Easter Homily 2019 (summary!)

Alleluia, He is Risen!

Today I think of an experience that we probably all have had as a child – what I call the “reassuring glance.” I can remember times as a kid of being nervous about an at bat in baseball, or jumping off the high dive in the pool, or having to speak in public, and then looking over and seeing my mom, dad, a coach, or a friend. In seeing them present, I was given courage to face the situation before me. When we see a child in one of these nervous situations make a reassuring glance like that, we can see their whole mood and expression change. They become more confident. Their fear is overcome and they can deal with the challenge.

For us as Christians, our ultimate source of assurance can be found in the Resurrected Christ. He has conquered death! Death no longer has power over Him, as St Paul says. As Christ drew all of our sufferings and failures to Himself in His death, He now includes all of our victories in His resurrection. This is what transformed the Apostles. As a saint said, if they were afraid to follow Him publicly while He was alive, what makes them rise up courageous and unconquerable after His death? It is their encounter with Jesus in His resurrection. For this reason St Paul can say that he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him.

However, this change didn’t reach its fulfillment in one day. Jesus spent forty days after His resurrection with them before His ascension, strengthening them and letting this reassurance deepen. They spent the next ten days in prayer waiting for the Holy Spirit, and on the fiftieth day – Pentecost – they were ready. No matter how many Easters we have celebrated, we are invited in these next fifty days to return to this meditation on victory! When we face challenges – whether the every-day sort or the types that shake us to the core – let us repeat those words, “Jesus, you are risen. You are victorious. You are with me. I can face this situation in the light of your victory over death.” May we arrive at the end of this Easter season more deeply connected with our Risen Lord. Amen, alleluia!

Three Things about St Patrick

While I was at my first assignment I was blessed to come across a great little book that contained two documents written by St Patrick himself (which was fitting since one of the parishes was named for him!). I really enjoyed this glimpse into the saint’s own mind and personality. The two works are his Confession (the word is used here in a similar sense to St Augustine’s book, as a basic account of his life), and his Letter to Coroticus. Here are three things to share from them-

 

1. His humility.

St Patrick writes about himself in a very simple and humble way. This can be seen in the first line of each work: “I Patrick, am a sinner, the most uncultured and smallest among all the faithful…” and “I, Patrick, an unlearned sinner who dwells in Ireland…” He was well aware that the work he was doing was not a result of his personal strength but came from the grace of God.

2. His encounter with the Lord’s mercy.

This is the counter-point to his above humility. As much as he was aware of his own weakness, he was aware of the power of God. He writes, “But I know… that before I was humbled I was like a stone lying in the deep mud. But the Strong One came and in His mercy He took me out and He lifted me on high and placed me on the top of His wall. Therefore, I must cry aloud in thanksgiving to the Lord for so many good things which He has given me both now and for eternity… He thus prepared me to be the kind of person I am today so that I can care and work for the salvation of others; me who never cared for my own salvation.” My favorite line is his description that, “[God] watched over me before I knew Him and before I could tell right from wrong: He had compassion for me just as a father has for his son.”

3. The love that he had for the people of Ireland.

It sometimes surprises people to learn that St Patrick wasn’t Irish. He was British and originally came to Ireland as a captive. Patrick escaped his slavery back to Britain, but then felt the call to return to Ireland as a missionary. He talks about hearing the voice of the Irish in his dreams and prayers, and his heart being rent within him. He writes to Coroticus, “I am also urged by the love I have for my neighbors and children, for whom I have renounced my fatherland and family and handed over my very life even unto death.” Patrick describes coming to Ireland as if he had adopted the whole people to himself, and from history we know that the love of his dedication to the people of the island has been well felt!

 

These are just a few small samples, I highly encourage taking the time to read his works if you get the chance. God bless!

Lent 2019

I thought I’d post a few thoughts about Lenten goals for this year, based around the three classic works of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Many of these suggestions are similar to what I’ve written in past years, but there’s always a little something new!

1. Prayer

A. Sacraments

The sacraments are our baseline for prayer. Sunday Mass gives the core to our week. We should find a time to make a good sacramental Confession/Reconciliation at some point during the season. Daily Masses are a great way to keep the season holy, too.

B. Personal Prayer

Personal prayer and other devotions deepen our sacramental prayer. Scripture reading, books of reflection, the rosary, or the Stations of the Cross are all great aids to prayer. At its root, personal prayer develops a conversation between us and God.

C. Spiritual Reading

I’m going to add a separate category here because I think spiritual reading is so important! This is a little different than prayer, but nourishes our growth in faith. Search for great books or guides for reflection. If you are a member of St Malachy/St Elizabeth, Formed is a tremendous resource. You can gain access through stmalachyrantoul.formed.org. It includes not just books, but videos, talks, podcasts, and movies. Matthew Kelly organizes another daily option called “Best Lent Ever” (https://dynamiccatholic.com/best-lent-ever). I also provide resources on my website (if you’re reading this in another format, the address is borrowedlore.com).

2. Fasting

A. The basic regulations for Catholics are that all those 14 years of age or older are required to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent. Those 18-59 are required to limit their food to one main meal (with two smaller meals/snacks) on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In case of medical necessity this requirement doesn’t bind.

B. In addition, we may personally choose to give something up for Lent. Screen time is always a recommendation that I give. I think it’s important to connect this to prayer and almsgiving. Our sacrifice could give us extra time to pray. Feeling the absence of something could be a reminder to pray. Money saved could be given to charitable causes.

3. Almsgiving
This can include any of the works of mercy. It is often the most neglected of the three works, and to be honest will be the shortest of my points here. However, that is because I plan to make this the focus of my reflections during this Lent- so, more to come on this area!

I encourage you to take some time in these next few days to discern what goals you are being called to set. Some might be daily goals, or weekly, or even once per Lent. Please pray for me, and be assured of my prayers for your Lenten season. God bless!

John Henry Cardinal Newman

I first heard of Cardinal Newman as the namesake of the “Newman Center” that I attended at the University of Illinois (the Catholic student center). It was with great joy that I heard he had been approved for canonization as a saint! In this post I thought I’d give a few reasons as to how he has been a positive influence in my life.

Cardinal Newman was a significant theologian of the 19th century (lived 1801-1890). He was a member of the Oxford Movement within Anglicanism and developed a deep interest in the writings of early Christians. Much of his research can be found in his work, “An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine” (although the word ‘essay’ may be deceiving… my paperback copy is 480 pages!). This study is particularly interesting because he began the research before entering the Catholic Church, and finished it as Catholic. It documents his discovery of the historical roots and unity of the early Church with the Catholic Church today. His writing is full of profound insight into the reasons for belief—which was not an abstract study for him, but a burning personal question. Newman’s writing can be dense at times, but very rewarding!

Second, I find his spirituality compelling and timely. He took as his motto “Cor ad cor loquitur” (heart speaks to heart). As important as study was to him, Newman recognized that what is most powerful is when the Gospel is embodied in a personal witness. In it we can consider the Heart of God speaking to our heart, as well as seeking to let our heart speak to others. My favorite explanation of this phrase comes from a book by Louis Bouyer about St Philip Neri (side note— When Newman entered the Catholic Church he decided to start a community of the Congregation of the Oratory, the religious order founded by Neri. At some point I will write a post on Neri! He is my favorite non-biblical saint). Bouyer writes, “Cardinal Newman’s motto, ‘Cor ad cor loquitur,’ sums up the Philippian ideal; neither speeches nor arguments can awaken a living faith in those whom Christianity has lost its meaning. Only contact with people whose daily lives are dominated by an intense and personal experience of the truths of the Faith can achieve such a result, and it is precisely this result which Philip achieved through his dual life of intimate communion with God and men.” There is a personal touch to his approach to preaching and teaching, and a good reminder that the Faith isn’t just to be studied, but to be lived.

Finally, his legacy keeps popping up in my life. Newman was the rector of a Catholic university and wrote a book called “The Idea of a University,” and his interest in this topic helped him to become the patron of the line of Catholic student centers that I encountered on campus in Champaign-Urbana. This center helped me to make the transition from my high school faith into a more adult faith, and to discern my vocation as a priest (another side note—when I entered seminary, the directors of our diocesan retreat center would begin the retreats with his prayer “Some Definite Service,” it’s worth looking up!). Also, his community and school at the Birmingham Oratory was closely connected with two of my favorite British writers: Hilaire Belloc and JRR Tolkien. Belloc graduated from there as a student himself. Tolkien’s mother appointed a priest of the community as the guardian for him when she was near death, which helped guide him to develop his faith and studies to become the author and professor that he was. Tolkien then sent his children to the school. So, Newman’s influence is all over!

I never can capture everything about a person in a summary like this, but hopefully that gives a little crash course on Newman. God bless!

Mary as the Woman

At the wedding feast of Cana, Mary notices that the wine has run out and makes this need known to Jesus. His response to this request might strike us as a little harsh: “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4). It doesn’t take very developed social skills to know that referring to your mother simply as “woman” is not considered polite! However, Mary responds without taking offense, and tells the servers to do whatever Jesus tells them. So, maybe there is more at work in His comment than a sharp rebuke…

In fact, the title of “Woman” has a wide Biblical significance. The first use of it is to refer to the first woman, Eve. It is then used again shortly after the Fall in the first promise of the Redeemer. God tells the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers…” (Genesis 3:15). This title, then, points to the mother of the Messiah. The beginning of the first creation was a husband and wife, while the beginning of the re-creation will be a mother and son. Therefore, it speaks of Mary as the new Eve – the new “Woman.”

Jesus refers to Mary as “Woman” a second time later in the Gospel of John. While hanging on the Cross, Jesus entrusts His apostle John to Mary with the words, “Woman, behold, your son” (John 19:26). Here we again can see a connection with Mary as the new Eve. Jesus is entrusting her with the care of the infant Church (just as He likewise entrusts us with the care of her in the next verse).

The common link between these references is her role as the new Eve. Since the miracle at Cana is Jesus’ first public sign (John 2:11), it is the beginning of His work of redemption that will conclude with the arrival of His “Hour” on the Cross and His Resurrection on the third day (on that note, I think it’s also important to notice that the account of the miracle begins, “On the third day there was a wedding in Cana…”). What might first strike us as a rude comment, then, is in fact a reference to how this request ties into the whole of God’s plan. Hopefully this post has helped you to better understand this passage, and some of the Biblical foundation of Catholic devotion to Mary. God bless!

The Christmas Octave

The Catholic Church celebrates Christmas as an “octave.” What does this mean? It refers to extending the feast from a single day into an eight day celebration because there is just too much to fit into twenty-four hours! Octaves have a long tradition, and in the past many other feasts received this treatment (Easter is the only other Octave in the Church right now). The practice flows from a number of Old Testament feasts that celebrated the “eighth day,” as well as the eight-day dedication of the Temple. Here are some highlights from the Christmas Octave – these days help to extend the grace of the 25th, and draw out more aspects of its meaning!

December 26th commemorates St Stephen, the first martyr (see Acts of the Apostles, chapter 6). This is referenced in one of my favorite Christmas carols, Good King Wenceslas, which is set “on the feast of Stephen!” Stephen shows the strength of the Gospel being put into practice, as well as a powerful symbol of forgiveness. St Paul (before he was St Paul) was present at the stoning of Stephen, and the Office of Readings on this day reflects on this in light of Paul’s later conversion. It quotes a sermon by St Fulgentius, who wrote, “Stephen went first, slain by the stones thrown by Paul, but Paul followed after, helped by the prayer of Stephen. This, surely, is the true life, my brothers, a life in which Paul feels no shame because of Stephen’s death, and Stephen delights in Paul’s companionship, for love fills them both with joy. It was Stephen’s love that prevailed over the cruelty of the mob, and it was Paul’s love that covered the multitude of his sins; it was love that won for both of them the kingdom of heaven.” (You can find the full text here towards the end of the page: http://www.liturgies.net/Liturgies/Catholic/loh/christmas/stephen/officeofreadings.htm).

December 27th marks the feast St John, the Apostle and Gospel-writer. His books of scripture give a special insight into the heart of Christ, and emphasize that Jesus is the Word made flesh (born to save us and offer us the opportunity for encounter with Him). He alone among the Apostles stood faithful at the Cross, and was entrusted with/to the care of Mary, the mother of Jesus. As Stephen represents those who give their life by martyrdom, John represents those who give their life by fidelity to the end of natural life.

December 28th remembers the “Holy Innocents,” the children killed by Herod in his attempt to kill the Christ-child.  In a way they represent all of those that gave their life before the arrival of the Messiah, as well as all those that suffer unjustly. This event required Mary and Joseph to flee to Egypt with Jesus for a time. So, although Christmas is a joyful time, this day invites us to remember those who suffer and wait for the full peace of the Kingdom (As an interesting cultural note, in Mexico this is the equivalent of April Fools’ Day. The idea is that everyone wants to be seen as a “holy innocent” even while pulling the pranks!)

The Sunday after Christmas (or, December 30th if Christmas is a Sunday) is the feast of the Holy Family. We focus on the dynamics of the relationship of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. In their home at Nazareth they began to embody and live the Gospel. I always appreciate this feast as a day of gratitude for my family, and to pray for all those that are in particular need at this time. It is also a time to reflect on what I can do to support my family and those around me.

Finally, I want to say a little about the “octave day” (January 1st). It is celebrated as the feast of Mary, the Mother of God (this day has a history of many names, which may be its own blog post at some point!). The title “Mother of God” was strongly promoted after the Council of Ephesus (431 AD) in contrast to the preaching of Nestorius (who denied the unity of Jesus as one Person, true God and true Man). We believe Mary gave birth to a Person, Jesus – who was the Son of God from all eternity, and took to himself a human nature in his birth in time from Mary. This is a key point because the whole work of redemption was to reunite fallen human nature with the abundance of the divine nature. Jesus realizes this in His person. Therefore, this feast brings us back to the beginning by reinforcing the full impact of what happened on Christmas Day; not just the birth of a good human child, but the birth of Salvation itself!

Starting a New Liturgical Year

The Catholic phrase “liturgical year” refers to the schedule of celebrations, seasons, and feast days that we commemorate throughout the year (the most famous being Christmas and Easter). It actually gives a tremendous way to bring the Gospel into every-day life and to experience the scope of salvation history.

The “liturgical new year” begins with the first Sunday of Advent (four Sundays before Christmas). This time sets the stage of waiting and expectation for the coming of the Messiah, the birth of the Christ child. It gives a chance to begin again our reflection on the life of Jesus. We then celebrate the season of Christmas for about three weeks, which covers Jesus’ “hidden” life—from His birth to baptism. There is a period of “Ordinary Time” that leads up to Lent, which gives a more general reflection on His earthly ministry. With Ash Wednesday we start the forty days of special preparation for Easter Sunday, the day on which we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. Easter Season lasts for fifty days until the feast of Pentecost, when the apostles received the Holy Spirit and went out to begin preaching. Finally, the Church returns to Ordinary Time to meditate on our Christian life until the end of the year. The final Sunday of the year commemorates Christ the King—giving us a chance to reflect on the everlasting kingdom.

That is a very brief sketch, but hopefully shows the way that the whole of salvation history is summarized in each year! Why go over it again and again? I think the best reason is because we need that to really let things sink into our understanding. Every time we walk through this path we have the opportunity for deeper insight and better application. May the Lord bless the new liturgical year, and may it bear much fruit. God bless!