The Roman Missal: Lord, I Am Not Worthy

This past weekend, I had my mother over to the rectory to help with my taxes.  Clergy tax law is confusing enough for me (not to mention taxes, period), so my mother, who is trained as an accountant, was generous enough to give me a hand.  Mom, I know you’re probably going to read this, so thanks!  In any case, I spent the hour prior to her coming over trying to get my room cleaned and in order.  No matter how young or old you are, when your mom or dad come over, you want to make the place look decent for them so that they feel welcome.

Well, in a sense, this next portion of the Mass has to do with welcoming another guest into our homes.  It’s a fairly noticeable change, with “Lord I am not worthy to receive you…” switching to “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.”  That’s a big change!

Ultimately, this comes straight from the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 8:8), and the story of the centurion who comes to Jesus asking healing for his servant.  He’s not a Jew.  He doesn’t even seem to be a follower of Jesus.  He has no right to Jesus’ healing at all, but he has great faith and humility, and he begs the Lord to heal his servant.

At this point of the Mass, we’re invited to put ourselves in his place before Jesus.  We’re not worthy to receive the Eucharist.  Nothing we could say or do could make us deserve it.  Ultimately, God is holy, and we are weak sinners, and by pure justice, he should have nothing to do with us.  But he comes to us anyway in the Eucharist.  This passage reminds us that we have a need for humility and trust before Christ.  We shouldn’t feel entitled to the Eucharist, because none of us deserve it.

Now, in the Gospel, the roof thing makes sense, because he’s talking about a roof over a house.  In our case, we’re not literally asking the Lord to physically enter our houses.  I mean, I feel bad enough cleaning up when my parents come, but if the Son of God were to come?  Yikes!  The house we’re speaking about here is the house, or temple, of our bodies.  He comes now as a man entering a house, but as food entering our bodies.

Rather than coming to physically heal our servants (Yes, I’m from West County, and no, I don’t have a servant), Christ is coming to do something much greater – the healing of our souls.  In a sense, receiving Holy Communion disintegrates our minor sins (venial sins).  It’s amazing: we may not be worthy, but Christ makes us worthy to receive him!

Obviously we know that we can’t be completely worthy to receive the Eucharist, but we should strive to make ourselves more worthy, especially by getting rid of any serious sins on our hearts before going to Communion.  This is pretty easy, really – going to Confession and doing little acts of penance (especially on Fridays) does the trick.  Ultimately, we trust in the mercy of God, just as that centurion did, and we can be confident that we receive the same loving response from Jesus.

Almost done with the main translation changes!  Tune in next week!

Homily From the 1st Sunday in Lent, Year B

It might seem strange for me to say this, but Lent is one of my favorite times of year.  There’s the fish fry season to get excited about.  There’s beautiful music and liturgy.  There’s the Stations of the Cross.  You even have restaurant chains trying to capitalize on us Catholics, opting to serve fish patties in place of hamburgers and putting out great commercials to advertise their Lenten deals.  In fact, I was going to ask our musicians to play the McDonalds filet-o-fish song for our opening hymn, but I thought that might be inappropriate.  Let’s face it, if it weren’t for Lent, Long John Silvers might go out of business!  So yes, there are a lot of things to love during Lent.  But the real thing I love about Lent is the opportunities it gives us to grow in our faith.

Today, we hear that the “Spirit drove Jesus into the desert.”  What a great passage this is to begin the Season of Lent!  Jesus didn’t just get up off the recliner and decide to go into the desert.  He didn’t go out there on a walk-about, trying to find himself.  No, the passage tells us that the Spirit drove him into the desert, and that’s why he was there.  This past Wednesday, we ourselves were driven out into the desert of this season, our own forty days in the desert like that of Jesus.  And I think it’s important that we meditate on why we’re here.

Usually, the thing in our minds that sticks out in our minds are the disciplines of fasting and abstinence.  When I was a kid, we never ate fish outside of Lent, so I could always tell we were getting close to this season when my mom would buy fish sticks out of the frozen section in the grocery store.  The Church asks us to take part in these disciplines.  Abstinence of course is that practice whereby every Catholic 14 years and older abstains from eating meat.  (It says 14, but I’ll let the parents decide what they want to do.)  Fasting, on the other hand, is that practice in which every Catholic adult is called to eat noticeably less than normal.  Now, fasting is only required of us on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday here in the United States, but nevertheless, we’re each encouraged to fast of something during Lent.  Thus, you get the traditional practice of “giving something up.”  In some ways, though, our tradition of fasting has gotten a bit watered down.  Lots of people see their Lenten promise as an activity in self-improvement or a test of some kind.  It becomes less of a discipline, and more of a question of “how strong am I?”  It gives people a goal to work towards, something that stands out from the normal routine.  Now, none of this is bad, but what is the real meaning of fasting?

Fasting for a Catholic should be more than just some exercise in self-help or self-discipline.  Really, Lent is supposed to be here for spiritual discipline.  If it’s about self-help, we are driven out into the desert of Lent by ourselves.  If we focus on the spiritual discipline of Lent, however, we are simply answering the call to be driven out to the desert by the Holy Spirit, as we hear of Jesus in the Gospel.  There are two purposes to fasting during Lent that I see.  The first is that fasting is an act of penance.  Whether it’s something like giving up chocolate during Lent, drinking only water during lunch, or even something big like having bread and water for dinner a few days a week, the meaning is the same.  What it boils down to is that we’re freely choosing to deny ourselves.  We don’t do this to show others how tough we are or to exercise our self-help muscles.  But by acknowledging our tendencies toward self-centeredness and self-indulgence – our tendencies toward sin – our self-denial makes a statement to the Lord.  Through our fasting, we tell the Lord that we’re truly sorry for always thinking of ourselves and our hungers and our desires, and we strive to change that spirit of self-centeredness into a spirit of self-giving.  In that way, fasting really is penitential.

But the other reason I see for fasting is that it’s an opportunity for us to grow in our relationship with Christ.  We’ve shown that we’re sorry for our sins, and that’s really the first step.  But the second step builds on that.  It’s easy to start our Lenten practices and it’s easy for about a week or two.  But after that, you know there will be days when you find yourself hungry, or when you really want that chocolate that you gave up, or when you really want that juicy porterhouse steak on a Friday.  But really, fasting offers us an opportunity to turn that physical hunger and that physical desire into a spiritual one.  In a sense, you could think to yourself, “Lord, I really want that chocolate right now, but I want you more.  Lord, I really want that porterhouse right now, but I want you more.”  And through this practice of fasting, when Easter comes, and you can sink your teeth into a nice Hershey’s bar or a juicy steak, you can celebrate not only the greatness of the taste, but the great joy of the resurrection of Christ.

Pope Benedict talked about this in 2009 during Lent.  “Denying material food, which nourishes our body, nurtures an interior disposition to listen to Christ and be fed by His saving word. Through fasting and praying, we allow Him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God… Freely chosen detachment from the pleasure of food and other material goods helps the disciple of Christ to control the appetites of nature, weakened by original sin, whose negative effects impact the entire human person.”

So maybe the question we can ask ourselves today as we begin this season of Lent, is what has led us here.  Have I been driven into the desert for myself – for my self-help, my pride, or just because I feel I have to jump through the hoops?  Or have I been led out into the desert for the Spirit – to offer these sacrifices for love of God.  As we enter this season of Lent, may our works of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving be things that lead us to repent of our sins, and ultimately to grow in our desire and relationship with God.

The Roman Missal: Ecce Agnus Dei

So this next part has to do with one of my favorite parts of the new translation, “Behold the Lamb of God.”   I mean, I love it all, but this is one of my favorites, and part of that is because of the word “behold.”  Think about it.  This is certainly a better translation of the Latin word “ecce” than “this is”.

The previous translation of “this is” sounds pretty bland, and could really point out anything.  You could say, “This is my pet ferret, Gladys.”  Or you could say, “This is where I got sick last week.”  But “behold” has a special connotation.  Instead of the previous things, you would say, “Behold!  Gladys!  The ferret of the ages!” or “Behold!  The site of my holy regurgitation!”  Behold is a word that means more than simply to look at something, but it is to look with awe and respect.  To behold something is to be placed in the presence of something or someone extraordinary, and to soak in their glory.

If we look at the context of the word “behold” in scripture and in the Mass, we can really gain an understanding of what the Church is trying to show us here.  John the Baptist invites his followers to “Behold the Lamb of God!” (Jn 1:29), pointing out to them that Jesus is the one!  He’s the one that God had promised all the way back in the Book of Genesis that would save his people from their sins, and who would rescue them.  In a sense, we’re being invited to “behold the Lamb of God” as well.

The word “behold” also evokes the imagery from the passion of Jesus.  “Behold the Man” are the terrible words that we hear from Pontius Pilate after Jesus has been scourged and mocked (Jn 19:5).  Think of the horrible scourging scene in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, and how Pilate then presents the horribly beaten savior to the crowd.  So when we hear this at Mass, it reminds us of the connection to the Passion, and the fact that the Mass is a re-presentation (not a representation, but a presenting again) of the sacrifice of Christ.  That same beaten and bruised man is presented again to us in the Eucharist – beaten, bruised, scourged, and crucified for you, and for the salvation of your soul!

The second half of the invitation for communion is from the Book of Revelation: “Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.’” (Rev 19:9)  Revelations is a vision of heaven and of the end times, and although it’s probably more popular for the Horsemen and the end of the world, it’s specifically a vision of the heavenly liturgy.  In fact, lots of parts in the Mass can be compared to parts in the Book of Revelation (although despite how boring our homilies are, we priests are not the Horsemen).  That’s because here on earth, in this Mass we’re celebrating, we’re sort of touching the heavenly liturgy, experiencing an appetizer or hors d’oeuvres for that great feast in heaven – all to give us hope!

My old composition teacher used to say that a summary was supposed to sum up all the main points of your argument, so in a sense, this short part of the Mass sums up the argument of the Mass: The Eucharist is the re-presentation of Christ, who suffered for our sake, and who is both God and Man, the Savior of the world.  And our partaking in this is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.  Whew!  Lots to think about next time you’re at Mass!

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Does anyone here know what Foakley’s are?  They’re fake Oakley-brand sunglasses.  Some people don’t really care if their sunglasses are fake Oakley’s.  In fact, some people could care less what their sunglasses are like.  But for those of you who are concerned about this, there are a few ways to tell them.  One of them is by seeing how fragile they are.  Knockoffs are made of cheaper plastics, and they are more brittle than real Oakley’s.  They can snap apart easier, or the joints become loose and fall apart.  Once these fake Oakley’s are tested a little, once they’re stretched to their limits, they fall apart, but the authentic Oakley’s stick with it.

I think the same is true with faith.  We have a great example of it this morning in our Gospel readings.  So for just a second, place yourself in this Gospel, place yourself in the part of the friends who brought this paralytic to Jesus.  They believed, they had faith, and they knew that Jesus was kind of meandering their way, but of course, the only way they could know that was hearsay or by messengers, or by chance that Jesus just happened to be the place where they lived.  But they knew that they would have to drag their sick friend along.  Imagine carrying someone on a stretcher at the very least to Mid Rivers Mall, while being on a time constraint trying to get there before Jesus leaves.  That was rough!  Their faith really required some persistence.  How easy it would have been to give up at the beginning – thinking it’s a good idea, but then thinking about what’s involved and switching back to your DVR’ed American Idol episode.  But then think about when they got there, seeing how many people were crawling around Jesus!  How much easier it would be to give up there!  But they persisted.  And why?  Because they had faith – not just a passive faith or an intellectual assent that Jesus was a good role-model, but a faith that was active and alive, a faith that motivated them to get up and find Jesus, and a faith that drove them to climb up on a roof, lift up their friend, and then lower him down to Jesus.  You see, an authentic faith, like authentic Oakley’s, holds firm with the obstacles that it’s presented with, and produces real action.  And Jesus, when he saw this, latched onto it and did miraculous things.

Those men had to struggle and sacrifice to do what they did, and they were richly awarded.  In our time, rather than traveling to other towns by foot, Christ is just a stone’s throw away in the nearest tabernacle in church.  At the most, it’s probably a 20-minute drive, and Christ is literally available any time.  In our time, rather than climbing over others to have the forgiveness of sins, confession is celebrated every week, soon to be twice a week, or you can make an appointment for it any time you want.  In our time, rather than having to memorize stories of Jesus, or asking to borrow the only copy of the Scripture in your town, we’re able to find the entire corpus of the teachings of the Church, from the catechism to the papal writings to Sacred Scripture, all in a tiny phone.  There is literally an app for that.

So what’s the deal?  We’re not under any persecution (at least not overtly yet).  We’re not in mission territory where we don’t know about the faith, at least as of 1911.  I think in an age where we have such instant access to such things, such instant gratification, it’s easy for us to take our faith for granted.  It’s easy for us to take for granted the example of these men who struggled, sacrificed, risked their reputations, and even lowered a guy from a roof (for goodness sakes) in order to live out their faith in an active way.  Faith for our culture has become something inside, something personal.  People might still come to church, but it might be for the music, or because they grew up that way, or because their parents give them nasty looks if they find out they skipped.  But I think what each of us has to remember is that while faith is supposed to be something that is our own, it’s also manifested to others through our words and actions.  Christ in the Gospels only performs miracles when people make an act of faith.  Not an intellectual assent, not a rolling out of bed.  It comes from doing good for others and from true worship – not the motions alone, but the worship of the heart as well.

We need to reclaim this.  We need an active, living, vibrant faith, or it’s pointless to continue.  So many times, we expect God to fix everything in our lives, or to solve all our problems, to heal us like he did the man in the Gospel, simply by the wave of our hand or by waiting around.  But true faith, the faith that Christ latches on to, is a living, active faith.  It’s a faith that demands sacrifice and perseverance.  It’s a faith that requires action.

How do we increase our active faith?  Here’s a couple ways.  Share it.  We have a number of ways to do that in our parish, with CRHP retreats and programs galore.  Or try reaching out to a fallen away Catholic, inviting them to Mass.  Defend the moral truths of our faith from those nasty people on Facebook or at work, who just love bashing the Church for any excuse they can get their hands on.  Blessed John Paul II said that “faith is strengthened when it is given to others.”  You can also learn about it, by reading a good Catholic book or joining us for watching the Catholicism series that’s advertised on posters all over the place.  It’s free, it’s easy, and it’s an hour or so a week.  You can also practice it.  Of course each of us are expected to be at Sunday Mass, but try swinging by a weekday Mass before work, or on Saturday morning.  Make the sacrifice to get up a few minutes early to do this.  You can also try many of the devotional things in our Church: pray the Rosary, say the St. Michael prayer after Mass, wear a scapular or a crucifix.  All these things have been given to us from centuries upon centuries of people who found them as a way to strengthen their faith.  They’re not meant to replace our faith, but to reinforce it!

As you might remember, Lent is just around the corner, starting on Ash Wednesday this week.  It’s a time for all of us, who are in such need of strength in our faith, to rededicate ourselves.  Traditionally, this involves prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  Essentially, that means prayer (there’s really no other way to say that one), sacrificing something, and giving something extra of ourselves.  These are the sorts of things that we can use to show Christ that our faith is indeed authentic, that it’s real.  As we approach the Lord today in the Eucharist, thankfully we don’t have to lower ourselves through the roof of the church/gym, but let us each strive to live our faith in a way that is vibrant, active, and authentic.  Amen.

The Roman Missal: Mysterium Fidei

“It’s a mystery.”  This is a phrase we Catholics are famous for.  Sometimes it can signify the one of the biggest copouts in history!  Don’t know the answer?  Just put a solemn look on your face, close your eyes, and say, “It’s a mystery.”  What’s the Church’s teaching on evolution?  “It’s a mystery.”  How is transubstantiation possible?  “It’s a mystery.”  Why did Albert Pujols go to Los Angeles?  ”It’s a mystery.”

Really, a mystery is more than something we’ll never know or something we don’t know right now.  It’s something that is inexhaustible.  We can keep learning more and more, discovering new things through science and reason, but no matter what, there’s always something else to learn.  The fullness of what the mystery is escapes our human understanding.  That’s why I have to laugh when a scientist says they’ve disproved God.  Maybe they’ve discovered something new, but does that cover everything that God is?  Of course not.  “It’s a mystery.”

So what do we mean when we say at Mass, “The mystery of faith.”  Is it something that we can’t know or can’t connect with at all?  No, it’s referring to what we’ve just witnessed in the Eucharist.  The Eucharist really is the mystery of our faith, the mystery that is at the heart of everything we do as Catholics.  We can continue to learn more about it, even explaining certain aspects in complex philosophical language, but as Blessed John Paul II wrote in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, even just reflecting on what just happened, and how that is a gift to us, should fill us with “profound amazement and gratitude.” (5)

So when we expand at Mass on that statement “The mystery of faith,” we are expressing that amazement and gratitude.  There are three options:

  • “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.”
  • “When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again.”
  • “Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection, you have set us free.”

All three of these are rooted in Scripture.  The first two are references to 1 Corinthians 11:26, and the last is from the Gospel of John 4:42, in which our statement mimics what was told to the woman who met Jesus at the well.

You might be wondering what happened to “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”  Well, there’s a reason for its absence, of course.  It’s not found in the original Latin text, but more importantly, look what’s missing in it.  All three of the new responses (and their equivalents in the previous translation) are statements about the mystery of Jesus really present in the Holy Eucharist.  They’re also statements of our wonder and awe at the fact that those things are done for you and me!  Both of these are missing from the previous response written above.

As you head to Mass next week (assuming you’re not reading this during my homily this week…are you?), try to think as you’re giving this response about the real mystery of the Eucharist.  Why does Jesus give us this gift?  Why does he love us, even as we continue to turn away from him by our weakness?  “It’s a mystery.”  But it’s a mystery we’re grateful for!

Homily From the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Did you know, that over 2000 years after this story takes place in the Gospel, despite all that modern medicine has to offer, we still have not developed a cure for leprosy?  There are many different ways to treat leprosy, and to minimize its symptoms, but there is no way to cure it.  Leprosy is one of the most terrible, deadly, and famous diseases in history.  In fact, even some prominent figures in history have fallen ill with it.  I was reading that they’re saying that it can even be spread to humans by armadillos!  Seriously?  It truly is a horrific disease.  The extremities of the body, such as the hands, feet, and nose, slowly disintegrate, with prolonged agony throughout.  And even worse, it is extremely isolating for its victims – partly because it is very contagious, but also because people can’t stand to look at someone with the disease.

So that’s why this story of healing that we hear in the Gospel is so incredible.  It’s more than just one more miracle in a line of many for Jesus.  It’s not like he was trying to expand his repertoire to get some more business.  In fact, it’s more than just about him healing a disease.  This miracle is a statement about his mission – of why he came and what he came to do.  Just as much as Jesus was willing to go into this leper’s presence, touch him, and then heal him, so Christ is the one who comes into this sin-infected world and cleanses it, giving us all a new start.  Ultimately, what this story shows us is that Christ is not here to condemn or to isolate, but to save.

Now I doubt there is anyone here today who has leprosy, but in many ways, I think we all suffer from the leprosy of sin, whether it be from selfishness, the things we fail to do for others, or an addiction to sinful habits.  Sin is just as horrible as any disease, because like leprosy, it takes what is so beautiful about us – our generosity, our love for others, among other things – and slowly and painfully disintegrates them.  It transforms us from who we were made by God to be into ugly, disfigured, and agonizing versions of ourselves.  We become turned in on ourselves, only willing to take care of our own needs and wants, and we become isolated from everyone else.  And then ultimately, we lose sight of that virtue of charity – the love of God teaching us how to love – and we forget how we are supposed to love ourselves, others, and even God.  Sin truly is a terrible thing.  And it should appall us.  We probably find that we have a particular “sin of choice” that we find ourselves struggling with over and over again.  But sometimes, we fail to identify it right away, and like a disease, we allow it to transform us and isolate us.

So how does this fit in with today’s Gospel?  Well, I think each of us are called to imitate this story in a number of ways.  First, we should try to follow the example of Jesus.  As Christians, we are called to be “Other Christs”, going out into our sinful world, and embracing others who are struggling, rather than condemning them.  I was reading about a high school football game in Texas, between Gainesville State School and the Grapevine Faith Christian School.  (Grapevine?  Seriously?  I wonder what their mascot is…)  Grapevine, as its name suggests, is a private Christian school, but Gainesville State is a maximum-security prison for 285 teenage criminals.  Now, if you’re going by records, Gainesville State wound up losing the game 33 to 14, finishing their season 0-9.  I guess they didn’t play the Rams.  But something changed with that game.  In the words of one of the teachers from Gainesville, “The culture just switched.”  And it happened because the students of Grapevine actually treated the students from prison like real people instead of outcasts.  They formed a 40-yard spirit line for the Gainesville players to run through at the start of the game.  They loaned the Gainesville State team their junior-high cheerleading squad.  Even half of the Grapevine fans sat behind on the Gainesville sideline to cheer them on throughout the game.  Something changed there, and today, the local residents near Gainesville State do their best to encourage the young men there.  Now this might seem like a heartwarming story, and might make a great Hallmark movie or something, but that is what each of us are called to do.  There are many of people struggling with different things in the Church, some of who feel rejected or estranged.  And we are called to embrace, not condemn.  Now that doesn’t mean that we stand back from what our faith believes and professes.  It doesn’t mean that we ignore the sins of others or condone them.  But it does mean that we see them as fellow lepers, like ourselves, in need of the healing touch of Christ, and we offer them the love and respect that all people deserve.

We are also called to follow the example of the leper in this story.  As stated earlier, we are all sinners, and we all struggle with that spiritual leprosy.  But we don’t celebrate this fact, we don’t revel in the fact that we’re sinners, but we seek together to find healing from the one who can give it.  It would have really been a leap of faith for that man in the Gospel to approach Christ.  He would be ignoring the laws of the society, as we hear in the first reading.  And he probably would have been afraid that Jesus would draw back in horror.  But yet, with great faith, he came and confessed his belief that Jesus could make him clean.  We need to recognize our own spiritual leprosy as well.  Christ invites us to come to him at any time in the sacrament of reconciliation, most especially during the season of Lent, which begins a week from Wednesday.

Today as we come forward to receive the precious Body and Blood of Christ, let’s imagine ourselves coming to Jesus just as that leper did.  And as we acknowledge our own sinful nature, our own weakness, our own spiritual leprosy, then let us kneel humbly before the Lord and echoing those words of the leper, we say, “If you wish, Lord, you can make us clean.”  May we always be given the grace we need to be healed, and to be another Christ for those around us.

The Roman Missal: The Institution Narrative (Part III)

“CONGRATULATIONS!  You’ve just been named the grand prize winner of a fabulous sum of money!  To claim your prize, please call the number at the end of this message!  Congratulations!”

Most of us probably know that these sort of “prizes” are scams, especially when they want your personal information and social security number!  Well, the Eucharist is a sort of prize in some ways.  Unlike the statement above, or the phone calls and e-mails you probably receive far too often, it’s not a scam at all, but each of us must respond to lay claim to that prize given by Christ.

We’ve been talking about the Institution Narrative, and the important and powerful words of Christ that he spoke to us at the Last Supper.  One of the more controversial parts in the new translation of the Roman Missal comes up at this point:  “…which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  Do this in memory of me.”  That’s a big change from “for you and for all”!  We might react very negatively to this change, but we should ask ourselves, “What is the Holy Spirit and the Church trying to show us here in this translation?”

There are a few basic reasons for this change.  On the basic level, it is a better translation of the Latin text: “pro multis” is better translated “for many” than “for all.”  It’s also a biblical change.  Isaiah 53:12 reminds us that the Messiah would come to take away “the sins of many”, and Matthew and Mark both recall Jesus’ words as being this way as well.

But does that mean that Chris died only for a select few?  Simply put…of course not!  It is one of the most solemn dogmatic truths that Jesus died for all of us and for all mankind.  St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians even reminds us, “He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.”  Christ died for all of us, regardless of age, gender, race or even creed.  Think about that!  Christ died for the atheist down the street as much as the person with the 3:00 am adoration slot!  Christ even died for those who hated him – Pontius Pilate, Herod, the Jewish leaders who condemned him, the Romans, etc.  That offer of salvation that Christ won for us on the Cross is extended to all.

But…the reality is that we have to accept that, and embrace the grace that Christ won for us.  Sadly, there are some in our world who don’t want to accept that gift of salvation, and out love and respect for their free will, Christ acknowledges this.  Like that prize money, you’re only going to win it if you call back.  Each of us has to accept Christ’s grace and then try to do our best to live by it in order to share eternal life.  This should remind us that salvation is not automatic or mechanical!  You and I have to go out there and respond daily to Christ’s offer for salvation, embracing his gifts to us by receiving the Sacraments, worshipping with the community, praying frequently, and doing acts of love for others, especially the poor and sick.

This is also an opportunity for us to pray for those who have declined that offer for now, that they might someday lay claim to the salvation won for them.  So this week, maybe consider how you want to respond to Christ’s gift of himself.  Do you desire to be one of the many?

Homily From the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

How many people here would say that they have busy lives?  I asked one of our gracious parishioners what her average day was like as a mom, and it got me to thinking, “I live a pretty cushy life!”  On the average day, she gets up, then gets the kids up, yells a few times, gets everyone a good breakfast and yells a few more times to get the kids moving.  Meanwhile, she has to get herself read for the workday with all the usual routine.  But before she can go, she makes sure they have everything they need for the day. My mom used to have a checklist: books, belt, wallet, keys, coat, etc.  Moving on, this mom then piles the kids into the car, realizing at the last minute that one of them forgot their coat… and another forgot their lunch.  She gets to work (late) putting a hard day of work in while trying to remember to make a doctor’s appointment for one of the kids.  Then of course, she runs to Wal-Mart to get toilet paper on the lunch break, getting back to finish the day and pick up the kids, then helping with the homework, throwing some dinner on the table…baths…showers…bedtime…before collapsing and getting a few minutes for herself and her husband (about 5)…assuming of course, that none of the kids brought home stomach flu in the middle of the night.  Wow.  I don’t know about you, but I think this woman deserves a medal.  But I think lots of us have days like this from time to time (or every day).  Life is busy, right?  So how do we make time for prayer in all that?

One of the biggest challenges of the Christian life is establishing that discipline to offer time for God each day.  Jesus gives us a great example of that today.  Prior to the gospel passage for today, he had been running around, healing the sick and driving out demons like crazy!  Huge crowds have been following him around, and his name is on the tip of everyone’s tongue!  You’d think that this would be enough to drive his work, but he knows that despite the great success he’s had, he needs to go off and pray.  He made prayer part of his life, and we hear it many times in the gospel that he went off to pray, such as in today’s reading.  He even did this on the eve of his crucifixion!  No matter whether he was experiencing the anguish of anticipation, success or popularity, or if he was worn down after a long day, he was praying.

I think this is important for each of us.  Sometimes we just put off our prayer until the worst times, the times of crisis.  Or sometimes, our day is just so packed with stuff that we’d rather spend those 15 minutes catching up on sleep rather than offering them to God, which is understandable.  But we know that just as much as prayer was an essential part of Jesus’ ministry, so it is with our lives as well!

As Christians, I think we need to do two things: making our work part of our prayer, and making our prayer part of our work.  So first, making our work part of our prayer.  In the seminary, there was a ton of stuff to do – grad school level classes, apostolic service, parish work, conferences and workshops, communal prayer, and of course, each professor gave tons of reading, because obviously, their class was the most important.  So that seemed pretty busy to us.  But our rector would always remind us that we weren’t busy.  Many people would love to have the opportunity to spend time at a holy hour or on retreat, the sort of things that made our lives busy.  But instead of being busy, we were blessed with many opportunities to do good.  I think this is pretty true with everyone.  Pretty much any job out there is filled with opportunities to do good for others, unless you’re a hitman or a bounty hunter or something.  If we see the things in our lives as gifts from God, we start to see them less as another job or another item on the calendar, and more as an opportunity to spread the Gospel.

The other half of the equation is making our prayer part of our work.  As Christians, I think it’s pretty clear that making time for prayer in our lives is something we ought to do.  I mean, how can we try to follow someone if we barely make time to listen to him, to talk to him about our difficulties and struggles, and to thank him?  But we have to work at this!  We have to make prayer an essential part of the day.  So how do we do this?  Well, here are a few tips.  First, you have to know yourself.  Jesus knew that if he was going to pray, he was going to have to get up early to fit it in his busy schedule.  But if you’re not a morning person, you’re probably not going to be able to do anything at 5:00!  Your prayer will basically consist of rolling over in bed and pressing the “snooze” button!  So pick times you know will be helpful and fruitful!  Second, start simple.  You’re never going to succeed at your two-holy-hour-a-day goal if you don’t have a base to work from, and in fact, you’ll probably just get fed up and frustrated, and quit altogether.  So start small: offer a few minutes of prayer at key parts of your day – the lunch break, the few minutes in the shower, the car drive to work or school.  Spending these small moments helps to develop an awareness of the presence of God, and can help you grow in the future.  Third, and very importantly, don’t skip it!  Most people don’t flat out quit prayer or quit going to Mass.  It’s just a matter of putting it off one too many times.  Stick with it, even if you don’t want to.  Those moments when you get anxious while praying and feel like you have to get something done are the very moments where God is calling you to stay, and to offer that anxiety as a prayer to him.  Sometimes the sacrifice of doing this is what helps you to grow in love of God.

Let’s be clear: none of us here are monks.  At this moment, maybe we’re not called to spend all day on our knees, but each of us are called to make prayer an essential part of our busy day.  Christ truly desires that holiness for us!  So as we prepare to celebrate these sacred mysteries around this altar, let us join together with Christ in offering the perfect prayer to the Father.

Archbishop Carlson’s Pastoral Letter on the HHS Mandate

For those of you who didn’t get to hear the Archbishop’s Pastoral Letter, or for those who would like to read it again, here is what we as priests were asked to read at Mass this past weekend.  Please take a moment to read through this and some of the links given.  I don’t want to appear as a doomsayer, but we cannot afford to be passive on this.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I write to you concerning an alarming and serious matter that negatively impacts the Church in the United States directly and that strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberty for all citizens of any faith.  The federal government, which was formed to be “of, by, and for the people,” has just dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those people – the Catholic population – and to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faithful.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that almost all employers,including Catholic employers, will be forced to offer their employees health coverage that includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception.  Almost all health insurers will be forced to include those “services” in the health policies they write.  And almost all individuals will be forced to buy that coverage as a part of their policies.

In so ruling, the Administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty.  And, as a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled either to violate our consciences or to drop health coverage for our employees (and bring about the consequences for all in doing so).  The Administration’s sole concession was to give nonprofit employers, like hospitals and universities, which do not currently provide such coverage, one year in which to comply.

We believe this new requirement signals a direct attack on our religious freedom.  People of faith cannot be made second-class citizens.  We are already joined by our brothers and sisters of all faiths and many others of good will in this important effort to regain our religious freedom.  Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help build America’s cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture, only to have their posterity stripped of their God-given rights.  In generations past, the Church has always counted on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties.  I hope and trust she can count on this generation of Catholics to do the same.  Our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less.

And, therefore, I would ask of you two things.  First, as a community of faith, we must commit ourselves to prayer and fasting, that wisdom and justice may prevail, and religious liberty may be restored.  Without God, we can do nothing; with God, nothing is impossible.  Second, I would also recommend visiting www.usccb.org/conscience, to learn more about this severe assault on religious liberty and how to contact Congress in support of legislation that would reverse the Administration’s decision.

I call upon each of you to join me and the Bishops of the United States in speaking out on this violation of religious freedom and conscience by contacting your U.S. Representatives and our U.S. Senators.  Every Catholic has the responsibility to promote the dignity of human life and religious freedom.  If we do not make our voices heard, no one else will.  Let us work together to preserve the freedoms our forefathers established in our Constitution!

Sincerely yours in Christ,

 

Most Reverend Robert J. Carlson
Archbishop of St. Louis

Here are some links that you might consider visiting to take some action on this:

First, the website cited in the letter from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops
www.usccb.org/conscience

The St. Louis Review’s website concerning latest news and articles on the HHS Mandate
http://stlouisreview.com/conscience

Petition to the White House asking for a reconsideration of  the HHS Mandate
wwws.whitehouse.gov

Please do what you can to protect religious freedom in our country!