Saturday, March 30, 2019

Homily for 4th Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
4th Sunday of Lent

March 31, 2019
2 Cor 5: 17-21
Nativity, Washington, D.C.                                       

“God has reconciled us to himself thru Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5: 19).

The Church has traditionally called the 4th Sunday of Lent “Laetare Sunday,” from the 1st word of the antiphon that begins the Mass texts proper for today:  Laetare, Ierusalem, et … omnes qui diligitis eam: “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her,” from Isaiah 66.

The traditional explanation for this rejoicing is that we’re now halfway thru Lent, or more positively, we realize how close we are to the Easter feast of our redemption.  In the Collect we pray that we “may hasten toward the solemn celebrations to come.”  That’s why we’re allowed a few flowers at the altar and rose-colored vestments to lighten up Lent’s somber violet.

But today’s Mass texts point us toward a greater reason for rejoicing than a halfway point on a calendar:  God desires us to be reconciled to himself, he has effected that reconciliation with the human race thru Jesus Christ, and he continues to reconcile people thru the ministry of Christ’s apostles.  That’s what we heard in the reading from 2 Corinthians and the Collect, what’s implied in the reading from the Book of Joshua and Psalm 34, what’s beautifully and powerfully illustrated in the parable of the 2 lost sons and the forgiving, big-hearted father (Luke 15: 11-32).

St. Paul speaks of a new creation (5:17).  That’s an obvious allusion to the original creation and humanity’s original sin, which destroyed our relationship with the Creator.  Christ has restored that relationship on behalf of all of us recreated humanity:  “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation….  Behold, new things have come” (5:17).

This reconciliation that Jesus has brought about is God’s own desire:  “all this is from God” (5:18).  Like the father in Jesus’ parable, God loves us and wants us, his wayward creatures, his wayward children, to come back home.  It’s not that God is unaware of our sins; it’s that he “doesn’t count our trespasses against us” permanently (cf. 5:19).  Christ offered a sacrifice of atonement and reconciliation, an innocent victim suffering on our behalf the punishment that we sinners deserve—which we commemorate on Good Friday.  In solidarity with all his sisters and brothers in the human race, he suffered and atoned and reconciled:  “Thru your Word [the Word made flesh] you reconcile the human race to yourself in a wonderful way,” the Collect acknowledges in praise of God the Father.  “For our sake [the Father] made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him,” St. Paul says, testifying that the atoning death of our Savior has restored our right relationship with God (5:21).

Isenheim altarpiece (Matthias Gruenewald)
This reconciliation isn’t “out there” somewhere in the universe, nor does it touch only those who stood by Jesus’ cross on Calvary.  St. Paul writes that “God has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (5:18), i.e., given it to the apostles.  “We are ambassadors for Christ,” he continues, “as if God were appealing thru us” (5:20).  An ambassador stands in for, speaks for, represents someone—in this case, Christ, bringing in fact to those who hear “the message of reconciliation” (5:19) and respond to it (5:20), this reconciliation just the same as if we heard Christ say directly to us, as he said to people during this earthly ministry, “Your sins are forgiven”; just as if his blood had dripped upon us from his hands pierced on the cross and washed over us, washed us clean.

That “ministry of reconciliation” given to the apostles is exercised today, for you and me, thru the apostles’ successors.  So we repeatedly hear Pope Francis, successor of St. Peter, preaching mercy and encouraging bishops and priests to be ministers of divine mercy, to continue to reconcile sinners with the Father thru the grace of our Lord Jesus.  Regardless of the failings of individual cardinals, bishops, priests, and other church people of which we’re all aware, our Lord Jesus still offers us grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation in and thru the Church:  “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation,” and it’s in the Church that we meet Christ thru the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments.  It’s in the Church that Christ reconnects us to our Father Creator, to that Father who runs to embrace us, dress us up, and set for us a great feast—the banquet of eternal life, foreshadowed here in this Eucharistic banquet.

During this season of Lent, then, my brothers and sisters, “be reconciled to God” by confessing your sins and by a deeper or more consistent prayer life.  And keep your eyes, your attention, looking toward our Easter feast, our union with the passion, death, and resurrection of God’s beloved Son thru which we, too, become his beloved children.

Remains of Blessed Stephen Sandor Found

Remains of Blessed Stephen Sandor, Salesian Martyr, Found

(ANS – Budapest – March 25) – The Hungarian Salesian Province announced with great joy and emotion that at the end of a long process of study and research, it has succeeded in identifying and bringing to light the remains of Blessed Stephen Sandor, Salesian martyr (1914-1953).

The beatification Mass of Blessed Stephen Sandor in St. Stephen Square 
in front of St. Stephen Cathedral in Budapest, Oct. 19, 2013.
Preparation work began over a year ago under the guidance and supervision of Dr. Eva Susa, a legal expert. Based on the documents of the era that were consulted, professional experience, and the hypotheses held, there was a conviction, or at least the strong hope, that the martyr’s body was buried with companions who shared the same tragic death, in the New Public Cemetery of Budapest, and more precisely in the 37th place, in the second row, in burial niche 301.

The Hungarian Communist government sentenced Salesian Brother Stephen Sandor to death on the basis of false charges; he was buried in an unmarked tomb. Before his beatification in 2013, the Salesian Congregation had tried to recover his body. The historical-archival study of Dr. B. Varga Judit, although not having achieved a definitive result, largely contributed to the current work.

On November 12, 2018, in the presence of scholars and experienced professionals, the tomb was opened, and bones belonging to six complete skeletons were extracted.

The anthropological study performed on the bones took place in the NSZKK Anthropology Laboratory of the National Research Center. Genetic material belonging to the martyr was extracted from an envelope that Blessed Sandor had personally sealed and from a stamp used by his brother. DNA analysis was performed by Dr. Eszter Dudas.

“At the end of these exams, carried out under strict specialist supervision, we are pleased to announce that, from both a legal and a forensic point of view, among the remains of the six subjects we found we were able to identify those of Blessed Stephen Sandor, Salesian martyr,” Fr. Pierluigi Cameroni, postulator general of the causes of saints of the Salesian Family, stated with satisfaction.

Subsequently, based on instructions from the Holy See, news will be provided regarding authentication, preservation of the relics, and religious celebrations.

The Salesian Family thanks all those who participated, collaborated, and made the process of recovery and identification possible.

Press Conference on Discovery of Blessed Sandor’s Remains

(ANS – Budapest – March 28) – During a crowded press conference held at the provincial house of the Hungarian Salesians in Budapest on March 27, Fr. Pierluigi Cameroni (photo, 2d from left) commented: “This year the whole Salesian Family worldwide is developing the theme of holiness. I think the finding of the remains of Blessed Stephen Sandor is a great gift for the Salesian Family and for the Hungarian Church and society.”

The Salesian provincial on Hungary, Fr. Abraham Bela, and several scientific and forensic specialists involved in the work of finding and identifying the remains also took part in the press conference. Fr. Cameroni opened the session by recalling that Pope Francis had declared Stephen Sandor a martyr exactly six years earlier, on March 27, 2013. “There is therefore this happy correspondence between his martyrdom and the finding of his remains,” he noted.

He then explained how the recent discovery “is not in itself a novelty in the history of the Church: in ancient times the remains of the martyrs were found, even after decades and centuries. We are taking part in a story that continues.”

After thanking the Salesians of Hungary and all the authorities – civil, medical, and scientific – “who accompanied this process with great care and professionalism,” the postulator general invited public authorities and the National Research Center to support further research on the remains.

“On this basis, we – as a Congregation and with the Holy See – can proceed from the canonical-juridical-ecclesial point of view,” continued Fr. Cameroni, who subsequently illustrated the entire process to which the remains will now be subjected.

Fr. Cameroni also announced that requests to receive small portions of the relics of Blessed Sandor have already come in from different parts of the world, and that soon a special reliquary will have to be made to allow the public veneration of the relics.

Blessed Stephen's memorial is observed on June 8, the date of his execution and his entrance to eternal life.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Homily for 3d Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
3d Sunday of Lent

Feb 26, 1989
1 Cor 10: 1-6, 10-12
Ex 3: 1-8, 13-15
St. Theresa, Bronx, N.Y.

“Our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed thru the sea; . . . all were baptized into Moses.  All ate the same spiritual food” (1 Cor 10: 1-3).

In the 1st reading we heard God speak from the burning bush and commission Moses to return to Egypt and rescue the Hebrews from the slavery.  Maybe you remember the scene from the Ten Commandments.

Moses leading the Hebrews to cross the Red Sea (Nicolas Poussin)
As you know, God used Moses to liberate his people.  Under Moses, the Hebrew people were formed into God’s very own people.  God led them thru the Red Sea and the Sinai desert, miraculously fed them, and gave them the Law.  God defeated their enemies and brought them to the promised land, “a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:8).

All of this history is recounted in the books of Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  All of this history Paul evokes when he reminds the Christians of Corinth about Moses and the people who followed Moses out of Egypt toward the Promised Land.  Paul reminds the Corinthians that, despite all God’s care and his miracles, despite the leadership and example of Moses, “God was not pleased with most of them, for ‘they were struck down in the desert’” (10:5).

Why were they struck down?  After being saved from Egyptian slavery, after being baptized—figuratively—in the Red Sea, after being fed with manna and water from the rock, and after accepting the covenant of the Law, they rebelled.  They rebelled repeatedly, worshipping the golden calf, grumbling and complaining constantly, and finally not trusting God to lead them in battle against the inhabitants of the land.  They were saved, and then they relapsed.

So, Paul says, watch out, my dear Corinthians.  “These things that happened to them serve as an example” (10:6).

The Corinthian Christians lived in a major city, the Manhattan of the times:  port, markets, sports, theater, politics, religious temples, and vice of every sort.  By accepting Christ, a Corinthian stepped away morally from that world of corruption, consumerism, and pleasure.  He followed Christ, the New Moses; ate a new spiritual food, the Eucharist; and looked for a new promised land of milk and honey, eternal life in Christ.

But the Corinthian Christian was physically still in the desert with all its dangers.  It was easy for him or her to meet old pagan acquaintances, go to old haunts, take part in former pastimes.  If he got smug about salvation, he would be in serious trouble.  “Let anyone who thinks he is standing upright watch out lest he fall” (10:12).

When we look around us we certainly see plenty that could make us feel upright.  Let me make a distinction here between the moral and the political orders.  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone say of politicians, “They’re all a bunch of crooks.”  Whether that refers to NYC or to Washington, such skepticism is healthy and prudent.  It’s the same skepticism that our Founding Fathers had; it’s why they set up a system of checks and balances and wanted frequent elections, limited federal government, and a free press.  If such political skepticism makes us keep mayors and school boards, judges and congressmen and even presidents on a tight leash, then we’re wise and are following the best American political tradition.

But in the moral order it’s too easy for us to look around and condemn:  those crooked politicians, those drug dealers, those homosexuals, those adulterers, those child beaters, those TV evangelists, those lazy bums, those thugs.  And so on.

St. Philip Neri used to see plenty of crime and misery in the streets of Rome.  He always condemned sin, but of the people he said, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”  In today’s gospel, Jesus says much the same thing:  The misfortune of others isn’t an occasion for us to feel good about ourselves.  It’s a reminder of our common mortality and our common sinfulness.  “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3,5).

Having repented once, or twice, or three times before; having given our lives to Christ in the past—all that’s no guarantee for the future.  Not one of us can be sure of tomorrow, much less of final perseverance in God’s grace.  If we dare not trust the rascals in city hall, we dare not trust the rascal within us either.  And the stakes are infinitely greater.

“Let anyone who thinks he’s standing upright watch out lest he fall.”  Let us take a look at our spiritual ancestors who followed Moses out of Egypt, and profit from their example.  We must repent daily, never grow smug, and always keep turning to Jesus our Savior.

New Rochelle Province Holds Chapter

New Rochelle Province Holds Chapter

The 2019 Provincial Chapter of the St. Philip Province opened on Tuesday, March 19, with a morning of recollection and Mass of St. Joseph, the latter celebrated by Fr. Tim Ploch, member of the SDB general council, who is at present conducting an extraordinary visitation of the province in the name of the Rector Major. (Every province in the Congregation is so visited every 6 years; it's "extraordinary" in that ordinarily the provincial carries out the annual visitation of the houses and the works of the province.)

On Tuesday morning the chapter members observed a half day of recollection.  Bro. Tom Dion, a member of the provincial council who represented our province at the 26th General Chapter, gave a conference based on the lead articles of the Constitutions concerning the provincial and general chapters, stressing their importance for the communion that they foster among the capitulars and in the communities they represent.  

Fr. Ploch presided at the Mass of St. Joseph on the 19th.  His homily spoke of St. Joseph's virtues as models for our SDB imitation.
Chapter members discussing one of the documents that will go to Rome.
Chapter sessions began on Tuesday afternoon with the provincial's report on the state of the province and discussion thereof, followed by committee meetings on the five topics of next year's general chapter.

On Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning the chapter members discussed three of those five topics:  what young people think of the Salesians; what Salesians think young people expect of them; and the profile and formation of today's Salesian.  On Wednesday afternoon they took up the other two topics: the collaboration of lay people and Salesians in the shared Salesian mission; and various juridical concerns.  In the evening there was a discussion of safe environment concerns (for the protection of young people in our works).

Most of Thursday was given to various sections of the Province Handbook (policy statements), such as finances, formation, care for senior SDBs, and general administration. There was also a presentation on the province's youth ministry plan, part of which involves policy.
Fr. Tim Zak guiding discussion of one part of the Province Handbook.
Two of the 5 documents that will be sent to SDB headquarters in Rome for GC28 were given final approval on Thursday. The other 3, after various revisions, were approved on Friday, as were the separate components of the Handbook.

Finally, on Friday the chapter elected our province delegate to GC28 (which will meet in Turin from the end of February next year until early April). It was a surprise to your humble blogger, a veteran of about half a dozen chapters (usually as a humble secretary), that it took just 2 ballots to elect the delegate: Fr. Mike Conway, director of the "Washington" community, who received 24 of the 40 votes. And it took only 1 ballot to elect a substitute delegate (in case Fr. Mike will be unable to attend): Fr. Abe Feliciano, the province's delegate for youth ministry.  Fr. Abe got 22 votes out of 40.
Frs. Abe Feliciano, Tim Ploch, Tim Zak, and Mike Conway
The chapter's 4 days were marked by a great spirit of fraternity among the 40 capitulars (and 2 secretaries), who came from all over the province:  Canadians, Americans, foreign confreres on loan from their home provinces, and immigrant members of our province.  We prayed together, ate together, laughed together, and shared together common concerns both personal and pastoral.

World Council of Salesian Cooperators Meets

World Council of Salesian Cooperators: “Reflections on programmatic guidelines for 2018-2024 unite us”

(ANS – Rome – March 15) – The world council of the Salesian Cooperators gathered from March 13 to 17 in Rome. The council, made up of the leaders of the world’s 11 Cooperator regions. Accompanying this group of the Salesian Family in their work were Fr. Eusebio Muñoz, the Rector Major’s delegate for the Salesian Family, and the Salesians’ and Salesian Sisters’ delegates for the Cooperators, Fr. Giuseppe Casti and Sr. Lesley Sandigo.

The Cooperators world coordinator, Antonio Boccia, commented beforehand, “We meet with the objective of reflecting and initiating implementation processes in the daily tasks of our lay mission, and above all with the aim of deepening the programmatic guidelines of the six-year 2018-2024 period.”

The objective of this meeting was “to review and plan the mission of the Salesian Cooperators starting from the programmatic guidelines elaborated in the world congress for the six-year 2018-2024 period,” said Fr. Casti.

On March 14, Fr. Angel Fernandez visited the participants and greeted each of them. Fr. Casti asked him, “What pointers can the Rector Major offer us Salesian Cooperators from different parts of the world?”

Fr. Fernandez replied: “What I ask of you Salesian Cooperators is to live the guidelines you have for your six-year term, but I would like to add a further, topical element. Today, our world needs witnesses, needs to see credible witnesses. Live your identity as Salesian Cooperators wherever you are, and be authentic witnesses there.”

The Rector Major also insisted on a fundamental element of the Salesian Family. “So that it is possible to walk together, Salesians and Salesian Cooperators, I ask you to make a reality of the mission among the young. Always remember that we are born to serve boys and girls, and all our actions must be directed to work for the neediest young people.”

“Furthermore,” Fr. Fernandez added, “I ask you to refer to the Church and a charismatic union with the Pope. Today we live in difficult times for the Church. It is true that the Holy Spirit guides the Church, but our presence with prayer and in harmony with the Pope must show our communion and our adhesion to the Pope.”

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Homily for Thursday, Week 1 of Lent

Homily for Thursday
of the 1st Week of Lent

March 14, 2017
Matt 7: 7-12
Esth C: 12, 14-16, 23-25
Nativity, Washington, D.C.

“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Ask and it will be given to you’” (Matt 7: 7).

This week our gospel readings have been about prayer:  praying simply, praying the way that Jesus teaches, praying confidently.

Today, for example, Jesus reminds us that our heavenly Father loves and cares for us even more than our earthly parents and wants very much to give us good gifts.  And what is the ultimate good gift, that one thing that will be given us if we ask, if we seek it, if we knock at the Father’s door?  Life, eternal life.           

The reading from the Book of Esther foreshadows this.  Esther, queen of Persia—which really means she has 1st place in the royal harem—prays that God will guide her when she goes to the king—“the lion,” she calls him (v. 24)—to plead for the lives of her people, who are threatened with extermination by an enemy at court.

God will hear her prayer, and the Jews will be saved.  (This is the background for the Jewish feast of Purim, observed next week.)

The Feast of Esther
By Jan Lievens - Google Art Project, Public Domain,
We’re dealing with another enemy, one more ferocious than a Persian official and one intending deadlier consequences.  I mean, of course, the universal enemy of the human race, the foe of our eternal happiness, the one against whom Jesus warned us not to “be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more”; rather, “Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna” (Luke 12:4-5).

It’s for Satan’s defeat that the Son of God became man, and it’s for a closer union with the Son that we ask, seek, and knock.  So we prayed in the Collect, “Bestow on us, O Lord, a spirit of always pondering on what is right and of hastening to carry it out.”  So we come to the Holy Eucharist, seeking a closer union with God’s Son, a bond that strengthens us for knowing and carrying out God’s will, as Jesus did, a bond that promises us eternal life with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Homily for 1st Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
1st Sunday of Lent

March 10, 2019
Deut 26: 4-10
Psalm 91
Rom 10: 8-13
Luke 4: 1-13
Nativity, Washington, D.C.

 “He brought us out of Egypt with his strong hand and outstretched arm … and gave us this land flowing with milk and honey” (Deut 26: 8-9).

The Exodus (source unknown)
The 1st reading this morning is a Jewish profession of faith, a summary of their story of salvation, a testimony of what God has done for them.  Israel went down from Canaan to Egypt, became slaves, was rescued by the power of God, and led by God into the Promised Land.  Now they give thanks to him with sacrificial offerings, the 1st part of the annual harvest (the “firstfruits”).  And they worship him:  “having set them before the Lord, your God, you shall bow down in his presence” (26:10).

That final line from the Deuteronomy reading is probably the reason for this passage’s linkage with the gospel, in which Jesus refuses to worship the Devil, reserving his reverence for the Lord alone (Luke 4:7-8).

But the main thrust of the 1st reading is Israelite faith, the recollection of and identification with what God has done to save them.  That’s also the thrust of the 2d reading:  our salvation comes from our faith in Jesus Christ.  “If you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9).  “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (10:13).

We invoke the power of God to save us thru Jesus Christ because, like the Hebrews enslaved in Egypt, we’re powerless to save ourselves.  God the Father raised his son Jesus from the dead.  We have no power to rise from our graves except that we attach ourselves to Jesus.  In today’s psalm, it’s Jesus who says to us:  “Because he clings to me, I will deliver him; I will set him on high because he acknowledges my name” (Ps 91:14).

Death—which awaits you and me alike—is the penalty of sin.  God told our 1st parents that on the day of their disobedience they would forfeit their immortality (Gen 2:17), and St. Paul says bluntly in his letter to the Romans, “The wages of sin is death” (6:23).  As Adam and Eve sinned by listening to the serpent—symbol of Satan—so do we sin by listening to the enticements of the Evil One, his appeals to our pride, our anger, our envy, our lust; to his promises that we can have whatever we want, we’re entitled to it, we deserve it; to his assurances that we have lots of time to get our act together and repent; to his suggestions that God’s commandments don’t apply to us in this or that circumstance (in effect, we’re above the law—doesn’t it make us really mad when some politician or some clergyman conveys that message?  Yet we do it ourselves when it suits us).

We’ve given in to what the baptismal rite calls all the Devil’s “works” and “empty promises” so often that we might want to cry out in anguish with St. Paul—still in his letter to the Romans—“Who will deliver me from this mortal body” that so rebels against my desire to do what’s right? (7:24).  He answers his own question:  “Thanks be to God thru Jesus Christ our Lord” (7:25).  Jesus has the power to forgive our sins because, altho innocent of any sin, he’s already paid the penalty of death for us; and with our sins forgiven because we believe in him and so are justified—put right with God, made holy by the holiness of Jesus—we will be saved; we will be raised to eternal life.

For catechumens and others preparing to enter the Catholic Church, Christ’s Church, this Easter, these 40 days of Lent are the final preparation for their commitment to God in Christ, to their full immersion in Christ.  For those like us who made that commitment long ago, each Lent is a call to continuing conversion, to a renewal of our commitment—which is why all of us renew our baptismal promises on Easter Sunday.

The story of the temptations of Christ that we read each year on the 1st Sunday of Lent reminds us of that commitment:  to renounce all the enticements of Satan, all his empty promises, all our sinful ways, and to be faithful to God’s ways, as Jesus was.  As Ps 91 promises, no evil shall befall those who dwell in the shelter of the Most High; God will be with them in distress, even beyond the grave, and he will deliver them and glorify them; with length of days he will gratify them and will show them his salvation (91:1,10,15-16).  So we re-commit ourselves to be faithful like Jesus, that we might be saved thru him.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Fewer Priests Worldwide

Fewer Priests Worldwide

The Vatican press office announced on March 6 the Catholic Church's official statistics as reported at the end of 2017.  (Yeah, always a little behind.)  The information comes from the 2019 edition of the Annuario Pontificio, just published.

The number of Catholics worldwide continues to grow, and there were increases in the numbers of bishops, deacons, lay missionaries, and catechists, but for the 1st time since 2010 the number of priests declined:  from 414,969 in 2016 to 414,582 in 2017.  The total number of seminarians likewise went down, by about 800.

The number of religious brothers also decreased, from 52,625 in 2016 to 51,535 in 2017. The number of women religious has also continued its downward trend, now about 649,000 worldwide.

Read more:

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Homily for Ash Wednesday

Homily for Ash Wednesday

March 6, 2019
St. Mary, Landover Hills, Md.

As we prayed the Collect at the beginning of this most solemn liturgy, did you notice its warlike tone?  On Ash Wednesday we “begin this campaign of Christian service,” “we take up battle against spiritual evils,” we are “armed with weapons of self-restraint.”

The 40 days of Lent highlight for us an ancient Christian perspective, one that goes back to Jesus himself, viz. that the Christian life is warfare.  Our 40 days are modeled on the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting and praying in the desert after his baptism, being tempted by the Devil.  This story is always the gospel reading for the 1st Sunday of Lent.  So Jesus did spiritual battle with Satan, and he was victorious.     

During his public ministry, Jesus continued waging war against the Devil—healing the sick and disabled, driving out demons, and finally rising from the grave.  All of these were signs that the power of God in Jesus is more powerful than any weapon the Devil possesses.  One of Jesus’ little parables speaks of “a strong man fully armed [who] guards his palace” and keeps his possessions safe; but “one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him” and claims the spoils.  The strong man is the Devil, claiming humanity as his possession; the stronger man is Jesus Christ, who overcomes him and claims us as his own (cf. Luke 11:21-22).

Thru the ages this spiritual combat continues.  Pope Francis reminds us often that the Devil is real, and he uses many tricks to lure us away from God and keep us under his own control:  witchcraft, various superstitions, Satanic cults, pornography and the worship of sex, the lust for power and fame, a consumer culture, the discouragement that affects us when we experience our own sinfulness or witness the terrible sins of others, including the clergy.   

Lent reminds us of the battle.  We’re at war, and we need Christ, the Devil’s powerful conqueror, if we’re to be victorious.  The sin in our own lives is the mark of Satan’s attempt to claim us and keep us as his trophies.  So today we arm ourselves with self-restraint, as the Collect says, taking up the weapons of Christ, particularly prayer, fasting, and care for the poor.  We battle evil by connecting ourselves to Jesus, by doing good to others as he did, by saying NO to ourselves in some way so as to be free to say YES to Christ.

We might engage in traditional bodily fasting.  Or we might fast from some of the TV we constantly watch, or from other screens, and spend more time with spouse or children or parents, or with the Bible.  We might practice the self-restraint of safer driving habits or of getting out of bed promptly when the alarm goes off so as to begin our day calmly—and maybe with a moment of prayer.  We might find a way to serve the needy thru a parish or diocesan program; if a justice of the Supreme Court—Bret Kavanaugh—can continue to take a monthly turn at a Catholic Charities soup kitchen, it’s hard for us to say we’re too busy to do some form of service.

I’ll conclude by quoting a passage from Pope Francis’s message for Lent wherein he speaks of the traditional practices of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving:

Fasting, that is, learning to change our attitude toward others and all of creation, turning away from the temptation to ‘devour’ everything to satisfy our voracity and being ready to suffer for love, which can fill the emptiness of our hearts. Prayer, which teaches us to abandon idolatry and the self-sufficiency of our ego, and to acknowledge our need of the Lord and his mercy. Almsgiving, whereby we escape from the insanity of hoarding everything for ourselves in the illusory belief that we can secure a future that does not belong to us. And thus to rediscover the joy of God’s plan for creation and for each of us, which is to love him, our brothers and sisters, and the entire world, and to find in this love our true happiness.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Homily for 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
8th Sunday of Ordinary Time

March 3, 2019
Sir 27: 4-7
Nativity, Washington, D.C.

“A man’s speech discloses the bent of his mind” (Sir 27: 6).

How many times have you thought to yourself—even said out loud—“Me and my big, fat mouth!”  For myself, I can’t count that high, altho—thanks be to God!—I don’t need to do so quite as often now as I used to.  (A German proverb my father used to quote laments, “Too soon we get old, and too late we get smart.”)

Both Sirach and Jesus refer to the quality of a tree’s fruit as a revelation of the quality of the tree itself.  In the agricultural society of their times, everyone would understand that metaphor, and so do any of you who’ve done some gardening.  The metaphor, of course, refers to the quality of one’s moral character, of one’s relationship with God, as revealed by our actions and our words.  Jesus adds, “A good person out of a store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).  Along a similar line, St. Paul describes the fruits of the Holy Spirit as an abundance of virtues (Gal 5:22-23) in contrast to what he calls “the works of the flesh” (5:19-21).

One particular fruit in our 4 verses from Sirach today is our speech; the author mentions it 3 times in those 4 verses.  It’s a theme he returns to in his next chapter, as well (28:12-26), foreshadowing what St. James writes in his letter to 1st-century Christians, comparing our tongues to a spark that can ignite a forest fire, to the little tiller that can steer a great ship at sea, and to the reins that govern a horse’s path (3:3-5).

Me and my big, fat mouth!  How often we offend our neighbor by gossip, rash judgment, lies, angry words, insults, a careless choice of words, petty faultfinding, constant criticism.  Nowadays we don’t even need our tongues—we have Facebook, Twitter, and comment sections on news sites and blogs.  Cyberbullying is a serious problem for kids, but adults do it too.  We claim a 1st Amendment right to offend others on the basis of their politics, religious belief, race, immigration status, gender, age, orientation, grooming, and driving habits.

I haven’t even mentioned our misuse of God’s holy name in our everyday conversations.

I could go on, and you probably could contribute some thoughts too. 

Our speech may reveal a troubled heart, a soul in need of God’s healing.  But it should also reveal God.  Jesus tells us to let our light shine upon the world (Matt 5:16).  That may be thru our actions, obviously, but also thru our speech.  We use our tongues to praise God in song and word in our worship—at least we’re supposed to, but a times our church is awful quiet.  We may use our tongues to speak encouragement, comfort, reassurance to others; or to teach them to pray and to love their neighbors; or to prepare them for life’s challenges.  Think of the power of a sincere “I love you,” “Thank you,” “You’ve been very helpful,” “What a great job you’ve done!” and so on.  Our speech may be a concrete act of virtue, may reveal the love of God deeply seated in our souls.

If we fail so often in how we speak, yet is there room to change, to improve.  We begin by making an effort to convert our interior attitudes, by asking our Lord Jesus to help us to be kinder, gentler, more patient, more understanding—and then to guide our speech or at least to control our rash impulses to say the 1st dumb thing that comes into our heads.  If we need to apologize, we do that.  We keep practicing the fine art of biting our tongues, and the finer art of speaking well of others and to others.  With hard work on our part and generous grace from  God, we can master our tongues.  “Too soon we grow old, and too late we get smart.”  But it’s not too late to give our hearts—and our tongues—to our Lord Jesus.