Sunday, April 30, 2017

Do you know what you're saying yes to, in receiving the Eucharist? (Sunday homily)


Let’s look closer at what happened in that Gospel we just heard. 
Two friends of Jesus are on a journey. 
They are talking about Jesus being killed on Good Friday. 

Then Jesus – without them recognizing him – comes alongside. 
He explains to them, from the Bible, 
how it was “necessary that the Christ should suffer all these things.” 
After a couple of hours of walking and talking, they sit down to eat, 
and then, Jesus takes bread, blesses it, 
breaks it and gives the bread to them; 
at that very instant, he causes them to recognize him. 
And in that same moment, he disappears.

The whole point is this moment: 
to have them “recognize him in the breaking of the bread.” 
This means, of course, the Eucharist; 
but more than that, it means the Holy Mass.

When we come to Mass, what do we do? 
We come together, we listen to God’s Word, 
and the priest or the deacon helps us understand it better. 
Only then do we move to the moment when we, too, 
recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. 

Now notice, Jesus didn’t start with sharing the Eucharist. 
Sometimes that is what people would like. 
When I was in another parish, I remember someone asking me, 
“Father, can we have one of those short Masses 
without all the stuff in the middle?” 

At first, I didn’t understand, but then I realized, 
she wanted me to distribute communion, without the actual Mass! 
What she called, “the stuff in the middle”? 
That’s the heart of the Mass! 

The priest is at the altar, and Jesus acts, through the priest, 
to make his dying and rising present. 
That “stuff” is the all-important “stuff”! 
Without that, there is no Mass; and without the Mass, 
there is no Eucharist. 

First Jesus gives himself in the sacrifice, 
and that’s why he changes the bread and wine into his Body and Blood, for us to share. 

That’s what “communion” means: to share in something; 
and what we share in – by taking communion – 
is the dying of Jesus and his rising from the dead. 

At Mass, the priest is at the altar acting for us, in our name. 
And when he turns and brings us the Eucharist, 
and if we then share the Body and Blood, 
by sharing it, we’re saying several things all at once:

1. I am a sinner and but for this sacrifice, I would be going to hell.
2. I believe Jesus is my Savior, my Lord and my God. 
3. I am a baptized member of the Catholic Church, 
and I am in a state of grace. That means, 
if I have any mortal sins, 
I’ve gone to confession and been absolved.
4. By sharing the Body and Blood of Jesus, 
I am entering into the “new and eternal covenant” 
Jesus makes through his death and resurrection, 
and I accept all that means – including giving 
my whole life to Jesus; being prepared to die to sin 
and this world, and live in and for Christ, 
every hour of every day of my life.

That’s a lot to say yes to all at once! 
But that is what our “amen” means 
when we take the Body and Blood of Jesus to our lips. 

It is not all that different, really, 
from what Jesus himself said “yes” to on the night before he died. 
Remember? He said: “Father, if it be possible, 
let this cup pass from me; but not my will, but your will be done.” 
The “cup” is the Cross. He accepted it. 
And when you and I take the Body and the Blood, 
we are accepting the Cross as well. 

So, yes, that’s a lot to say “amen” to, and that’s why we, 
like those disciples on the road, need help to understand it. 
So when someone says, I want to become a Catholic, 
it takes time to consider, and learn, and pray. 
That’s why Jesus took time to open the Scriptures for those disciples.

So let’s make an obvious application. 
If our hearts are going to be open to these realities, 
then we had better be prepared to invest some time and effort. 

And this explains the logic of Mass every single Sunday. 
Not once a month, not a few times a year, but every single Sunday.

And that’s still not enough. If you and I come to Mass 
without any spiritual preparation during the rest of the week, 
what happens? We’re like these two disciples: 
we don’t really understand what’s happening.

Now let me put some of this on myself. 
It is the job of the priest to open up the Scriptures for you. 
I do what I can for about ten minutes each Sunday; 
notice Jesus spent a couple of hours with these two. 

This parish does provide resources that you can tap into 
the rest of the week. And that costs money; 
and this year, we ran a deficit. 
So this is why I’ve been asking folks to help more, 
so I don’t have to cut back on what we offer.

We have lots of opportunities for our children, 
and we do what we can for our adults. You see the books we put out; 
and the talks and events we schedule. 
And because this doesn’t work for everyone, 
we have materials available online – for free! – at Formed.org. 
You can access them, at home, at any hour, day or night. 

Even so, you can help me do a better job for you. 
And I mean more than giving in the collection – although that will help!
If you go out of Mass and you aren’t clear on something, 
please, please tell me! 
I get plenty of “attaboys” and I appreciate that; 
but it would be awesome if people wrote or said to me, 
“I don’t really understand when the Bible or the Church says X” 
or “This or that teaching is unclear to me.” 
It would only take a few such comments for me 
to decide to give that subject more emphasis in a homily; 
or else, look for another way to do it.

I’ve done what I can today to explain these Scriptures. 
Only Jesus can open our hearts – and that, only if we let him. 
At this and every Mass, Jesus offers us his own Body and Blood. 
Saying “yes” – saying “amen” to his Gift – changes everything. 
This will happen here in a few minutes. 

What will you say to Jesus?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Why is Trump continuing Obama's war on the Little Sisters?

On these pages last year, I was attacked viciously by those claiming to be true Catholics (unlike the apostate they deemed me to be) for one simple reason: I did not think candidate Donald Trump worthy of my own support. I demurred, among other reasons, because I wasn't convinced of his sincerity of conservative convictions.

Now he is President Trump, and he has my support as a citizen, and my best hopes. Alas, however, his promises about religious freedom are going by the wayside. Two items:

-- Earlier this year a proposed executive order safeguarding religious liberty was being circulated, but then faded from view. Supposedly, it's still being worked on.

-- The Trump Administration is continuing with the Obama-era lawsuit against the Little Sisters of the Poor, which arose because of the former president's mandate that employers facilitate their employees obtaining contraception and abortifacient drugs. From the linked article: "As things stand now, it appears that Justice plans to continue defending the way the Obama administration applied the birth-control mandate, said Eric Rassbach, a Becket attorney.

'That just seems to be very contrary to what they’ve been saying publicly,' Rassbach said."

This isn't the Trump Administration we were promised, it seems.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

No mercy without the Resurrection (Sunday homily)

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday – 
a designation that Pope Saint John Paul II gave it a few years ago, 
based on the messages Saint Faustina Kowalska received from Jesus; 
so you would expect me to talk about that. 

But it is also the second Sunday of Easter, 
which means it’s about the Resurrection. 
So let’s start there, and come back to Divine Mercy 
and what that means.

They aren’t exactly separate things; 
because the mercy that we look for from Jesus Christ is only possible, 
it is only real, if the Resurrection is real. 

You might say, but I thought the mercy of Christ 
flows from the Crucifixion, from his death on the Cross? 
And that’s true; but if Jesus did not rise from the dead, 
then why would you believe his death would in any way save you?

If you say, well, because Jesus said so, my answer is, yes – 
and, he said that he would rise from the grave on the third day. 
So again, if that didn’t happen, why believe anything he promised?

So this is one reason why the Resurrection matters: 
because it gives us ground for believing Jesus is who he said he is, 
and will do what he said you will do. 
Or, to quote something Saint Paul said 
in his first letter to the Corinthians, 
“if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; 
you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). 
The second thing to notice about the Resurrection
is that this reminds us that our Christian Faith 
isn’t simply a collection of ideas. 
In our time, it is very common to treat matters of religion and faith 
as if they belong in a box, over here, 
way, way apart from the box we label, “facts,” 
or the box we label “science,” or the box we label “reality.” 

Not only do non-believers 
try to separate Christianity from science and facts, 
so do many Christians – 
although they may not realize that is what they are doing.

So, for example, more than once 
I’ve been asked by some of our young people this question: 
do we, as Catholics, have to accept the theory of evolution? 
And my answer is that God is supreme over all things, 
and whatever scientists discover 
about the origins of life and the age of the universe, 
and the development of life on earth, 
they are simply discovering more and more 
about the marvelous “how” of God’s creative work. 
You and I have no reason to fear or discourage scientific pursuit; 
on the contrary, we welcome it, 
because the result has always been 
to discover how even more wonderful God’s ways are. 

So back to the Resurrection. 
This is a reminder that we Christians propose a faith 
not only of ideas, but of facts. 
God became man at a certain time, in a certain place; 
that God-Man walked the earth in Palestine, 
he said things people wrote down, and then, at a certain point, 
he was arrested, beaten, tried, executed…
and on the third day, he rose again. 

That is, his body came back to life, 
and left the grave where it had been laid. 
These are bold claims of fact, which – if they are not true, 
then Christianity is false, 
and you should all find something else to do on Sundays.

Now, there are some remarkable things 
to say about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

One is this: why would the early Christians even make the claim? 
That is, if it didn’t happen, why invent it? 

And if you say, well, but Jesus predicted it – and that’s true. 
But if that failed to happen, then you have three options. 
First, stop following Jesus, because he proved not to be the Messiah. 
Second, if you have to fudge some facts, 
would fudging over those predictions be a lot easier, 
than fudging over the problem of him not rising from the dead? 

But what we’re to believe is that those early followers of Jesus 
chose the most difficult and least promising option: 
they pretended Jesus had been raised from the dead!

Another remarkable thing: 
the Apostles themselves didn’t believe it – 
as we see in today’s Gospel. 

Now, Thomas’ reaction makes perfect sense. 
Wouldn’t we react similarly, 
if we were told that someone we knew had died, 
had later risen from the dead? 
He said what we would say. 
And Mark’s Gospel tells us that the other Apostles also doubted. 

This doubt is entirely reasonable. 
These people, in other words, weren’t credulous pushovers; 
they were sensible people; fishermen, farmers, construction workers, 
business owners – people not so different from us.

And yet they came to believe; 
and they staked everything on that belief, 
many of them accepting painful deaths, 
rather than deny what they saw and heard.

There’s one more point to make about Resurrection, and it is this: 
what Jesus shows us in his risen, glorified body isn’t mainly about him; it’s about us. 
He shows what you and I can look forward to with confidence.

Jesus not only promised to rise from the dead himself; 
he promised to call us back to life as well. 

You and I will experience the very same – the exact same – resurrection as Jesus. 

Our bodies will, one day, come back to life, 
and our souls and bodies will be reunited. We will live forever. 
And this will either be in the happiness of heaven, or the pains of hell.

You and I will no longer be subject 
to the limitations and frailties that we know in this present life. 
So fear not: when we get our bodies back, 
they will be “new and improved.” 
No more eyeglasses, no more braces, 
no more crutches and pain pills and all the rest!

So when we talk about the mercy 
God wants us to experience and trust in, this is the WHY of it. 

God wants you and me to live in hope. 
He wants us to know what great hope lies ahead. 
It all fits together. 
Jesus came to give us life, and that more abundantly. 
Jesus died so that we would know and have confidence 
that our sins are forgiven – 
so that we would return to him and know that abundant life. 
And he rose from the dead, not only to prove his word was true, 
but also, to SHOW us what that abundant life was like.

This is why we love the words Saint Faustina 
includes on her image of Divine Mercy, and we make them our own:
“Jesus, I trust in thee!” 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

What will you live for? (Easter homily)

All over the world, Catholics and other Christians 
are marking this night, this day, the day that the Lord has made. 
The day Jesus came back from the dead, 
conquering sin and defeating death, 
and opening the path for us to heaven. 
That is why Alleluia belongs to this day: praise the Lord! 
This is the day of victory!

But what victory, exactly? What is this triumph? 
Are we claiming that we will not die? We know that we will. 
Our victory is that we know what lies ahead for us: 
not a grave, but heaven!

And what do we mean by this defeat of sin? 
I still struggle with sin. I’m guessing you do, too. 

But we have seen God weigh into the battle – for us and with us. 
All our sins have been nailed to the cross – 
and when Jesus died on that cross, 
so did our sins and all our condemnation! 

So remember: when you go to confession, and the priest gives you absolution, 
all that power of Jesus’ blood is poured out for you.
Never doubt, never waver: all your sins are forgiven forever: 
Gone, gone, gone!

No one else can take away sin but Jesus. 
As we say at each Mass: 
“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. 
This is that day!
Not everyone celebrates this victory tonight. 
Lots of people in our world either do not know what Jesus did, 
or they do not care. They do not believe. 
Many in our own country have only a passing awareness. 

The story of who Jesus is and what he did 
has become a steady, background buzz in their ears. 
Perhaps they were raised as Christians, but they have turned away, 
or tuned out. Maybe someone hurt them.
They may take more notice of the wrongs of Christians, 
And the saving work of Christ is a little distant.  
Some just sort of drifted, and haven’t found their way back.

What can we say?

Each of us must choose what we will believe; 
what we will give our life for. 
Do not think you can stand off to one side, and stay out of it. 
Not choosing is to choose. 

Lots of people live for enjoyment, for fulfillment, for pleasure. 
This sounds worse than it is. 
God created us, and pleasure, 
a desire for the new and exciting, is built into us. 
But these are blessings of a good life; 
they aren’t enough to be the focus of life. 

There comes a point when we realize: 
I can live for me, or I can live for others. 
Those who choose self, who live for themselves, 
that’s all they have in the end: themselves, and nothing else.

Many people give themselves to their careers, to sports, to causes. 
Again, nothing wrong with this; indeed, there’s a lot to admire.
Still, it’s not enough. All these things can and will fail us.
Men and women around the world give themselves for their families. 
Is this not a worthy thing? Certainly it is. 
Or for their country? Do we not admire this? 
With all our hearts, we do!

But again, for what purpose? 
In loving our country, or loving our family, what do we want for them? 
Do I simply want a United States of America to exist, 
without having any sort of idea of what my country will BE? 

If I sustain and protect my family, is it for any purpose? 
What do I teach my sons and daughters? Does this matter? 
Just as I must discover some purpose for my own life, 
and seek it with all my body and soul, 
is this not what I want for my children as well?

Shall I follow Mohammed? But Mohammed is not God, who became man; 
Mohammed did not die for me. 
He may have some things to teach me, but he did not rise from the dead.

Shall I seek out Buddha? Buddha, too, is not God. 
Buddha teaches that peace is found on the path of negation. 
Empty, empty, ever emptier, until there is no desire, 
no need, nothing at all.

But Jesus says, this Creation is very good, even if it is broken. 
He came, not to escape this Creation, but to redeem it. 
”I came,” he said, “that they might have life, and have it to the full.”

Brothers and sisters, we have completed our time of penance. 
You and I have faced the reality of our own sinfulness 
and, even more than that, our own radical dependence. 
You and I cannot live a day, not an hour, without God’s help and grace. 

We are not so foolish as to think that our share of the battle is over; 
but we have seen the Captain of our Salvation triumph, 
so we know what lies ahead! The outcome is certain; the battle is won! 
We have been forgiven, and we can dare to be generous in forgiving! 

This is our victory, this is what Jesus has won for us. 
This is why we sing victory tonight; this is why we celebrate. 
Jesus has risen! Jesus has conquered! We are free!

So I put the question to you, the question everyone faces: 
what will you live for? What will you fight for? 
What will you give your life for?

Be not too quick to answer. In Egypt, just a week ago, 
those who claimed Christ paid with their lives. 
This is happening, almost daily, in Syria, in North Korea, 
in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, 
in Africa, and many other places around the world.

In our country, your answer may cost you a friendship; 
it may cost you a promotion. 
It may bring you derision and embarrassment. 
Being faithful to Christ has cost others 
their jobs and their businesses; so it may be for us.

The question is before you. We can postpone it, but never escape it. 
We will live our lives for something – what will we choose?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Triduum is the New Passover (Holy Thursday)

When we come to this night, we come to the three days 
that are “Ground Zero” of our Faith.

Everything we do, everything we pray, everything we believe, 
is grounded and given meaning only in what we commemorate now.

It has been about 1,990 years 
since the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. 
The events of the lives of Moses and Abraham, 
and the Biblical texts that tell us about them, 
take us back another 2,000 years.

Century upon century. Layer on layer. 
All of this has come down to us 
through the enslavement of the Jewish people in Egypt, 
their captivity in Babylon, and waves of conquerors.
Then, in turn, through all the history of the Church 
as she went from Jewish to Greek to Roman, 
and finally arriving on our shores.

With all that is different in how we celebrate the Eucharist tonight, 
from how our ancestors did when they cleared this wilderness, 
and from how the first Christians did so, 
some things have never changed.

For example, we have this description from Saint Justin Martyr:
On Sunday we have a common assembly of all our members, 
whether they live in the city or the outlying districts. 
The recollections of the apostles 
or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as there is time. 

When the reader has finished, 
the president of the assembly speaks to us; 
he urges everyone to imitate the examples of virtue 
we have heard in the readings. 
Then we all stand up together and pray. 
On the conclusion of our prayer, 
bread and wine and water are brought forward. 

Doesn’t that sound familiar?
Then Saint Justin goes on to say this:

The apostles, in their recollections, which are called gospels, 
handed down to us what Jesus commanded them to do. 
They tell us that he took bread, gave thanks and said: 
Do this in memory of me. This is my body. 
In the same way he took the cup, he gave thanks and said: 
This is my blood.

Justin wrote this in the year 155.  

The words I will speak at the altar in a few minutes – 
you’ve heard them so many times – 
are the same words you just heard Paul recount. 
Saint Paul wrote that around the year AD 55, 
or about 25 years after Jesus died and rose from the dead.

Despite all the centuries and all the layers, 
at the heart of our Mass, we do what they did. 
We are doing what Jesus said to do.

A lot of the focus tends to be on the Eucharist as a meal. 
That was something that has been emphasized since the 70s.
There was a feeling that this wasn’t emphasized enough, before.
Unfortunately, I think the opposite has happened:
With so much emphasis on the meal, and on a “table,” 
that the reality of the Mass as a sacrifice became obscured.

That’s why, for example, there was so much interest 
in having the priest face the people when he is at the altar – 
where, for uncountable centuries, the priest and people together, faced the same way: 
toward the Lord where our hope comes from.

Do you see what I’m saying? 
When the priest stands here, and speaks to you across the—
well, doesn’t that seem like it’s a dinner table?

But when the priest is on the same side as the people, 
Doesn’t that help emphasize that something else is going on? 
The priest is acting for you. He’s offering a sacrifice.

Well, of course, the Holy Mass is both, as is Passover, 
which the first reading describes. 
In fact, what we are celebrating between tonight and Sunday, 
is the New Passover.  
That’s what Jesus meant when he referred 
to a “new and everlasting covenant” -- 
something the Prophet Jeremiah foretold.

Notice, I said that the New Passover takes place over three days. 
Three nights, to be precise. Tonight we remember the beginning.
Tomorrow is when the Passover Lamb was slain.
And then, late at night on Saturday, we celebrate the Resurrection.

Now, a lot of focus at this Mass every year 
is on the Lord washing the feet of the Apostles. 
But what many people don’t realize
is that there are two distinct meanings to this, 
only one of which people seem to remember.

What people remember is the act of profound humility. 
As Jesus said, “as I have done for you, you should also do.” 

But there’s another meaning, which has almost been lost. 
And it has to do with the priesthood. 
In the Old Testament, at God’s direction, 
Moses washed Aaron and his sons when they became priests. 
Well, these men are Jesus’ priests; and so, Jesus washes them. 
Remember: this is the night Jesus instituted both the priesthood, 
and the Holy Mass.

The way the Passover worked, 
first the lamb was offered at the temple. 
It was slain – sacrificed – as the first reading describes. 
Then the lamb was brought to the home, 
and there the meal that followed the sacrifice was shared.

And that’s what we do in the Mass. 
The priest is at the altar, offering the Lamb of God. 
That’s what I am doing, when I stand there. 

If it helps, you might notice the following things happening 
in the Eucharistic Prayer. 
Let me point out several things to listen for.

The priest begins by addressing God the Father: 
“Accept and bless these gifts, these offerings”—
that is, the bread and wine we bring to the altar.
Then we remember all the other members of the worldwide Church, 
especially “your servant Francis our pope and Dennis our bishop,” 
and “all gathered here.” 
And we recall the Blessed Mother, and the Apostles, and some of the saints.

When you see me extend my hands like this over the bread and wine, 
that’s nearly the last moment they are merely bread and wine. 
That prayer asks the Holy Spirit 
to turn our “oblation” of bread and wine 
into Jesus’ offering of his Body and Blood.

Then, of course, the priest speaks the very words of Jesus, 
from that night before he died. 
That part of the Eucharistic Prayer links to the Last Supper.

Now, after this, listen carefully to what I pray at the altar. 
I’ll say, “we offer to your glorious majesty…
this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim”—
the Victim is Jesus, on the Cross! 

When I pray that prayer, 
it is both Christ speaking, as he offers himself, 
and the Church is speaking, as we join that offering. 
We ask the Father to accept this offering 
just as he accepted what was offered, long ago, 
by Abel, Abraham and Melchizedek. 
But this, this offering is supreme. 

That’s why I bow at that point, 
and ask that an angel bear this offering “to your altar on high.” 
When Jesus had completed his offering on the Cross, 
he bowed his head and died. 
How can we not bow down in awe of this?

At the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, 
the priest lifts up the Lord’s Body and Blood, and prays, 
“Through him, with him and in him…almighty Father…
all glory and honor is yours.” 
The offering of the Lamb is complete! “It is finished!”

Then we rise and pray as he taught us. 
We exchange the peace he gives us. 
And then the Body and Blood of the Lamb – who died and rose again – 
is shared. 

These are the things Jesus did 
and which the Apostles witnessed so long ago. 
This is what the first Christians did, in memory of him. 
This is what we do. 
The place has changed, the language is different, 
and we’ve added some things along the way; 
but it is the same Eucharist, the same Sacrifice, then and now. 
Jesus is the same. One Lord, one hope, now and forever.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Walking in the footsteps of American saints

I'm organizing a pilgrimage! Would you like to go?


http://www.ctscentral.net/trips/pilgrimages/footsteps-of-the-american-saints-pilgrimage-with-fr-martin-fox/


This trip is my own idea; I've been working on it for a couple of years. To my surprise, I couldn't find anyone who was already doing it, and the first outfit I approached decided it wasn't worth pursuing.

Corporate Travel was recommended to me by Steve Ray, who told me this is the company he uses for his many pilgrimages. (How do I know Steve Ray? He's visited Saint Remy Parish a few times -- he likes us!)

So what's the plan? We're going to visit and pray at the shrines of the North American Martyrs and Saint Kateri Tekakwetha in upstate New York; then visit the National Shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. If time allows, on the way to New York City, we'll stop in New Haven to pray at the shrine for Venerable Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus.

In New York, we will visit shrines for Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and Mother Francis Cabrini, and pray at the tomb of Pierre Toussaint in New York's majestic, and newly renovated, Saint Patrick's Cathedral. While in New York, we'll have a panoramic tour of the city, with a stop at the 9/11 Memorial. Plus there will be time for your own sightseeing, or to take in a show.

This is a true pilgrimage: we will have Mass every day at the shrines of the saints, and time for personal prayer. I will have some information to share about the lives of these and other American saints who helped shape our nation and our Catholic Church on these shores.

If interested, click the image above to visit the webpage for more information.

Edit: I posted this too fast! I meant to explain that when I first began organizing this, I developed quite a longer list of American saints and blesseds; but visiting their shrines would take us to points west (Missouri, California and Hawaii, for example). Even when I tried to keep it to the northeast, my list of saints was more than was practical for this trip. For a young country, we can take virtuous pride in the number of saints and blesseds associated with our nation!