Sunday, August 26, 2018

21st Sunday per annum - After the Report

I have gone through a great wave of emotions over the past few weeks, since the publication of the Pennsylvania grand jury report which outlines not only numerous accounts of abuse by priests over seven decades, but the numerous ways the various bishops covered up or ignored these wicked priests, with some of these bishops rising to the upper ranks of the Church. The first emotion is anger - anger that this continued for so long, anger that none of the bishops seem willing to hold themselves or their brother bishops responsible, anger that even the pope seems unwilling to do anything serious. The second emotion is sadness - sadness at how many were abused and probably lost their faith, sadness at the people who tried to help but couldn’t get anywhere, sadness that this is dragging the Church through the mud once more.
All of this raises the question of whether it is good to stay in such a Church when there seems to be so many wicked men in the Church, so many who are more concerned about their rank or power rather than where they are leading souls. I am not the only priest who has struggled with these staggering and scandalous reports and wondered what to do or where to go from here. Yet I cannot shake the words that Saint Peter so quickly offers up in the Gospel today: “Lord, you have the words of eternal life.”
Brothers and sisters, where else can we go to hear these life-giving words, in particular the words Jesus has been speaking to us the past few weeks - “I am the bread of life”; “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” These are hard words to understand, even harder to live, as are so many things which the Church teaches, such as the difficult teaching on marriage we hear in the second reading. However, all of these words and all of these teachings come from the lips of the most innocent and truthful Man in all of history, He who declared Himself to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life, He who was willing to suffer the death of the Cross because of my sins so that I might receive that bread of life.
I believe these revelations of scandal and wickedness will be something good for the Church, like receiving the news that one has cancer. It is not the scandals themselves that are good, but that we know they are happening so that we can answer how to remove them and restore the Church to her apostolic glory. The one answer that we ought to have is that we do not believe in men; the psalms warn us against that when they say, “Put not your trust in princes, in whom there is no help.” Our faith is not in a human structure or organization but in God, in Jesus Christ who established and maintains His Church in spite of the wickedness of her members, especially her clergy.
The Church continues in her divine mission because of the grace that the Holy Spirit maintains within her. And where can we find that grace? We find it in the sacraments, and above all we find this grace in the Most Holy Eucharist. Not in the Bible, not in the tradition, not in anything else other than the sacraments which Jesus has given us and which have been maintained by the Church for 2000 years. “To whom can we go?” Peter asks our Lord. We cannot find this in any other religion nor in the absence of religion. We cannot find it in sports, in politics, in technology, in nothing else but in that simple bread and wine transformed by the action of the priest - even the most sinful priest - into the body and blood of Christ.
My dear brothers and sisters, do not lose hope in God or in His Church. There will always be sinful men and women in the Church. Remember that Judas walked with Christ, saw His miracles, and yet still betrayed Him to His death. Yet Jesus transforms that most wicked sin into the greatest good done for all of humanity. Jesus can do the same even with such terrible men at the helm in our day. I don’t know how He will do it, but I believe and trust that He will, and that He will do it even through me a sinner. Our faith cannot be in sinners, nor even in the saints who are in the Church, but God alone who acts in and through both of them. Let us taste and see the goodness of the only one who is truly good - the Lord who offers Himself for us in the Eucharist as our nourishment, our strength, and our foretaste of the glory He desires for us if we remain faithful, if we remain with Him and His Church.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

19th Sunday per annum - The Challenge of Faith

Which do we desire: comfort or challenge? Do we desire the old martial attitudes, focused in such activities as exercise, jousting, or boxing, or rather, do we desire the calm, collected tranquility of such easy activities as television, internet, and Netflix? Let’s be honest with ourselves: we want comfort. If we had to pick between remaining in our own time or dropping down into the Middle Ages, we would stay here in a heartbeat, kicking up our recliners to perish the thought of having to toil and labor for the bare minimum to survive. But is this what Jesus wants for us?
If we pay attention to Matthew’s telling of this episode of his Gospel concerning the Lord walking over the waters, we should notice one detail sticking out concerning the disciples: Matthew seems to imply that the boat was tossed about until the fourth watch of the night, or nearly 3 in the morning. Think about that: the Gospel says that as evening approached, the boat began to toss, yet Jesus seemingly abandons them for most of the evening. How terrifying it must have been for the disciples as the boat continued to rock and reel, yet their Master was not there to aid them. But when He does come, they are so frightened by His appearance they believe Him to be a ghost or an apparition.
Yet the Lord offers those prized words of consolation to any soul wearied and troubled: “Be not afraid.” Who responds immediately to this call but Peter, the one most eager to serve Christ? Even though the waves have buffeted the boat all night, Peter remains strong in his faith in Jesus, calling Him to command Peter to walk on those same waters. But even Peter has his weak points: even though he had endured the waves all night, Peter lost faith because of the strength of the wind. He begins to sink and cries out in fear just as the other disciples had done earlier. Only the strong arm of Christ is able to lift him up and put him back on the boat.
What do we see from all of this? First we are taught that our faith must be tested. The strength of our faith is quite similar to the strength of our body. What happens if we are soft on our bodies, feeding ourselves only the sweet and sugary and remaining inert? Our bodies grow fat and weak, susceptible to disease or decay. If we push our bodies, making the grueling effort to regulate our food and to exercise, rejecting the bad and replacing it with the good, we will get them into peak condition and reduce or even eliminate the possibility of disease. It is the same with our faith: we can grow quite soft in what we believe and profess, even to the point of being susceptible to the disease of error or heresy, falling away from the faith for a multitude of petty and irrational reasons. Yet if we push ourselves, learning more who this Jesus is, what He wants from us, what He has in store for us, nourishing ourselves with the sacraments, striving to remove sin and replace it with virtue, we will grow stronger in faith, able to challenge anything that the devil or the flesh or the world throws at us.
Yet we cannot rely on our own strength or ability alone. The disciples were afraid because of the boat tossing about through the night, while Peter became afraid only when he saw how strong the wind was. Each of us has those weak moments that will seem to test or may even break our faith. However, Jesus is always there, holding out to us the strong arm of His grace poured out for us in His sacraments, in particular the sacrament of confession. Our Lord knows our weaknesses, our frailty, our struggle to endure, and He knows that we will at times fail. But He does not want us to sink; rather, He holds out His arm, the arms by which He hung upon the Cross for our salvation, the same arm which He held out to Peter to keep him from sinking. If we are to become stronger in our faith, we must do it with Christ ever near to us, not just there when we want Him.
Finally, we must remember who is the center of our faith, who it is that grants us the ability to believe: God Almighty. Faith is initially a gift of God, a gift that we have not merited and could never deserve on our own. God, in His infinite love for each one of us, gives us every good and perfect gift we need to be holy. But we should never presume upon God’s good will nor should we believe that we have received enough. Jesus teaches us to pray unceasingly for everything we need and more. We ought to be like the prophet Elijah in our first reading: humbling ourselves before the transcendent, invisible God who waits for us to ask for everything. Prayer must be at the heart of our faith, or else we shall fail to grow, no matter how much we may will it or desire it.
Let us not remain comfortable with the minimal faith we have, but let us take up the challenge of living as Jesus commands. Let us cast off from the shores of this world to discover the untamed God who asks so much of us and offers us so much in return. Do not be afraid at the immensity of the task, but look to Jesus, our guide through the stormy seas. Pray that the Holy Spirit may be your Comforter in these difficult days, that His gifts may begin to bear fruit in you, even unto the growth of our church and the sanctification of our community. Let us indeed accept the challenge to follow Jesus Christ each day, that He may lead us through the turbulence of sin and strife to the serene and beautiful coasts of eternal life.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Corpus Christi (and First Weekend at St. Pat/St. James)

I must admit that I am still surprised to be here. When the bishop called me in to tell me he was naming me pastor of St. Pat, I was dumbfounded. I am grateful to God for the chance to return here as a priest and a pastor. I always felt like this was a second home to me, and I hope it will truly be that for me now. I want to start off by expressing my thanks to Father Black, for all the work he has done for our parish for the past two years. I hope he’s ready, because the real work now begins.
But what is the work of pastors and priests? What is it that we are called to do? Our feast day today gives us the answer, for our priests and pastors are ordained to give us the sacrament at the center of our faith: the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Our Lord did not leave us a book or any sort of writings; the New Testament was written by His Apostles and disciples. He left us the sacraments and the sacred liturgy, because in them we find Him present once more to us. And this divine presence is found in its fullness in the Eucharist.
The Church calls the Eucharist and the sacred liturgy the source and summit of the Christian life. Everything either directs us to the Eucharist, such as baptism and confession, or flows forth from the Eucharist, such as the works of mercy. It is because Jesus Christ is really and truly present in the bread and wine consecrated at the hands of the priest. What we receive in the Eucharist is not merely a symbol or a sign; it is actually Jesus Christ, true God and true man, who gave Himself up for us on the Cross. Far different and far greater than the manna God gave the Israelites in the desert, the heavenly Father pours upon us the bread of angels become our food for the journey.
The sacred liturgy - which is the Mass and the rituals surrounding the sacraments - is meant to communicate to us this truth: that Jesus Christ did not abandon us when He ascended into heaven, but that he is now present to us in the sacraments or mysteries of our faith. Each time the priest proclaims, “The mystery of faith,” he calls us to believe what Jesus said so clearly in the Gospel: This is my body, this is my blood. But only with the eyes of faith can we see that presence so real yet so difficult to apprehend. Only in faith do we receive what we believe is true.
Yet the sacred liturgy cannot be ignored or put aside to focus solely on the Eucharist. Everything in the liturgy points to or aids us to understand more completely what is happening and who is present to us once more. Jesus didn’t simply establish the sacraments to be something we merely do, but the means to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this life, so that we may be happy with Him in the next. The liturgy is like the frame that accents or highlights the picture, giving us a better means of seeing what we are supposed to see.
My hope as I begin my pastorate is to help you understand far better the sacred liturgy so that you can better appreciate and receive Jesus in the sacraments, most especially in Holy Communion. If you can put the puzzle pieces of the liturgy together, then you can see most clearly Jesus Christ, who is for us the human face of God. This may require changes or challenges to what you have known or experienced, but all of this is done so as to more boldly and more clearly proclaim Christ our Lord. If we do not proclaim Jesus Christ in everything we do here at Saint Pat, whether in the church or in the school, then we are not doing as Jesus commanded us to do.
Let us pray that God will pour out His Holy Spirit upon our parish, that we may be awakened to His promptings and His call for all of us to be holy. Please pray for me and for Fr. Black as we serve you, as we seek to bring you Jesus Christ, that we may be humbled before the Lord mysteriously present in the Eucharist. Let us pray for one another, that we may be elevated by all that the sacred liturgy offers, from the texts and chants to the incense and candles, so as to truly encounter not an idea or a philosophy, but a real person, a person who hides in the Eucharist so that we may not be overwhelmed by His greatness, but humbled by His smallness, to draw nearer to Him and become what we receive. May the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ truly bring us to everlasting life.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Trinity Sunday (and Last Sunday at Saint John)

The Shield of the Trinity

Traditionally, today’s liturgical office includes an ancient text commonly called the Athanasian Creed. This text begins with a phrase which is quite politically incorrect in our over-sensitive days: “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.” The text then professes the Catholic belief in that most central of doctrines for our faith, that which we are celebrating today: the Most Holy Trinity.
With the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church last week on Pentecost, God reveals to us who He really is in His fullness. God, being greater and more exalted than humanity, desires us to know Him, so that we may love Him and serve Him in response. The Bible can be summarized as God’s gradual revelation of Himself to the greatest of His creatures: man. We hear in the first reading about one of the greatest of those revelations to Moses on Mount Sinai. The encounter we hear, however, is not the great exchange in which God gives Moses the Ten Commandments; this particular encounter is after the sin of the Israelites in creating the golden calf and worshipping it as a false god. Yet the Almighty deigns to reveal, even after the sins of men, who He is: the one supreme Lord, He who Is as the actual Hebrew name of God translates, a God slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.
Yet this does not fully reveal to us mere mortals who God is at His innermost being. It is not until the coming of the God-man that we are given the fullness of God’s being, a revelation that still leaves us in mystery. While the reception of the Holy Spirit concludes this revelation, we are still shrouded by questions. How can One be Three, and Three be One? How do the Father and the Son and the Spirit all relate to each other? The great danger in talking about the Holy Trinity is slipping into error, and it’s not too hard to do that. But what can we really say about the Trinity?
It is hard to say everything that could be said about the Trinity in a short homily, but the essentials must be covered. We worship one God, not three; the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God. All three receive the adoration and glory that is due to God alone. Yet they are distinct from each other: the Father is neither the Son nor the Spirit, the Son is neither the Father nor the Spirit, and the Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. The deity at the heart of our Catholic faith is one in the divine substance yet three persons as well, each with their particular role: the Father as the begetter, the Son as the begotten, and the Spirit as the bond of love between the Father and the Son. Clear?
Of course it isn’t that clear. This is why we describe this belief as the mystery of the Trinity. It is mystery because it is something that cannot be completely comprehended by our rational faculties. Saint Anselm defined God as that than which nothing greater could be conceived. If we can conceive it, it is still limited, yet God is infinite, incapable of being bounded by our lower corporal minds. If you think that you understand completely who God is, then you’re not thinking of the living God. While God’s complete being may be beyond our complete comprehension, yet He still desires us to know Him as He really is.
This is the work of the Church: to reveal God to the world. Everything the Church does is ultimately with this goal in mind: to reveal God as God revealed Himself, through Jesus Christ - His Son and our Lord. But the Church cannot carry out this task without that revelation itself. This is why the Church is not just a group concerned with external activity, but is also concerned with interior reflection and development, which is found in her sacred liturgy. For the liturgy is not primarily a tool for evangelization and conversion of non-Catholics; it is meant to be the means whereby the Christian faithful, those already members of the body of Christ, come to encounter more deeply and more richly the transcendent Trinity who becomes immanent through signs and symbols so that we may not be ignorant of Him, but drink deeply of His fullness.
While my time here at Saint John and Transfiguration has been short, I hope that I have helped you to realize more completely this essential truth of our Catholic faith. This is why I have sought to restore the traditional posture of the priest and people turned together to face God. This is why I have tried to make the sacred liturgy as noble and as beautiful as it can be here. Because we are not here to just be family or a club or anything the world offers; if that were the case, we’re doing a terrible job of it. We are here in this church because we are ultimately meant to be turned towards God, the Triune God, the God whose inner being as the Trinity reveals what our patron Saint John declares simply in his letters: God is love. It is that regular encounter with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit that is meant to transform us so that the rest of our lives are sanctified by His grace and we can then live not as we did before our baptisms - living in sin and error and darkness - but to live in the glorious and loving light of God.
My prayer for you all as I leave is that you may continue to grow through the wondrous exchange of the Mass to be the holy people of God, to be what you are meant to be. Do not keep to the old ways of ignorance, but draw nearer to Him who has so much more to show you than I could even if I were to stay for forty years. Do not be like so many around us who focus on themselves, but radiate with that same divine light as did Moses when he encountered the living God on Mount Sinai. Turn to Jesus, the one Word spoken by God before all time, and listen to Him, for He is the best teacher and priest you will ever have. May the light and love of the Trinity burn in your hearts more fully each day, and may everything Saint Paul commands and exhorts today be yours as well, so that we may all do as the Psalmist exclaims: to give the Trinity glory and praise forever in the banquet of Heaven.

Sunday, June 4, 2017


We conclude the Easter season today with the feast of Pentecost. While we spent forty days in penance during Lent, today marks the fiftieth day of the Easter celebration, reminding us that our joy in the victory which Jesus won in His Resurrection is greater than our sorrow over our sinfulness. In fact, the name Pentecost literally means fifty in Greek. It is this day in which God pours forth the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles to start the Church.
In the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to celebrate this day as a harvest festival and as a commemoration of the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai after God had freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. It is most appropriate, then, that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurs on this day, to remind us that it is by the Spirit of God that we have everything we possess: not just our salvation but the fundamentals of existence, such as food, clothing, shelter. God always acts with the Spirit: we should recall how Adam received the Spirit of life in the very beginning in order to live, or how the Spirit is called upon by the psalmist to renew the face of the earth. But what or who is the Holy Spirit?
Put simply, the Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son. This love is so real, so tremendous between the two, that it is a divine Person, hence the Most Holy Trinity, which we will celebrate next Sunday. But this Person who is love does not remain only between the Father and the Son; He is sent down upon humanity to be the bond of love between God and man. It is in the Spirit that we are able to be united to Jesus Christ, as Saint Paul highlights in our second reading. It is through the Spirit that we are able to become holy, for only by His presence in us are we able to pray as we ought or to know what it means to be holy.
Above all, God sends forth His Spirit so as to renew the face of the earth. How does He do this? By His indwelling within our souls. God does not send the Spirit only on one occasion, but pours Him out upon us like water from a fountain. We are always in need of the rejuvenating graces and the ceaseless presence of the Holy Spirit to become holy, to be what we are supposed to be. We ought to make our own what the sequence for today’s feast beseeches of the Spirit: “Cleanse that which is unclean, water that which is dry, heal that which is wounded. Bend that which is inflexible, enflame that which is chilled, correct what goes astray.” Only in the Spirit can we be good, only in the Spirit can we be just, only in the Spirit can we be holy.

Let us beseech God on this day to pour out upon us once more His Holy Spirit so that we may be what we were created to be. Let us make our own those wondrous words, “Come Creator Spirit! Come from thy heavenly throne, and make our souls thine own!” Let us beg God to renew us by His Spirit so that we may be engulfed in the fire of His love, transformed from mediocrity into the saints we are supposed to be. Do not remain cold or lukewarm, but be stirred anew to live by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. May our parish truly be a temple of the Holy Spirit, where the fire of love burns day and night, the unquenchable fire that does not destroy but purifies and prepares all for the glories that await the faithful in the eternal splendor of Heaven.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Ascension Sunday

Each year, Holy Mother Church commands her pastors to bless a large candle at the Easter Vigil. This candle is then processed through the Church and placed in the sanctuary, where it burns at each Mass of Eastertide until today.  This Paschal candle is meant to be the symbol of the resurrected Christ, who is the Light of the World banishing the darkness of sin. This candle reminds us that He who once was dead lives once more and does not rest in the tomb, but remains close to His apostles, showing them His sacred wounds and further instructing them on the mission that He has given to them. But on this, the feast of the Ascension of our Lord into Heaven, Holy Church commands us to extinguish this candle so as to better awaken us to the reality of this feast: the reality that our Lord no longer physically remains on this earth, but has ascended to the right hand of the Father, as we profess in the Creed.
Yet we should not greet this moment with sorrow over our Lord’s Ascension, as if He is leaving us behind or abandoning us. For, on the contrary, the Psalmist tells us that “God ascends in jubilation, and the Lord ascends with the sound of the trumpet” (Ps 46:6). We are called to rejoice on this day, not to be sorrowful. We are to rejoice, for our God and King mounts His throne prepared for Him, to reign over His Kingdom. We are to rejoice, for our High Priest ascends to the altar of Heaven, where He who is ever-living makes a continual intercession for us before God (Hebrews 7:24-25). We are to rejoice, for the Lamb who was slain goes to prepare the wedding feast in which the faithful will be united with Himself at the end of days (Rev. 19:7-9).
We should not be sorrowful that He has left, because this world is not ready for Him to rule. Our Lord now possesses that glorified and incorruptible body which is promised to all on the last day, but this day has not yet come. Our world is still filled with corruption and sin, still remaining dark in many corners of the world, still blind to the true Light which burns without being extinguished. How can He remain here in that state of finality when the world remains incomplete? Our Lord ascends to Heaven so as to remind us that we are not meant for the world as it stands now, but for the glories that await in the world to come.
But whom are these glories meant for, if not for all of humanity? And how will all hear of these glories, if no one preaches them, if no one is sent out to preach? (Rom 10:14-15) This is why the last command given by Christ to His apostles is to “go out into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature”, waiting for the Holy Ghost to come so as to be His witnesses to the utmost parts of the earth (Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8). This is the mission of the Church, that mission which we must pray for, support, and do in our own lives, just as Jesus commanded His apostles before going to His seat at the right of the Father.

Let us then rejoice at this Mass today, that the Lord has risen on high and taken captivity captive (Ps 67:18). Let us pray to our Lord this day that He may be nearer to us not in His physical presence, but in His real presence in the Eucharist. Let us also pray for the fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit this Pentecost, that we may be strengthened and encouraged to proclaim the Gospel message to every creature. But let us also prepare ourselves for that day when He will return, as the angels promised. Let us be watchful and look to the East in eager expectation of our Lord coming as He left us, so as to subject all beneath His feet and to rule in that eternal Kingdom where all shall be gathered to Himself and share in His glory for ages upon ages.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Fifth Sunday of Easter - 100th Anniversary of Fatima

The place: Europe. The year: 1917. War has plagued the continent for over three years at this point. The ravages of trench warfare, poison gas, machine guns, and tanks never seems to end. But another war is brewing in Russia, where revolution will explode in October, killing the tsar and his family and leading to the rise of godless Communism. Everywhere it seems as if chaos and disorder rule the day. It is in the midst of this most depressing time that something incredible occurs in a small town in Portugal.
Three shepherd children are caring for their families’ flocks in the fields when they see a bright light. When their eyes adjust, they see a lady clothed in white. She asks them to join her in praying the Rosary. After the Rosary, she promises to visit them for four more months. Thus ended the first apparition of our Lady at Fatima in Portugal, which occurred one hundred years ago yesterday. In fact, Pope Francis has been in Fatima to celebrate the centenary of the apparitions, to honor everything that Mary did at Fatima, in particular her message. But what is her message?
Our Lady revealed to the children a few secrets. First, she showed them what hell is really like. The tortures and pain were so tremendous that one of the children remarked later on that the children were so scared by what they saw that only the assurance of Our Lady that she would take them to heaven calmed them down. The Virgin reminded them that this is what awaits sinners who do not repent and turn to Jesus. It is the ultimate fate for those who reject what Jesus declares in the Gospel today: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” There is no other way to follow to get to heaven except the way of Jesus; there is no other truth to believe except the truth that Jesus is Lord and King, victorious in His resurrection from the dead; and there is no life possible except life in Christ, animated by His grace and mercy to be the saints we were meant to be.
Not only did she reveal the truth about hell, but the Virgin Mary also predicted that another war would break out after the current war ended if men did not abandon their wicked ways. She also gave a prophecy of the Church in calamity, destruction seeming to occur everywhere. Yet, despite all of these terrifying visions and prophecies, the Lady ended all of this with a simple but hopeful promise: “In the end, my immaculate heart will triumph.” In truth, how can she not obtain the triumph? That heart has most completely and most willingly obeyed God from the very first moment she could act until now and until the end of time. How can Satan overcome a heart most united to God through her divine Son?
Indeed, the victory of Jesus Christ is shared by the Virgin Mary because she is the greatest of all disciples. She shows us how to follow Jesus the way; she shows how to adhere to Jesus the truth; and she is the best witness of how to live in Jesus our life. All of the saints put together cannot match her fidelity, her virtue, her purity, her sanctity. This is why we crown her as Queen - because God has already crowned her Queen of heaven and earth by her faithfulness to everything He commanded her to do.

Let us indeed crown our Lady today, but not only with a crown of flowers, but in our hearts and minds as our mother and our queen. Let us heed the warning that she gave at Fatima and still gives today: repent and believe in her Son. Convert, and be no longer the slaves of Satan, the pawns of a sinful world, but become the children of Mary, the brethren of Jesus. Let us do what she asks of us, so that we may join her and all the angels and saints in the Father’s house, where a place is prepared for all who adhere to Him who is the one way, the one truth, the one life.