Sunday, May 21, 2017

Homily for 6th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
6th Sunday of Easter
May 24, 1987
1 Pet 3: 15-18
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.

This weekend (May 20-21, 2017) at Holy Cross in Champaign, the deacons preached. Here's a 30-year-old homily from the other Holy Cross in my life.

“Should anyone ask you the reason for this hope of yours, be ever ready to reply, but speak gently and respectfully.  Keep your conscious clear, so that, whenever you are defamed, those who libel your way of life in Christ may be shamed” (1 Pet 3: 15-16).

When Peter wrote this letter to Christians undergoing persecution, he described himself as a “witness to the sufferings of Christ” (5:1).  He had witnessed Jesus’ public ministry, with its daily portion of human problems, with its persecution by the authorities, with its failure to convert many people.  He had witnessed Jesus’ arrest, trial, and execution.

More than that, Peter had experienced Christ’s passion in his own life, in his struggle to be courageous, to persevere, and to keep hoping for a share in Christ’s glory yet to be revealed to the faithful (5:1).

Maybe you’ve read Quo Vadis or seen the movie.  If not, maybe you’ve at least heard the story.  It tells how, when Nero’s persecution broke out, Peter was hightailing it out of Rome.  About a mile out of town he met a strangely familiar figure walking toward the city.  He realized it was Jesus.

“Domine, quo vadis?  Lord, where are you going?” the shocked apostle asked his Master.

“If you won’t stay with my people in Rome,” Jesus answered him, “I’m going back in your place, to be crucified again.”

The shamed leader of the Christian faithful turned back and was soon arrested and crucified in the circus of Nero on the side of the Vatican hill.
The church of "Domine, Quo Vadis" on the Appian Way
Whether or not Peter really tried to flee and saw such an apparition, there is a church called the Quo Vadis on the Appian Way.  If you go, you’ll see a paving stone from an old highway in which 2 footprints still show, the marks left by Christ as he spoke to Peter.

As the Italians say, “Si non é vero, é ben trovato.  If it’s not true, it ought to be.”

Peter calls his persecuted readers to understand their sufferings as part in the sufferings of Christ, and thereby to bear powerful, eloquent witness to Christ.  He seems to view these sufferings as a natural consequence of faith, and Jesus, in the gospel, hints at this too (John 14:17).  If we really take up our crosses each day to follow Jesus, we feel the burden.

So Peter advises his readers that their attitude in their daily struggle should find a model in Jesus.  If they respond gently and respectfully to those who wrong them, they will disappoint and shame their persecutors.

Believers in America don’t face open, bloody persecution the way Peter and the 1st Christian generations did.  What we face is far more subtle.

How are Christians attacked today?  The latest outstanding example is the way that large segments of the population have gloated over the moral failures of Jim Bakker and his associates.  First, all TV evangelists came under fire; some of them deserve to be under fire, but to generalize from the failings of a few and paint all of them as greedy and corrupt is a slander.  And after the evangelists, more subtly, the convictions of all Christians are mocked.

Another example:  the media take the political opinions of men like Jerry Falwell or Cardinal O’Connor and use them to put down fundamentalist Christians or Roman Catholics who don’t subscribe to opinions hallowed by the gods of TV and the press.  A more specific example:  In the mid-70s when Cardinal Madeiros vigorously denounced racism, particularly among the South Boston Irish, the media lionized him.  In the 80s, when he vigorously denounced abortion during the campaign season, the media, NOW, the ACLU, and the politicians lambasted him for interfering in politics, civil rights, etc.

Another example:  When was the last time you saw a reasonably accurate, sympathetic portrayal of Catholicism, our beliefs, our priests, ordinary Catholics like you in the movies or on TV?  It certainly wasn’t in the recent episode of Family Ties in which Alex’s friend died; it’s not in MASH’s Fr. Mulcahy; it wasn’t in The Thorn Birds; it’s not in coverage of the Church and conflicts over homosexuality; foster care in NYC, birth control clinics in schools, speakers at church functions, or Fr. Curran and Abp. Hunthausen.

To be fair, the media have given plenty of good treatment to our bishops’ pastorals on peace and on the economy.  Unfortunately, such objectivity seems to depend upon whether the Church’s position squares with what has been called “the liberal agenda.”

Another example:  The US is the only Western nation in which Catholics—or Lutherans, Jews, or evangelical Christians—must pay for 2 school systems, one for everyone and one that respects their religious beliefs.

So we don’t have to be up against the lions in the Coliseum or cutting timber in a Siberian labor camp or hiding from a Salvadoran death squad to be defamed, to have our way of life in Christ libeled, to suffer for the Gospel.
Anti-Catholic riot, Philadelphia, 1844
What course are we to take?  Fortunately things have improved since 1844, when Bp. John Hughes had to threaten to let his angry and nervous Irish flock torch New York if the city fathers couldn’t keep anti-Catholic mobs from burning Catholic churches, as had just happened in Philadelphia.  Instead, we are to “be ever ready to reply” to those who slander religion with a statement of what we believe to be right and true and of our right to do what is right and to speak what is true.

Our speech and our way of living is to be gentle and respectful even as it is forceful and direct.  We must live honestly, almost irreproachably.  As we’ve seen in the PTL case and in some others, any moral flaw, any weakness, gives religion’s enemies plenty of ammunition.  “If it should be God’s will that [we] suffer, it is better to do so for good deeds than for evil ones” (3:17).

How much good we could do if our neighbors could observe us as the pagan Romans observed the 3d-century disciples of Jesus, and exclaim, “Look how these Christians love one another!”

Homily for Wedding of Elise Pontious and Alex Foran

Homily for the Wedding
of Elise Pontious and Alex Foran
May 20, 2017
Tobit 8: 4-8
Ps 145: 8-10, 15, 17-18
Heb 13: 1-6
Matt 7: 21, 24-29
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.

“The Lord is close to all who call him, who call on him in truth” (Ps 145: 18).

Elise and Alex, you’ve been diligent in calling upon the Lord.  That’s probably a habit, a virtue, that you’ve practiced for as long as you can remember, something you probably learned from your dear parents Melissa and Bill (RIP), Tim and Lisa.  The Church always considers parents the 1st and best educators of their children.

Moms and dads are usually proud beyond measure of their kids, especially on occasions like weddings.  Grandparents also deserve some recognition for the priceless roles they play in loving and guiding not just their own children but also the grandchildren.  You, Elise and Alex, give added reason for parental pride and joy today because you’re beginning your life together by calling upon the Lord.  You recognize the truth that he is the source of our deepest happiness, that the greatest yearnings of our hearts only he can satisfy, that your ultimate goal isn’t a fine home, a comfortable lifestyle, a bunch of talented kids, even a long and healthy life—but eternal life with the One who created all of us to be happy and healthy forever in his home as part of his family.  The only “happily ever after” is the one with God, the Father to whom our Lord Jesus leads us with his sound teachings, the words and example on which you’re pledging to build your life together (Matt 7: 24-28).  Jesus is the sure foundation for contentment and happiness even in this life.
The Wedding at Cana
St. Ursula's Church, Mt. Vernon, N.Y.
In my 39 years (and 1 day) as a priest, mostly in high school and communications ministry, I haven’t witnessed a lot of marriages.  I think you’re the 1st couple who’ve chosen the OT reading from Tobit.  In that reading you join your prayers to the prayer of Tobiah and Sarah, calling upon the Lord to protect you and deliver you from everything that will inevitably test your marriage.  Not for nothing will your exchange of consent—by which you become the celebrants of this sacrament—not for nothing will you promise fidelity “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.”  This is not to mention that by around week 3, Alex, you’ll discover that Elise is not a goddess but an imperfect human being like everyone else you know.  (Our parish DRE adds that you must remember:  even if she’s not a goddess, she’s still the boss.)  And Elise, you’ll make the same startling discovery about Alex’s imperfections.

But you’re here to call on the Lord, to celebrate the sacrament that makes our Lord Jesus a partner in your marriage and your family life.  You’re committing yourselves to be Jesus for each other:  Alex, to love, cherish, protect, and help Elise become the saint that God created her to be, as Jesus saved her to be; Elise, to love, cherish, protect, and help Alex become the saint that God created him to be, as Jesus saved him to be.

“The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid” was the last verse from your NT reading (Heb 13:6).  The Lord whom you invoke will indeed be with you and help you.  At times you’ll each stand in for the Lord.  Each of you will be the Lord’s agent in regard to your partner by the power of this sacrament.  Be Jesus in your love for your partner.

All of us who witness your commitment to each other and to God join with you, in the words of Tobiah and Sarah, in “calling down [God’s] mercy on” you, that you may live together happily to an old age (Tob 8:8); and going further, that you may live together with our Lord Jesus into eternal happiness.

May God bless you superabundantly all your days!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Homily for 5th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
5th Sunday of Easter
Collect
May 14, 2017
Acts 6: 1-7
John 14: 1-12
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.

“Almighty, ever-living God, constantly accomplish the Paschal Mystery within us…” (Collect).

So we prayed in the Collect, in part, 10 or 15 minutes ago.  We pleaded with God—powerful and full of life—to empower us with the divine life of his Son Jesus.  This life is available to us on account of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection—the paschal mystery, the Easter mystery.  We enter that mystery thru Baptism and all the other sacraments, and we grow in our grasp of the mystery whenever we encounter Jesus in his sacred Word, the holy Scriptures.

Our prayer, however, is that the paschal mystery be “accomplished” in us:  that it be carried out, that it be effective, that it be fulfilled, or as the prayer itself says, that it “bear much fruit.”  Being baptized or confirmed, or receiving the Eucharist, is a part of the divine process, but not the whole process of this accomplishment.  More is required.

More in required even in a temporal sense.  For our prayer is that God accomplish the mystery “constantly.”  It’s ongoing.  It’s lifelong.  It’s not finished until we die, until we come to that home in heaven that Jesus is preparing for us (John 14:2-3).  So be patient, folks, regarding your spiritual growth, and keep progressing with Jesus along the way that he has marked out for us thru his paschal mystery.

Note, too, that we pray for God to accomplish the mystery within us.  It’s not something we can do for ourselves.  The work of our salvation is done by Jesus, acting on us and in us thru his Holy Spirit.  He needs our cooperation, our “yes” to his work, as he needed the Virgin Mary’s “yes” when the angel Gabriel came to her and asked her to become the mother of our Savior (Luke 1:26-38).  But God does all the heavy lifting.

That it’s God’s work is indicated, too, in the next line of the prayer:  “those you were pleased to make new in Holy Baptism.”  Baptism began the work of God in us.  It made us a new creation, recreated us clean and pure in divine grace.  Baptism was our rebirth, which Jesus spoke of to Nicodemus:  we must be reborn of water and the Holy Spirit if we are to enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:5).  But God’s the one who does the work, who makes us new, who pushes us out of the dark womb of our sinfulness into the glorious new life of grace.

We prayed that, “under [God’s] protective care,” we might “bear much fruit.” 
At the Last Supper Jesus told the apostles that he’s the vine and they’re the branches shooting off the vine; as long as we’re attached to him, we can bear abundant fruit (John 15:4-5).  Elsewhere in the Scriptures, the people of God are called to the Lord’s vineyard, which he cultivates so that it will bear good fruit (Is 5:1-7; Matt 21:33-41; cf. Matt 20:1-16).

What is the fruit that God expects of us?  To ask the question another way, in keeping with the beginning of the Collect, how do our lives show that we’re immersed in Jesus’ paschal mystery?  The reading from the Acts of the Apostles informs us.  The apostles note that the Church has a 2-part program:  to pray and preach the Word of God is one part; to serve the needs of the poor, personified in widows in our passage, is the other part.

So our Christian lives must show the fruit of prayer:  giving praise and thanks to God and interceding on behalf of the world.  When St. Peter instructs us that we must “be built into … a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God thru Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2:5), prayer of praise and intercession is one of the things he means.  You are a Christian priest; you pray.

Our Christian lives also must show the fruit of sound teaching or public witness to God’s Word.

And our Christian lives must show the fruit of practical charity, social justice—such as works for the poor, the hungry, the homeless, migrants, the sick, the elderly, children in the womb, prisoners, the environment, education, health care, rescuing the victims of trafficking, delivering people from terrorism and other forms of oppression, helping people deal with addictions, etc.  Obviously, no one can do all of that.  In Acts, you might say the work is divided up among various branches of the vine that is Christ.  Make sure you are a fruit-giving branch.  That’s our collective prayer today (“collective” and “collect” are related words!).

Finally, the Collect prays that—always with God’s help—we might “come to the joys of life eternal.”  Jesus is preparing a place for us.  The place is in his Father’s house, his Father’s mansion, where we’re meant to dwell with him (John 14:2-3) and see the Father’s face—see the Father in person (cf. 14:8-9).

Think how excited you’d be to meet some hero of yours in person and get to spend time with him or her.  How many of you went to the Garth Brooks or Tom Petty concert?  It’s different in person than on TV, right?  How many parishioners got excited last Sunday because Lovie Smith came to 10 o’clock Mass (so I was told later—and I was the celebrant!)?  How many of you wanted to go see the Cubs’ world championship trophy when it came to town—a thing, not a person?  I’m excited because next month Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez, a Salesian who’s coordinator of the Pope’s council of 9 cardinals, is going to ordain 4 new SDB priests in N.Y., and I’ll be there either concelebrating or taking photos.  (The cardinal has done ordinations for us several times and visited New Rochelle on other occasions; he’s delightfully friendly and approachable.)

How can we compare any of that with being with God—the God who created us out of love, who is our Father, who so loves us that he sent Jesus to save us (cf. John 3:16), who so ardently desires to have us in his company, part of his family, forever?  We pray for that joy, which the Father wants to give us even more than we want to receive it!

May the paschal mystery be accomplished in each of us!  If we must part physically in a few weeks, may we—as St. Thomas More said on the scaffold—“meet merrily in heaven,” where our health, our virtue, and our joy will be perfect and unending.
Execution of Sir Thomas More (detail), by Antoine Caron

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Homily for Feast of St. Mary Mazzarello

Homily for the Feast of
St. Mary Mazzarello
May 13, 2017
1 Cor 1: 26-31
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.

“Consider your call, brothers and sisters. . . .  God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world…” (1 Cor 1: 26-28).

Those words to St. Paul, chosen particularly for today’s feast of St. Mary Domenica Mazzarello, apply also to the Church’s 2 newest saints.  Earlier this morning at Fatima, Pope Francis canonized Francisco and Jacinta Marto, 2 of the 3 shepherd children to whom our Lady appeared 100 years ago today.
Jacinta Marto, Lucia dos Santos, and Francisco Marto,
the 3 children to whom our Lady appeared at Fatima in 1917.
Francisco was 10 when he died 2 years later, and Jacinta was 9 when she died 3 years later.  And they “bumped off” Dominic Savio as the youngest canonized non-martyrs; Dominic had reached the ripe age of almost 15.

If you’re disappointed that in the Salesian world the feast of St. Mary Domenica Mazzarello pulls rank over the optional memorial of Our Lady of Fatima, take heart from this:

After Don Bosco built a magnificent new church at the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales in the 1860s, dedicated not to the Oratory’s patron saint, Francis, but to Mary, the Help of Christians, he set about building a different kind of monument in honor of our Lady.  He called this monument a “living” one because it was made up of live human beings who were to glorify Mary by doing her work on earth for the salvation of the young, especially girls.  That living monument is the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, better known as the Salesian Sisters.  And St. Mary Domenica was the Daughters’ cofoundress, with Don Bosco.

You may have read the little bio of St. Mary was in our “Crux” insert in last week’s bulletin.  So no need for me to repeat that.

Like Don Bosco, Mary came from a simple, hardworking peasant family—nothing powerful or well-born or noble in either of them, except what came from the power and nobility of God’s grace.  Mary didn’t even learn to read and write until late in life.

But Mary learned to love God and serve her neighbor from her parents and extended family, from the people of her humble parish in her remote village in the hills of Piedmont, and from the spiritual guide to whom she entrusted her soul, the parish’s assistant pastor, Fr. Dominic Pestarino.

That was the 1st key to Mary’s holiness.  2d, she became an apostle.  She and some of the other girls and young women of the village looked after the younger girls while their parents were working in the fields.  They taught them catechism and basic skills like sewing and cooking.  This was the group of young women whom Fr. Pestarino introduced to Don Bosco in 1864 and who, a few years later, became the 1st Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (1872).

3d, Mary Domenica reluctantly accepted the office of superior, and she humble and lovingly guided the others as her daughters in their own spiritual growth, their devotion to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, to Mary Help of Christians, and to Don Bosco their father, and to the service of the girls and young women who became their apostolate in Piedmont, then Argentina, and now all over the world—even, all too briefly, at the Newman Center of Champaign.  They are now the largest religious congregation of women in the Church.

What God did in the short life of Mary Mazzarello—she was only 44 when she died—and is doing thru this beautiful living monument to Mary Help of Christians is possible because St. Mary was open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, offered thru her parish priest and Don Bosco, because she became an apostle leading others to Jesus, and because she loved the Eucharist and our Blessed Mother and practiced humility and charity toward her sisters as well as the young.  These are virtues all of us can practice in our own vocations, and so grow in holiness ourselves.
Statues of Mother Mazzarello and Don Bosco
at the Sisters' Generalate in Rome.

Short Biography of St. Mary Mazzarello

A Short Biography

of St. Mary Mazzarello

Cofoundress of the Daughters
of Mary Help of Christians (Salesian Sisters)

Born 1837, Mornese, Italy.  Religious profession Aug. 5, 1872.  Died May 14, 1881, Nizza Monferrato, Italy.  Canonized June 24, 1951.  Feast day May 13.

The Mazzarellos lived in a small town in the hill country on the border of Piedmont, not far from Genoa.  They were hard-working, pious farmers.  The assistant pastor of the town, Fr. Pestarino, guided a group of young women in the spiritual life and a simple apostolate of teaching catechism and sewing to the girls of Mornese.  Mary joined these Daughters of Mary Immaculate.  At the same time she continued her strenuous work in the family’s vineyards and around the house.

When Mary was 23 she suffered a serious bout of typhus that left her permanently weakened.  Spiritually, however, she only drew closer to God.  In 1864 Don Bosco passed through Mornese, and he was impressed by Fr. Pestarino and the little circle of young women around him—particularly Mary Mazzarello.  Over the next several years Mary and several of the other women began to feel that their future lay with the priest from Turin and not merely in their backcountry town.  By 1867 he had provided them with a simple rule of life and was pondering whether he should establish a congregation of women to do for girls what he was doing for boys.

Mary, though simple and unschooled, was the natural leader of the group that had broken with the Daughters of Mary Immaculate and become the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians.  When they finally were ready to commit themselves publicly to God in 1872, they elected Mary their superior, despite her reluctance to assume such a position.  Yet she was admirably equipped for it with her tranquility, wisdom, joy, humor, and love for her sisters and their pupils.

The little group flourished under the leadership of Mary Mazzarello and Don Bosco.  In two years they opened a second house, and by 1877 they were sending missionaries to South America with their Salesian brothers.  The Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, or Salesian Sisters, have grown into the largest congregation of women in the Catholic Church.
St. Mary Domenica Mazzarello (seated, center) with the 1st group of Salesian Sisters
to leave Italy for the foreign missions (Argentina, 1879).

At age 35 Mary began to learn to read and write.  Her few surviving letters to Don Bosco and her sisters are noteworthy for their spiritual content and good sense.  When the harsh climate and inaccessibility of Mornese necessitated the motherhouse’s relocation to Nizza Monferrato, she accepted the move with grace.  On a journey to see some sisters off to the foreign missions, she contracted pleurisy.  Nevertheless she continued her travels in order to visit other sisters in France.  Informed by Don Bosco that she would not recover, she returned to Nizza, where she suffered for several weeks before entering eternal life.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Homily for Memorial Mass for Judith Blaker

Homily for the
Memorial Mass for Judith Blaker
May 9, 2017
John 11: 32-45
Acts 10: 34-43
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.                    

“Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb” (John 11: 38).

The raising of Lazarus (Byzantine icon)
1st, in the shortest verse in the Bible, St. John tells us, “Jesus wept” (11:35).  A moment later, he reaffirms how deeply upset Jesus is by the death and burial of his friend Lazarus.  Jesus loves the people who are his friends—people he has freely chosen himself, for he tells us at the Last Supper, “You have not chosen me; I have chosen you” (John 15:16).

Jesus hates death.  He hates whatever is destructive of the well-being of his beloved friends.  In the gospel we heard on Sunday, he said, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).  In this story of the raising of the Lazarus, he asks Martha and the others present, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” (11:40).  The glory of God is revealed in this episode of Jesus’ ministry when Lazarus comes out of the tomb, and Jesus orders that he be set free—freed symbolically from the burial shroud and its bindings, freed graphically from the grasp of death.

St. Irenaeus, a late-2d-century Father of the Church—the Fathers were the 1st theologians who meditated upon and explained the Scriptures—wrote, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”  What Jesus does for Lazarus is only a partial revelation of God’s glory, a temporary restoration of life.  God’s full glory in human beings is yet to be revealed.

In each of us there already shines some bit of God’s glory.  The seeds of his glory were planted in us at Baptism and were watered or nourished by the Holy Eucharist.  We see those seeds flowering—God’s glory bursting forth—in various virtues.  E.g., in Judy we saw sensitivity to God’s creation, especially his animal creation.  We saw it in her care for the sick and the elderly.  We saw it in her devotion to her husband and daughter and son.  We saw it in her sense of humor.  These were simple but basic virtues.  Each of us reveals God’s glory in a different way as long as we open ourselves to his design for us.

And when we do that, the fullness of God’s life is promised us:  “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”  God raised Jesus on the 3d day, fully revealing the divine glory in someone human like us, and “everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins thru his name” (Acts 10:40,43).  When we’re set free from our sins, we’re untied, unbound, from the power of death over us, so that God will raise us up to the eternal life of our Lord Jesus.

This is our prayer today for Judy:  that any and all sins that she committed out of human weakness be forgiven.  It was for that forgiveness, that spiritual healing, that I anointed her twice in the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick in the last months of her life [make aside about the sacrament], so that she might be raised up by Jesus—not on the 3d day but on the Last Day—to live with Jesus and all God’s saints, revealing the glory of God as fully as he designed her to do.

To God be the glory, forever and ever!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Homily for 4th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
4th Sunday of Easter
May 7, 2017
Acts 2: 1, 4, 36-41
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.                      

“The promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord will call” (Acts 2: 39).

Thruout the Easter season, our 1st readings on both Sundays and weekdays come from the Acts of the Apostles, which tells the stories of the 1st proclamation of the Gospel, i.e., the good news that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead and now shares his divine life with us.

This evening/morning we heard a short piece of the sermon that St. Peter preached on Pentecost day.  He refers in it to God’s call thru Jesus Christ given to Israel and “to all those far off” to be saved by having their sins forgiven.

Today is World Day of Prayer for Vocations, which is observed every year on the 4th Sunday of Easter, when the gospel always focuses on Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  But vocation has a wider meaning than being a priest, deacon, sister, or brother, someone who shepherds God’s flock in the distinct way of a consecrated vocation.  The wider sense of vocation is “a call from God,” and we just heard St. Peter speak of that:  God calls people to salvation.  The 1st call that you and I, every one of us, received is the call to follow Jesus Christ as his disciple.  The promise of salvation thru the cross and resurrection of Jesus and thru the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to all who accept the Word of God, accept Baptism, accept Jesus as their Lord (2:38).

After that general call or vocation to discipleship, God gives every Christian a more particular call.  You probably have heard, at some point, about the vocations of ordained ministry, religious life, marriage, and single life.

Ordained ministry, as you know, includes the offices of deacon, priest, and bishop.  “Ministry” means service.  “Office” means duty or responsibility.  God chooses some men, after the example of Jesus, to carry on Jesus’ mission of preaching the Word of God and of sanctifying their sisters and brothers by leading them in worship and celebrating Christ’s sacraments.  It’s a beautiful, challenging vocation that’s necessary for the life of Christ’s Church.

Religious life, or more broadly speaking, consecrated life, is a special call given to both women and men to live their baptismal vocation in a radical fashion, totally dedicated to God, usually by vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty, usually but not always within a community of peers:  monks, nuns, priests, or brothers, such as Benedictines, Franciscans, Christian Brothers, Sisters of Charity, or Salesians.  But there are also consecrated men and women who live independently in what are known as secular institutes or as consecrated virgins or as hermits.  This isn’t the time to go into detail (and please don’t Google till you’re out of church!).  2 examples of independent consecrated life are St. Catherine of Siena and St. Rose of Lima.
Tomb of St. Catherine of Siena
Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome


Most Christians respond to the vocation of marriage, a vocation also graced as a sacrament.  Marriage is a sign of the permanent, faithful, self-sacrificing love between Jesus and the Church, which is called his bride.  A Christian family is a mini-church, or in the words of Vatican II, a domestic church (LG 11).  Husband and wife respond to God’s call to help each other live as faithful disciples of Jesus, to become saints, and together—if so graced by God—to raise their children also to be faithful friends and followers of Jesus and saints.  This is just as noble a calling from God as a call to ordination or consecrated life, and you know how challenging it is.

Finally, there’s a call to single life.  This is a call that’s undergoing some debate these days.  It implies following Jesus as an individual—not part of a marriage partnership, a religious community, or the brotherhood of diocesan clergy.  Yet no one really follows Jesus alone because Jesus calls all of us into community, into the Church.

Some younger Christians are single because they haven’t discerned yet how God wants them to follow Christ in the more definite vocation of marriage, religious life, or ordained ministry.  They are called to be faithful and virtuous followers of Jesus as singles.  This form of being single isn’t really a vocation, and some young adults—even in their 30s—don’t at all like hearing about the “single vocation” because they see themselves as still searching for the right other person.  They’re single for time being, not as a vocation.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
modeled the single vocation while living in the world
as Edith Stein, philosophy professor
But some Christians never do discern a more particular calling or vocation.  By conscious choice, they dedicate themselves to a career of service to humanity with undivided attention as a doctor or nurse, a civil servant, a teacher, a parish volunteer, etc.  I’m sure you know people even in this parish who are single in this way.  I know a gentleman who’s single and now in his mid- or late 30s, and in the last 15 years has gone about 6 times to different missionary assignments in Africa and Latin America as a temporary volunteer, mostly with the Salesian Lay Missioners.

Still others become single again, not by choice.  They’re widowed or even divorced.  This is a vocational calling too, a really difficult one, altho it could eventually turn out to be temporary thru remarriage, priesthood, or religious life.  People in this “single” situation might remember what St. Peter says in today’s 2d reading:  “If you are patient when you suffer …, this is a grace before God.  For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps” (1 Pet 2:20-21).

In fact, in every Christian vocation there’s suffering because all of us have the basic vocation of following our Lord Jesus.  That’s our 1st, most basic, most important calling.  When we pray today for vocations, we’re praying that each of us who’s not yet decided will come to know what particular way of following Jesus we’re called to, and that each of us will be faithful in living out that particular vocation we’re called to.

3 Scouts Awarded Ad Altare Dei Medal

3 Scouts Awarded Ad Altare Dei Medal

At Holy Cross Church’s 10 o’clock Mass on April 23, three Boy Scouts from parish-sponsored Troop 9 were awarded the Ad Altare Dei medal.

As the Scouts heard in their first class, the words ad altare Dei mean “to the altar of God.”  That comes from Psalm 43, which priest and altar boy used to pray together as the old Mass started with the so-called “prayers at the foot of the altar.”  The priest began, Introibo ad altare Dei; and the server responded, Ad Deum qui laetificat iuventutem meam:  “I will go in to the altar of God.  To God who gives joy to my youth.”

According to the Catholic Committee on Scouting, “The purpose of the Ad Altare Dei program is to help Catholic Scouts develop a fully Christian way of life in the faith community.  The program is organized in chapters based on the seven Sacraments.  The seven Sacraments are a primary means toward spiritual growth.  This was the very first religious emblem program of any faith officially recognized by the Boy Scouts of America.”

To earn the AAD award, Anthony Frasca Jr., Kaleb Leininger, and Jack Williamson worked from September until March, meeting almost every Monday nite for classwork, in-depth discussions, and enactments about the seven sacraments.  They learned to practice a lot of patience with each other (and of course with their instructors).  They had homework every week.  They had to do service projects.  They had to interview people, including (worst of all!) their parents.  It’s a very challenging program, and Anthony, Kaleb, and Jack worked really hard to complete it.  Their parents were very supportive and encouraging, for which the Scouts and their emblem counselors are grateful.

Those emblem counselors were your humble blogger, who doubles as Troop 9’s chaplain, and Linda Atherton, chairman of the Catholic Committee on Scouting for the Peoria Diocese. Mrs. Atherton presented the medals to the Scouts, and Anthony Frasca Sr., Assistant Scoutmaster, gave them their AAD cards.

By a happy coincidence, the awards were given on April 23, St. George’s Day.  It was the first available Sunday after the Scouts passed their boards of review on April 1 and the necessary paperwork was completed (because April 9 was Palm Sunday and April 16 was Easter).


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Homily for 3d Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
3d Sunday of Easter
April 13, 1986
Acts 5:  27-32, 40-41
Rev 5:  11-14
Assumption, San Leandro, Calif.

This past Sunday (April 30), I was away from Champaign for a sacramental occasion and a couple of days of vacation in the woods.  Here’s a homily from long ago and far away (my sabbatical year in Berkeley, Calif.).

“We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5: 29).

(c) Sweet Publishing/FreeBibleimages.org
It’s a few months after the resurrection.  Guided and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, the apostles are preaching fearlessly about Christ:  “The God of our fathers has raised up Jesus, whom you put to death….  God has exalted him at his right hand as Ruler and Savior, to bring repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (5:30-31).

As we heard last week, the power of Jesus works thru the apostles:  not only the power of the word and the power of forgiveness but the power of healing too.

But preaching the need to repent—preaching Jesus—is unpopular, especially with men of power and influence.  So the high priest and the Sanhedrin have tried to silence Peter and the apostles.

The answer of the apostles, as we’ve heard, is bold proclamation:  “We must obey God rather than men.”  After consultations, the Sanhedrin again issues an injunction—no more of this Jesus in public!  The prohibition is explained by a sound flogging—which, for some reason, got dropped from v. 40 in the lectionary; but that’s the “ill treatment” in which the apostles rejoice in v. 41.

So the apostles face a bitter and painful persecution, one soon to burst into murderous violence.  But for the sake of the Name of Jesus, they’re happy.  Now they can more closely identify with Jesus, who suffered for his preaching, when they offer themselves to God by doing what God asks, viz., preaching Jesus, repentance, and eternal life, and when they suffer for that.

The reading from Revelation today refers to “the Lamb that was slain,” thereby attaining “praise and honor, glory and might” (Rev 5:12-13).  The lamb, as you know, was the main animal of sacrifice for the Jews, especially for the liberating Passover sacrifice.  So it became the symbol of Christ, our crucified and gloried Lord Jesus.  This Lamb’s death and resurrection have made him our “ruler and savior,” freeing us from our sins.

Like Peter and his companions, you and I must obey God rather than men.  We must practice our Catholic faith even when it’s inconvenient, event when we might stand out, even when society says to cut it out.

Last month our Holy Father—Peter’s successor—described the part that lay people have to play in the world.  He said, “The common priesthood of the baptized … consists in their making their lives a spiritual offering, in witnessing to the Christian spirit in the family, in taking charge of the temporal sphere and sharing in the evangelization of their brethren.”[1]

To make our lives a spiritual offering is mostly an interior act, of course.  It means prayer and an attitude of submission to God, a readiness for whatever he may ask of us, praise for his goodness and even for what we don’t understand in him.

To witness to the Christian spirit in the family puts us a little more in the public eye, like the early Christians praying in Solomon’s Portico, of which we heard in last week’s reading from Acts (5:12).  It means giving good example to one another:  especially with the husband-wife, children-parents family, but the Christian family too.  It means teaching the Faith and teaching to pray.  It means praying together—do you say grace together when you eat in a restaurant?  It means recognizing and respecting God’s plan in human sexuality.  It means readiness to forgive, to help and support, and to allow others to mature as individuals.  It means parents being firm with kids but being friends too, as Christ would have it.

To take charge of the temporal sphere and to share in the evangelization of others—Pope John Paul puts them together.  Christians managing the world means preaching the Gospel—by what they do and how they do it.  Christians can’t evangelize, i.e., preach the Good News of Jesus Christ, without taking charge of the temporal order.

The temporal order means the realities of business, labor, play, school, politics, our ordinary daily lives.  We have to live our faith in Jesus in this world, let others see the power of Jesus’ love:  his power for goodness, for respect, for justice, for peace, for life.  It’s all this that puts us in conflict, makes worldly powers and influences tell us, “Come on!” or “Don’t force your morality on me”—as if honesty, human dignity, and life were private values and not public ones.

We can’t be private Christians and public agnostics.  We can’t be Sunday Catholics and weekday wimps.  We can’t be church-building believers and business, school, or political weather vanes, spinning with the social wind.  While respecting the dignity of every person, we can’t yield to human respect, i.e., sacrificing our basic beliefs and values because of what people might think or say.  “We must obey God rather than men.”



         [1] Letter to Priests, #10 (March 16, 1986).