remembrance of Him by making those events ritually present through the actions of the priest. When we celebrate the Mass, literally make the events of our salvation present, and even more so tonight. Tonight is not simply a night in which we remember the Last Supper. Tonight is the Last Supper. Tonight we do not simply remember Christ feeding his apostles with his Body and Blood. Tonight Christ feeds us with his Body and Blood.

When we receive the Eucharist, we receive God, and we receive his love in our hearts. Love is not a gift that can be hoarded. It must be given. In this great Sacrament of Love, God gives us the ability to love our neighbor. Tonight we are fed with the Body and Blood of God. We share in a Communion of all believers who have been similarly united with God. This is the glory of the Eucharist, a glory which our human senses fail to see. By faith alone can we behold this mystery, which enables us to follow the commands of Christ: to love God and to love our neighbor.

Today’s Readings
April 1, 2021
Thursday of the Lord’s Supper
Exodus 12:1–8, 11–14; Psalm 116:12–13, 15–16bc, 17–18; 1 Corinthians 11:23–26; John 13:1–15

John 3:16 and Fear of the Lord

Everybody loves to quote John 3:16. 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. It is a very comforting passage when taken out of context. When we read it in context, though, this passage ought to inspire the fear of God in us. Fear of God is a virtue. We spend a lot of time trying to talk around it and say it means something else, but it is vitally important we recognize that God is the absolute ruler of this universe, and what he says is what happens. Our opinions do not matter, only the truth as given to us by God. The truth in today’s Gospel is a warning to all of us.

Jesus said to 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.” We have to start by remembering why Moses lifted up a serpent in the desert. The people of Israel had committed the sin of idolatry. They worshiped a golden calf. They began partaking of the same horrendous rituals of the clans and tribes around them. We see these same actions condemned in the first reading today: In those days, all the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people // added infidelity to infidelity, // practicing all the abominations of the nations // and polluting the LORD’s temple // which he had consecrated in Jerusalem. The word abomination means that these actions are not the simple worship of false gods. When worship becomes an abomination it usually includes rituals acts of wanton lust done in a perverse mockery of temple liturgy. They would have included human sacrifice, and worse. I will spare you the details. (In the podcast “A Land of Giants”, they get into a lot of the strange & nerdy details.)

The children of Israel, both those in Moses’ day and those in the first reading today, were punished by God. When you partake in abominable actions, there are consequences. God had sent his messengers, his prophets, and the people did not listen. When the people of Israel hardened their hearts and refused to repent, the LORD’s anger against his people blazed up beyond remedy. The instigators of these atrocities lost their lives, and those who were saved were the ones who repented of their wickedness. This action by God may seem drastic, but we must consider this: these abominable actions were making a mockery of God at a minimum and were potentially outright demon worship. Allowing such acts to continue would destroy Israel. God had swore to protect his people. Occasionally the only way to do this is purification from false prophets and false religion: to remove the bad influences through somewhat drastic means.

Christ said that the Son of Man [must] be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. God the Father desires us to look upon his only begotten Son, nailed to the Cross. He wants us to believe in him. He wants us to repent of our sin so that we might have eternal life. He wants us to flee from the condemnation which our sin has rightly earned us, for the Gospel continues: And this is the verdict, // that 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.

John 3:16, when we read it in context, paints a vastly different story for us: God the Father sent his Son to us out of love to save us from ourselves and present the gift of eternal life, and we—humanity—rejected him. We deserved death for this rejection, but God’s love overpowers even this rejection. St. Paul teaches us that God, who is rich in mercy, // because of the great love he had for us, // even when we were dead in our transgressions, // brought us to life with Christ. Christ invited us to join him in his Resurrection, and he gave us the means to do it. When we are baptized, we die to this sinful world and are reborn in the Resurrection of Christ. This is why Baptism is so critically important: in Baptism we die to the darkness and become children of the light, we begin to live in the truth.

[W]hoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.

As children of the light, we are called to allow God to burn brightly within us. We are called to show the light given to us to those who still live in the darkness who have never encountered the Good News of redemption given to us by Christ. We are called to show the light given to us to those who have extinguished the light that once burned in them.

There are many things we must do to show our light to those around us, but we must begin by purifying ourselves. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the way that we do this. Each is essential, all of them must actually be done in both our bodies and our souls. We must actually pray. We must actually give some sort of alms. We must actually fast from food. Many of us struggle with physical fasting, and I know there are some medical situations which make it impossible, but for the vast majority of us, fasting from food—actual physical fasting—is essential. St. Basil the Great wrote that, “if all were to take fasting as the counselor for their actions, nothing would prevent a profound peace from spreading throughout the entire world.”1He later continues that “abstinence from food is insufficient for praiseworthy fasting. […] True fasting is being a stranger to vice, controlling the tongue, abstaining from anger, distancing oneself from lust, evil speech, lying, perjury.”2Even those who cannot physically fast must strive to fast from these other things.

Today is Laetare Sunday, a day of rejoicing in the midst of Lent. We rejoice today because our Lenten works of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving have allowed us to grow closer to God. As we enter this final time of preparation to celebrate the victory of Christ over death, let us be ever more intentional about turning toward the light.

Today’s Readings:
March 14, 2021
Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B
2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23; Psalms 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21

Our Secret Lenten Campaign

In the collect, sometimes called the opening prayer, we asked God that today “we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self restraint.” Shortly, as we prepare the gifts before the Eucharistic Prayer, during which they will become the Body and Blood of Christ, and then will be sacrificed and offered to God the Father, we pray that we might undertake this campaign of purification, penance, and charity so that, “cleansed from our sins, [we] may become worthy to celebrate devoutly the Passion of [Jesus Christ].

These prayers tell us everything we need to know about the holy season of Lent which we begin today. they tells us why we engage in Lenten practices: so that we become worthy to celebrate the Passion of Our Lord. We celebrate our Lord’s Passion every time we participate in the Mass, but this is all a shadow of the true celebration to which we are invited at the end of our lives: the Heavenly Wedding Feast of the Lamb. To celebrate this eternal banquet well and devoutly, we must engage in a campaign of Christian service on this earth. The point of this service is to eradicate evil from our lives: evil cannot coexist with our God, whom we will join in Heaven.

To engage in this campaign of Christianity, we utilize the weapons of self-restraint. As the prophet Joel teaches us, we must rend our hearts and not our garments. In plain English, he is telling us that what is inside our hearts is much more consequential than what is outside. Christ tells us how to rend our hearts in the Gospel today: pray, fast, and give alms. Our Lenten practices should incorporate all of these. For example: perhaps instead of buying a coffee and bagel in the morning, we could save that money up and donate it to the Lord’s Diner at the end of the month. We could make a daily effort to pray for those poor people on this earth who are alone, lost, and who have nobody to pray for them. Instead of giving up meat on Fridays alone, we could give it up on Wednesdays as well. These practices of self-denial and mortification “break us in order to raise us up and open our hearts” by destroying our “obsessive concentration on self caused by sin.” (Louis Bouyer as quoted in Magnificat, February 2021, p. 270)

Perhaps the most important aspect of these ascetic practice urged by Christ is one we often overlook: we should do them without drawing attention to ourselves. By engaging in these practices and not seeking worldly recognition, we allow our Father, who Christ repeatedly tells us sees the secrets of our hearts, to give us that recognition when we meet him at the Heavenly Banquet where we hope to join him. Humble prayer, fasting and almsgiving done in secret is a defining trait of Christian asceticism.

This year, we are given an extra chance at humility. Because of the pandemic, the Vatican has changed the distribution of ashes in many countries. Instead of receiving a cross on your forehead, we will sprinkle ashes on the crown of your head. This is an ancient practice, which we find in the Bible centuries before Christ. While new to us, in many countries, such as Italy, this is what they always do.

Unless you are lucky enough to have a beautiful bald head like mine, nobody will be able to tell you are fasting today. Nobody will be able to tell that you went to Mass today. Nobody will be able to tell that you began your Lenten campaign today. Nobody will be able to tell that you are rending your hearts to become worthy to celebrate the Passion of Jesus Christ today. But that’s OK. Because your Heavenly Father, who sees what is hidden, will repay you with everlasting life.

Today’s Readings:
Ash Wednesday
February 17, 2021
Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 51; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Come and listen

“Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Never in a thousand years could Samuel have guessed what he would do in his life. He was to be the last of the great judges of Israel. He provided steady leadership and guidance to the people of Israel, but His sons were unworthy to follow him as leaders of Israel, and the people demanded a king. Samuel would anoint two kings, Saul and later David, and he never feared to challenge abuses of Saul’s power directly. All of this was the will of God, enacted through Samuel, who, for the entirety of his life, never stopped listening to God and serving him.

We all must strive to listen to God as Samuel did.

There are two primary ways in which we can listen for God: prayer and study, specifically, study of Scripture. They are not mutually exclusive. Some would argue that the best way to study scripture is, in fact, while on our knees.1 Prayer is absolutely essential to our lives as Christians, and yet, many of us neglect it or think that going to Mass on Sunday and praying a rosary or two is sufficient prayer. These are good things, but they are not enough. We are called to pray without ceasing. (1 Thess 5:17) That is a lofty goal, but it is attainable if we recognize what prayer actually is and devote ourselves to prayer.

Prayer, simply put, is communicating with God.2 To share the deepest moments of our life with him. To ask for his help, but even moreso, to ask for his love. This isn’t automatic, and we must practice communicating with God. In other words: the way we learn to pray is through prayer.3 Think about your relationship with your closest friend: Were you instantly able to talk about the deepest movements of your heart? Or was it a bit challenging and uncomfortable at first? It can be frightening to plumb the depths of your life and bring forward the deepest secrets in our hearts. It is scary to be vulnerable with someone. Make no mistake: more than any moment of physical vulnerability, the moment we open our heart to another person is one of the most vulnerable moment of our lives. We fear rejection at the core of our being. We are human, after all. We have been created to live in community.

With God, though, we need not worry about rejection. He loves us deeply. He will not reject us. “[W]hen we can be vulnerable enough to show it all to God, to let Him into it and let ourselves be loved in the midst of it, we experience the transforming power of His love.”4 No matter how odd our personality, no matter what kind of sin we’ve gotten into, God loves us infinitely and uniquely. Fr. Jacques Phillippe writes that “God’s love is personal and individual. God does not love two people in the same way because it is actually his love that creates our personality, a different personality for each. There is a much great difference between people’s souls than between their faces…”5 Prayer opens our soul to the word God wishes to speak to it, the word of his unique love for us. This love, which he intends for us to share, is living and active. This love calls each of us to a unique mission amongst his holy people.

How, then, do we pray?

First, make a commitment to pray a certain amount per day. I don’t care who you are, you can always find five minutes a day to pray. Honestly, I suspect we all have 15 minutes at least we can give to God. If you don’t think you do, pull out your phone and look at your screen time app. How much time do you spend on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever? I promise you that time in prayer will be better for you body and soul than any thread or post or story.

Second, find some silence. Some people will deny this is necessary: they are wrong. Perhaps someone experienced in prayer can find the peace necessary to pray, but beginners in prayer—most of us—need silence, because we need to quiet our minds from all the distractions of the world. In this area, it is helpful to prepare. For example, you could listen to some music, like Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, Corelli’s Christmas Concerto, or one of Bach’s Oratorios. Note that the kind of music matters. If it doesn’t lift your soul to God, then it won’t help you to cast aside this world and meet God.  If that’s not your thing, do some deep breathing for a minute or so.

Third, just pray. Tell God what’s happening in your life. Tell him what’s good and what’s bad. Tell him what bring you joy and what terrifies you. Tell him how you feel about him, whether you’re happy with him or furious at him. Tell him what you need help with. Ask him to help you. Maybe most importantly, ask him to help you see how much he loves you.

Finally, don’t forget to be silent with him for a while. We need the silence: it is in the silence that God speaks to our hearts. Remember, Samuel said, “speak, your servant is listening.” He did not say, “listen, your servant is speaking.” If you feel inspired to read some passage in Scripture, go for it, but don’t go overboard. Prayer time is not reading time, and even I make that mistake too regularly.

Single people, you can make time to pray, you just have to decide to do it.

Married couples, you have it a little harder, especially if you have children. Nevertheless, husbands and wives: your primary goal is to get your spouse to Heaven. To get to Heaven, a person must pray.

Husbands, I don’t care how challenging it is or how tired you are or how grumpy the children are, there is no excuse for not giving your wife a few minutes of silence a day so that she can pray. You have one job that matters: get your wife to heaven. Do it.

Wives, I recognize that you are burdened with many tasks and are often exhausted and many times have already spent much of the day with the kids, but your husband needs a few minutes of silence a day so that he can pray. Remember, your most important job is to get your husband to heaven.

Children, when your parents are praying, don’t bother them! (Well, if someone is hurt or the house is on fire, you can bother them…) Instead of bothering them, join them in prayer.

Christ has invited us, saying Come, and you will see.

Let us go to him in prayer, so that we might see eternal life.

Today’s Readings:
January 17, 2021
Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19; Psalm 40; 1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20; John 1:35-42

God Reveals Himself to All

I don’t know how we’ve already arrived at Epiphany. The wise men must have been sprinting to Bethlehem this year!

The name for today’s feast, Epiphany, tells us that today we celebrate the manifestation or revelation of something terribly important. Traditionally, the three different revelations of Christ we celebrate on this day are the visit of the Magi, the Baptism of Christ, and the Wedding at Cana. In each of these three events, Jesus is revealed as the Christ.

Today, though, let’s look at the visit of the Magi. These men, certainly well-off if they were undertaking a journey, saw a star in the sky and were led to Jerusalem, which from ages past had been called to be a light to the nations. The magi, upon arriving in Jerusalem, perhaps were shocked to find so little recognition of the amazing event that had just happened. Nevertheless, these men, the Gentiles, had enough faith to persevere and eventually come to the home of the Holy Family, to pay homage to a child, and to offer him gold for his royalty, frankincense for his divinity, and myrrh for his mortality.

Recall, now, the visit of the Shepherds on Christmas night. A choir of angels appeared to them. They took a risk and went to visit the Christ-child. They paid him homage. While they had no gifts to offer him, it was fitting that the True Shepherd was greeted on his arrival in this world by shepherds.

These two very different visits to the Christ-child teach us many things, but if we look at them together, we learn even more.

What was it that brought the shepherds? A choir of angels. A supernatural gift from God.
What was it that brought the magi? A star. A natural phenomenon, yes, but no less a gift from God.

The shepherds were able to get there in a single night.
The magi, most likely, took much longer to travel to Christ. Perhaps a year or two.

The Jewish shepherds were unlearned men, not particularly watching for signs of a savior.
The Eastern magi were highly educated, watching the sky every night for signs.

We see all of these differences, and yet God still was able to lead both groups to himself. God can work through special gifts, or through the simple graces of nature. Nature, if we study it with pure hearts and a desire for truth, will certainly reveal its creator. God can work quickly on our hearts, or he can lead us on an extended journey. Either way, our faith grows strong. God wants all of us for himself: whether we are uneducated or educated, whether we are Christian or not, whether we are Catholic or not, whether we are looking for him or would only notice if a literal choir of angels showed up to tell us.

On this feast of Epiphany, we rejoice in the revelation of Christ’s glory to us. Let us also remember that God reveals his glory to us every day of our lives. May we stay close to him in prayer so that when he speaks to us—in whatever he desires—we might be listening.

Today’s Readings:
January 3, 2021
Epiphany, Year B
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12

Bearing God

On Christmas Day, the Lord blessed us and shone his face on us with the gift of his Son. Through his Son, the Incarnate Word, He made us his sons and daughters: heirs to the kingdom of Heaven. This is a great gift. This gift is a light for us in the darkness, a darkness which many of us have felt much more than usual this year.

This glorious gift is just one of the many gifts which Mary, the Mother of God, pondered in her heart. As we celebrate this feast of Mary, the Mother of God, we join her in this holy work of pondering all these things in our hearts.

Very early in the Church, people began to call Mary the Theotokos, the God-bearer. Mary brought God into world in a physical way, bearing him in her womb, but she also bore him in her heart when she pondered all these things.

Mary is the greatest disciple of Christ in history. We should strive to follow her example of pondering these things in our hearts. We, too, should bear Christ in our heart and allow him to animate our entire life. When we ponder Christ in our heart and allow him to move us, to teach us, to work through us, we participate in giving flesh to Christ on this earth, just as Mary did.

We are called to follow Mary and bear God into the world.

Today’s Readings:
January 1, 2021
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Families Save the World

Now, more than ever, we need the Feast of the Holy Family. When we look out at the world around us, the family is not much respected. Families are broken and shattered by the tragedy of divorce. We see families whose members prefer to spend time with screens over each other. We see the attempted redefinition and unmooring of the family from the structure God gave it at the dawn of creation. All of this is a result of sin in the world. Satan hates the family, because it is through the family that salvation comes into the world. If we look at salvation history, we see that this is true.

The family comes at the very dawn of creation: Adam and Eve, our first parents, were wedded as husband and wife in their original innocence. God is a communion of Three Divine Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Adam and Eve, being the pinnacle of God’s material creation, mirrored that communion of love here on earth. Together, they were given the gift of communion with God.  Satan hated them so very much that he deceived them and tempted them into the original sin that shattered the order of the entire universe. The breakdown of our families, even now, is a tragedy of universal order, because it is in the family where we are supposed to learn to love one another as God loves himself and as God loves us. When this love is violated, it has universal consequences.

Abraham, our Father in Faith, and his beloved wife Sarah did not receive the gift of a Son until their old age. They show us that the family must always be oriented to the worship of Almighty God. When they received the gift of their son Isaac, they recognized him to be a gift from God. We all remember the nearly tragic sacrifice Abraham was called to make of his son Isaac. It was not Abraham’s son that God desired, but his faith to follow God wherever he might lead. From Isaac, God promised to bless Abraham with descendants as numerous as the stars. What Abraham did not know was that one of these descendants would be the Son of God himself, Jesus, the Christ.

We see this pattern of salvation through the family or utter disaster through the breakdown of the family play out again and again. Joseph, the son of Jacob who was sold into slavery in Egypt, saved the entire family of Israel by bringing them to Egypt in time of famine. King David, while extraordinarily successful and victorious in uniting Israel, wrought destruction on Israel and himself by violating the family of Uriah. David’s wanton violation of what a family ought to be led to infighting amongst his children who, in some cases, slaughtered one another outright. David’s broken family led to the breaking of the 12 tribes of Israel: the original covenant family was shattered.

It would not be until that quiet night in Bethlehem when the family would be restored to its original glory. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph provide an antidote to the ails of the family. Theirs is a wholly pure and chaste love for one another, one which transcends sin. The entire Holy Family was to be a light to all of the world of the glory of the family. Jesus spent 30 years with his mother and foster-father before beginning his public ministry. God himself spent 30 years obedient to his earthly parents, honoring them and caring for them. His first public miracle was at the celebration of the establishment of a new family: the wedding at Cana. His final act from the Cross before he expired was to establish a new covenant family: giving John to Mary as her son. While there were many reasons for this, one was undoubtedly that this final act of filial reverence would ensure John would honor and care for his mother.

We must care for our families. Husbands: love your wives. Wives: love your husbands. Parents: love, discipline, and teach your children. Children: obey and honor your parents now, and care for them in their old age. Above all, love God, who will bring your closer together. If we do these things, our families will bring peace and redemption to the entire world, because the Holy Family will be incarnated in this world again: shining out to all nations through our families.

Today’s Readings:
December 27, 2020
Feast of the Holy Family, Year B
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 105; Hebrews 11:8, 11-12, 17-19; Luke 2:22-40

Encounter Christ This Christmas!

Welcome to all of you reading this. Whether you are from Wichita or somewhere else, whether you are at Church every Sunday or find yourself only able to make it infrequently, welcome. Everybody belongs in Church on Christmas. Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior.

The Nativity at Night

This year has shown us many things, but above all it has shown us that we need a Savior. Our world is full of things trying to kill us in body, soul, or both. This year we are acutely aware of our own mortality, our own weakness. I have thought often this year of the prophet Isaiah, who said, now the people that went about in darkness has seen a great light; for men abiding in a land where death overshadowed them, light has dawned. (9:2) If there were any doubt, Isaiah continues, For love of Sion I will no more be silent, for love of Jerusalem I will never rest, until he, the Just One, is revealed to her like the dawn, until he, her deliverer, shines out like a flame. […] No longer shall men call thee Forsaken […]; thou shall be called My Beloved, and thy land a Home, now the Lord takes delight in thee. (62:1,4)

For generation after generation, the Jewish people ponders the meaning of these prophecies. They expected a Messiah, a Christos, to save them from the imperial powers that continually ruled over them. What they received was so much more. Not just any savior would do. Only God himself, the Divine Word who was with God and who was God (cf. John 1:1), the Only Son of the Father, the one through whom all things came into being (1:3), the one in whom there was life (1:4) was capable and worthy of the task of redeeming his creatures, and that life came into the world and was the light of men (ibid.). And the Word was made flesh, and came to dwell among us; and we had sight of his glory, glory such as belongs to the Father’s only begotten Son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

On Christmas Day, the eternal made himself subject to time. The almighty became powerless. The source of life put on mortality. The creator of all was born of his own creation. God, while not ceasing to be God, was born of a virgin and became man. St. Augustine wrote, “He was God from the Father, and man from the mother. […] From the Father He is the beginning of life, and from the mother he is the end of death. From the Father He ordains every day, and from the mother He consecrates this day.”1

God entered into this world not as the people expected, but as a helpless child, Jesus, the Christ the Emmanuel. He teaches us that forgiveness, not vengeance, is the way to true freedom. He teaches us not to fear death, because he will conquer it. The only thing worth fearing is that which can kill the soul. This event of his birth established his presence here on earth; his presence has never departed from us. We experience it through his Church, his Sacraments, and his presence in his baptized people.

Our Savior has come forth from the darkness to bring light into our lives and to be present in our lives. “The presence of Christ involves the beat of our heart: being moved by his presence turns into being moved in our lives. Nothing is useless; nothing is extraneous. We start to have an affection for everything, everything, and the magnificent consequences of this are respect for what you do, precision in what you do, loyalty to your concrete work and tenacity in persevering to the end; you become tireless.”2 This Christmas,  let us begin to remember the presence of Christ in our hearts, so that his light and power might shine out through us to all the world. All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God. (Psalm 98:3c) May they see it through us.

Even One Talent is Worth the Effort

Note: this was the text I had originally written for my homily on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time.

This week, when I went to visit the 8th graders, I was a bit surprised to walk into a room that was silent. Usually, when they see me walking in, all sorts of pandemonium will begin—bit not this time. They were all busy praying with today’s Gospel, learning to use the ancient method of prayer called Lectio Divina. At its root, Lectio Divina has one primary goal: to allow us to encounter Jesus Christ through the Word, specifically, through the Word of God as given to us in the Holy Bible. One of the things that I like about this way of praying is that it encourages me to slow down, so that when I encounter a strange or troubling passage that challenges my preconceived notions about God or how I should interact with his world I can sit with it and allow God to work on me. When we find such things in the Bible, I occasionally have to remind myself: if the Bible says one thing and I think or say another, it is always going to be the Bible that is right. The Bible is the inspired Word of God, after all. 

So, I asked the 8th graders what about this passage stuck out to them about this Gospel, what bothered them about this passage, or what didn’t make sense to them. After they worked through the fact that the priest was asking them what bothered them about the Bible, they presented me with two major issues. First, it doesn’t seem fair that one servant got five talents, another two, and another simply one. Second, how is the master’s response to the servant with one talent merciful?

To answer these questions, we have to step into the spiritual understanding of this reading. One of the best ways to do this is to read what the Church Fathers wrote about this Gospel.

To the first question, we recognize that the master is Jesus Christ, who has ascended into Heaven. He has given the talents to us, his servants. To some he has given more gifts, to some he has given fewer gifts. St. Jerome, who is responsible for the Vulgate, which was the translation into Latin of the Bible used by the Church for 1700 years, wrote that Christ gives “the Gospel doctrine, to one more, to another less, not as of His own bounty or scanting, but as meeting the capacity of the receivers.” Jerome notes that St. Paul mentions doing something similar when he remarks that those who are not ready for solid food are given milk to prepare them. Origen, a theologian in Alexandria, Egypt, in the early 200s, notes that to receive even one talent from such a master as Jesus Christ is a great thing, and that the talents cannot be measured against each other in the way that we always desire to do.

St. John Chrysostom, who lived in the later 4th century, is considered the greatest preacher in history, writes in reference to our second question that “not only he who robs others, or who works evil, is punished with extreme punishment, but he also who does not good works.” Origen writes, “If you are offended at this we have said, namely that a man shall be judged if he does not teach others, call to mind the Apostle’s words [that is, St. Paul], ‘Woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel.’ (1 Cor 9:16)” St. Gregory—I’m not sure which one, there were several saints and doctors of the Church named Gregory—wrote that “to hide one’s talent in the earth is to devote the ability we have received to worldly business.” This is an error, Gregory teaches, because even the smallest of gifts has been entrusted to us so that we may bring the goodness of God into the world from them.

If we look around, our experience confirms the teachings of these Church Fathers. We encounter many people who are exceptionally talented, who have been given all of the wealth and power a person could possibly want. Are these people happy? More importantly, are they good people? Too often, the answer is “no.” The number of gifts we are given does not impact our ability to love God and to spread the Gospel, which is what each of us has been called to do. Those people who receive many gifts that are good, God-fearing people have done incredible things. We need only to look at the saints to see an example of this. We have saints that started with nothing, who were literally slaves, and we have saints who had everything, who were literally kings. Every one of them was a good steward of their gifts and multiplied what God had given them.

The man in this parable who received one talent was fearful of his master, so he buried his gifts and took care of himself. This is why the master calls him wicked and lazy. He cared only for himself. His master had been generous with him, but the servant, by neglecting the gifts given to him, was not generous in return. He squandered the gifts he was given. The value of the return is less important than the fact that he was given the gift so that he might grow it. St. Jerome writes that the master does not look to “the largeness of their profit, but to the disposition of their will.” If the servant given the 5 talents had squandered them as the servant given one, the reckoning would’ve been dreadful beyond words. Much is expected of those to whom much has been given.

St. John Chrysostom teaches that “[t]his parable is delivered against those who will not assist their [neighbors] either with money, or words, or in any other way, but hide all that they have.” Each one of us has been given immeasurable gifts by God. He expects us to use them.

Today’s Readings:
November 15, 2020
33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 25:14-30

Living Like the Saints

Today we celebrate the great feast of All Saints. We celebrate the victory that all of the saints, those known and unknown to us, have achieved over sin and death. We celebrate the saints, and we ask them to assist us in joining them, because each and every one of us “want to be in that number,” as the famous song says. We desire to be one of those holy ones mentioned in Revelation, who have survived the tribulation (2020,anyone?) are clothed in robes that have been made white in the Blood of the Lamb. We desire that salvation which comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb. How do we do this? We must become children of God and make ourselves pure. We must separate ourselves from the things of this world. St. John tells us that the world does not know him. If we are to become like him, the world will not know us either. Everything on this planet is secondary to the love we must have for God. We must entirely submit ourselves to God and his will, die to our earthly ambitions and desires, and allow God to use as his chosen instruments.

Jesus tells us how to do this in the Gospel today. The Beatitudes are not nice little platitudes about how we are to be nice to one another. They are the new law of Jesus Christ. Just as Moses proclaimed the Ten Commandments at the foundation of the Mosaic Law and the Old Covenant, now Jesus proclaims the Beatitudes from a mountain as the foundation of the New Covenant and the code of conduct for anyone who wants to call himself or herself a child of God. If we do not take living the Beatitudes seriously, we put our souls in peril of eternal damnation. To become saints, like those great and holy men and women we celebrate today, we must live the beatitudes.

[note: the following paragraphs make much use of St. Augustine’s work on the Sermon on the Mount, found here: https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/16011.htm]

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Those who are poor in spirit have conquered the pride within themselves. They do not hold themselves above others. They are humble and God-fearing, because fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and true wisdom is to live as a child of God. We should not have a crippling fear of God that terrorizes us, but we must remember that our actions on this earth will judge us, and God will pronounce this judgment. It is not wise to hold ourselves about the source of all knowledge and the ruler of the Kingdom of Heaven. To be poor in spirit means that we recognize the authorities over us, and that we recognize that we are not always right. The proud receive their reward on this earth, while the humble and poor in spirit receive their reward in Heaven. Thérèse of Lisieux shows us how to live this Beatitude: she wanted to be everything, but recognized that she simply could not achieve this. Instead of clinging to pride and trying to do so anyway, she recognized that her humble and simple prayers, her Little Way, would bring her to Heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. We may mourn the loss of certain things in this world: our power, our wealth, our prestige, our job, but the loss of these is nothing when compared to the rewards God has promised us. The Holy Spirit, the Comforter, will bring us peace as we seek out God. Much more than these temporal and fleeting losses, we should mourn the sinfulness in our lives that continues to separate us from God, and him to comfort us by delivering us from these sins. Mary, the Mother of God, and her Seven Sorrows are well known, yet she was never without peace and was never separated from God by sin.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. We often mistake weakness for meekness, but that is a grave error. The meek accept wickedness and evil inflicted upon them, but always work to overcome evil with good. The martyrs of our Holy Church exemplify meekness: often in the face of government persecution. Read the stories of St. Lawrence, St. Charles Lwanga, St. Lorenzo Ruiz, St. Thomas More. Our Catholic ancestors in the United States showed great meekness as they suffered through terrible anti-Catholic bias—both legally and illegally—in this country, but continued to work for the common good, founding organizations such as the Knight of Columbus, working for the rights of workers in the various labor movements, founding hospitals to care for the sick, establishing the largest non-governmental school system in the country, and being exemplars in charity toward neighbor. Piety, the prayer to and proper worship of God and prayer to the saints for their intercession, is how we submit all earthly things to God and allow him to transform evil to good.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Jesus himself told us that his food is to do the will of the Father. As we unite ourselves to Christ, this must also become our food, for righteousness is the will of the Father. We must fight off sin and temptations to do our own will, asking the Lord to give us fortitude. United to the will of the Father, we will be satisfied, for nothing is sweeter than the righteousness of union with God. Saint Mother Theresa found her nourishment in bringing the love and mercy of God to the poor and dying in India, and despite much trial and tribulation, persisted in this satisfying work.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. We are offered great mercy from God. He died for our sins on the Cross to redeem us from damnation. He gave us the Sacraments to be fonts of mercy in our lives. In the Sacrament of Confession, particularly, we see God’s mercy face-to-face. Mercy is constantly offered to us, but if we close our hearts to the people around us it is all for naught. If we cannot show mercy to our neighbor and love them as God loves us, then we are incapable of receiving God’s mercy. Those who are merciless condemn themselves to hell, while those who share God’s mercy will be lifted up to Heaven. Look at St. Dismas, the good thief: his last action on this earth was to stand up for Jesus, a small mercy in their last moments, and for such a small mercy St. Dismas was rewarded eternal life.

Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. We cannot see God with our eyes: we see him in our hearts; therefore, we must cleanse our hearts of evil and earthly things. God dwells within our hearts. If we continuously try to evict him, we have no chance of seeing Him, because we have hidden him with the muck and filth of sin. A clean heart comes from and informed conscience, an educated intellect, and a moral life. St. Mary Magdalene and St. Augustine were both public sinners, yet they achieved eternal glory by purifying themselves of their base desires for sin and replacing these perverse desires with desire for God alone.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. A peacemaker must first be at peace in his or her self. The peacemaker unifies his or her heart and body and soul with the will of God and casts out the things of this world. Purified from such lower things, the peacemaker can lead people to God, the source of peace. This work can be done only by the children of God, because only those who fear the Lord can gain this true wisdom. The prince of this world, Satan, strives after division, disorder, and strife. Those who keep their eyes solely on this world; those who place their hopes in political power or in money; those who have made an idol of their nation, their political party or political candidates, or even a particular person; those who have placed their hope for salvation in anyone who is not God; all of those people have separated themselves from God. Such people have made themselves, at best, children of this world and, at worst, children of the devil. Such people cannot bring peace, because there is no peace within them or the one whom they follow. Such people only bring division. Long before the United States made any progress against the morally bankrupt and totalitarian policies of Communism and Marxism, one of the greatest peacemakers in history was on the front lines: Saint Pope John Paul II. If we want to bring peace into this world, we too must become living saints.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. The person who exemplifies these beatitudes will be hated and persecuted by this world, because the children of this world hate everything for which they stand. But someone who lives the beatitudes is a child of God, a member of the Kingdom of Heaven, and will receive an eternal inheritance beyond all imagining.

We must take the beatitudes seriously, just as every single saint did. Today, we celebrate the saints, and we ask them to assist us as we strive to be in that number.

Today’s Readings:
November 1, 2020
All Saints Day, Year A
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; Psalm 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12a