We Catholics love Mary. But when we talk about Mary, it’s often because we’re trying to figure something out about her son, Jesus.
Mary was born without original sin. God gave her this great gift because of her faithfulness.
There is nothing on this earth that can fully prepare a man for becoming a priest. There is nothing else that is quite like it. Even while I was a deacon, I didn’t expect such a clear distinction between my life before priestly ordination and after. My expectations were very wrong: My experience of life changed at priestly ordination as I began to experience my vocation. The priest stands in persona Christi capitis (in the person of Christ as head of the Body of Christ) during Sacraments. He is the instrument chosen by God to speak Christ’s words and transform bread and wine into his Most Precious Body and Blood, the instrument chosen by God to stand in the breach as both judge and dispenser of merciful forgiveness in the sacrament of Confession, the instrument chosen by God to prepare people for their last moments on this earth as they go to their eternal reward. We are there for God’s people in their moments of greatest joy and their moments of deepest, soul-wrenching sadness. Though this is often painful, it is a great privilege for us priests to walk with God’s people in these moments. In these moments, we are permitted to see God’s love for his people in a way that nobody else does.
Because of our unique view of God’s love for his people and the life-changing experience of being the instrument of God’s sacraments and the ministers of his grace, there is a deep fraternity amongst us priests. We call each other “brother” because through our ordinations we have become brothers in a way that transcends material reality. One way this common brotherhood is visible is what happens when one of us passes to our eternal reward. We make every effort to go to the funeral of our brother who has died, even if that brother died 70 years ago in a Korean prison camp.
I wasn’t sure what to expect during the week when we held the liturgies for Fr. Kapaun and his funeral. In addition to the Rosary, Vigil, and Funeral Mass, the priests had a private gathering for Vespers for Fr. Kapaun. Each one of these events brought me to the brink of tears multiple times. This man who has inspired so many is one of us. And he’s finally home. Even now, it’s hard to contain the tears that well up. I’m so proud of my brother for saving so many lives. I’m overjoyed that so many people have recognized his impact on their lives and that so many continue to be inspired by him. I’m sad that I never met him in person and that his family suffered so much. I feel a sense of wholeness now that our brother is back home, finally laid to rest and accounted for.
Many moments during the week struck me right to the heart. I would like to share two with you.
The first moment was Monday night at the Vespers service. Fr. Eric Weldon, in his homily, pointed out that Fr. Kapaun would have not been able to say Mass on the last Christmas and Easter of his earthly life. I can’t imagine the pain in his heart on those two days. I remember the strangeness and pain I experienced during the first Easter of my priesthood, when COVID regulations forced us to say Easter without parishioners in attendance. It was terrible, and yet, at least I still got to say Mass. How must his heart have ached! It is an important reminder to me that the Mass is a gift, and any time we get to celebrate Mass together, it is a privilege.
The second moment was during the committal service at the Cathedral following the funeral and procession. After we laid Fr. Kapaun’s mortal remains into his tomb in the cathedral, one of the brother priests started singing the Salve Regina, as is tradition when we lay one of our brothers to rest. The sound of our unaccompanied voices echoed loudly through the cathedral, and I don’t even have words to describe it, but it was a perfect and fitting culmination to everything we had all experienced over three days. We brought our brother home, prayed for him, laid him to rest, commended him to God, and pleaded that Mary look at Fr. Kapaun with her misericordes oculos, her eyes of mercy, and show him the way to the fruit of her womb, Jesus Christ.
Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Chaplain Kapaun, pray for us.
We participate in the Incarnation by bearing God in our hearts.
Homily for Mary, Mother of God, 2021.
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.
January 1, 2021
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
God saves the world through the family. If you don’t believe me, read through salvation history. Everything starts with a family.
Homily for Feast of the Holy Family, 2020.
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.
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
Note: this homily was preached on January 1, 2020. It was posted on January 16, 2020. Sorry about the delay.
Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.
There are two holy days (holidays, for those keeping score at home) throughout the year that are so incredible, so mysterious, so full of grace, that the day cannot be contained within 24 hours. Instead, we take 8 full days to celebrate them. These two feasts are Christmas and Easter. On these two feasts, we follow the example of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, and our mother too: we follow her example and take these mysteries into our hearts, pondering them, making these mysteries present again, here and now, by our words and actions, and carrying them into the world with us. By pondering these words in our hearts, we allow these mysteries to shape our lives, and we allow God to work through us. Following Mary’s example, we become agents of Christ’s Incarnation in the present day.
Today, we conclude our observance of Christ’s birth, a new beginning in our story of salvation, on the same day as we celebrate the beginning of a new calendar year. What a fitting intersection of beginnings and of days! We can celebrate this last day of Christmas by giving the world a Christmas gift on this New Year’s Day: the gift of a joyous Christian heart. Throughout these days since Christmas, we have been filling out hearts with God’s love, filling our hearts with the joy of the Nativity, filling our hearts with the Good News that God has become one of us. Saint Pope Leo the Great, in a sermon on the Nativity, taught us that these days of Christmas should fill our hearts with love and joy. As members of Christ’s body, of his Church, Christmas is not just his birthday: it is ours too. The head does not celebrate its birthday separate from the body! What birthday is this that we celebrate with Christ on Christmas? our Baptismal rebirth with Christ. Leo also taught why God becoming one of us is such Good News. Leo, wrote that our Savior, Jesus, became the Son of Man so that we might become children of God. This is one of the most important teachings of Christianity. By becoming a human being, Jesus bridged the unbridgeable gap that existed between God and us. Jesus opens the gate so that we might cross that bridge by his Passion and Resurrection.
The Nativity, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection are all mysteriously linked. All three of these mysteries are necessary for our salvation. Without each other they are not complete. Today, Jesus received his name, which means “God Saves,” and so it is good that we celebrate the beginning of our salvation. We celebrate God’s coming to earth to save us. We thank Mary for saying “yes” to God, to giving him flesh. Without Mary’s yes, God would not have been able to become a human being. Without Mary, the bridge between us and God would never have been built. Without Mary, our chance at redemption would have been lost. Luckily, she said “yes.”
Then, Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.
Let us follow Mary’s example and bring Christ into the world by allowing him to enter into our hearts, by allowing him to show us how to love as he does, by allowing him to shatter everything we ever thought we knew about ourselves and the world, by allowing him to shine forth from us like the beacon of a lighthouse to ships in stormy seas. Let us follow the example of the Mother of God. Let us keep all these things and reflect on them in our hearts.
January 1, 2020
Ordinary Form: Mary, Holy Mother of God
Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21
Extraordinary Form: Octave Day of Christmas
(sometimes called the “Feast of the Circumcision”)
Titus 2:11-15; Ps 97:3-4, 2, Hebrews 1:1-2; Luke 2:21
Note: Sorry for the (very late) posting of this homily.
Nearly every time I read this weekend’s Gospel, I find it incredibly frustrating. Martha is trying to be a good host, but she’s struggling to get everything done. She is obviously frustrated that her sister Mary doesn’t come to help. I feel her pain, as it seems many hosts across the country do. I must admit to you all, I have a subscription to Bon Appétit magazine. When I got tired of reading German theologians arguing about whether “People of God” or “Body of Christ” was a better image of the Church in seminary, (pro tip: it’s both!) I switched to lighter fare like Bon Appétit to give my brain a little break. From this scholarly journal, I’ve learned that hosting a dinner party or the holidays is on the same levels of stress as a root canal. If I remember correctly, the Christmas issue last year had a multi-week plan of attack for how to host a stress-free Christmas party for family.
What I’m getting at, I suppose, is that hosting people who come over to your house is hard. I’ve seen the trouble people go to when they invite us priests over, and it’s truly humbling. If I invited God Himself over for dinner, I can only imagine how perfect I would try to make the menu, how sparkling the appliance would be, how stuffed into closets all my junk would be. Like Abraham in the first reading and Martha in the Gospel, I’d be running around like a crazy person trying to get it all done. I read this passage, and I just want to give Martha big hug and say, “I feel you, Martha.”
But that’s not what Jesus does. Not even close. Instead he tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better part. She’s too anxious and worried about things, Jesus says. Jesus simply wants to share himself with his friends: the serving can wait. Jesus isn’t concerned with how clean the house is; he isn’t concerned about whether the lasagna is a bit burnt or whether the steak is medium-rare as opposed to medium (although I personally want to believe he does care that it isn’t cooked any more than that…); he isn’t concerned about the toys that the kids left out. Jesus wants us. When Jesus enters under our roof—as he does every moment of our lives, but in a special way at Mass—, Jesus simply wants us. He wants us to open the doors of our hearts to him. He wants us to listen to him. He wants us to follow him. He wants us to leave behind our concerns for the world—even for just a moment—and be with him.
You may have noticed, though, that I said Jesus is with us every moment of our lives. If he wants us to simply be with him when he is with us, and he is always with us, then how could we ever get anything done? Fantastic question. That is why the Church is so concerned about what Catholic do with their lives! In every action we take, Christ is with us. Every action, then, should in some way be oriented toward God. St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote that, “there is something holy, something divine, hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it […]. There is no other way. Either we learn to find our Lord in ordinary, everyday life, or else we shall never find him.” (as quoted in The Navarre Bible: Standard Edition: Saint Luke’s Gospel, pg. 112)
We cannot avoid being a bit like Martha in our modern times, but the Lord reminds us to remember to imitate Martha’s sister Mary and stay close to Him. This is easy to say and hard to do, but nobody ever said living the Catholic life was easy: Jesus even promised us that it wouldn’t be! Then, though, he revealed to us the richness of his glory and his deep generosity. In return for living our lives as his disciples, Jesus promised us the Kingdom of Heaven, and that promise is worth everything we have, everything we are, and everything we might ever do.
Note: This was written and preached for the weekend of July 20-21, 2019. It was published online on August 14, 2019.
July 21, 2019
16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
Genesis 18:1-10a; Psalm 15:2-3, 3-4, 5; Colossians 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42
Merry Christmas! Today is the final day of Christmas, and we use it to celebrate Mary as the Holy Mother of God. The Church wants us to remember that Mary was the mother of Jesus, who is God, and so we can confidently call her the Mother of God. Mary gave God his human flesh. Her “yes” to God was the most important “yes” in human history, because Mary’s “yes” allowed God to become one of us and to save us from sin. Because of all these things, we greatly honor Mary. As if all of these things were not enough, there are even more wonderful things we can say about Mary. She is not simply the Mother of God; she is our mother too! As Jesus suffered on the Cross, he gave her to John and to all of us as the Mother of the Church. As we turn to our earthly mothers for help, protection, and unfailing love, we can also turn to Mary, the Untier of Knots, Refuge of Sinners, and Comfort of the Afflicted, for these same things.
In the Gospel today, it says that Mary kept all these things—that angels announced the conception and birth of her Son, that shepherds and magi worshipped her Son, that the angel told her that Jesus was the Son of the Most High who would take David’s throne and reign forever, that Simeon in the Temple said Jesus was a light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel, and I’m sure there were other things—Mary kept all of these things and reflected on them in her heart. She did not start bragging on Jesus; she did not begin worrying about how she was going to raise the Son of God. No, Mary reflected on these things in her heart.
What a wonderful example Mary sets for us by doing this! In today’s society, how often do we immediately react to, well, everything? How often do we expect an immediate response or reaction from those around us? I catch myself doing this too. Perhaps in this new calendar year, we would all do well to imitate Mary’s example, and to reflect on things in our hearts. I understand that we can’t reflect on everything. It’s probably not healthy to meditate on which socks to wear on a given day for more than about 10 seconds, but we all most likely be well served to reflect on the things that happen throughout our day. Maybe we could spend 5 or 10 minutes at the end of our day, right before we go to bed, and thank God for his gifts to us that day. We could look at how our actions brought us closer to God or led us away from him. Then, we could ask God to forgive our sins, ask him to help us tomorrow, and go to bed with a clear mind. There are many ways to live a more reflective life, and the practice I just described, called the Examen prayer, is just one.
As we begin this new year, let us strive to grow closer to God. Let us allow him to enter into all our decisions. This year, as Moses and Aaron prayed for the Israelites, I pray for you that The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace! (Numbers 6:24-26)
January 1, 2019
Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God
Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21