Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday

Why do we not celebrate Mass on Good Friday? If the Mass is the re-presentation of all that happens today, why do we not offer the Mass? Today there is no Mass because there is no need for the sign that points to the reality: we kneel before that very reality today. On this day, we are more really present at the Cross than we are during the Mass. We behold the wood of the Cross upon which hung the salvation of the world because it is happening today. This day is the day appointed by God from all of time to offer the one perfect sacrifice for redemption from sin.
Behold that wood upon which hung your Savior! Behold that bloody tree upon which He hangs because of your sins, because of my sins! Behold the Lamb of God bruised, derided, cursed, defiled, the Lamb who sheds every ounce of His blood so as to take away the sins of the world! All of this because you and I, because we rebel against God, because we choose anything and everything other than God. Because of this, as the prophet Isaiah says, “the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all,” and “the Lord was pleased to crush him in infirmity.”
Let us weep this day over the dead body of our Savior. Let us join the sorrowful Mother in weeping that her son has been killed, that she carries with her the sorrow unlike any other sorrow. Let us cast down our faces in shame that each one of us has caused this, each one of us has made this day necessary. But hear carefully the words Isaiah speaks at the end of his prophecy about the suffering servant: “Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many.” Let us remain hopeful that Jesus the suffering servant may justify us by His passion and death.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Holy Thursday

What do we normally eat at a feast? While our customs may vary depending on our families and our cultures, we normally have meat at the feast. Meat has always been a standard feature of a feast, while the absence of meat gives the meal a rather penitential or impoverished characteristic. How can we celebrate Thanksgiving if we don’t have the turkey? Could it really be the Fourth of July without a hamburger or hot dog? Can we really enjoy the Super Bowl without chicken wings? Meat has been throughout human history and culture a symbol of feasting and rejoicing, in particular the Jewish feast of Passover, where the lamb is sacrificed and feasted upon by all at table.
Yet Jesus transforms this Passover meal on this night. He uses the great Jewish feast of freedom and salvation to establish a different feast, though still signifying freedom and salvation. Jesus uses the Passover as the type that foreshadows the complete sign of feasting and rejoicing. Jesus transitions the Passover from being the salvation feast of a small nation and people into the sacrifice of praise offered by the entire world. He does all of this in the institution of the most holy Eucharist.
The Passover meal heralds the ultimate feast of faith for Christ and His Church. Everything that the Passover represents for the Jews corresponds to a reality which we shall encounter over the next few days. But the central image of Passover is the paschal lamb, the animal sacrificed by the Jewish priest then completely consumed by everyone in the household. The lamb provides the meat for the feast, a feast that originally began as a meal eaten in haste, in preparation for leaving Egypt.
But if the Passover is the type or symbol of the Eucharist, then where is our meat for our feast? What shall we eat in our new Passover meal, which supersedes the old? We feast on the new paschal lamb, sacrificed upon the altar of the Cross. This is the mysterious reality at the heart of the institution of the Eucharist on this night. If the Mass is the feast of faith, then there must be meat for that feast, and Jesus offers us the purest meat possible: His own body, offered as the sacrifice so that we might pass over from death unto life.
This is why the Eucharist is called the source and summit of the Christian life: everything that we believe and do flows from this. We have bishops and priests so that they may re-offer this sacrifice and feed us once more this most savory meat. We receive the sacraments of initiation so that we may approach the table and partake of this feast. We go to confession so that we may be worthy once more to receive this meat. It is the sun that illumines our day; without it, our souls would grow dark and cold.
Yet how much do we appreciate this gift? How much do we really treasure this morsel from Heaven? What is our attitude towards this feast of faith? Do we treasure it with reverence and sacredness or do we treat it as another chore to check off the list? The Eucharist is not a snack to reward a child for a good deed; it is the food by which we are sustained in this hungry world. But it cannot nourish us if we remain indifferent to it, if we treat it as something less than what it is.
As we plunge into the mysteries of faith over these next three days, I implore you to spend some time in serious consideration of your faith. Does any of this really matter to you? Is all of this really the feast of faith, the center of our universe, or is it another chore that we check off the list? Is the Eucharist really the means of communion, of union with Christ, or is it just something that I pop into my mouth and then go off as if nothing happened? God desires so much more from us; will we give it to Him? I encourage you to spend some time tonight in adoration, in quiet time before the Lord who prays in the garden that He may do the will of His Father: to die for our sins. May we appreciate more fully this sacrifice so that we may be truly nourished at this feast of faith.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

5th Sunday of Lent - Death and Life

What do we fear most about life? What is it that we dread most about our mortal nature? There is one thing common to all people of all ages that we dread and fear: death. We fear death, that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns. We hate death because we fear it, because we want to avoid it as much as possible. Our generation continues the quest for immortality, seeking the fountain of youth not in some mythical land far away, but in a pill or in a computer. We will do anything rather than die.
But death comes for us all. We cannot avoid it, we cannot pretend it will never happen. Yet there is more than one way to die. Certainly, our physical bodies can die. However, we can also die spiritually. How does this happen? It is the same as our physical death: we lose life. But how can we lose our spiritual life? We lose it when we remain enveloped in sin. We lose it when we are consumed by sin. We lose it when we choose sin over God. Our spiritual death is never just a death, but is always a suicide, for we choose that death for ourselves. Yet God desires not the death of the sinner, but that he live.
We hear about the greatest of Jesus’ miracles in the Gospel today, when He raises His friend Lazarus from death, and not just any death: Lazarus had been dead in the tomb for four days, a sign taken by the Jews to mean that one was completely and totally dead. Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life, by His power and authority restores Lazarus to life. It is probably the greatest sign that Jesus offers up to this point in the Gospels. But it also has great meaning for us: it demonstrates that God is the Lord of life, and that He can restore life whenever He wills.
We hear in the psalm today that with the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption. God desires life for all of us, as we see in the vision of Ezekiel in the first reading. For indeed, who can truly stand in innocence before the Lord? As the Psalmist puts it, “If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, Lord, who can stand?” None of us are totally innocent before God: all have sinned, both as individuals and as the human race. Yet God desires not death, but life. Knowing our weakness, knowing our infirmity, God desires to revive humanity by redeeming it from the bonds of sin and Satan, and this work will be accomplished so very soon in the passion and death of Christ our Lord.
Yet this redemption is not a ticket easily purchased, nor is it merely a free gift. God does offer us redemption and salvation, but it comes at a cost: our death to sin. Saint Paul recognizes this as he writes to the Romans in the second reading. Salvation is not something that is merely bought with a few words: it is something that costs us our life in sin. Saint Paul is not rejecting the physical world in saying this, but the truth that we are not meant to live for this world, to live for the flesh. We are meant to be animated by the Spirit of God to live for Christ. We cannot have the Spirit if we remain dead in sin. We cannot be lead by the Spirit if we cling to sin. We cannot live in the Spirit if we reject that same Spirit.
The raising of Lazarus from the dead serves as a sign that Jesus can raise any soul to life, even a soul that has been steeped in sin, wallowing in sin for decades. The history of the Church is filled with scandalous sinners who converted and became great saints: egotists, sex addicts, murderers, heretics, drunkards, even worshippers of Satan. Yet their eyes were opened to the error of their ways by the grace of God, they repented of their sins, and lived their lives with the same confession we hear on the lips of Martha: that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the one coming into the world to save it. And we can do the same as them, if we believe as Martha and Mary did, that this same Jesus who weeps over death desires us to live and to live fully.
As we enter the last two weeks of Lent, we are plunged more deeply into the mysteries of these days. We are preparing for all that Jesus did and suffered from this day until Easter Sunday. Let us not merely listen to these actions and events, but let us be moved by them. Let our hearts be filled with contrition for our sins and a true desire to repent of them. Let us seek the mercy that can only be found in the confessional, for God desires us to have a sure sign of our pardon. Brethren, do not let your hearts remain dead to sin, but let them be alive in Christ Jesus, in His Holy Spirit. As Jesus raised Lazarus from death, so too will God raise our souls from the death of sin, but only if we respond to His grace and seek His mercy. Let us indeed seek His mercy, so that we may have the fullness of redemption in the life to come.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

4th Sunday of Lent - Blindness

Which sense would you be least willing to lose if you had to lose one of your five senses? For most people, sight is the sense they would pick to keep most out of the five. While we don’t want to lose any of them, sight seems to hold sway because it is the most useful for everything we do. Without sight, we cannot experience beauty, we would never know the faces of those we love, we would lose a tremendous amount of knowledge. Could you imagine not knowing colors?
Yet we not only possess physical sight via our eyes but rational sight from our minds. Unlike the rest of the animal world, we are able to possess knowledge and wisdom, to grow in our experiences and shape the reality as we have made it up to this time. But, just as our physical eyes can suffer from glaucomas, our rational sight, our inner eye, can become darkened. We can lose that pristine vision we once had of right and wrong, good and evil, holy and wicked and begin to see the world in bland greys. What causes this inner eye to lose the light? It is sin that darkens this eye, and only one can cure us.
In our Gospel, we hear that a man who was blind from birth receives his vision by the healing power of Jesus. This man can represent each one of us, for we too were born blind, not due to a physical defect, but to the defect of original sin upon our souls. And just as Jesus lifts the blindness from the blind man’s eyes, so too does He lift our original blindness from our souls in baptism. But we can lose that original vision over time, and we can even become blind once more, only we are trapped in a worse blindness because we had seen the Light of the world and beheld His glory, yet rejected it for something else.
We all have something that blinds us to the total truth which Jesus teaches us. For some, it is a favorite sin. For others, it is arrogance. Some are blind because of ignorance while others are blind from apathy. Whatever it is that stands in the way of clear vision, it is something that can be removed. But do we want it removed? We may be like the child who sits too close to the TV and doesn’t want to lose that spot, even though we may gain better vision because of it. We may be like the Pharisees in the Gospel, who do not believe that they are blind, which is the worst kind of blindness.
Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the light proceeding from light, as we profess each Sunday in the Creed. He does not want us to remain in darkness, the darkness of ignorance, the darkness of pride, the darkness of sin. He wants us to see clearly, to be the children of light, as Saint Paul wants also, as we hear in the second reading. But to remain in the light means that we must be freed of sin, for the light only “produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth”. It means that we must cast off that which blinds us or keeps us in the darkness, and walk in the light. We cannot have it both ways, pretending to be children of light while assisting at Mass but living as if we belong to this world, the world of darkness, remaining secret and hidden rather than visible to all.
Brethren, let us be the children of light! Let us not remain in our sins or in our pride or whatever makes us blind. Let us be healed by Jesus the divine Physician so as to see clearly the Son of Man leading us to God. Let our hearts not find their rest in the filth and darkness of sin, but in the glory and light of God. Let us see the dawn of Easter rising on this day, the midway point of Lent. If we have done little to amend our life, let us not delay! The sun of the Resurrection rises in the east. Do we look for it eagerly, or do we cower in our blindness? Do we wish to remain in the darkness, or shall we be healed of our blindness, so that we may see the light in this world, and rejoice in that same light in the world to come?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

3rd Sunday of Lent - Living Water

What is the most essential element we need in order to live? Water. Without water, there is no life. NASA has a motto in their search for life beyond our planet: “Follow the water.” Wherever there is water, there is life. Humans can survive better without food than we can without water. It comprises most of the material in our body and is essential to almost every activity we do in order to live. Without water, there is no life. Jesus in our Gospel today offers the Samaritan woman not just any ordinary water, but “living water”, as He tells her. What is this living water? How do we get it? And can we lose it?
The living water which Jesus offers is our union with God in the Holy Spirit, who is poured out for us in the sacraments. We should automatically think of baptism whenever we hear about water in the Scriptures, for just as water gives us earthly life, baptism gives us heavenly life, opening for us the gates of heaven to be joined with God. We listen to this Gospel on this Sunday of Lent in order to help our catechumens prepare to receive baptism, hence the beginning of the scrutinies on this Sunday. We should recall our own baptism which gave us this living water to drink. But this is not the only sacrament in which we receive this living water, in which we receive the Holy Spirit.
Brethren, it is possible to lose this living water, to allow the well to dry up and become spiritually parched. And just as we have no physical life if we lose water, so too do we have no spiritual life if we do not have the living water of the Holy Spirit. How do we lose this water? How do we become spiritually parched? This happens when we fall into sin, when we violate our baptismal promises to reject Satan and all his works and all his empty show. It happens when our hearts become hardened by sin, as were the hearts of the Israelites in the first reading and the psalm. It happens when we lose faith in God, and thus begin to lose our justification, as Saint Paul says in the second reading.
Is it possible to regain these living waters? Is it possible to regain our faith and thus regain our justification? It is quite possible, but there is only one means of doing it. How? Through the confessional. God does not pour out His Spirit upon us only once at baptism or confirmation, but He desires to renew us constantly, just as the earth is renewed by rain. Yet we must not seek rain where it cannot be found. Would it not be foolish to build a house in the Sahara Desert and plant a garden and wait for the rains to come? Then is it not also foolish to ask God to increase our faith and pour out His Spirit upon us if we remain in the spiritual desert of sin?
Brethren, I spend one hour before this Mass in the confessional not because I’m bored or I need to be somewhere. I am in there because God has given me the authority to forgive sins and to restore the living water to you. I am in there because, like Jesus, I thirst for your salvation. In my nine months of being here, there are many of you whom I have never seen nor heard in there. Why? What prevents you from coming and receiving the mercy of God? What prevents you from being refreshed with the living water that Jesus wishes to give you? What prevents you from being free of your sins in the ordinary means God has given to you?
Many of you go to confession perhaps once a year yet come up to receive Communion every week. Would to God that it were the reverse! What’s the point of receiving Communion if you’re still parched by your sins? Why receive the Bread of Life if you still eat the bitter herbs of sin? Jesus does not want you to remain in your sins, that’s why He died on the Cross. But we must imitate the Samaritan woman and acknowledge our sins before Jesus if we wish to be truly refreshed by His living water. We must imitate her humility in order to be elevated to glory.
Brethren, let your hearts not be hardened! Hear the voice of the Lord calling you to repentance, calling you to drink deeply of His living water. Do not be like the Israelites at Meribah - testing God, challenging God. Do not remain in the desert of sin but come and be refreshed by confession. Yet we should not do this only in Lent, in this season of penance and sorrow. We need to take every opportunity to be freed of our sins and refreshed by the Holy Spirit so as to continue to be justified. I encourage you not only to go to confession this week, but to also go at least once a month. Then we can be like those who heard the Samaritan woman’s testimony and encountered Jesus themselves: they not only believed because of what she said, but because they joined her in humbling themselves and recognizing Jesus as the one true savior of the world. May we do the same, so that we may boast not in arrogance but in hope of the eternal and joyful glory of God.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

2nd Sunday of Lent - Transfiguration

NB: This homily is short due to the bishop's video for the Diocesan Parish Annual Appeal.

We hear the story of the Transfiguration on the second Sunday of Lent. Tradition tells us that this event occurred about forty days before Jesus’ passion and death. St. Luke in his Gospel sees this event as the moment when Jesus sets His face toward Jerusalem, towards the sufferings of Good Friday. Why does Jesus do this? This happens for two reasons. First, Jesus wants His inner circle, His closest disciples and us to see Him as He really is. Who will be suffering that Passion? Who will be undergoing that cruel death? It’s not just any man, but it is God in the flesh. Jesus reveals who He is so that we may be comforted in knowing that He suffers with us.
But Jesus also reveals His full glory so that we may know the end of our journey. We like to know where we’re going. If we know our destination, we will make a greater effort to reach it. What Jesus reveals is not just His glory, but the glory that we will share with Him if we survive our passion. Our life is like Lent: we have many struggles with only a few moments of joy. But Jesus’ passion and death is not the end, for He rises on the third day. So too will our Lent come to an end, and if we have been faithful, we will experience our own Easter Sunday.
Let us rise and be not afraid to follow Jesus, to carry our cross daily. Let us remember the glory of the holy mountain, the glory prefigured for us in the Holy Mass. Let us be strengthened by the Eucharist to toil away at the work of our lifetimes, just as Jesus did after this day. Let us endure the toils of our daily Lent, so that we may join Jesus in receiving the wondrous glory when we join Him in the resurrection on the last day.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

1st Sunday of Lent - The Desert

We are the children of temptation. As we enter into the first full week of Lent, we should reflect on this sentiment first: we are the children of temptation. We hear in the reading from Genesis and in the Gospel about temptation. Genesis shows us that first temptation of our parents Adam and Eve, and their giving in to the tentation. This is the original sin, the sin in which we were conceived, the sin in which we were born, the sin in which we lived in need of a Redeemer.
The Gospel shows that Redeemer beginning to do His great work of redemption, but the first battle He wages is not against any human foe; it is against the one who first tricked our parents into sin, the one who tricks all of us into sin: Satan, the devil. It was the devil who took the form of a serpent and tricked Adam and Eve to eating the apple and disobeying God. It is the same devil who tries to tempt Jesus away from obeying His heavenly Father. Satan tries using the three usual temptations, as outlined by our Saint John: the lust of the flesh, the pride of life, and the lust of the eyes (cf. 1 John 2:15-16).
First, the devil tries to make Jesus make bread of stones. He is hungry after fasting for forty days; why shouldn’t Jesus eat? But Jesus reminds the devil that we live not by bread alone, but by the will of God. Next, the devil tries to make Jesus proud by demonstrating His power before all the people in the area of the Temple in Jerusalem. If only Jesus would throw Himself off the top of the Temple, the angels would save Him, and everyone would believe whatever He said. But Jesus, throwing Scripture back at the devil’s Scripture, reminds us that we shall not tempt God into signs and wonders, but humble ourselves before His majesty. Finally, the devil demonstrates his so-called power by showing all the worlds in his supposed control, calling Jesus to worship him and receive a reward. But Jesus forcefully reminds the devil that God alone has full dominion and power, and that everything truly belongs to God.
In undergoing these temptations, Jesus is beginning to unravel everything that was done in the garden so many millennia ago. Saint Paul in our second reading highlights this, reminding us that by the first Adam, we all have sinned, we are all children of temptation, but by Jesus our new Adam, we all have the possibility of justifying ourselves. We are all the children of temptation, but we can become once more, through the redemption of Jesus Christ, the children of God.
Brethren, let us throw off sin once and for all. Let us imitate our Redeemer and fight against Satan and all his temptations. Yet, even if we have sinned, let us rush to the sacrament of mercy, let us rush to the confessional, be freed of our sins, and strengthened by God’s grace to fight Satan once more. Let our Lenten penances not be a means of pride, but the seed of humility by which we shed off the old man of temptation and sin, and are clothed in Christ. Let us not remain the children of temptation, but let us be the children of God, the children of His promise, the children of heaven.