Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Day

The first Thanksgiving in America - Florida, 1585

I would argue that our holiday today can be used as a proof for the existence of God.  We Americans enjoy giving thanks on this day each year for anything and everything.  Yet, to whom do we give thanks?  You cannot thank the universe for giving you all your blessings; it is incapable of orchestrating such giving on its own.  We cannot thank each other alone; certainly, some of our blessings come from our family, our friends, and our neighbors, but they are not the primary source.  Thus, I would posit that God must exist as the ultimate source of receiving our thanks, the Gift Giver who has provided us with the first gift, the great voice which would echo back through the cosmos, “You’re welcome.”
While it may not be the strongest or greatest of the divine proofs, I think it may be one that still has some resonance with our society today.  We still love to get together in our families on this day, to celebrate this occasion with those whom we love, and to be thankful for what the past year has brought us.  However, I think many people have lost sight of who is the One we should above all thank for not only the blessings and joys of the past year, but for even the ability to give thanks.
It is not that people are thanking God on Thanksgiving Day, but that it seems to be the only day when people thank Him.  Perhaps we may take an occasional moment or two to offer a quick thanks, especially when we have gotten through something hard or stressful, but, in general, we tend to save a greater part of our thanksgiving for this day.  The Christian, though, is not restricted to this one day or a few moments, but indeed should live a life filled with thanksgiving.
This Christian attitude of thanksgiving is one of the oldest commands given to us by Saint Paul, as we heard in our alleluia verse.  The first letter to the Thessalonians is usually considered the oldest text in the New Testament, and near the end, the Apostle gives a series of commands to the church in Thessalonica, telling them to “rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in all circumstances give thanks, for that is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thes 5:16-18).  Saint Paul, in fact, seems to be saying that this command to give thanks at all times is not from himself, but that it comes from Christ, as we hear in our Gospel today.
Ten lepers are healed by Our Lord, yet only one returns, glorifying God “in a loud voice” and thanking Jesus for his healing.  Saint Luke is insistent that only this one realizes that he is healed and then returns to the feet of Christ.  The other nine lepers seem to be too fixed on the command of Christ instead of marvelling at the gift of Christ’s healing.  It is a tale that can echo either way in the life of the Christian.  For we are like those lepers; we were born with a terrible disease upon our souls, a disfiguring condition worse than the ravages of leprosy upon the body.  We were born under original sin, and each of us is incapable of removing this disease, this condition by our own actions.  Hence, we too cry out to Jesus saying, “Have pity on us!”
And He has done just that; through the hands of the priest, through the cleansing waters of baptism, each of us has been cleansed spiritually of original sin and has been made pure by Christ.  For this, we should emulate the Samaritan leper and prostrate ourselves before Jesus our Divine Physician and give Him thanks for His cure.  This is the attitude that Christians have held since the time of Saint Paul, fulfilling his command to give thanks in all circumstances.  And Christians have done it through one particular action performed by Christ and continually re-presented to us down through the centuries: the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Why is it that we call the Mass the “Eucharist?”  It is because that word comes from the Greek word which means “thanksgiving.”  Every Mass is seen by the Church as not only the re-presentation of the immolation of Christ upon the Cross for our sins, but it is at the same time the one supreme act of thanksgiving offered by the People of God for all that God has done for us in Christ Jesus.  At every Mass, we fulfill the words of the Psalmist who commands us, in union with Saint Paul, to “give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His mercy endures forever” (Ps 117[118]:1). And it is in uniting ourselves to that perfect sacrifice made by Christ our High Priest that we are able to truly give thanks to the Lord for His ever-enduring mercy upon us.
The life of the Christian, then, should be continually filled with thanksgiving. He should be thankful for the great mercy of God won for him through the death of Christ; for the mercy which is still offered to him daily in the sacraments; for every grace given to him by God so as to follow the call of Christ towards holiness; for every blessing given to him in his daily life, whether great or small.  Even when the Christian sins and fails to live up to the command of holiness, he should give thanks that God does not abandon him to his wickedness but offers to him anew through confession the opportunity for a fresh start. The Christian is meant to be a person of thanks, a thanks-giver as it were, rejoicing in all that the Lord has done for him, is currently doing for him, and will do for him.
Let us certainly make this day a great day of thanksgiving to God for all that He has done for us this year. But let us strive to be more thankful every day, most especially when we assist at the Mass - our greatest act of thanksgiving. Let us receive the Eucharist in a spirit of thanks, reveling in the marvels of what the Lord has done us. Let us not be like the nine in our Gospel who do not give thanks to Jesus for His healing, but let us imitate the Samaritan who returned to glorify God for all that Christ had done for him. Let us give thanks to the Lord now and all the rest of our days, so that we may be prepared for the eternal feast of thanksgiving which awaits us in the bounties of Heaven.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Christ the King (OF)

We seem to be experiencing a great crisis of leadership recently.  The influx of refugees from Syria and the Middle East has lead Western leaders to equivocate and quibble over what to do.  The attacks in Paris last week have made things seemingly harder instead of perhaps easier for our leaders.  Most are quite unsure how to act or are seemingly incapable of acting.  Christians in particular are worried about their future, as many are being driven out of their homes or even killed for professing Christ as their Lord.  Not only those Christians in ISIS-controlled lands, but even here at home, where the increasingly secular and anti-Christian crowds try to repress the faith through the civic imposition of moral evils such as abortion and homosexual so-called “marriage.”  Whom shall we rally around in these increasingly dangerous and treacherous times?
We must not delude ourselves to think that this is the first time in Christian history that the Church has been on the verge of collapse and destruction.  For the first three centuries of the Church’s existence, she was consistently attacked by the Roman Empire, to the point of creating numerous martyrs.  The barbarian hordes seemed to be slaughtering Christians left and right as they tore the Empire apart.  Much later, the machinations of Luther, Calvin, and all the Protestants seemed poised to rip the Church to pieces, incapable of recovering.  The modern era of the past 150-200 years has seen time and again the consistent pronouncement of the death of Christianity and in particular the Church.  This is to not even begin to highlight the various evils done within the Church by her members that seem poised to make the whole thing collapse.
And yet it does not fall apart, it does not collapse.  To be sure, the Church has been at many points in her history weak and in need of great care and healing.  Yet this institution we call the Catholic Church is still with us today, 2000 years after her founding.  To what can we attribute this streak of persistence?  How can it be, especially in this so-called “modern” age of technology and science and anti-religion, that this Church continues to not only take the blows giving to her, but to bounce back and overcome her attackers?
We can see the Church’s vitality in the feast we celebrate today, for it is due to Christ the King that the Church has been able to persevere even in spite of the scandalous behavior of some of her members.  A nation or a people is only as healthy as her leader, and it is no exception in the Church.  In fact, we can only attribute the longevity of the Church purely on her foundation in Christ her divine Head.  It is purely through the Word made flesh that the Church is able to endure even the worst of its own internal sickness or the greatest of attacks against her.
Why is it that we celebrate Christ as being King of the Universe?  It is because He has won that right for Himself through the victory earned on the cross.  Last week we saw how we are at war with evil, starting with Satan and continuing in each heart which separates itself from God.  But this war has already seen its victory occur in the life of Christ.  Jesus comes among us not merely to be a great teacher or a wise man, but to obtain for all of humanity our freedom from evil.  The cross is not a nice little story or a cute image; it is like a Matthew Brady photo from the Civil War, conveying the harsh and cruel manner of war.  Our first reaction should be horror at the pains and sufferings that Our Savior underwent in order to redeem us from Satan and sin.  But our second reaction should be one of joy and thanksgiving, in that Christ has emerged victorious in this battle, the victory highlighted in His resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Satan has tried to claim mastery over this world from that initial victory with Adam and Eve in the Garden, but Jesus does not let him keep that claim up for long.  With the victory of the cross and the triumph of the Resurrection comes the rewards, and for Jesus, it is to be crowned the rightful and true King of the Universe.  From Easter Sunday onwards, we are in the right to call Jesus not only our King, but in all truth the only King that we can really know, love, and serve completely.
Yet Jesus’ kingship is not completely realized in this world.  Our King tells Pilate when asked if He is a king that, “My kingdom is not of this world.”  How can it be of this world?  While Jesus has won his crowning victory in His passion, death, and Resurrection, yet there are still those who avoid, reject, or even hate Christ and do not seek to have Him as King.  Even among those who profess to belong to Christ, there are those who try to employ doublespeak, saying that they are Christian while leading lives that are diametrically opposed to what Christ and His Church teach and command.  How can Christ be truly a king when even those who claim to be His subjects are disobedient?
Jesus Christ is king no matter what our opinion or belief may be.  The question is whether we will accept Him as our king or not.  The Church will continue to proclaim the victory of Christ and His reign as the King of the Universe until the end of time.  Each one of us will be presented in this world and in the next with the ultimate question: Is Jesus Christ my king?  A king can only rule with the assent of his people.  So it is with Christ the King.  Will we let Him reign in our hearts, or will we place a usurper as king, to our eternal detriment? Will the Lord’s Prayer come true for us now, most especially that Thy kingdom come?
Let us follow Christ our King as our true leader, as our victorious leader, as our faithful leader. Let us abandon all those usurpers who have tried to rule our hearts and minds, and let the true King reign supreme. Let us do our part to build up the Kingdom of God on earth by showing the triumph of Christ in our own lives. But let us also be mindful of the final coming of Christ the King at the end of time. He will come on that terrible day to pass judgment on all and to reward all according to their labors. Let us not be too late in following the King of the Universe, so that He may bring about the completion of His kingdom and lead us to the glories that await the faithful in eternal life, sharing in that victory with Mary and all the saints forever.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

32nd Sunday per annum (OF) - Our True Treasure

You will find on numerous websites which are critical of the Catholic Church images which chastise the Church for the great amount of wealth which She possesses in her sacristies.  This is seen as a reason to oppose the Church in what she teaches and proclaims. “Why don’t you give everything to the poor?” they will demand and label us as hypocrites for supposedly subverting the command of Christ.  How do we respond to this charge?
Some Catholics might agree with this and say that we should give everything away, relieve as much poverty as possible, and remain poor.   I would respond by asking this person why they haven’t done this already if they so believe this to be true.  But beyond the bantering back and forth, why is it that the Church desires fineries for her churches and her sanctuaries?  Why don’t we just focus on relieving poverty?  This is because humanity is not our center of focus, but we are oriented towards God.
The anti-fanciness screed shows a complete misunderstanding of which direction we are looking as Catholics.  The Catholic Church’s mission is to be the vessel of salvation for humanity.  This certainly involves aiding the poor, since Jesus shows us that we are serving Him well in caring for those who are without.  But the Church aids the poor so as to help them to gain the wealth of the kingdom of Heaven.  The ultimate goal of every activity of the Church is to bring the people to God and to bring God to the people.  Our Holy Father has often talked about this, saying that the Church is not a non-government organization, but the body of Christ.
What does all this have to do with what we have heard today?  It is the attitude of the widow of Zarephath and the widow of the Gospel which we should emulate in our own lives.  Both women are poor, poor to the point of death.  They have only enough to keep themselves alive for a day or two.  Yet each of them puts their faith and their hope in God.  The widow of Zarephath hopes that God will act through the prophet Elijah, while the widow of the Gospel hopes that God will soon come to save His people, perhaps not knowing that this same God was proclaiming the sanctity of her offering.
Jesus praises this widow due to her hope in God while lambasting the Pharisees and their self-centered giving and obsession with human praise.  We are reminded by this Gospel that we are not truly wealthy, whether we have money or not, but that we are poor, that the whole species of humanity is poor due to its misuse of the initial gift of wealth given by God to our first parents.  Saint Paul elaborates on this theme, declaring that “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).
Our two widows today get this, each in their own way.  Jesus makes us rich not in monetary wealth (always beware a preacher who tells you that faith will make you rich).  Jesus pours down onto us the spiritual wealth of becoming the children of God and the heirs to the kingdom of Heaven.  We are given the richness which comes from possessing God Himself, who is the greatest and only enduring treasure that can be found.  Nothing else can satisfy the heart so much as having God as our one true possession.
This is why we seek to build magnificent churches and cathedrals, why we use gold and silver and silk and lace to decorate our altars, why we have paintings and statues and frescoes in our various buildings.  All of this is meant to show the wealth of God which is ours.  It is meant to orient us not towards the pursuit of money or fame or power, but to the pursuit of God.  Those who criticize the Church for her wealth do not believe in this eternal treasure but think that we can only find treasure here and now.  They are like the Pharisees who seek not to find God in their wealth or their offices, but instead desire to possess the treasure of human praise.
We also see in our second reading one last hint at this desire for beauty and finery in our churches.  The Apostle has been describing throughout this section and the previous sections of Hebrews how Christ is the High Priest who offers the one perfect sacrifice.  He tells us now that Jesus enters not into an earthly temple, but into the eternal Temple of God which is Heaven.  The Apostle shows us that what we do here in this church previews or prepares us for the eternal liturgy of Heaven.  Saint John in the book of Revelation describes Heaven as the wedding banquet of the Lamb to His Bride which is seen as the ultimate fulfillment of the Mass.  This means that we are previewing in this place what we hope to see in Heaven.
If this is true, then we should certainly do everything we can to beautify every aspect of the liturgy.  This is why we built such magnificent churches, why we gild everything pertaining to the sacred gifts, why we have sought the best of every art: we are trying to make all of this as beautiful as Heaven!  This is what is at the heart of the Gospel message - not merely some unity of men and women for a common purpose like golf or bridge or bingo, but a communion of persons with God in a shadowy sense here and now and in a real sense in the life to come.  The Mass is meant to be Heaven come down to earth.
Let us, then, seek to be oriented towards God our true treasure.  Let us seek to do everything we can to make this church reflect, as best as we can, the glories of the heavenly wedding feast.  We may not be a cathedral or a rich parish, but we can still do our best to make this the best it can be.  But let us also be mindful that this treasure is not meant for just us alone.  We must share this with others so that they may also become rich through their union with Christ.  A church that only focuses on itself does not grow or flourish.  Let us do our part to proclaim the treasures of the Gospel to our neighbors and help them to receive it for themselves, most especially the poor and the downtrodden, those who especially remembered by Our Lord.  May we have the faith and the hope of the two widows today to believe and trust in God’s mercy and His goodness for us now and for all eternity.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

All Saints (OF)

When we were children, we all had that person we looked up to.  Whether it was our parents or a sibling, an athlete or some fictional character; each of us had someone whom we saw as a role model or as someone we’d like to be when we grow up.  Perhaps we still have that person in mind today though we have gained a few more years to our life.  Humanity is always seeking an inspiration to be better and to do better, to improve our lives from the drab and flab or the snoring and the boring.
Yet is this true within the Church?  It seems sometimes in our own day that some Christians do not desire to follow Christ more completely or seek to transform their lives according to what Jesus teaches us, but rather, they seek to transform the Church to follow after their own example or lack of example.  “Why can’t the Church change this?”, or, “Why is the Church so harsh about that?”, these lackadaisical Christians will ask.  While it is easy to seek a role model among the athletes and abnormal in our society, it seems to be more difficult to seek Christ as a role model in our own time.
Today’s feast shows us that this is not meant to be the case.  We celebrate the feast of All the Saints, of all the holy people who are now in Heaven enjoying eternal union with God.  If there is any day which condemns the lazy Christian’s complaint about the Church and her teachings, it is this day.  For we see in the lives of all the saints, known and unknown to us, how simple it is to hear the word of God and obey it.  We see in the saints the heavenly role model for our Christian lives.
The saints demonstrate to us the proper attitude of the Christian to the teachings of Christ and His Church: a spirit of belief and receptivity.  It is not we who are meant to change the Church in our own image, but rather Christ working through His Church in proclaiming to us how humanity is meant to be recreated in His image.  The saints bear witness in being the children of God, as Saint John says we are meant to be in his letter from our readings today.  If we are the children of God, then we will strive to obey our Father in all that He reveals to us through His only-begotten Son.
This filial obedience must first come through belief.  The saints show us that we must believe every word coming from the mouth of Christ as coming from God Himself.  Each one of them received the grace necessary to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that He was born of the Virgin Mary, lived, suffered and died for our sins, rose again on the third day, ascended, and reigns now from His holy throne in Heaven.  If a Christian does not actually believe in this which we profess in the Creed every Sunday and holy day, then they do not have the Christian faith, but follow a false teacher or the devil in his lies.
This belief must then be put into practice in the life of the Christian.  Saint James reminds us that faith without works is dead.  We are called not only to believe in Jesus, but to live our lives based on all of His works and teachings.  Our Gospel shows us the summation of this in the Beatitudes, the highest of all teachings which Jesus gave us in His earthly life. We are shown in these words not merely the condemnation of what is sinful, but the blessings which emerge for doing that which is healthful.  Each phrase demonstrates to us why doing these things is good, with the final phrase revealing to us that all of this will be good in that it leads us towards the reward of Heaven.
The lives of all the saints bear witness to this promise.  Look through the catalog of saints throughout the 2000 years in which the Church has existed.  You will see the martyrs of the Church, showing to the pagans or even to bad Christians the primacy and reality of Christ over the false gods and false doctrines.  You will see the great doctors teaching the truth and condemning errors from outside and inside the Church.  You will see the holy monks and nuns who renounce all that this world offers in order to seek after Christ and to live here and now in preparation for Heaven.  You will see popes, bishops, and priests directing souls to Christ through their preaching and their sacerdotal ministry.  You will see married couples bearing the fruits of holiness through their marriage and through their children.  You will see great and small, famous and nearly-forgotten, men, women, and children, all filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit, longing to see the face of God.
The saints are our role models for living the Christian life.  They are not chosen by God to be saints apart from us.  Every single one of us is called to be a saint!  Sometimes, it seems that we think only some are meant to be saints while the rest of us are just supposed to be “normal” Christians.  This is far from the truth; in fact, Jesus says elsewhere in the same Gospel to all of His disciples, and to all of us in turn, that we are to be perfect (Matthew 5:48).  Jesus calls us to be saints!
If we are called to be saints, if we are called to be perfect, how can this be done?  This process of sainthood starts not from within ourselves, but from outside of ourselves.  With God all things are possible, and with the grace of God we can become saints.  He has already given us the grace to become members of His Church, to partake of the sacrament of baptism so as to be washed clean of the original sin which first stained us.  We should not be shy in beseeching His mercy to grant us every grace we need to be the saints He desires us to be and towards which He calls us.  Our first and last recourse should always be in prayer.
We should also seek the aid of the saints.  The saints are far more than role models for the Christian; they are our friends in Heaven.  They desire all of us to join them in the courts of Heaven and seek to win from God all that we need in order to be with them.  We should certainly find the saints that resonate with us, either in their life or in their example.  There are plenty of saints to choose from, and almost every walk of life is covered, so we have no excuse for not finding a saint to be our heavenly helper.
Along with prayer to God and to the saints, we must also be receptive to receiving the sacraments frequently and in a proper state.  Jesus Christ has given the sacraments to us through His Church as the primary means of distributing grace.  We must take full advantage of them, most especially the Eucharist and the confessional.  If we have sinned, we must not delay in receiving the mercy of God through the sacrament of reconciliation.  To go for a long period of time without going to confession would be like going a long time without showering or bathing.  In fact, to help with this, I plan on adding more time for confession on the weekends and even during the week.  There should be little excuse on my part for you not to receive the mercy of God.
Finally, we must echo the saints in living out the Christian faith in every action of our lives.  Holiness is not meant for merely one or two great moments; it is meant to be diffused throughout every moment of our life.  Each decision carries with it the choice of increasing in holiness or decreasing.  Saint John reminds us that if we hope to know what will be revealed to us in Heaven, then we must keep ourselves pure from sin, just as Christ is pure.
Let us pray to that great cloud of witnesses who cheers us on in Heaven that we may run so as to win (cf. Heb. 12:1; 1 Cor 9:24).  Let us be inspired by the great role models of the saints to live the Christian faith to the fullest.  Let us pray to the Virgin Mary, the Queen of all the saints, that she may aid us by her prayers and her example to live as the humble servants of the Lord.  Let us learn from the saints the simple road of holiness taught to them and to us by Christ our divine Master.  May we live such lives of holiness that we may join the great multitude in praising and glorifying Christ our Lamb and our King in the eternal joys of heaven.