Prepare for the Glory of God

This is the holiest week of the year. Let’s make sure that we’re ready.

Homily for Passion Sunday, Year A.

Prepare for the Glory of God

This is the holiest week of the year.

This is the week we call to mind, through the living memory of the Church, and make present again the most sacred events ever to occur in the universe.

This is the week Jesus Christ our Savior instituted the Sacrament—the Sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist—by which He would forever remain present in his people.

This is the week Jesus Christ our King entered his royal city, was crowned as Lord of the Universe, and mounted his throne.

This is the week Jesus Christ our God entered his holy city and from his holy and glorious throne defeated the forces of sin and death and hell.

This is the week Jesus Christ shatters the tyranny of sin that had for too long reigned over humanity and ushered in a new age for all humanity.

This is the week we embark on this solemn journey with our Lord. We may have some fears, because despite the spiritual and heavenly reality of the situation, we can be all too distracted by the material reality. It is not easy to follow our Messiah as he is welcomed, betrayed, and crucified in Jerusalem.

If there is nothing spiritual, if there is no Father in Heaven, if there is nothing beyond the material world, then we are all fools. If there were nothing beyond the material, the existentialist philosophers would be right: the only meaning is what we make, and it dies with us. We know, however, that those depressing philosophers are wrong, because deep inside each and every one of us, we recognize that there is more to all of this than simple material things. If there weren’t anything more, then money, power, and fame would keep us content for all of our days. They don’t. We long for more. Our hearts know the truth: we were made to be loved by the God who created us. Our hearts are restless until they rest in God, because we are made to be filled by love, and the only one capable of filling our hearts is God, the limitless lover. This spiritual truth and reality is far more important than any merely material reality. Truth in a merely material reality is limited to the merely material. Spiritual truths are not so confined.

We all know what is coming this week: Jesus is about to die for us.

The material reality this week shows us the Jesus was tortured and died for us.

The spiritual reality this week shows us that God willingly breaks his heart open and pours out every drop for love—he empties himself totally—in order to repay the covenantal debt that is owed to him by humanity’s failure, our failure, to eradicate sin from our lives.

This is the week Jesus Christ shatters the power of sin and death over humanity.

This is the week Jesus Christ destroys the veil separating Heaven and Earth, opening the gate of Heaven to all who are willing to follow him and enter.

This is the week we welcome Jesus Christ, our God and King and Savior, into our hearts. As we embark on this most solemn and most holy journey, let us make those final preparations so we might greet our King well as he comes to us. Isaiah tells us to set our faces like flint in this task, for we know that in doing so we shall not be put to shame. The master has need of a place to celebrate these mysteries with us. Let us ask his Holy Spirit to assist us in preparing our hearts to be such places as the appointed time draws near.

Brothers and sisters: prepare for the coming and the glorification our God.

Entrata in Gerusalemme, part of the Armadio degli argenti, by Fra Angelico.

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Today’s Readings:
April 5, 2020
Passion Sunday, Year A
(For the Procession) Matthew 21:1-11; Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66

The Only News That Really Matters

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” The Entrance Antiphon for today’s Mass asks us to rejoice. If you ever wondered why we call this Gaudete Sunday, it comes from the Latin version of this verse from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico gaudete. […] Dominus prope est.” The Church, during this time of preparation for the Nativity of our Lord, feels it necessary to remind us to rejoice in the Lord. Our reading from Isaiah speaks of the joy that we will experience when we the Lord comes to us: the earth itself will be unable to contain its joy, with even deserts exulting and blooming with flowers.

To me, this little breakout of rejoicing and joy seems like a perfectly human thing to do. When I am preparing for some really amazing event, at some point everything just fades out, and I have to simply sit back and delight in the joyful anticipation of the event. I must admit, I am feeling this way about Christmas right now. I’ve been very conscious of my preparations for Christmas this year, and at this point, that’s all fading away, and I’m just excited for Christmas. When I was praying about the readings this Sunday, I kept thinking about a movie I recently saw… Ford vs. Ferrari. (If you haven’t seen it, it’s a really good movie. A little bit of language, but nothing really objectionable. I wish more movies were like it.) You may be thinking, “what in the world does a movie about Ford beating Ferrari at Le Mans have to do with Gaudete Sunday?” Well, that’s 100% fair, but I kept thinking about the voice-over at the beginning of the movie, where Carroll Shelby, played by Matt Damon, says, “There’s a point, seven thousand RPM, where everything fades. The machine becomes weightless, it just disappears. And all that’s left is a body moving through space and time. Seven thousand RPM, that’s where you meet it. It creeps up near you, and it asks you a question. The only question that really matters. Who are you?”

Seven thousand RPM aside, there is a deep and profound point here. The question at the end, “who are you?,” is a critically important question, but there is even more than that here. When we have focused on something long enough, when we have prepared for it with everything we have, and when we finally find ourselves right in the middle of it: everything else really does fade away. We are left with just two things: ourselves and whatever it is we’re getting ready for. In Advent, we prepare to make present again the memory of our Lord, Jesus Christ, being born in Bethlehem all those years ago. We try to let all of the hustle and bustle of the world, all of the parties, all of the distractions fade into the background as we focus on just that one even: the sudden and completely undeserved appearance of Jesus Christ on this earth, in our hearts, in our lives. It is a moment of profound joy. Elizabeth, at Mary’s visitation, asked, “why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” We, ourselves, can pose a similar question as we move closer to Christmas: “why has this happened to me, that my Lord comes to me?”

The simple answer: God loves us too much to leave us. Our love is fickle and fades, but his never does. So, he came to us to save us. In case we wouldn’t take him at his word that he was who he claimed to be and had the power he claimed to have, he worked miracles and incredible signs, so that we might know he was the Messiah foretold by the prophets. John the Baptist had dedicated his whole life to preparing for the Lord. There was no more credible witness than John the Baptist that Jesus was the Messiah foretold from the very beginning, the offspring of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent.

There’s a point, the Third Sunday of Advent, where everything fades. The things of this world become weightless, they just disappear. And all that’s left is that pure and joyful expectation. Third Sunday of Advent, that’s when you meet it. That joy, it creeps up near you, and tells you Good News. The only news that really matters: Rejoice! The Lord is near!

Today’s Readings:
December 15, 2019 (published December 27, 2019 at 11:40am)
Third Sunday of Advent, Year A
Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10; Psalm 146; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

Building a Temple for God

This year, the fourth week of Advent is only even a day long—not even a day really! This might lead us to think it is an unimportant week—why would we cut it so short if it was important?

But it’s so important!

In the first reading, David wants to build a temple in which God may reside. He wants to provide for God, and Nathan the prophet gave him the go-ahead. God had other plans. He told Nathan to stop David. Why? Why would God stop David from honoring him in such a way? It is good to praise and worship God, isn’t it? Why shouldn’t David build him a house?

David hadn’t yet learned the most important thing God wants each of us to learn. He had not yet learned what Mary knew at the Annunciation. He had not yet learned that in all things, God will provide. At the Annunciation, an angel told Mary that she would be with child. Mary, confused, asked how this could happen, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” She was a virgin, and was planning to stay that way.1

Her question, if we were to ask it, would sound more like, “Yes, Lord, I will do it, but how can a virgin have a child?” She didn’t doubt God, but sought clarity from Gabriel. Gabriel’s response confirmed that God will provide what is needed for Mary to have a child—she need not to worry. Mary’s response was the most important yes in human history, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it done to me according to your word.” And God provided for Mary and all of us.

So too did God want to provide for David. He wanted David to end searching for God in places where he would not be found. He wanted David to find his rest in God, for our hearts are restless until they rest in the Lord. 2 God wanted to provide for David, so he told David that his Son would build the Temple, that his lineage would sit on the throne for all ages. David had to spend the rest of his life learning this lesson: God will provide.

Like with David and with Mary, God wants to provide for each of us. He calls each of us by name. To hear this call, we must open our hearts to him. We must silence the other influences in our life that shut out the voice of God. We must be still and allow God to enter our souls, to make the silence into a pregnant stillness. We must be like Mary, who “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”3

Today’s Readings:
December 24, 2017
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Psalm 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

My Soul in Stillness Waits…

Note: My apologies for the lateness of this post. Time simply got away from me. -Matt

Nearly everyone I know has at least a couple of Bible passages memorized. One of these is almost always 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.”

How can I pray without ceasing? That seems impossible.

That depends on how we understand prayer. If prayer is muttering some Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and going to Mass when we must, then of course unceasing prayer is impossible! If, however, prayer is how we stay in relationship with our God, where we lift up our hearts and minds to him, it’s a totally different story. We pray without ceasing when we are open to receiving God in his fullness. This openness comes only through one of the hardest things to learn: silence.

Through silence, we purify ourselves. By cutting ourselves off from the noise of the world, we slowly and painfully begin the work of introspection. We start to recognize those things to which we are attached, and in the silence, we are able to see if these things lead us toward or away from God. In this recognition of the good and the bad in our lives, we begin remove our attachments to those things around us which lead us away from God, all of them being things that eventually die. We silently remember our value, that God loves us. We remember our dignity, the importance of what we do, and we stop getting lost in a formalism where we just go through the motions.

Stillness is another word for silence. Where silence makes us think of quieting our minds and our words, stillness is a quieting of our bodies, of the motion around us. Praying very early or very late always gives me a sense of this stillness, and I think that Advent is the prime season for a stillness. Advent isn’t a time of empty silence, but of pregnant stillness.

It is in this silent and pregnant stillness that we become simple. Instead of demanding that things go “my way or the highway,” we stop quenching the Spirit and listen to what God tells us. Because it is God speaking to us, we can trust the message. We cast off the fear that prevents us from following God, from being simple, from being able to receive the Lord and his message for us. In the simplifying silence, we prepare ourselves by making straight the way of the Lord in our own lives.

When we are silent, when we are still, when we are simple, when we are prepared, only then may we join John the Baptist when he cries out from the desert. Only by entering the silent stillness ourselves, becoming simple ourselves, preparing the way of the Lord for ourselves, only when we have done all of this ourselves, only then may we cry out for others to do the same.

When we have done all of this, we will be ready to receive the gift God has prepared for us. God wishes to give us a gift far surpassing any diadem—that’s a crown with a lot of jewels, in case you were wondering what a diadem is—or jewels. He wishes to give us salvation and justice itself: Jesus Christ. To truly receive a gift, we must recognize the gift. We must be able to recognize the gift of Jesus Christ that has been given to us before we will be able to allow him to enter into our hearts and transform our lives.

What better relationship with God could we have then to allow him to enter into our hearts? This is how we pray without ceasing.

On these final days of Advent, let us enter the silence. Let us recognize the pregnant stillness around us, and join it. Let us become simple in the face of God. Let us prepare ourselves and make straight the way of the Lord. Jesus comes at Christmas! May we be able to recognize him and thus, to receive the ultimate Christmas gift: Our God become man—Jesus, the Christ.

Today’s Readings:
December 17, 2017
Third Sunday of Advent, Year B
Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11; Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

Come, Lord Jesus!

Welcome to the new liturgical year! We begin with Advent. Advent… What is Advent all about? Didn’t Christ already come? Why do we have to ready for something that already happened?

Christ did come to us 2,000 years ago. He comes to us every day through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and we experience him being truly, entirely, and substantially present to us in the Eucharist.1 Christ will come again, but not as a baby: he will come in glory!

We don’t know when this second coming will happen, so we must be ready for it. If Christ is already present, though, why do we need to spend the season of Advent preparing?

We forget. It’s that simple. We forget that Christ is going to come again. We forget how important the Incarnation is. Nobody expected the Incarnation! In the first reading, the Jews are pleading for God to save them. They beg Him to “rend the heavens and come down.” So he did. God became a human being. He became a little child, the son of a carpenter and a virgin. Nobody expected it to happen that way. Few accepted it. Who was able to recognize Jesus as God?

The only people capable of recognizing Jesus are the childlike—those who have the simplicity to trust in God’s plan, even when they don’t understand. Fr. Luigi Giussani2 writes that even after the Resurrection, the apostles still expected Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom. He corrects them, and because of their childlike simplicity, because of their trust in him, the apostles “let it drop; they don’t hold to the demand that He answer their questions just as they may have imagined, but they remain attached to Him more deeply than they were attached to their opinions, with a greater simplicity. Because being attached to one’s own opinion requires the loss of simplicity, the introduction of a presumption and the predominance of one’s own imagination over [God’s plan].”3

How do we grow in this childlike simplicity? How do we learn to abandon our certainties about how the future will play out, to accept what God has planned? In a word, how do we learn detachment? Three practices, in particular, assist with learning detachment: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These three practices help purify us of the evil things that slowly creep into our hearts without us realizing. Practicing prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is hard, but that shouldn’t stop us. Paul tells us that God has bestowed, and continues to bestow, Jesus Christ on us, enriching us in every way. He will keep [us] firm to the end. By spending Advent in preparation for Christmas, we prepare ourselves for Jesus’s glorious return.

Advent is the time of year where the famously ambiguous “already, but not yet” is most visible. Jesus is already present to us, but he has not yet come again. This is summed up in a fantastic word which almost never hear outside of Advent: Maranatha. It is one of the last words in the Bible, and was used in the ancient liturgies. We aren’t sure exactly how to translate it, because the Aramaic words can be broken up two ways. It could mean “Come, O Lord!”, or it could mean “Our Lord has come!”

Isn’t this ambiguity perfect? Our Lord has come, but he will come again. What glorious news!

Let us prepare for the Word to become flesh at Christmas, and in doing so prepare for Him to come again. Jesus tells us to Be watchful! Be alert! … so that when Jesus comes, he may not find [us] sleeping at the gates.

Maranâ thâ! Come, O Lord! Let us be ready to greet you, so that when you come we might exclaim Maran ‘athâ! Our Lord has come!

Today’s Readings:
December 3, 2017
First Sunday of Advent, Year B
Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7; Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37