Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Give what prayer does not dare to ask! Sermon: 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

"If there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things"—Philippians 4:8

"There was a man in the land of Hus whose name was Job, a blameless, upright and God fearing man; Satan asked to be allowed to tempt him, and the Lord gave him power over his possessions and his body; and so, he destroyed his possessions and his children, and he ravaged his flesh with horrible sores"—Job 1; 2:7, Offertory Antiphon for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Sunday, September 20, 2020

"To be with Christ is far better!" Sermon: Philippians 1:23 | 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

"I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit." Philippians 1:23-24

St. Paul has two exhortations today, for two different kinds of people:
"I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better." If you love the things of this world, St. Paul wants to help you to want to leave this world and be with God.

"Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit."
If you are disappointed with this world, and pine for the next, St. Paul wants to help you focus on the work God has in store for you.

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Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Great Day of Sunday!

"Blessed be he who has raised the great day of Sunday above all other days. The heavens and the earth, angels and men give themselves over to joy!" Father Peter talks about the Day of the Lord, Sunday, and the teaching of Christ that, “The Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27).

Pope St. John Paul II, apostolic letter Dies Domini:
"Sunday is a day which is at the very heart of the Christian life." (7)
It is an "indelible expression of our relationship with God," (13)
and an “indispensable element of our Christian identity.” (30)

"Sharing in the Eucharist is the heart of Sunday, but the duty to keep Sunday holy cannot be reduced to this. [... In] the other moments of the day: family life, social relationships, moments of relaxation—the peace and joy of the Risen Lord [should] emerge in the ordinary events of life." (52)

"I would strongly urge everyone to rediscover Sunday: Do not be afraid to give your time to Christ!" (7)

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Thursday, February 27, 2020

Fasting: A Sermon for Ash Wednesday, 26 February 2020

St. Bernard of Clairvaux asks: Is gluttony the only sin in your life? Is your appetite, your stomach, the only thing that causes you to sin? If not, then why fast only from food this Lent? In addition to the stomach, he says: "The eyes must fast from curiosity, the ears must fast from tales, the tongue must fast from gossip, the soul must fast from vice, and the will must fast from its own desire."

  • "Let the eye fast from strange sights"—what curiosities do you spend time looking at or reading, which in no way provide any benefit to your life, and which may even detract from your spiritual life by distracting you from what is important?
  • "Let the ear, blameably eager to listen, fast from tales and rumors"—do you listen when gossip is shared about the lives of others, or instead express that you don't want to stick your nose into other people's business? What else do you listen to that fills your mind with worldly things and perhaps even fills your heart with anger: how about the news? What do you think would happen if you didn't listen to any news for the duration of Lent: do you fear that the November general elections would come around, and you wouldn't have any idea who to vote for because you didn't get minute-by-minute updates about the debates and primaries in March? Really! We might very profitably fast from listening to the news this Lent.
  • "Let the tongue fast from slanders and murmurings"—Let us never speak ill of others, nor even grumble and murmur about our circumstances. Instead, let us turn to God on pour out our troubles to Him in prayer.
  • "Let the hand abstain from idle signs and from all toils which are not necessary"—What devices constantly rest in our hands that keep us constantly idle, distracted, entertained, unfocused, and dissipated? Perhaps this Lent we could set aside the phone and the computer mouse and instead our hand could hold a book or a Rosary!
  • "Let the soul itself abstain from all evils and from doing its own will"—The root of all these problems is that we're constantly doing what we feel like doing. During Lent, let us abstain from doing our own will, from doing what we feel like (even if the things we feel like doing are not evil!) and instead do those things that we don't feel like doing but which, despite being unpleasant or difficult, are better choices about how to spend our time, and more pleasing to God.

If you're pushing yourself this Lent to grow in holiness, if you're taking up a serious spiritual discipline, here are three tips that might help you to get the most out of the Lenten season:

  • First, give yourself permission to change or modify what you're doing for Lent. Sometimes we find that what we've decided to do for Lent is too easy, or sometimes what we've chosen ends up being unrealistic, and we might need to make a change. An example: a few years ago a friend of mine who, like me, likes to start every day with a cup of tea decided to give up tea for Lent. Instead, he started drinking coffee, which he didn't like because of its bitter taste. But after a few weeks … he came to find that he had come to enjoy drinking coffee! So his “Lenten penance” became absurd! If you find that what you decided to do for Lent is not sufficiently penitential, doing just write off this Lent and say, “I'll try again next year”—instead, start doing something else.
  • Secondly, and this tempers what I've just said: If you decide to change what you're doing for Lent, always begin this new or modified discipline tomorrow rather than today. We are clever creatures, very able to fool ourselves! In this midst of a difficulty we might be too quick to think what we are trying doing is not possible to carry out for forty days. Or, in a time of temptation we might too easily convince ourselves to “lighten up.” Just imagine someone who has given up chocolate for Lent looking at a bowl of chocolate and suddenly being struck with the “pious” thought, “You know, maybe what God really wants me to do for Lent is spend some time visiting the sick … so I'll plan to do that instead, and let myself eat a piece of chocolate!” The resolution always to wait until tomorrow to change our Lenten practice, while finishing today what we had taken up in the morning, leaves us flexibility but keeps us on an even keel.
  • Finally, if you know about yourself that you get discouraged by failures to keep your lenten resolutions, especially if you are in danger of giving up what you had planned to do for Lent, let me suggest that instead of one, specific task or discipline that you can either “succeed” or “fail' at accomplishing each day, you instead broaden your outlook on the spiritual life and take up a “theme” for Lent. So, for example: Let's imagine that someone has decided that “For Lent, I'm going to read three chapters of the Bible every day.” But upon finding that some of the chapters of the Bible are very long, or being frustrated by his lack of understanding, this person becomes discouraged and becomes tempted to give up entirely on their daily goal. Such a person might, instead of making their lenten discipline “Three chapters of the Bible a day,” might instead take “Scripture” as a theme for their Lent. So he might read three chapters of the Bible on one day, or he might attend a Bible study, or listen to a podcast that explains a book of the Bible, or get to church twenty minutes early on Sunday so as to read over the Scripture readings before they are proclaimed at Mass, or might decide to read several times just one verse that “struck” him from yesterday's reading and then think about it for four or five minutes in silence—all of these practices would be “on theme” for a Lent focused on Scripture. Here again, this is an approach that provides us with some flexibility and keeps us from falling into discouragement, but all the while keeps us focused on one area of the spiritual life where we know we most need to grow.

In whatever we decide to do for Lent, even though our particular fasts and disciplines may be hidden from each other, let us remember that we are all in this together, that we are all trying to grow in holiness during this lenten season, and so let us encourage one another and pray for one another throughout these forty days.

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Saturday, October 19, 2019

Homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, 14 October 2018

I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.
I preferred her to scepter and throne,
and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her.

What is wisdom? What is this thing that is so great that it is better than having power or riches? Here are three descriptions of wisdom in the Bible:

The book of Proverbs (9:10) says that: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The book of Sirach (21:11) adds: “wisdom is the fulfillment of the fear of the Lord.” And holy Job, seeking to find God in the midst of his suffering, concludes in the 28th chapter of the book that bears his name: “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom.”

Wisdom is not the same thing as knowledge. It is something that has to do with our relationship with the Lord. Praise God that wisdom is not knowledge! Wisdom is accessible to everyone, not just to scholars who have mastered calculus or physics or chemistry or ancient languages.

Wisdom is something that we can all obtain by prayer, reflection, and meditation. Heavenly Wisdom is most easily obtained by mediation on the Holy Scriptures which, again, are accessible to everyone. St. Gregory the Great said about the Bible:

"The divine speech stirs up the clever with its mysteries, but provides consolation to the simple with its plain meaning.Scripture is like a river, broad and deep: shallow enough for the lamb to wade, deep enough for the elephant to swim." [Moralia in Job, Ep. IV]

The love of wisdom that we hear about in today's Old Testament reading is something that we can all experience by reading the Holy Scriptures, no matter our age, no matter our education.

Beyond health and comeliness I loved her,
and I chose to have her rather than the light,
because the splendor of her never yields to sleep.

I love this image: Long after the sun has gone down, when everyone else has gone to bed, there is still a candle burning in one window, in the house of the person who is seeking wisdom, who continues to read the holy Scriptures late into the night. Even “beyond health!” Once the love of wisdom takes hold a person, even the “good sense” that would tell a person: “go to bed, get some sleep” yields to the overwhelming desire to continue to bask in the presence of the deep things of God.

The reason that the person who loves wisdom acts in this way is because, in another phrase of St. Gregory: "the more we partake [...] the more we hunger." [Homily 36 on the Gospels] Unlike a person hungry for food, who is satisfied by eating or who even feels sick after overeating, the person who hungers for wisdom and who decides to take the Bible down from the bookshelf (often despite the fact that he or she doesn't much feel like reading), that person not only experiences satisfaction, but also finds within his or her heart an even greater desire than before, a desire that prompts one to continue reading: another verse, another chapter … and that prompts one then to pray about what one has read, first for a minute, then for an hour…. Until, without realizing it, you suddenly find yourself in the almost ridiculous position spoken of in the Scripture: "Beyond health and comeliness I loved her, and I chose to have her rather than the light, because the splendor of her never yields to sleep."

Why is this? Why does the pursuit of wisdom in the reading of the Holy Scripture give rise in us to this hidden desire that we never knew we had? St. Paul taught us in our second reading: "The word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart." The word of God cuts right to the heart of those most meaningful experiences that have made you who you are. Because the word of God is not a dead letter but is "living and effective," reading the Scriptures is different than reading other books.

Because the Lord Jesus Christ is Himself the Word of God, reading the word of God contained in Holy Scripture causes you to encounter the One for Whom and through Whom you were created, to encounter the One Who loves your soul and Who understands you better than you could ever understand yourself. For this reason, the conversation we have with God, Who is "able to discern reflections and thoughts of [our] heart"—that is, the prayer, the conversation we have with Him while reading the Bible—this conversation excites us, because we begin to feel that our deepest questions about life are answered by the presence of the Lord Jesus Who speaks to us in the Scriptures.

The reading about Wisdom that we heard today from the Book of Wisdom concludes in this way:

Yet all good things together came to me in her company,
and countless riches at her hands

In today's Gospel the rich man “went away sad, for he had many possessions.” He decided not to follow Jesus because he loved the things he owned. But St. Peter and the other disciples who, as Peter noted, had “given up everything” to follow Jesus, were promised by the Lord that

there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters
or mother or father or children or lands,
for my sake and for the sake of the gospel,
who will not receive a hundred times more, now, in this present age.

If someone were to ask me why I follow the Lord Jesus, I would not talk about Heaven. Meditation on the Holy Scriptures and the resulting encounter with the Living God have given me, now, in this present age, a hundred times more happiness than has been obtained by anyone devoted to the acquisition of money and the preservation of a comfortable routine.

Even though our Lord warns us that those who "receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands" will obtain all these things only "with persecutions," yet even the persecutions that inevitably come to anyone who upholds the teachings of Christ are to be preferred to the meaninglessness and nihilism that overtake those who seek their happiness from the things of this earth.

And besides all this, our Lord promises us also "eternal life in the age to come."

How then ought we to live? We can either seek wisdom, or distract ourselves with the things of this world which will never satisfy our deepest longings. Do we want only what is offered us by the world, or do we desire the hundredfold in this life promised us by the Lord? If, therefore, our desires are not too weak, let us resolve to read the Holy Scriptures, speak to God about what we have read, and so follow our Lord’s call to seek Wisdom.

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Saturday, September 21, 2019

Bible Translations

My judgment on the project of modern translations of the Bible is that of John Senior: "For cultural purposes, there are only two English Bibles: for the Protestants the King James Version and for Catholics the Douay-Rheims. Both are literary masterpieces as none other even remotely is. Since spiritual mysteries can only be communicated through poetry, whatever more modern versions may gain in accuracy is nothing compared to what is lost."

So as not to merely set my own position against a straw man, I will quote what is probably the best concise defense of vernacular translation ever given, the introduction written by C.S. Lewis to the work "Letters to Young Churches: A Translation of the New Testament Epistles" by J. B. Phillips (1947). Lewis argues: "The truth is that if we are to have translation at all we must have periodical re-translation. There is no such thing as translating a book into another language once and for all, for a language is a changing thing. If your son is to have clothes it is no good buying him a suit once and for all: he will grow out of it and have to be re-clothed." The meaning of certain English words has certainly changed since the early seventeenth or late sixteenth century. Reading the King James Version or Douay-Rheims unaided is a challenging task even for the relatively well-educated. But the lesson I draw from the 20th century is that the multiplicity of Bible translations, each trying desperately to pass itself off as "the best" English translation (or, whose Publishers propose it so in order to line their pockets with filthy lucre), has produced great division amongst faithful readers of Holy Scripture, and wholly unnecessary arguments between them about which translation to use. Let us stick to the old standards for communal reading, and use modern English translations only for private devotions or aid in study.

Msgr. Ronald Knox (whose 1949 translation of Holy Writ has inexplicably become popular in recent years with Catholics who wish to set themselves apart from their Protestant friends) explored with a little more specificity Lewis' notion that "we must have periodical re-translation". In his essay "Thoughts on Bible Translation," Knox opined, "anybody who tries to do a new translation of the Bible in these days should aim at producing something which will not, in fifty or a hundred years’ time, be 'dated.' In a word, what you want is neither sixteenth-century English nor twentieth-century English, but timeless English. Whether you can get it, is another question."

The English language changes, and therefore no translation will ever accomplish definitively the task of making plain the meaning of the ancient languages. Can one reach back through the millennia and bring into the present moment the sense of words written in those languages that once proclaimed the crucified Christ as King of the Jews? If one tries to do so, one must periodically revise one's work, simply because the 'present moment' is present for only a moment.

Given this, I would propose that we revisit the image given by Lewis: "If your son is to have clothes it is no good buying him a suit once and for all: he will grow out of it and have to be re-clothed." Maybe our search for the "best" English translation is not a search for the one that meets the needs of the here and now. Maybe the "definitive" English translation is a piece of clothing that can be one unchanging size and yet fit for its purpose, and even handed down through the generations: not a suit, but a baptismal garment. The Douay-Rheims is the gown worn by your infant grandfather, which if God be so good you might live to see outfit your great-grandson. It is everyone's beginning, the first dress in which one is clothed, and out of which one grows only after maturation. That is to say, once one has been awed by the majesty of the Word as presented in all its ancient splendor, perhaps one might be moved to explore the details of the Scripture, reading multiple translations so as to better arrive at the sense of this or that passage. But for many, entering into the wider exploration of these details is something they will leave to others of a more academic persuasion. The many will be content with this simple baptismal garment, content indeed to remain like little children as Our Lord commanded, fulfilling by their prayerful meditation on the venerable version of Scripture the admonition they received at their baptism: "Take this robe and keep it spotless until you arrive at the judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you may be rewarded with everlasting life."

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Saturday, August 24, 2019

Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, 11 August 2019

"For in secret the holy children of the good were offering sacrifice and putting into effect with one accord the divine institution."
Words from today's reading from the Book of Wisdom.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

My dear people,

Last week our Bishop, His Excellency the Most Reverend Salvatore Matano, wrote a letter to you, the faithful of the Diocese, which can be found as an insert in this week's bulletin. The letter concerns the fact that, some years ago, there were priests who hurt people, who hurt children, very badly. This week, a new law goes into effect allowing people who have been hurt to approach a court of law to seek redress for the wrongs that they suffered when they were young. We will very likely be hearing in the news a number of painful stories concerning the Church. I want to try to understand these horrors by examining the Gospel.

The Lord Jesus told a parable about some good and faithful servants who "vigilantly" await the return of Christ. St. Peter asked Him, "Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?" Peter was asking whether this applied in a special way to those who follow Jesus very closely.

Christ's answer is disturbing. He says that in addition to the "faithful and prudent servants" who will do what Jesus wants, there will also be servants who "beat the menservants and the maidservants, [who] eat and drink and get drunk." Jesus says that when He returns at the end of time, He "will punish [those] servant[s] severely and assign [them] a place with the unfaithful."

What must St. Peter have thought, when he heard Jesus say this? When he asked, "Lord, is this parable meant for us?", what must Peter have thought of the answer: "That servant who knew his master’s will but did not [...] act in accord with his will, shall be beaten severely"?

Even before Jesus died on the Cross, He foresaw that some who would call themselves his servants would wickedly hurt people and leave them wounded. As we are confronted again with the fact that there have been terrible sinners in the Church, even within the priesthood, I think it is important for us to remember that Jesus chose to die to redeem mankind, even despite the fact that He foresaw those in his Church who would live unworthily of that redemption.

The Apostles themselves confronted this fact about the Church. St. Paul said to the leaders of the Church in Ephesus, "[T]he Holy Spirit has made you bishops to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them." (Acts 20:28–30)

If Jesus died for his Church even knowing that there would be sinful priests; if Saints Peter & Paul went forth and preached the Gospel despite knowing that there would be sinful bishops, just as there had been a Betrayer among the Twelve Disciples; I believe that we, too, can confidently hold the Catholic faith, even when we hear about members and ministers of the Church who are sinners.

But what can we do, when we are faced with the difficult truth of sin in the Church and in the clergy?

At the end of July I made a retreat with the Benedictines Monks of Perpetual Adoration in County Meath, Ireland. This monastery was founded in 2012 and, basing their prayers on the writings of a 17th century nun, Servant of God Catherine Mectilde de Bar, these monks pray in a special way in reparation for the sins of priests.

Mother Mectilde, commenting on the passage of Scripture where the prophet Jeremiah sees great abominations happening inside the Temple, says:

Who, alas, […] does not know that, alongside of priests who are fervent and truly divine, there are priests who are lukewarm and indifferent, priests who are wicked […]? And so, the Church, in calling [us] to reparation, begs us not to forget the outrages made against the glory of her Divine Spouse by His own ministers. Yours it is […] to expiate the sins of the Sanctuary; yours it is to bear the weight of the sins of the priesthood. Let us enter into these intentions of the Church, and united in spirit with what remains on earth of fervent Christians, and of priests pressed by the charity of Jesus Christ, let us strive to repair the[se] outrages.

The Benedictine monks whom I met seek to make reparation for the sins of priests through prayer. One of the prayers from this community uses ordinary rosary beads to say simple prayers for priests. On the large bead, one recites the prayer:

"Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Precious Blood of Thy Beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb without blemish or spot / In reparation for my sins, and for the sins of all Thy priests."

And then on the ten smaller beads one says:

"By Thy Precious Blood O Jesus, / Purify and Sanctify Thy Priests."

… "By Thy Precious Blood O Jesus, / Purify and Sanctify Thy Priests."

Perhaps we can pray prayers of reparation like these. The word "reparation" means "to repair." We can ask God to repair the damage done to souls and to the Church by the sins of priests. It is important that we use the Sacrament of Confession to confess our own sins, also, lest we too cause harm to others by falling into grave sin.

One of the most disturbing things about living in this moment of history is how widespread these sins have been shown to be. Fifteen years ago when I was becoming Catholic, many people believed that Catholic priests were the only class of people who had betrayed and hurt children. Many people thought that there must have been something uniquely horrific about the seminaries where priests were trained, or something about the nature of celibacy that gave rise to these sins. But the New York State Child Victims Act that goes into effect this week has brought forth stories of people who had been hurt, not only by priests, but by doctors and nurses, by public school teachers, gymnastics coaches, boy scout troop leaders; and many, many other people whom everyone used simply to assume could be trusted, without question.

We therefore are confronted with the stark reality of sin. What can we do, when we are faced with the difficult truth of sin in the world, and within our own souls? In the book of Wisdom we read, "[I]n secret the holy children of the good were offering sacrifice." We can offer sacrifice in reparation. We can ask God, in prayer, to repair the damage done to souls. We can sacrifice our pride by admitting our own sinfulness in the Sacrament of Confession. And we can unite our prayers to the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross by coming to pray before the Blessed Sacrament, and especially by coming each and every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation to the Holy Sacrifice the Mass, where the great act of reparation and reconciliation, the pouring out of Christ's Blood, is renewed in this sacred ritual, where the Resurrected Christ Who has defeated the power of Sin and Death is present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Sacred Host.

Let us pray especially in this week that God may be pleased to give his Church the gifts of unity and peace.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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