Saturday, October 24, 2015

"The priesthood is the very love of the Heart of Jesus" (St. John Vianney)

Mark 10;46-52 Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time-Priesthood Sunday. October 25th, 2015

Today we celebrate Priesthood Sunday. It is a time to celebrate one of God’s greatest gifts to His People. It is the priesthood that provides the means for us to grow in Faith, Hope and Charity.

When I think of the Father’s great gift of the priesthood I look back in my own life to those faithful priests that have revealed to me the Father’s love. I wish today to honor just a few of them and share them with you. I can’t help but be filled with incredible admiration and thankfulness to the Father for those spiritual fathers that offered their entire lives to Jesus Christ in order that Jesus could form them into His “other selves.” All in order that they could be His “living sacraments” to the world and lead you (and me), to He who is the Way , the Truth and the Life. I am sure as I tell you about some of the priests in my life, the priests in your life will come to mind as well.

I can remember that night, that terrible night in the hospital after finding out my best friend and dear wife Kathy, had terminal Cancer. It was that night that I began to realize the incredible power of the priesthood, a divine supernatural power that was Jesus’ own power working through the priest.

As I sat next to my dear wife’s bedside unable to cope with such devastating news, there came into the room a priest. He seemed to know just what I was thinking and asked me if I wanted to talk. This priest showed me the Father’s love-he was there when I needed it the most. This priest let me know that my wife’s illness was not God trying to get back at me for not going to church and failing to live the life that I should have been living. Instead, God was using all of this to offer me His mercy.

Then He told me of the Heavenly Father’s love for me and for Kathy, and that the Father wanted nothing else than to show us that love and draw us to Himself. This father patiently listened to me and let me cry out in my pain and sorrow. He heard my first confession, albeit a clumsy one and not very thorough, but nevertheless the first one in many, many years. And then the priest gave the Father’s infinite mercy and forgiveness in the absolution. Sadly, I don’t even remember this priest’s name.

Next came Father Kolfenbach, a holy, kind priest who my wife and I met after my aunt arranged a visit by father to my wife in the hospital. To this day, I don’t know what this holy priest said in his first visit with my wife. All that I know is that after he administered the Sacrament of the Sick with her, talked to her, & anointed her, her faith took off. She went from a young woman who was scared to death of the suffering and pain her cancer might bring, to an incredibly strong and brave person of faith, to the point of freely offering her life for others. After her encounter with this priest, people would visit her in order to cheer her up but they would be the ones who would leave the hospital strengthened and consoled in faith and hope and joy after an encounter with Kathy.

At her funeral Father Kolfenbach gave the homily and he spoke how when he visited Kathy, she would hold on to his hand. And when he went to leave she would say, “Father you can go, just leave me your hand.” He said at the homily, it wasn’t his hand she wanted to keep, but Christ’s own hand! Jesus literally touched her and healed and consoled her through the hand of the priest…the priest hand was Jesus’ own hand! This priest so spent himself for Christ and for others, even after he "retired" that he himself would die of cancer some two years after my wife’s death (one of the persons present at father's death was given a vision as father died. She saw Jesus removing his lifeless body from the cross and embracing it).

Then there was my dear friend and spiritual director, Fr. Gabriel. Father was there for me in the many dark and agonizing years after my wife’s death. He helped me to see the truth about why God allowed my wife to die. Father spent many hours during those years patiently listening to my frustrations and struggles. He helped me to see that God had a special job for me, one that I would never have even considered; nonetheless, this father helped me see that God was indeed calling me as well to be His priest.

How many other priests I could talk about with you today. I am sure many of you have your own stories of how priests have touched your lives. These priests that I mentioned served this member of God’s people, as well as countless others, extremely well. I honor them and all the priests that have had an impact on my life. I would not be here in front of you today if it wasn’t for their incredible lives of sacrifice. I can only hope that I can be half the priest that they were and are.
I also think about all the priest friends that I have today. I am humbled when I see their dedication and love for Christ, his Church and the People of God. I hear their joys and their pains and have seen their tears.

Even though one might think that the past scandals of a few have caused them much pain, more pain is caused by the indifference and the lack of understanding of some of the souls that they care for. They know that all priests are not perfect, much less holy, and they pray to God that they, themselves, may be always both faithful and holy. We too should pray for them that they always be holy and faithful.

These holy priests love the priesthood, not just because they are priests, but because they too, like me, have themselves been given the love of the Father through the many faithful and dedicated “fathers” that have been there when they needed them. They know the great gift of the priesthood by priests they themselves have come in contact with and also by the many incredible works that they see Jesus perform through their own priesthood. It hurts them when people don’t love or understand the priesthood, not because they are personally slighted, but because the office of the priesthood is slighted. They are hurt when people don’t see that there is a difference, not only in degree, but in essence between the royal priesthood of the laity received at baptism and the ordained priesthood.

The power of the priest does not come from the people, his authority is not given to him by a delegation of the community; the priest's power and authority comes from none other than God himself, given through the laying on of the hands by the bishop as successor of the apostles. In his Encyclical, Mediator Dei-The Mediator of God, Pius XII wrote the following speaking of the priest as the mediator before God:

"Prior to acting as representative of the community before the throne of God, the priest is the ambassador of the divine Redeemer. He is God's vice-regent in the midst of his flock precisely because Jesus Christ is Head of that body of which Christians are the members. The power entrusted to the priest, therefore, bears no natural resemblance to anything human. It is entirely supernatural. It comes from God himself. "As the Father hath sent me, I also send you [40]. . . he that heareth you heareth me [41]. . . go ye into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature; he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." (Mediator Dei. Pius XII)

At the Holy Mass only, only a validly ordained Catholic priest can act in the name and in the very Person of Christ, or I should say, can Jesus act in the person of the priest, in persona Christi et capitis (in the person of Christ, the Head). Because of ordination, there is an ontological change in the priest’s being and an indelible mark placed on his soul. This ontological change means that the priest is given a new capacity so that when the priest acts, it is Jesus Himself who is now able to act in, with and through the priest. When the words of consecration at Holy Mass are spoken by the priest it is actually Christ Himself who speaks these words through the priest. Or as John Paul the Second put it, the priest says these words; or rather he puts his voice at the disposal of the One who spoke these words in the Upper Room.

So the priest, and he alone, possesses Christ’s power to consecrate bread and wine changing them into the true body and blood of Christ (into God Himself); and the power to then to offer Jesus sacrificially to the Eternal Father on behalf of the whole Christian people, in order that the power of Christ sacrifice and resurrection would be made available to those same Christian People. And so, No priest--no Holy Mass, no Holy Mass--No Holy Eucharist, no Holy Eucharist--no heaven for anyone. (This is also true with all the sacraments. So that when the priest gives absolution, the anointing, or marries, it is Christ Himself who does so through the priest).

But this "in persona Christi et capitis (in the person of Jesus the Head)," is not just limited to the Sacraments. Even when the priest blesses, when he prays, teaches, when he visits the sick or even when he visits your home, it is Christ himself who actually does these things through, with and in the priest; and they could not be done with the same efficacy (the very efficacy of Christ), without the priest.

It is a strong sign of the great loss of faith in our age, when this correct understanding of what a great gift the priesthood is to all of us is not held and practiced by the very people to whom God has given the priest. This loss of faith results in people not honoring or even opposing the priest who literally brings the light, life and love of Christ to them; it is literally, "biting the hand of the one who feeds you." In this case, the one who feeds you the Bread of Life--Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.

As we all honor those priests this weekend that have made an impact on our lives let us look for some ways to show them our love. I speak to myself as well as to you, because I too need to honor priests in my life that I depend on for the sacraments, especially that of confession. The priesthood doesn’t belong to me, because I am a priest, it is great gift for me as well as for you, so I too need to have great love and respect for it. Let us recognize that if not for the priesthood, there would be no Sacraments, no Holy Eucharist and thus no possibility of us receiving the Father’s love and forgiveness and no possibility for us to reach heaven. This is why St. John Vianney said that, “The priesthood is the very love of the Heart of Jesus.”

So, let us pray and offer up sacrifices for all priests that they may be holy and faithful priest. We all have a great responsibility to do so, and if we do not pray and offer our sufferings for them, then we all share in the responsibility when they fall, to the extent we don’t pray and suffer for them. Yes, there are those who have fallen, those who have even lost their faith and so teach something other than the Gospel. Then there are those who teach the truth but don’t live it. But there are, thank God, those who are holy and faithful priests. It is these chosen that literally bear the sufferings of the Crucified Christ on their person and in their lives…

So let us indeed pray for our priests and thank God for them and the great gift of the priesthood. Let us forgive those priests that may have failed us through their human weaknesses. Let us give true obedience to the priest as our spiritual father in Christ. The priest is more deeply a father to us than our biological father; our biological father gives us life, but our spiritual father gives us spiritual life, and so offers us eternal life. And let us pray that all people might see clearly the incredible gift of the priesthood of Jesus Christ that he shares with imperfect and sinful men like me.

If we pray for the priest, and don't condemn him or oppose him when he is trying to do nothing else than to be faithful to the dictates and teachings of the Church and Holy Father, then he, the priest, will have the strength and holiness to literally spend himself bringing you the graces, helps, blessings and love of God without which you cannot get to heaven.

If we pray for him and support him, then he, the priest, will have only one aim and ambition in his life, to ensure that the great marriage feast of heaven will be full. With your prayers and sacrifices offered to the Father on the priest’s behalf, he will be able to be a man apart, yet belonging to everyone. He will then receive your respect, your cooperation, your love, and your devotion. Have a place for him always in your prayers and heart, just as every one of you has a place in his prayers, in his heart, and in mine as well. God bless you! Holy Mary, mother of priests, pray for us.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

As we receive God in Holy Communion let us ask Him to possess our hearts fully in order that we can receive this true power, the power to love Him fully and to imitate Him by living our lives in sacrifice, serving Him and all of those whom he has placed in our lives, for their good not just our own; laying down our lives as a ransom for the many in love and for the glory of God.

October 18th, 2015. Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary time. Mark 10; 35-45

Today we hear of two very different ways of thinking about what the “Kingdom” means. We just read the story of James and his brother John and their asking Jesus to be set apart or even above the rest of the apostles. They desire to sit at the right and left hand of Jesus when He comes into His Kingdom. Remarkably, Jesus accepts their request, but not in the way they are thinking. Jesus tells them, they will drink from the chalice, from which He will drink- which means of course they will drink, or share in Jesus’ suffering, passion and death, laying down their lives too, as a ransom for the many. At first, there is a real contrast between Jesus’ knowledge of the Kingdom and the earthly kingdom that James and John have in mind.

Let us start with the “kingdom” of this earth, how the world views the Kingdom. When we see James and John ask for a privileged position in what they believe is a worldly kingdom. We see in them the desire to be great, to be above others; it is the desire for power and control-to be served and not to serve. It as been said that money is the root of all evil, but I think that the root of all is evil is the lust for power. Money is just a means to obtain power; what desire lies at the heart of our fallen human nature the most is wanting others to fulfill our desires, to serve us, to do what we want.

Regularly we see that in our world, people are competing for power and control in our government, in business, in our places of employment. It can be very destructive, as often times others are used and mistreated in the climb to the top; if any one gets in the way, they are dispensable and even disposable. It is selfishness at its worst; it is evil; it is opposite of the Kingdom of God.

This lust for power makes others servants or better yet, slaves of those who hold the power. This abuse of power, then makes those who are lorded over very angry, angry to the point of rebellion. And in the spirit of rebellion they too want power, no matter what the cost, no matter who gets hurt or destroyed. The oppressed then begin to hate, and they in the end can become like those who oppressed them…they become what they hate.

This kind of behavior is not limited just to public life; it also invades our family life in our homes and in our parishes. The poor and sinful behavior of the world can affect us in our everyday life. We can unwittingly follow the example of people who desire power. We want members of our families and parishes to follow us, to serve us; we want to be the center of the universe. We can manipulate circumstances in our families, schools, work and parishes in order to get our own way. We then fail to take in account what would be best for our families, for our parish and best for the salvation of their souls.

Jesus answer to His disciples’ desire for power, for their desire to be served, is that, “His Kingdom is not like the kingdoms of the earth—it cannot be like that with us.” Jesus’ Kingdom is one of love; Jesus always loved those with whom he came in contact. His love was always reaching out to others…putting others before Himself. Jesus did not desire greatness, power or control; although as God, He had all of these things—Jesus desired instead to use His power to glorify the Father by perfect obedience to the Father’s Will carried out through obedience and loving service to others; a service which had to do with obtaining their salvation by becoming a ransom for the many.

In this Jesus wanted to show us the Father’s great love for us by the great works of mercy, forgiveness and healing that Jesus himself performed while He visibly walked on earth. However, to show us the fullness of the Fathers love, Jesus performed the greatest act of love possible, that of laying down His life on the cross for the sake of His friends-us. He would drink the chalice of suffering and death for our sake, in order to save us from eternal separation from God. He died so that He would be able to give us His total self so that we might live. This was the greatest act of service ever performed; the greatest act of charity ever performed.

Jesus showed his disciples and us that true power is the power of love. True service then, consists in truly loving God and one another in imitation of Jesus. And the essence of this love is sacrifice—of forgetting oneself, of denying oneself for love of Christ and for love of others in order to glorify the Father and for the salvation of souls, even to the point of suffering.

James and John ultimately learned this lesson. James drank the chalice of suffering, as he was beheaded as we read in the Acts of the Apostles. John drank it as the one who would be both priest-victim, offering himself along with the sacrifice of Jesus in the Mass. John, who lived to be very old, actually lived the Mass in his many sufferings and persecutions for the Church, for souls. In the end, Jesus did give both of these, his disciples, legitimate power; in fact the keys to the kingdom of heaven and earth; but for they part, instead of using it for selfish reasons, they used it to glorify the Father by “drinking of the Chalice of suffering” in order to bring the love of God to the entire world in order that souls could be saved.

The Kingdom of God, unlike the Kingdom of earth, is not about the desire for power and control, but it’s about Glorifying the Father, imitating Jesus out of love by serving others for their sakes not our own and for love of Jesus, Who is God. Today, like James and John, Jesus also invites us to drink from His chalice and to offer ourselves in love for Him and for others. Jesus may not ask us to do in great ways, like James and John, but he will ask us to do this in little ways throughout our ordinary daily life. Any way we can serve others, or deny ourselves in our homes, schools, work or parishes is an act of love; little things like being kind when we would rather be curt; setting aside what we want or what we think for the good of our family or our parish family; doing our daily duties well, on time or doing the hard things first, especially in our spiritual duties. Children can do this as well; being obedient to their moms and dads, or doing their chores before being told; being kind to their brothers and sisters even when you don't feel like it, saying their daily prayers faithfully. Anyway we can deny ourselves for love of God and for love of neighbor is a service of love, even in the smallest of ways, for Love is always in the details.

When we give ourselves everyday in service to others, which is another way of saying giving ourselves for love of others, it causes us to suffer a little, sometimes even a lot; it’s like being nailed to the cross with pinpricks. We should all serve each other in our families, in our parishes out of love and for the common good of all, doing everything not for the almighty me, but for the almighty Thee. This is the power of authentic love, not as a feeling but as a free choice.

When we really try to do put others before ourselves, to use our power to serve others, the fact is that we can feel our powerlessness to love. We then can become sad or frustrated by our families and we can lose hope that things can change, that we can change and become better. Jesus however, does not leave us alone. When he asks us to love until it hurts, he also gives us the grace, which is the power—His power to do so. He allows us to feel our weakness but only so that we know that it is only through His power that we can truly show our love for Him by loving and serving others.

This is the greatest of all power that we can possess; it is the power to love with Jesus’ own heart living and beating within our soul; this is the power of a Mother Theresa of Calcutta, of John Paul II, and of all the saints. Jesus desires us to be dependent on him, not only for loving him, but for loving others as well. Jesus teaches us that true service to others in love can only come when we do it primarily out of service and love for Him alone, and with his love and life alive in us.

If you are sad and depressed, turn to God, especially in the Holy Eucharist, ask him to help you to love Him above all things, and then go out and serve others, help others for love of God and I guarantee you, you will become happier, filled with joy. It begins here at Holy Mass. It is in the Holy Mass that we can receive true power, God’s own power, the power to serve and love Him by serving and loving others for love of Him. The Holy Mass is the summit toward which all the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the fountain from which all her power flows (SC 10).”; it is the very fount of the power of Charity—a power, which can literally change the world.

Let us ask Jesus at this Mass to give us the true power, that is, the Power of His Love, available to us in the Holy Eucharist, which is His very Self, the God who is Love. The Eucharist is power beyond compare, beyond comprehension; it is infinite power, the very power of God; God Himself. As we receive God in Holy Communion let us ask Him to possess our hearts fully in order that we can receive this true power, the power to love Him fully and to imitate Him by living our lives in sacrifice, serving Him and all of those whom he has placed in our lives, for their good not just our own; laying down our lives as a ransom for the many in love and for the glory of God. God Bless you.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Homily for Mark 10: 17-30 Twenty Eighth Sunday. October 11th, 2015

Today we discover more fully that the demands of Jesus and His Gospel are high. But today Jesus seems to ask of us the impossible: “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When we read this passage, if we look closely we can see something of ourselves in this rich young man.

Most of us have grown up Christian and we have been taught the Ten Commandments from our childhood. So, I think it’s easy for us to be very sympathetic with this young man. After all, he seems to show generosity- he seems to have a good and right intention- he certainly asks a wonderful question- what must I do to inherit eternal life? How many today, unlike this young man, just presume they are going to heaven and so don’t even bother to ask the question?

I think most of us would say that this young man is good and surely should be able to enter eternal life. However, Jesus’ response to him should be a shocker to us, Jesus says, “No! You have not yet done everything necessary to inherit eternal life…One thing is lacking, go, sell all that you have and follow me.” After Jesus’ response to this young rich man, I think it’s easy for us to feel rather despondent. I think this is natural. It seems that following the ten rules should be good enough. These demands of Jesus seem to be unreasonable… This points out a common tendency, a common way of thinking for us Christians.

It’s easy for us Christians to think like the following, “I am a good person, after all I haven’t murdered anyone, I haven’t robbed a bank. I try to go to Mass on Sunday, although those Holy days are just a bit too inconvenient for me. I may lie, but usually its only little whites ones. And I put my dollar in the collection plate when it comes around.” Unfortunately, with this attitude, we simply make lists of the good things we’ve done and so try to justify ourselves before God. In fact, this type of attitude does not require faith at all. Even an atheist can say it is wrong to kill or to steal. Living just by a set of rules is not living faith. Faith requires us to ascent fully to the person of God in Jesus and to follow His Commands because we love Him. The Ten Commands are not just a minimal list to follow, but are only the beginning of a greater list of the Ten Beatitudes—those things that by doing would perfect us in love and give us true happiness and freedom. Measure ourselves and our actions against a list of rules can be helpful, but it is not in and of itself love…for we just cannot justify ourselves before God.

This is the problem with this young man. He tries to justify Himself before God. He says, “I have done all these since my youth.” How many of us can say the same. However, Jesus says in a word, “no, you cannot justify yourself in front of me, only God is good, only God can justify. You have done only those things that every human being should do, whether he believes in me or not. Even the pagans do as much.” Jesus then goes straight to the root- “You must sell everything and follow me.” Ouch! Everything? Everything! Jesus reveals the truth; this young man had never really given himself to God. He really didn’t trust God and so he trusted in himself and adopted the “following--the--rules--type--of--behavior in order not to be punished. He really lacked faith. This of course is very minimalist and definitely does not show love. For example, a husband may not have cheated on his wife or killed her, but does he love her? Has he given himself completely to her, serving her in love?

So yes, the rich young man lived a good moral life, but he failed to realize, that Christ was calling him to not just live a moral life, but a life of faith, through a total self-giving love. Living a moral life is absolutely necessary, but love demands more, it demands everything—our whole self. Jesus is calling each one of us to return the gift of our life, our existence back to God the Father, through Jesus Christ, the only one who is truly Good, because he is God himself. The rich man in our Gospel today was not truly living the first commandment in the deepest depths of his heart, a commandment which demands one to adore the Lord God completely…totally…absolutely with self abnegation. Why, because true love demands a complete giving of one’s self to the beloved, a mutual total self-offering of one to the other. What woman wants a husband who will only give himself partway to her? Love holds nothing back, it gives all away to the beloved. Jesus demand on the young rich man and on us, goes far beyond just giving away material wealth. Jesus wants us to give away much more than our riches, He wants us to give away ourselves, all of our love—absolutely everything=TO HIM!!! This is the essence of true adoration and love of God.

So Jesus doesn’t demand that each of us immediately give up all our material possessions (we of course need some of these things to live) nor does He expect all of us to become a religious and live in a monastery. But He does demand that we give him everything in an act of adoration and that we use our wealth in such away that we do not forget the heavenly Father who gave us these possessions, showing Him our love and gratitude by sharing what He gave us, our wealth with those who are less fortunate than we. He does however, expect for each one of us to give up our wealth in this way; to give up thinking that we are independent, that we possess everything we need apart from God, to give up our pride, our hearts of stone, our opinions and most importantly our self wills. In this, Jesus wants us to become poor in spirit, realizing that everything, everything we possess is a gift—even our faith, even our very existence.

The gifts we receive from God are so vast and so generous. There will come the day however, when every single one of us, no matter how much or how little we possess, will have to do in a material way what Jesus asks; someday we will definitely have to give away even our material possessions. Each one of us we will have to give up everything we have at death, we can take nothing material with us. The only thing that we can take with us is our love for Christ or sadly our lack there of—the amount of love we possess at the end of our life, is the amount we posses for all eternity.

We like the young rich man can not justify ourselves, for God alone can justify us. The truth is in the end we are all poor, we are all sinners and in need of redemption and salvation through the blood of the cross. While it is true we will not be saved without good works, without following the Ten Commandments, our good deeds alone will not save us, only Jesus can save us. We have to detach ourselves from our self sufficiently and our stuff, and ask, beg Jesus for the grace to attach ourselves to Him, love Him above all things and trust in Him alone..

In our temptation to be discouraged (for we too like the rich young man have many possession), we should not let our face fall, give up hope and walk away sad. One of the Fathers of the Church, commenting on this passage, said that he believed that this rich young man may have been none other than St. John himself before his conversion. St. John walk away sad, but as he walked away began to reflect where true riches are really found. St. John later repented, sold all that he had and gave it to the poor and then came back to follow Jesus fully, giving his life totally and completely to God in loving sacrifice, remaining with Jesus faithfully even to the foot of the cross. Grace can indeed transform us, can indeed turn our hearts of stone into hearts for love alone.

It was at the cross that St. John gave everything he had and was to Jesus. He was able to do this because he made his offering to Jesus through Mary—totus tuus. Through Mary, John’s heart was elevated and united to the divine Love and Heart of Jesus-to Jesus Himself. In, with and through Jesus John become one with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit. From that moment on it was no longer John who lived but Jesus who lived in him. He stilled lived but from now one his life was one with Jesus. Perfect love offers everything, everything to the beloved. We too must grow in love to the point that we like St. John offer everything, EVERYTHING, Jesus, in Total Trust

It is at the Holy Mass that we like St. John can offer our hearts, our everything, our riches to Jesus through Mary. Let us ask her to take our heart and place it on the paten and to do so with perfect trust in her Divine Son. She will help us to offer everything, to cut any strings that hold our heart from God. From her hands Jesus will accept our hearts as if they were His mother’s. Our hearts, our lives will then be transformed as we receive, truly, the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, our greatest treasure…we and our lives will then become living Icon’s of the Sacred Merciful Heart of Jesus. And through us, God will renew the face of the earth.

Let us end with this prayer:
"Heavenly Father, I thank You that my family has enough and more than enough. Help us use our possessions according to Your wishes. Help us to share with those who have little or nothing. Help us to support Your work in the world. Help us to put our trust in You and not in our bank book. Help us to be gracious with others as You have been generous with us." But most importantly, with the power of the Holy Spirit, help us at this Holy Mass to offer it all back to you, along with our hearts on this altar of sacrifice in union with the Heart of your Son Jesus Christ. Through the Immaculate Virgin Mary, Help us to open our hearts and souls to receive Jesus fully when we receive Him in Holy Communion. Then we will possess the greatest of all riches you our Go and Jesus Your only Son in the unity and love of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Let us offer this prayer as we offer the bread and wine asking our Father to accept our sacrifice of our riches, our hearts, along with the sacrifice of His Son which He has already accepted. God bless you.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

"We as Catholics have not properly combated (the culture) because we have not been taught our Catholic Faith, especially in the depth needed to address these grave evils of our time. This is a failure of catechesis both of children and young people that has been going on for fifty years. It is being addressed, but it needs much more radical attention... What has also contributed greatly to the situation is an exaltation of the virtue of tolerance which is falsely seen as the virtue which governs all other virtues. In other words, we should tolerate other people in their immoral actions to the extent that we seem also to accept the moral wrong. Tolerance is a virtue, but it is certainly not the principal virtue; the principal virtue is charity... Charity means speaking the truth. I have encountered it (not speaking the truth) many times myself as a priest and bishop. It is something we simply need to address. There is far too much silence — people do not want to talk about it because the topic is not 'politically correct.' But we cannot be silent any longer."
Raymond Card. Burke

the Church and the Christian family, (and society itself) will only survive in those areas where the Church upholds boldly the nature and indissolubility of marriage.

Homily for Mark 10: 2-16 Twenty Seventh Sunday

Today in the Catholic Church in America we celebrate Pro-Life Sunday and the Fact that every human life must be protected, defended and promoted from Conception to Natural death…there is no life that is not worthy of living...born or unborn, weak or strong, poor or rich, sick or healthy, mentally or physically disabled, male or female. And this weekend, we also recall an important teaching on which the entire teaching of Life begins and rests: the sanctity of marriage.

In the Holy Gospel today the Pharisees question Jesus about the nature of marriage. They ask Him, “Is it legal to divorce your wife?” Knowing that they were just trying to justify themselves and trap Him, Jesus, points out that Moses only allowed divorce because of their hardness of heart. Jesus reminds them and us that in the beginning it was not so.

It is important to realize here that the condition of women at the time of this Gospel was ignominious. In other words, women were basically deprived of all human dignity and rights and were seen merely as the property of their husband and nothing more. Even slaves were considered higher than women; it was Christianity that would change this injustice.

And so, a woman could be merely set aside by her husband for virtually any reason whatsoever, with no recourse. The husband could then remarry but the woman could not and so she became despised and shunned by society, treated no differently than a leper. This is why Moses insisted that the husband give the wife a certificate of repudiation--a bill of divorce. By insisting on this, Moses was not giving his stamp of approval to divorce, far from it, but he was acting to protect the woman. Moses wanted women who were dumped by their husbands to be free to marry again so that their condition would not become even worse than it already was.

Jesus takes this opportunity to affirm the nature and the indissolubility of marriage as God originally intended at Creation. By quoting Genesis, Jesus recalls the Pharisees and the world to the original intention of God for man and for woman, for husband and wife, when Jesus says:
“But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.’ For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, man must not separate.”

Jesus, the Lord of Creation, declares, not only the nature of marriage between one man and one woman, but as well, that the unity and indissolubility of marriage had been established from the very beginning. This teaching so surprised his disciples that when they had Jesus alone, they ask him to explain it again. And so Jesus reinstates it even further, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery’. The disciples respond by saying, “Then it is better that one not marry.”

John Paul II in the Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris consortio (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World) re-echoed these words of Jesus when he said,

It is a fundamental duty of the Church to reaffirm strongly…the doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage. To all those who, in our times, consider it too difficult, or indeed impossible, to be bound to one person for the whole of life, and to those caught up in a culture that mocks the commitment of spouses to fidelity, it is necessary to reconfirm the good news of the definitive nature of that conjugal love that has in Christ foundation and strength.
Being rooted in the personal and total self-giving of the couple, and being required by the good of the children, the indissolubility of marriage finds its ultimate truth in the plan that God has manifested in His revelation; He wills and He communicates the indissolubility of marriage as a fruit, a sign and a requirement of the absolutely faithful love that God has for man and that the Lord Jesus has for the Church.

The Pope here is upholding that constant teaching of the Church that a validly consummated marriage results in a bond that can only be broken by death. It must be so because marriage is the image of the bond between Christ and His Mystical body-the Church; that is, between Christ, the bride groom, and the Church His bride. And Jesus will never divorce His Church nor will He divorce either one of us for that matter.

Many couples use today’s Gospel in their wedding, as they pledge their love to one another for a lifetime. Everyone participating in the wedding, hopes and prays that the couple will be able to do this and most especially us priests pray for them. There is probably nothing that saddens and frustrates parish priests more than seeing marriages fall apart and end in divorce. All of our parishes, all of our families -- including priests' families of origin -- have been affected by divorce and family break-ups. We see couples so angry with each other that they can barely speak to one another. We see one or more of the couple completely devastated, facing pain almost as bad as losing a spouse. We see parents and the rest of the extended families upset, and treading on eggshells, not knowing what to do or what to say. And the saddest of all is seeing the faces of little children involved in a divorce.

Now, of course no one these days -- not even the Church -- will counsel people to stay in a marriage if there is physical abuse involved. Nobody deserves to get knocked around. And sometimes a civil divorce (sad as it is) is necessary. And of course, the Church admits there are marriages that were invalid at the very beginning; marriages that began with an impediment, a wall which prevented the two becoming one validly in the eyes of God--that’s why there are such things as annulments. (An annulment doesn’t annul a valid marriage, but only recognizes the marriage was invalid in the first place.) But too often, too many times, the situations -- which almost always include some form of emotional abuse -- those situations which lead up to a divorce, had they been dealt with in time, could have been changed, and the marriage saved. But the work of healing must begin sooner rather than later.

Too many couples are under the impression today, that once all the preparations and work for the wedding is over, then they can simply relax and live happily ever after. Wrong. Marriage is work. Marriage is very hard work. The two people involved are bringing all their personal baggage, their two families’ baggage, varying cultural expectations, and their own lack of perfection, along with them into the marriage. It takes work and time for them living together -- within the safe framework of marriage, not outside of it – to learn to get along; to know what the other is trying to communicate verbally and non-verbally; to make mistakes, and to learn from them. And if the marriage does begin to take a turn for the worse, it takes more work in marriage counseling to get things back on track.

I have worked with a group called Retrouvaille that assists couples in healing their marriage. I have seen marriages in terrible shape find reconciliation and forgiveness. The couples work very hard and the process takes time and energy. The marriage does not get into trouble overnight nor is it healed overnight. One of the amazing things that these couples discover in this whole process of healing is the very roots of their problems; the very root of their problems is their not knowing, understanding and not following the teachings of the Catholic Church on sexuality and marriage. They realize that so many of their problems were caused by a failure to be chaste before marriage, a failure to be open to life in each and every marital act and failure to recognize the great dignity and sacredness of the marital act-(an act that is only for procreation together with the good of the couple). They realized that they just didn’t know or understand what marriage is really for, what the purpose of sex is for. They realize that the first duty in marriage is to help one another get to heaven, and then to bring God’s children in to the world and help them get to heaven. As one person said, “I realized that, the first thing Jesus is going to say to a married couple when they face him on the Day of Judgment, “Did you help your spouse get to heaven, and secondly, “did you help MY children get to heaven.” He won’t say, “your children,” He will say, “MY children.”

In their rediscovery of each other and their marriage, the couple learns that Christian marriage is not just a social institution, but it is really a supernatural calling and vocation. It is more than a contact or an arrangement between two parties that can be broken if either ones does hold up their end of the agreement, instead marriage is a covenant, literally a exchange of persons who come together by swearing an oath before God in which one says to the other, I give myself totally & exclusively to you, I lay down by life for you, I love you as my other self, so help me God!

In this, they realize that Marriage takes three. When it is lived with Christ, in His truth, and through the divine power of His Sacrament and grace, marriage, then and only then, becomes holy and thus life giving to the couple, to the children and to the whole church and world. With Jesus, He fills the souls of husbands and wife and invites them to follow Him fully. He transforms their whole married life into an occasion for God’s presence on earth and witnesses to His “un-breakable-covenantal love.

The key to healing and forgiveness in marriage and in the family is a humble, childlike attitude. We have to change, we have to allow our Lord purify us and heal us…we have to repent and confess our sins…this is humility. We have to confess our sins not only as individuals but even as couples and as whole families, coming together as a family to the beautiful, healing and restorative Sacrament of confession. Our Lord only invites the children who are humble to come to him-not the prideful.

The nature of Marriage as between one man and one woman and the indissolubility of marriage are the foundations of the family. And Family is the primary vital cell of society itself. And in a way, it is also the vital cell of the Church itself. In fact, the Church and the Christian family, (and society itself) will only survive in those areas where the Church upholds boldly the nature and indissolubility of marriage. The Church and her ministers know that marriage has a sacred status that must be upheld. And they know that the family which begins with marriage has a sacred status which deserves the veneration, protection and the attention of all its members, of civil society itself, and of the entire Church.

Let us today ask our Lord truly present in the Holy Eucharist to help us to live by the high demands of the Gospel. With the high demands also comes the help from on high, the grace, to live it, if we only receive the truth with a humble, Childlike faith. Let us end with these beautiful words of John Paul the II:

According to the plan of God, marriage is the foundation of the wider community of the family, since the very institution of marriage and conjugal love are ordained to the procreation and education of children, in whom they find their crowning.(34)
In its most profound reality, love is essentially a gift; and conjugal love, while leading the spouses to the reciprocal "knowledge" which makes them "one flesh,"(35) does not end with the couple, because it makes them capable of the greatest possible gift, the gift by which they become cooperators with God for giving life to a new human person. Thus the couple, while giving themselves to one another, give not just themselves but also the reality of children, who are a living reflection of their love, a permanent sign of conjugal unity and a living and inseparable synthesis of their being a father and a mother.
When they become parents, spouses receive from God the gift of a new responsibility. Their parental love is called to become for the children the visible sign of the very love of God, "from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.”