Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Vigil (OF)

Stories have been a part of our human experience since we have existed.  Even before we could write out words, we traced images onto the walls of caves.  Soon we began to have those appointed to the task of telling stories, either through recitation or through writing.  With the advent of motion pictures, we now have even more ways to enjoy our favorite stories come to life before our eyes. How many different stories have been told throughout the centuries: Odysseus and Aeneas, Arthur and Camelot, Robin Hood and his Merry Men, the modern sagas of the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Each of us has that story that we know from beginning to end, that story which we treasure greatly, which we return to time and time again.
What is it about that one story that attracts us to return to it even when we know the plot and could probably recite the whole thing from memory? It is something which speaks to us deep down within our being, striking a chord within our heart.  It resonates with what we desire and what we wish could be.  It is the proper resolution of all things: the wicked are overthrown and punished, the good are rewarded, and all live happily ever after.
This resolution is what every decent human being desires in their own life, and so we seek to affirm this by clinging on to stories where this resolution occurs.  How else do you explain the movies which get the biggest box office profits?  We want to see the triumph of good over evil, the victory of the hero against the villain, not the opposite.  Only a deformed mind would desire that evil emerges triumphant and good be crushed.  We treasure these stories because we recognize the reality that there is evil in our world, and that perhaps it might win over us unless we act.
Yet how often does it seem that this view of good versus evil is called simplistic or misguided in our own day?  We are told that one man’s view of good and evil may be vastly different than another’s, and that we must not seek to impose or be intolerant of the other’s views. Some even question the labels “good” and “evil” as being out-of-touch with the modern understanding of morality.  They will tell us that each value has its own place and time and that we cannot judge or dismiss these ideas from our minds. How often do we hear the phrase, “Who am I to judge?”
If any of us really believed this view of the relative value of good and evil, then we would not be here tonight.  For tonight we re-hear the story that has been woven into the human experience from the very beginning.  We hear once more the story of the real battle of good and evil which has been waged from the creation of the world, and which continues now and unto the end of time.  It is the story we are all too familiar with, yet the story which we should delight in the most.
Saint Matthew hints at this story in the beginning of his Gospel, when, as we have just heard, he lists out the generations between Abraham, David, and the one whose birth we are beginning to celebrate.  For those who are in the know, this list of names is like the beginning of a TV episode saying ‘Previously on...”  That story which is found within those names begins in the Garden of Eden, when God creates man and woman, giving them life and calling them to union with Himself.  Of the fall of humanity we are all too familiar both in story form and in our own experiences.  We may try to deny it, but we know that there is a condition which leads each one of us to do that which we know is not right or to avoid doing that which is good.  So we see evil strike its first blow against God and against humanity, but it is not the last blow for either side.
Our story continues with Abraham: called in other places in the Scriptures the righteous or the faithful.  He obeys God completely in his life, from his call to leave his homeland and enter Canaan - the future home of his descendants - or even to the point of nearly offering his son as a sacrifice to God.  Abraham is one of the most holy people portrayed in the Old Testament, but he is not capable of finishing the story, and so it continues after him.
Next we see King David, the strong warrior who secures the nation of Israel against her enemies. David is highly praised in the Scriptures, especially in the Psalms as a righteous king and a holy warrior.  Yet David was not completely righteous or faithful; the most famous incident is when he lures Bathsheba away from her husband and commits adultery with her, even killing her husband so that she could be his wife.  David is thus seen as incapable of completing this story of humanity, and so it continues after him.
We then hear about those who are sent into exile after Israel is conquered many years after the death of David. This is one of the lowest points in the story up to tonight’s feast: the nation promised by God to exist forever had been conquered and banished from the Promised Land.  It seems at this point that God will not be victorious, that perhaps the devil will emerge victorious in this story.  But it is not the case: God eventually frees the people so that they may return to their heritage and live once more in the favor and grace of God.  Yet none of these men or women listed were able to conclude our story, and so it continues after them. It continues until tonight.
With the child whose birth we celebrate tonight, our story begins to turn towards its climax through the introduction of the most unexpected of persons: not another character but the very Author of the story itself.  For the child born to us this night is no mere child.  He is the Creator of the entire universe become a creature within that same universe; He is the Author of the great story who becomes one of the characters within that same story; He is the indivisible, infinite, immortal, eternal God become weak, fragile, mortal man so as to serve that same God.  It is this child who will turn the story towards its climax through His life and through His death.
Indeed, what we celebrate tonight is the fact that God becomes personally present to us through the same flesh which we all possess so as to bring about the conclusion desired by God.  Only the Author can end the story, and so too is it necessary for God to bring about this needed conclusion. Yet humanity must be intimately involved in that conclusion since it was man who started the mess in the first place.  So it is that God takes on our flesh and is given a part in the story which He has already written before the dawn of time.  So it is that this Jesus is born in Bethlehem so as to free us from our sins.
We know the conclusion of the story: we see it in the Cross displayed so prominently in our church.  We will celebrate it once more on Easter Sunday when we recall and rejoice in the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  But can we really say that all of that is the true conclusion to this story we have reviewing?  How can we say that this story is done when it seems that so little has changed from before?
It is true that the story of humanity is finished in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.  Jesus’ vindication shines forth like the dawn and His victory like a burning torch, as prophesied by Isaiah in our first reading.  Yet this story is not finished for each one of us.  It is unfinished in that we each are given the choice of either joining in with the victorious story of Christ or of writing our own story against God and against Christ.  It is unfinished in that it is still being written in our hearts and in our lives, the pen standing over the paper at each moment to write down and to trace out our path either towards union with God or abandonment of God.
We all know the classic ending of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: Ebenezer Scrooge, having been visited by three spirits showing him Christmases past, present, and future, changes his ways for the better, exclaiming at the end “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” For the Christian, this is meant to be not the end of our individual stories, but the beginning of our own adventures.  Each one of us is called to a part in the great story of humanity’s fall and rise. Each one is meant to make our own the story of Jesus Christ: born in a stable, hidden for 30 years, teaching and preaching and working miracles, praised by many, hated by some, cursed and derided, tortured, suffered, crucified, died, and resurrected, now reigning gloriously in Heaven after his ascension.  If we are to honor Christmas all year, we must make our broken or discordant stories one with the story of Christ, with the story of His Church, who cannot be separated from Christ.

Let us rejoice in this day, because God does not abandon us as failed stories, but instead willing enters the story so as to restore us.  Let us rejoice in that God stoops down to meet us in our flesh so that we might be able to be united to Him.  But let us not forget this story or merely write it off.  Let us honor the true message of Christmas through our living out the consequences of that story: conforming ourselves to Christ through His Church, the Church who is the greatest storyteller in the world, for her story is both fantastic and true.  Let us continue to hear that story each Sunday and indeed each day of our lives so that we may not be entertained but that we may be moved to transform ourselves to be more like Christ our hero, Christ our victor, Christ our king.  May we truly celebrate the Christmas story by reflecting it in our lives in each moment, so that we may rejoice at the conclusion of this story at the Last Day, when all the wicked shall be condemned, all the good shall be rewarded, and Christ will glorify His faithful with the gift of eternal life.  Let us live out our stories in union with the great story of Christ so that we may be a part of the new story which will be written in joy and in peace, where all shall live happily ever after.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Our Lady of Guadalupe

It is so wonderful to be here with all you tonight, to celebrate the feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe. I am glad you allow a poor gringo priest to celebrate with you this wondrous feast of so beautiful and so important a lady. I must admit that I grow fonder of the Virgin each year, since I first learned of her in seminary almost ten years ago. The marvel of it all overwhelms me: how great her influence has been not only in Mexico but in all of the Americas. Truly she is the Empress of the Americas as Pope Saint John Paul II declared. Please permit me to review these marvels for our edification.
When the Spanish conquered Mexico in the 16th century, they brought with them missionaries to convert the native peoples to the Christian faith. However, these missionaries struggled greatly and received few converts in their first few years. But then Our Lady came to the hill of Tepeyac in 1531 and changed everything. This image, as you might well know, is not only responsible for the conversion of the native Mexicans, but it is the most visited image in the world. Millions received baptism and became Catholics all because of this image that has endured so much in its history, and yet it remains the same as when Saint Juan Diego received it from her.
But why is it that this image could have such an immense effect upon the peoples, even down to our day? How does La Virgen have such an impact upon so many? In truth, it is the a simple answer, though one that we may forget at times: it is the effect and the impact of a mother upon her children. Are we capable of hard-heartedness in the sight of so loving and caring of a mother? Can we fail to listen when she calls us just as she called Juan Diego by the name “Juanito”? When she shows us such a love, what else can we do but whatever she asks of us?
Yet perhaps we may have forgotten her requests or her words to Juan Diego to explain why she came. When La Virgen appeared the first time on December 9, she told him that she was the mother of the most true God, of he through whom everything lives, the Creator of persons, the master and lord of all the earth. She revealed herself completely to Juan Diego in his own language, not Spanish but the local Nahuatl language. La Virgen first seeks to reveal to this faithful man who she really is in a way that the natives would understand. She does this so that they may receive the Christian faith at their own level.
This shows the humility of Our Lady, for she never focuses on herself. She is the handmaid of the Lord, as she told the archangel in the Gospel. Everything that she does is not for her, but for her son. In fact, the image shows her as being pregnant, one of the few if not the only images to show this. Just as she carried Jesus in the womb to Bethlehem in the midst of her own people, she also carries Him to a new people who will be hers very soon. Truly she is a mother to us all.
Her very appearance is meant to reflect not only her humility, but to demonstrate to the people the truths of the faith using their own symbols along with the symbol we see in the first reading from the book of Revelation. Our parish patron Saint John called her the ark of the covenant, and paints a magnificent picture with his words: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. All of these signs are found in the image, but they also carry meaning within the pagan religion of the native people.
La Virgen stands before the sun and over the moon, showing her dominance over the main gods of the pagan religion. The flower over her womb was a symbol of the divine and the center of the universe. It rests over the womb which carries the child who is both divine and the center of the universe. Her pink robe is symbolic of an Aztec princess or queen, showing her royal state. The angel holding her up holds her robe and her mantle, pointing to the child in her womb who is both human and divine. The image itself is a Gospel in pictures.
Yet the wonders of La Virgen do not end there. Perhaps you remember the story of Juan Diego trying to avoid Tepeyac because he wanted to get help for his sick uncle. Not only that, but he was embarrassed by his failure to get the bishop to believe him. Yet she does not stay on the top of the hill; she comes down and greets him with those heartfelt words, “Am I not here, I who am your mother?” What joy! What delight! Not only is she the mother of Jesus Christ the Savior, but she is our mother. A mother who does not remain above us, but humbles herself to come to us in our need.
It is this last apparition which results in that miracle of miracles which remains with us today: the image on the tilma. Just when Juan Diego hoped to avoid more failure, La Virgen proves herself through her roses and her image. Joy of joys! The victory of Our Lady comes to Mexico! We know the rest of the story, for we are living it here and now. You all would not be here if it were not for the loving kindness of La Virgen for your ancestors and your land.
But is this the end of the story? Or is it only the first chapter? Listen to those first words of Our Lady to Juan Diego: "I desire very much that they build my sacred little house here, for there I will show Him to you, I will magnify Him, I will turn you over to Him, to He who is all my love, to He who is compassionate gaze, to He who is my help, to He who is my salvation." Who is He whom she wants to offer to us? It is Jesus Christ, the King of Heaven and earth, the Savior of humanity, the Word made flesh, the God-man. All of this is meant to lead us to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him through her. Her message for all peoples, not only Mexicans, is to know her Son, to love Him, and to join her in serving Him who is our help and our salvation. She is the best missionary for our Christian faith, because she is intimately united to He who is the center of our faith.
But how many of you truly hear her words? How many of you fulfill her request? I am happy to see so many of you with us on this beautiful night to celebrate her who is the honor of your people. Our church is bursting with love for La Virgen. But how complete is that love? Many of you are seeing me for the first time since I arrived in June. Many of you are in this church for the first time since Easter or Christmas or even the last celebration of Guadalupe. Many of you profess a love for La Virgen, but have nothing to show for it beyond your attendance here tonight.
Do you think this is what she wants for you? Do you think that she came to Juan Diego so that you might be half-Christians? Do you think she gave you this image so that you would receive baptism but never be converted to Jesus Christ? How terrible! It would have been better for your people to remain pagans rather than become a convenient Christian. It would have been better if La Guadalupana had not come if you won’t love her by listening and obeying her.
Brethren, if you love La Virgen, listen to her! If you love La Virgen, follow her! If you love La Virgen, love her Son as well! The true lover of La Guadalupana is the person who follows she who is victorious over the serpent. The true lover of La Guadalupana is the person who imitates her total obedience to God in the totality of their life. The true lover of La Guadalupana will not darken the door of the church only on her feast day, but will seek to be with her in the church as much as she demands. Love for her cannot be only an emotion; it requires actions and signs to demonstrate that love.
Let us indeed rejoice that we have such a loving mother in La Virgen; a mother who is near to us at every step. Let us rejoice that she loves us so much as to reveal herself in this unique way. But let us not waste this opportunity to be a true Guadalupano, which is very essential to our salvation, by following La Virgen who follows the most true God. Let us pray that she may continue to win us salvation and mercy from her son, so that we may not look to her in vain. May La Virgen of Guadalupe be the madrecita of the Mexicans and of all the Americas. May she be the compassionate mother of we her poor children. May she be for all of us the Queen who brings us to the glories of heaven.

Viva la Virgen!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Immaculate Conception

Saint Bernadette Soubirous and Our Lady of Lourdes

In 1858, a young girl was walking with her sister and a friend near her village to collect firewood for her poor family. The other two crossed the creek near a grotto where pigs used to shelter after they were fed by the farmers, but the girl did not due to her poor health. As she waited near the grotto, she heard a noise like a wind blowing yet none of the trees stirred. She looked up at the top of the grotto and saw a most beautiful woman smile at her. Over the following weeks, this girl, Bernadette Soubirous, would pray with this lady and obey her requests. When she finally asked the lady who she was, the lady told her, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
This is the wonderful account of the apparitions of Our Lady at the small town of Lourdes in France. Today, Lourdes is one of the most visited religious sites in the world. We are blessed to have an image of both Our Lady of Lourdes and Saint Bernadette in our church. It is appropriate to remember this apparition today in light of this glorious feast day commemorating the first moments of the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But we ought to ask ourselves two things. Why did this happen to Mary? And why would she identify herself by this rather formal, theological term?
What we celebrate today is the greatest grace a human being has ever received from God. Pope Pius IX definitively defined the Immaculate Conception in 1854, only a few years before the visions at Lourdes, as the dogma that “the most Blessed Virgin Mary at the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, in virtue of the merits of Christ Jesus, the Savior of the human race, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin.” (Ineffabilis Deus) But what use is this singular grace and privilege? Why does God grant unto Mary this removal of any and all effects of sin on her person? The answer lies in the season during which we find ourselves: the season of Advent.
We are drawing closer and closer to the birth of Jesus Christ our Savior. This season of Advent is a time for remembering the preparation for this birth along with the reason for this birth. Our blessed Mother was not the first human without original sin: our first parents, Adam and Eve, were also created without sin or any stain of sin upon their souls. However, though they were free of sin, they chose to disobey God and thus fell from that state of original grace and union with God and hindered the rest of humanity, until the Savior would come and restore us to that union.
The Savior of humanity would have to undo the knot of disobedience wrought by our first parents through His own complete obedience to God. Only a completely opposite act could reverse that initial act in the garden. Saint Paul sees Jesus as the new Adam in his letter to the Romans, undoing the actions of the first Adam by obeying God rather than disobeying, by submission rather than betrayal (cf. Rom 5:12-18). But Adam did not fall alone; he fell along with Eve, who also willed to sin. But if Jesus is the new Adam undoing the old Adam’s work, who will be the new Eve to do the same thing?
Not only that, but the Savior needs a human body in order to remove sin from humanity. This Savior, while removing sin from the human condition, was free from sin Himself, being God in the flesh, for God contains no sin or evil in His divine substance and sin cannot remain in the divine presence. We might remember that God commanded Moses and the ancient Israelites to build the ark of the covenant which contained the divine presence in the ancient Temple. God commanded that this ark be made of the finest gold and best materials and that it could not be touched by anything lest it be made impure. If the Lord commands this for the symbol of His presence among Israel, how much shall He demand the greatest and the best of the womb in which He shall be conceived by the Holy Spirit and take on our flesh in such need of purification?
This solemnity, then, marks the immediate preparation for Christmas Day, for the birth of Christ our Savior. In order to take on our flesh, He needs the perfect woman. In order to undo the work of Adam, He needs an Eve to work with Him. In order to overturn our act of disobedience, He needs someone to make a great sign of obedience. This is why the Virgin is graced with the fruits of Christ’s salvation beforehand: that she might cooperate fully and completely when the angel tells her that she will be the mother of the Savior. That instead of Eve’s no, Mary will say “Let it be done to me.”
Through her immaculate conception, the Mother of God is able to aid all of humanity by cooperating in the divine work of salvation. But her cooperation did not end with her acceptance of this son; it continues even now with her reigning with her son over heaven and earth. Just as she came to that grotto of pigs in Lourdes, so too does our Lady come to aid us still tainted by the filth of sin. Just as she smiled at Saint Bernadette and called her to prayer and penance, so too does she smile down at we her children and call us, like a good mother, to be the best we can be, to be saints. Just as she revealed herself as the Immaculate Conception when asked who she was, she still reveals herself to be for us the singular vessel of grace and devotion, the lowly handmaid of the Lord elevated as the Queen of heaven and earth.
Let us rejoice in the Immaculate Conception this day, as we prepare for Christmas. Let us rejoice that the Virgin Mother of God did cooperate with God and help bring about our salvation. Let us praise God who humbles Himself to drop down like dew from Heaven and to become the child of so wonderful a mother. Let us also pray to her that we may be freed of our sinfulness and become more like her every day: obedient, loving, and faithful to God. Let us rejoice in Mary so that we may rejoice more greatly in Jesus her Son.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Second Sunday of Advent: Alerts

We are oftentimes surrounded by alerts. In these days of smartphones and constant connection to the virtual world, we receive numerous alerts from our devices. The long rings for a phone call, the short beeps for texts and emails, and whatever sundry beeps, boops, and twirls we make these things do to make us aware of something whether it has any importance or not. We don’t want to be left in the dark about anything, hence the many alerts.
Perhaps we already filter these alerts between what is necessary versus the trivial. But what would happen if we ignored those alerts? If we didn’t respond to the rings and beeps and buzzes coming from all these devices? We would be ignorant of what was happening in the world, unaware of anything beyond what someone tells us in person. While this might be better for us overall, it would be very difficult to communicate important or tragic news if we ignored our alerts. While annoying, they do serve their role of notification.
John the Baptist stands out in our Gospel today as the ultimate alert, one that cannot be ignored without repercussion. As we move closer to Christmas, the Church presents us this striking figure of the preacher in the desert, a man foretold by Isaiah to be the one charged with preparing the way for the Lord. His message is summed up in the first words we hear from him today: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand! Yet how are we to respond to this alert?
The answer lies in that very first word, “Repent.” Saint Matthew and the other gospel writers us the word metanoia in Greek. We freely translate it as repent, but how well do we understand what either word means? The Greek word metanoia signifies a complete conversion, a total change of life from what was previously done. To undergo metanoia was to make a radical change in one’s life, even to the point of doing the opposite of what you had done before.
John the Baptist stands as the trumpeter or herald announcing the arrival of the king. He prepares the way for the Lord by giving us the first hints of what the newborn King will proclaim in His public ministry in a few years. The trumpet blast is meant to grab our attention, and John does this so as to call us to do the same thing Jesus will demand later on: for all of us to undergo conversion, metanoia, from our sins. Why is this so necessary that John makes this announcement ahead of Jesus?
This trumpet blast is necessary because sin is the reason why Jesus comes into the world. God had revealed numerous times before the birth of Christ what must be done to live rightly, to live in holiness: abandon sin, abandon the false gods, enter into the covenant with God and observe all that He asks of you. Yet so many times we failed to do that. This is because sin still remained upon us, saturating our souls such that it was impossible on our own to do all that God willed. Therefore, sin needed to be removed from humanity so that humanity could once more be able to enter into the holiness desired for all by God.
Many people are going around proclaiming that Jesus is the reason for the season, and they are not far off. Yet the deeper reason why Jesus comes in this season is the problem of sin. Sin separates us from God, deforms our natural and supernatural capacities for good, and inclines us away from God and closer to the devil. Ever since the garden, sin has sliced humanity off from total union with God, with no apparent end in sight, until a lowly virgin was told that she would be the mother of the Savior. It is because of sin that Jesus comes into this world, so that He could remove it from us and restore us to God.
Yet the story is not that short. Too often, we think of the great Christian story as this: God creates man, man sins, God sends Jesus, Jesus removes sin, the end. There is so much missing from this oversimplification. Jesus does come to free us from sin: the wood of the crib foretells the wood of the Cross. But the redeeming sacrifice of the Cross is powerless unless we accept it and we begin to sin no more. God does not grant us a free pass to sin by the death of His Son; God demonstrates to us in the Cross the depths of His love and His desire for us to love in return. And that is the whole reason behind John the Baptist’s trumpet call today.
Jesus Christ, speaking in Himself and through His forerunner John the Baptist, wants us not merely to avoid sin but to become holy, to be saints. He wants for us metanoia, a complete conversion away from sin, from death, and from the devil towards Himself, towards the good, towards eternal life. There is no middle path in the teaching of Jesus: either you are moving forward towards God or moving away from Him and towards the devil and damnation. There are no sidelines, no pits, no timeouts in the game of Christian life: we play to win or we play to lose.
Christianity is not meant to be comfortable: it is the truest challenge to the whole world. Our faith first dares to proclaim that there is such a thing as sin, that there are quite a few things that are not willed by God and are dangerous for us, even perhaps some things that are quite popular in the world today. But it doesn’t end there: our faith calls every human being to abandon those things, to abandon sin, and to receive the mercy and love of God won for us in Christ Jesus. Saint Paul in our second reading sees this as the means whereby the promise of the patriarchs is confirmed, the first inklings of what would happen first on Christmas Day and then on Good Friday.
We wear violet during Advent because it is a penitential season. We do not sing the Gloria because we are waiting for the glory of God to appear once more in the crib in Bethlehem. We mark this season with penitence because our sins are the reason for the season, the purpose for Christ to be born into the world. Only by facing the truth of our sinfulness, of our complete incapacity for winning our redemption by our own efforts can we then truly rejoice in a few weeks when we see that tiny child in the manger. Only when we admit our sinfulness can we then rejoice at the sight of our Savior who will help us to be converted and to live.
Let us then weep over our sins, which have lead not only to the birth of our Savior but will lead to His death as well. Let us repent of our sins, undergoing the conversion, the metanoia, that John the Baptist proclaimed as will the One who follows after him. Let us receive the mercy of God through the sacrament of confession so that we may indeed glorify God for His mercy to us and to all generations. Let us not despair that we are sinners, but let us hope once more in the saving action of Christ brought to us through the sacred liturgy, turning to the Cross as our only consolation and our only hope. Let us not ignore the alert of John the Baptist this day, but let us indeed repent of our sins and of our sinful way of life, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

First Sunday of Advent (OF): Preparedness

We begin a new liturgical year today with this Mass of the First Sunday of Advent. We open this year of grace as we open every new year: excited about the possibilities and hopeful for a new start. Yet the start of the church’s year does not hearken to past; it hearkens to the future. The poet T. S. Eliot once quipped that “in my beginning is my end,” and indeed the end must always be in sight for anything started in this world, especially we poor mortals. As we previewed last week in the feast of Christ the King, everything in this world has an expiration date, including the universe itself. Nothing in this world of decay lasts forever, no matter how hard we try to make it otherwise.
We usually think of Advent as a consideration for the coming of Jesus Christ in history, commemorating the great expectation of the nations that the Savior would come and set them free. Yet Advent does not merely concern this past coming: it offers for our meditation and prayer the two other ways that Christ comes into this world and invades our lives. Today’s readings show us the first of these comings, or should we say the second coming. Each of these readings flows with anticipation for the final return of Jesus Christ in glory and majesty on that last and terrifying day, when all shall be put to right and the world shall be made anew in His glory.
Isaiah looks with joy at the results of that last judgment, when all shall joyfully ascend the mountain of the Lord to the house where they shall dwell in peace and security for all eternity. It is the same joyful hope found in the psalm, where Jerusalem is the symbol for that eternal city that shall never be lost or overtaken. It is the hope that remained in the hearts of the faithful Jews in the long centuries before the coming of Jesus, and it is the same hope that must remain in our hearts as we endure our own long centuries until Jesus comes once more, not to a humble stable in the farthest corner of the world, but in the full splendor of His kingship to rule for the ages.
Our other readings remind us of the consequences of this hope. Both of them urge us to stay awake and be watchful, since we know neither the hour nor the day when this hope shall be answered. Both warn us against the sins that emerge from losing that hope: the sins of the flesh, for when we lose hope in eternal life, we seek to make a heaven out of earth instead of waiting for God to do that in His own time. Our Lord in fact offers an appropriate image of expectation: be on your guard, as if a thief were coming to rob your house.
This image of being on guard for a thief provides another reason for our new position at Mass. I stated a few weeks ago that we would return to the traditional position of praying together - priest and people - turned towards the Lord. Advent is a most appropriate time for restarting this liturgical orientation because of what Jesus tells us in this Gospel: be on your guard, be ready. We Christians are called to be on the watch for the Lord to come, like guards in the tower waiting for the king to return so that the castle door may be opened for him. Yet we cannot do this if we are turned inward rather than outward. The thief does not come from within the house but outside; the king will not return from inside the castle but from outside. So too will Christ come not from within us, but He ultimately returns from a place outside of the universe, breaching the gap when His hour has come.
It is certainly true that God is with us. We who have been confirmed are called to be temples of the Holy Spirit. We who receive the Eucharist can really lay claim to Jesus dwelling within us. Yet the immanent God, the God within, is also the transcendent God, the God beyond the cosmos. In fact, while we talk about God being with us, even perhaps dwelling within us, God is also dwelling outside of any aspect of the cosmos. We are not pantheists who believe that the universe is a God or that God is bound to the material world. God in Himself is transcendent, unencompassed by anything, even Heaven. It is by His will that He becomes immanent, that He pours Himself out for us, sharing Himself as only He can do.
If God is transcendent, if He dwells in highest heaven, then our worship should reflect this understanding just as it reflects the truth that God is with us. This is why Catholics for millennia have adopted this position of a common outer direction for prayer, not facing a wall nor the priest ignoring the people but looking outward for the transcendent God to come once again and be with us. I said earlier that Advent reflects two different comings of the Lord: the first I mentioned was His final coming in majesty, but the second is the coming of the Lord daily upon the altar. We are reminded in this season that Jesus not only came to the stable in Bethlehem and will come on the last day, but that He frequently comes to us, humbling Himself to come from the highest heaven and be encompassed in bread and wine. The transcendent made immanent, heaven revealed on earth, the Savior who has come and will come now come once more to be our food for the journey.
If we are going to be faithful to Christ, we must be on the watch. Saint Peter warns us in one of his letters to be watchful for the devil, who prowls like a roaring lion seeking to devour anything. But Jesus tells us to be watchful for Him to come, to be ready for that hour, whether it is the hour of our death or the hour of the last death, the death of this universe. To be watchful means to be ready for whatever may come or for whatever is expected. If we are not watchful, then we forget that we are not citizens of this passing world. We become like those who ignored Noah as he prepared the ark: eating, drinking, feasting with abandon, disregarding hope in Christ. And like those fools in the days of Noah, we too will be swept away when that last day comes and we have not been watchful, for we will receive not the reward of alertness but punishment for our disregard, for our hopelessness, for our abandonment of the coming Lord.
Let us not be caught offguard by the coming of the Lord, but let us be watchful for that hour. Let us prepare our lives for Him by living as He commanded us, following Him as our King and Lord. Let us turn and watch for Him to come now on the altar and soon on the last day. Let us use this season of Advent to make ready to celebrate that first coming in Bethlehem which we will commemorate on Christmas Day, that we may rejoice in His first coming to set us free from sin and death and to make ready His final coming. “Let us put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” as Saint Paul tells us, “and make no provisions for the desires of the flesh,” but let us prepare ourselves for the endless delights that await the watchful in eternal life.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Day (OF)

While our republic prides itself on the separation of church and state, it is curious that this holiday remains in the federal calendar. With American society growing less religious, it is a marvel that this day is still celebrated by our government. Since George Washington’s 1789 proclamation that there should be a day so that this nation could “acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor”, to Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation asking for this last Thursday be set aside so that Americans would rememberthe gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy”, this day has been marked not with the usual civil ambivalence about religion but is filled with reminders that there is indeed a higher power than the government or the people, a power to which is due thanks and praise.
Indeed, the act of thanksgiving presupposes that there is someone to thank. We don’t normally thank ourselves for something, we thank others. But whom do we thank for everything? Whom do we thank for the universe, for our very lives, let alone the wondrous bounties that we have received, the numerous opportunities we have, or the freedoms and rights that we possess? While it may be a very weak proof, I believe that this need to give thanks offers us a proof that there must be some being whom we can give the ultimate thanks, the being where the thanks stops here. Who, of course, is God.
While our nation gives today as a day for thanksgiving to the Almighty, we Catholics are able to do more than that. In fact, we are called to give thanks always, as Saint Paul tells us (1 Thes 5:17). A specific day for thanksgiving is not really enough for us. How can it be? When God has not only fashioned the universe, but also been the means of our redemption through His son, can one day truly be enough? When Jesus Christ gave His entire being to be poured out on the Cross, can there really be too much thanksgiving? But how can we do this? How can we offer to God the thanksgiving due Him? We can do it through the Eucharist.
As the ancient Greeks began to convert to the Catholic faith, they tried to understand what they received at Mass. What is this bread that becomes flesh? How can we describe it? The Greeks chose the word eucharistia, which means thanksgiving. But why would they choose that word? Because in the Eucharist is summed up everything for which we are thankful. Everything we need, everything we want, everything we should desire, can all be summed up in that little piece of bread transformed into the body and blood of Christ.
Every time we are at Mass, every time we receive the Eucharist, we are meant to be thankful for all that God has done for us, is doing for us, and will do for us. Every time we approach the altar, we lift our voices in praise and thanks for the tremendous good God has done for us, in our creation, in our redemption, in our salvation. Every time we turn to Him to re-offer that sacrifice by which Heaven is opened and we are set free, the best thing we can do is give Him thanks, to do as the psalm tells us: “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His mercy endures forever.”
Let us indeed give thanks today, first by partaking of the heavenly feast in the Eucharist, then in our humble family feasts later today. Let us give thanks for everything as has been our national tradition on this day. But let us turn to the Lord more readily each time we approach the Mass to give Him thanks for all His gifts and His mercy. Let our lives reflect this thanks by living as He commanded, thankful that He has shown us the way to salvation. Even after we have sinned, let us thank God for His mercy by which we are reconciled to Him and restored to the way of salvation. Let us truly be a thankful people by being a Eucharistic people, a people filled with thanks now and in the life to come.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Christ the King (OF)

In challenging times, the Church offers a message of comfort to her members. When the world is poised against her, when all are vying to tear her apart from the outside, the Church offers those who remain with her the message of the Gospel today: You shall be with the Lord in paradise. Persevere and win the crown of victory. But in comfortable times, the Church is called to do the opposite: she is called to be a challenge not only to her members, but to the entire world.
The Church must balance the message of the Gospel with the times, for the situation requires the message that the situation requires, not necessarily the message that is desired. How comfortable indeed our times have become! Adults needing safe spaces to shield them from reality and safety pins being worn like badges of honor. Technology overwhelming our personal spaces to the point of making it quite impossible to engage in silence and meditation. Protests and riots over the past few weeks because their candidate was not elected, protests that would be called anti-democratic in other countries. How comfortable we have become indeed.
But our feast today offers us a challenge, a challenge perhaps particular to we who live in these United States, but a challenge all the same. For in celebrating this feast, we are reminded who is ultimately in charge, who is the real ruler, who has the message of truth: Jesus Christ the King of the universe. Truth, we ought to remember, is not wrong because the majority disbelieve it, nor is it right because the majority believe it: it is true because it stems from reality. In our times of excessive comfort even within the Church, the truth becomes a slap in the face that ought to awaken us to the cold hard facts of life.
The truth that we are given in today’s feast is this: Jesus Christ is not only the focus of our religion, but He is the point of unity between God and man, the one by whom we are restored to the Father. Saint Paul outlines this splendidly in our second reading, when he points out how this Jesus of Nazareth is far more than a man: He is the image of the invisible God and also the same God by whom all things were created. This Jesus of Nazareth has become king by birthright, being both God and man, and by the election of the Church, in which He is the head.
So far, that sounds pretty good. Even though we Americans prefer democracy, who doesn’t love a king? But the challenge of this truth is in this kingship of Christ. Kings do not have to pander to us to gain our vote. A king traditionally had two duties intertwined in his office: the duty to God and the duty to his people. The king was mindful that he had received his position by the grace of God and by the assent of the people, and the king must serve both. He must obey the law of God and enact laws for the well-being of men, irrespective of their desires. It is the same for Christ our King.
The challenge presented by this feast day is the challenge of understanding our place in the great hierarchy. We are all under the dominion of Christ our King, whether we accept it or not. The challenge that we face as Catholics is whether we will give assent to His kingship or not. Just as David was made king of Israel by the will of God and the request of the people, as our first reading shows, so too is Christ made the King of the universe by the will of the Father and the assent of the Church. By that assent, each Christian acknowledges that Jesus has full authority over us and that we will obey out of thanks for His redemption and to gain Him not merely as our King, but as our brother.
Jesus Christ is the King of the universe, having dominion and authority over every facet of the cosmos, yet His kingdom must begin within our lives if it will truly extend to all things which He created. The challenge of this feast is to submit ourselves to our King not as slaves, but as those who have been freed of sin by the blood of His cross, through that reconciliation He has made on the glorious altar at Calvary. Though He reigns over everything, Jesus will not force us to be the free citizens of His kingdom; only those who accept Him as Lord and King will begin to receive the inheritance of the holy ones in light.
But how do we accept this challenge and become the true members of the kingdom of Christ? We do this by making Christ the complete center of our lives, by orienting our hearts and minds more to the one who has full rights to them more so than even we ourselves possess. We abandon sin which makes us the slaves of Satan, and we turn to the sacred liturgy, the sacraments, and the devout life so as to be transformed into the citizens of the heavenly and eternal kingdom. We plead with Jesus as did the good thief at Calvary when he said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Last week, I announced my intention to begin celebrating the Mass with all of us turned together towards the Lord, praying in a common direction. I gave the first reason for this restoration as a means of orienting us towards the eternal realities. Today’s feast provides us with another reason to return to this quite traditional position. If Jesus Christ is King, if He is meant to be the center of our lives, this truth must be lived out not merely in a philosophical or internal way. We humans need the physical as well as the mental: we use signs and symbols to reflect the truths and beliefs we hold. If Jesus Christ is King, then the sacred liturgy should reflect this reality in the fullest sense.
We are not meant to gather together to worship the priest, to gaze at his actions and marvel at him. The holiest priests are those who make themselves almost invisible before Christ, who is the High Priest truly offering the Mass through the priest. The priest is meant to represent Christ the Head of the body, the Head that looks to the Father in a gaze of adoration and love, to that same Father who gave us His Son so that we may indeed be worthy of His inheritance. Our orientation is heavenly because Christ gazes that way, returning everything to the Father, including us.
Let us acclaim Jesus Christ as our king not merely in word but in action. Let us turn to the King and honor Him as is fitting for the one who endured so much for us. Let us break free of the comforts of this world and accept the challenge of the Gospel so as to gain the inheritance won for us. Let us indeed rejoice in this house of the Lord by making the Lord the focus of our liturgy, of our prayers, and of our lives. Let us seek to reflect more clearly within us He who is the image of the invisible God, He who offers us His kingdom that shall not end.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

On Orientation - 33rd Sunday per annum (OF)

Brethren, we have made it through another presidential election. Our nation prepares for a new president and a new Congress to take office in a few months, whether we agree with them or not. Our first task, as Catholic citizens, is to pray for a good transition and for open minds and hearts among the new administration, so that our Church may flourish and God’s will may be done. We cannot give in to complacency and despair nor should we gloat. There is still a lot of work to be done to proclaim the joyful truth of the Gospel, and the election results must not intrude too greatly upon that work. But there is a second task that we must take up after such a bitter, divisive, emotionally-riddled election; a task which is not necessary merely because of this election, but which is necessary at all times because of our primary calling as Christians, as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Our readings today carry within them a very apocalyptic tone, far more so than any of the most dire predictions being put forward by the media types right now. These readings do not speak of arrests or policy reversals or hatred; they speak of destruction, death, and judgment. They remind us that this world will not endure forever, but that it indeed carries an expiration date. These readings remind us that we need to be oriented towards the true goal of every Christian: not political victory but eternal life. We must be focused upon the end of days.
Orientation carries with it an interesting meaning. Its root word in Latin means the East, which was the easiest direction for ancient people to know due to the rising sun. Whenever we speak of orientation, we usually mean the general direction in which something is travelling or pointing. If we are lost, we speak of reorienting ourselves so as to regain our true direction. Perhaps reorientation is appropriate to how we should be reflecting on these post-election days.
Brothers and sisters, we need to reorient our lives totally and completely to the Lord. We Americans love to play politics and elevate it to a quasi-religion, yet it causes us to lose our true center in God, in Jesus Christ. I do not discourage your political participation, for we are called to live our faith in church and in the public square, but we must keep Christ at the center of our lives, not politics or sports or anything else in this fleeting world. Just as Saint Paul discourages those Thessalonians from being overly concerned with the business of others, so too should we be discouraged from too great a concern on the temporal, the fleeting, the earthly. We must turn to the Lord, the Lord who will be coming very soon.
But how can we regain this spiritual orientation? How can we begin to turn to the Lord? We can begin to do this through returning to a practice that has accommodated the Church in her worship and her prayer from the very beginning. We can begin to reorient ourselves by making Christ the center of our worship. How can this be done? I propose to do this not merely in an interior sense, but in an exterior sense. My proposal is this: beginning on the First Sunday of Advent, we shall celebrate the liturgy here united together and physically turned towards the Lord.
Throughout the history of the Church, Christians have been united together in praying the Mass in a single direction. In fact, the direction usually taken in prayer was to the East, toward the symbol of the rising sun, reminding us of the sun of justice which we heard Malachi foretell in the first reading. The rising sun reminds us of the Lord who has risen from death and will return in the same way as He departed, east of Jerusalem. This idea of unity in posture among the sacred minister and the congregation is not restricted to the Christian religion alone: Muslims will turn to face Mecca while many pious Jews seek during prayer to orient their hearts if not their bodies towards Jerusalem and the east.
I wish us to undertake this united position of worship for a few reasons, the first of which I offer today. We Christians have become increasingly oriented towards the now, something which I believe this election highlights in an extreme way. We too often focus on the here and now, on what we can do here instead of remembering that we are called to be pilgrims on the journey to the eternal Promised Land. We often are like the ancient Israelites wandering through the desert who desire the comforts of Egypt rather than the far more glorious splendors that await the end of the journey. We have lost our true orientation.
But Jesus reminds us of this in our Gospel today when He first foretells the destruction of the physical Temple in Jerusalem, then the great calamities that shall occur at the end of days. The Lord desires to orient us not towards the current reality, which can change in a minute, but towards the eternal realities that shall endure forever. This month is normally dedicated towards a consideration of the last things as they are called: death, judgment, heaven and hell. But we Christians should have these things foremost in our minds: to be prepared for death, to fear being judged against Christ, to hope for heaven and to pray and work to avoid hell.
Our worship should reflect this eternal orientation by having us turn towards the Lord of history, by being watchful for the One who promises that He shall return from the same direction as when He first arrived in this world. Our worship should reinforce the true Christian orientation not towards the petty squabbles of politicians but to the Lord of all time and space, the Lord who shall endure forever, unlike all the nations of the earth. Our worship should have us truly living in the blessed hope of the coming of our Savior, when He shall return to judge the living and the dead and grant to all the faithful eternal life.
I ask for your patience as we begin this change, but I also ask for openness. We should not be afraid of our traditions, even those that we have forgotten, but we should seek the best from the old along with the new. Let us pray that we may be oriented towards Christ more and more each day, not only here in church but in the sum of our lives. Let our hearts become oriented to the true Savior of the nations, the only one who rules the earth with full justice, as we shall celebrate next week. Let us be the pilgrim people of God, journeying not for the fleeting pleasures of this world, but marching eastward, marching towards the Lord, towards the full glory and splendor that awaits the faithful in eternal life.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

All Saints (OF)

As the leaves begin to change color and die off, as the birds begin to fly south, as the temperatures begin to drop, holy Mother Church begins to turn our mind towards our own end. These last few weeks of the liturgical year remind us that this life indeed has an end; in fact, this whole world has an end. Nothing is truly permanent in this life, but all is fleeting and empty of ultimate value in the face of the finish line. As much as our modern society tries to cheat it, death still comes for every one of us.
For the Christian, however, death does not indicate the final point of personal existence nor does it signify the futility of our labors, our joys, our sorrows, our lives. Death is our reminder that we shall each go before the Judge of heaven and earth when we have passed from this mortal coil and receive the eternal recompense for our earthly conduct. One of the visions of Saint John which he recorded in his Book of Revelation is Jesus standing as the Just Judge over all on the last day, the dies irae as the traditional funeral sequence reminds us. But before that day of wrath comes, Saint John has another vision, which we hear in today’s readings: the 144 thousand and the great multitude before the throne and the Lamb.
It is this group which has already assembled in part whom we celebrate today, for the feast of All Saints is the celebration of all the souls who have begun to receive the eternal reward of union with God in Heaven. Blessed John Henry Newman tells us that “This great multitude, which no man could number, is gathered into this one day's commemoration, the goodly fellowship of the Prophets, the noble army of Martyrs, the Children of the Holy Church Universal, who have rested from their labours.” Every soul in heaven, from the Blessed Virgin Mary all the way to the soul who squeaked out enough contrition for their sins, every soul that dwells in that eternal light is celebrated this day. Why is it that we celebrate these souls today? We celebrate them for the victory they have achieved, for the aid they provide, and for the reminder they offer.
We first celebrate them for their victory. Each of these souls has gained heaven first by the infinite grace of God, given to them through the sacraments and through their daily struggles. Many of them have gained this prize through the shedding of blood; others through the great evangelical labors and counsels such as poverty, chastity, and obedience; others through the quiet small faithfulness of ordinary life. But all of them, whether martyrs, confessors, virgins, or otherwise, have worked for their eternal rest, but they are restless when it comes to we who remain, who still have our own journey.
The saints are not so arrogant that, once they leave this world, they abandon us and focus solely on God. On the contrary, their love of God increases exponentially each day so that they love us even more than we love one another. If they are truly united to God, who desires our individual salvation, why would they not desire it for us as well? Thus do the saints seek to intercede for us before the heavenly altar, passing along our petitions and prayers to the wondrous Giver of every good and perfect gift which we need and should desire. Just as family sticks together and helps one another, so too does our family in Heaven, our brothers and sisters united together in Christ, aid us in all that we need.
But why do we need aid? Why do we call it victory? We need aid, and we hail it as victory because our earthly life is a contest between sin and salvation. Heaven is not free nor is it cheap; God has indeed opened the gates thanks to the merits of Christ our Redeemer, but He can still close those gates upon us. The saints stand as a reminder first that this victory is possible; that we can indeed gain Heaven by the grace of God and the merits of our labors. Yet they also remind us that, no matter what we are called to do in this life, we must struggle and we must fight in order to gain that prize of faith. It is not easy, but salvation is not so impossible that even we who live in the world can achieve it.
There are so many varieties of saints to discover, to learn from, and to emulate in our own way. The martyrs: the first witnesses of Christian holiness, who strove valiantly against the enemies of our faith. The confessors: those who went before the world and proclaimed the Gospel by their words and their actions so as to draw others to Christ. The virgins: the brides of Christ who unite themselves to their heavenly Spouse in hope of a more fruitful maternity than we could imagine. The married: seeking holiness through the union of man and woman, a holiness which is meant to bear fruit. The old: those who have struggled and fought for many years to achieve victory. The young: those whom God calls to Himself to receive that victory in Himself.
The Church has surrounded herself with the saints from the very beginning. The Roman Canon, the oldest of the eucharistic prayers in our missal, is lined with the great saints of Rome and the Empire, the apostles, martyrs, and virgin martyrs who overcame strife and discord in order to be crowned with Christ in victory. But the list of saints continues to grow each day, both those publicly proclaimed to be saints by the Church and the hidden list, the list known only to God until the last day, when all shall be revealed and all shall be rewarded as is right and just.
Let us rejoice that God has already blessed the saints with the reward of Himself. Let us pray to all the saints that they may intercede for us before the throne of the Lamb by whose blood we are redeemed. But let us also begin to live so as to become saints ourselves. God demands no less than that. Let us live the Beatitudes of our Gospel, so as to emulate our Lord, the model and source of all holiness. Let us not despair that it is hard, but let us strive to achieve that reward for ourselves so that we may be worthy of the prize of eternal life.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

On the Election (31st Sunday per annum)

We stand a short time away from the end of another presidential election. For more than a year now, we have been bombarded with news about the political parties, the candidates, the issues, etc. Let’s face it: this has been one of the ugliest and the most drawn-out campaigns of our lives. I think it is safe to say that most of us want a do-over, because we do not like either of the major candidates. What is a Catholic to do in a time like this, in an election like this?
The first thing we must do is to tear down the apocalyptic tones that plague both sides. We’ve probably all heard it said from either side: if you elect that other person, this country will fall apart. But if we are honest with ourselves, we know that this country is already very far from the Judeo-Christian values of our grandfathers and great-grandfathers, and the election of either major candidate will not so radically change this country that either it will suddenly return to those values or abandon those values to the point of persecution. We Christians have already lost our stronghold here, and this election will not change that in either way. Our individual vote, at least on the national level, is not really as important as everyone tries to make it appear to be. But it still has an effect, not merely upon the government, but upon our eternal salvation.
Every action we commit in this world is a choice: a choice moving us towards heaven and eternal life or moving us towards hell and eternal damnation. The only true choice that we have ever been given is whether we will accept that God is King, that Jesus is Lord, that His will should be done, or whether we are King, we are Lord, and our will be done. Your vote carries with it serious consequences not merely for the future of the nation, but for the future of your salvation, for your vote indicates your support for everything a candidate believes and promises to accomplish during their time in office. The higher the office, the greater that responsibility becomes upon each one of us to make the best choice possible.
The Church, desirous of our salvation, teaches us how to be faithful not only to our civic responsibility but also to our responsibility to God to be faithful to His word, faithful to the promises we made to reject Satan and to live united to God. Our vote must reflect the beliefs of our faith because those beliefs are supposed to be the foundation of all our actions. We are meant to approach the polls not as Democrats or Republicans or independents, but as Catholics. There are indeed some things about which we can disagree: for instance, we can disagree about the best policy for aiding the poor or for how immigration should work, but we cannot disagree on the most fundamental teachings of our Catholic faith: the dignity and right to life for every human being, the proliferation of the Christian faith through religious liberty, the natural and supernatural union of man and woman in marriage, and so on. These beliefs cannot be compromised or dismissed when we decide who receives our vote.
The Church does not force us to vote, nor does she make us vote for a specific candidate. Each of us must make that decision for ourselves. Yet the Church, mindful of the goal of our faith, which is eternal life, teaches that to vote for a candidate because they hold positions contrary to our faith is to commit a mortal sin. This is called a mortal sin because, by our vote, we directly support an evil action against the will of the good God. The Church teaches us to choose the candidate who will give us the best opportunity to practice our faith both in church and in the public square. We won’t find a perfect candidate, but our political system is far from perfection.
How does this teaching of the Church translate into this election? We are faced with a few choices for president at least who are far from ideal. But there are some who are worse than others, and the worst of them all is the Democratic candidate for president, Hillary Clinton. She has continually declared her support for abortion even to nine months, for the normalization of homosexuality, for the subjugation of religious institutions and even churches to the policies of the government in contradiction to their constitutional right to express their religious belief. Beyond even this, her campaign has been active in suppressing the faithful Catholic voice in the public square and working to sabotage that voice through pseudo-Catholic organizations ran by her lackeys. Because of these positions contrary to the teachings of the Church and her antagonism towards our faith, I must warn you, as your spiritual father, that a vote for Hillary Clinton is a mortal sin, a sin which will lead to your damnation if you do not repent of it.
There is no way to justify as a Catholic voting for a candidate who has a long record of demonstrating her opposition to what we believe and profess each Sunday. There are other candidates on the ballot who hold positions far more accommodating to our faith than Mrs. Clinton, and we should look into each one of their platforms to see who will afford us the greatest opportunity to live as God commands us to live. Yet we may not find a candidate who fulfills this requirement, or none who are truly open to the practices of our faith. It is up to your conscience to decide if you can vote for any of those candidates or if you must refrain from casting a vote. But we cannot support the promotion of a candidate who desires to promote such grave evils as official government policy if she is elected to office.
We Catholics cannot remain blind to the seriousness of these actions. We need to start living not as members of political parties but as disciples of Jesus Christ, as children of God the Father, and our vote must reflect that. We need to be like Zacchaeus in our Gospel, coming down out of the sycamore tree to receive the mercy of God and to reject all our sinful ways, living in accord with the loving will of God. We need to praise God’s name not merely by words but by living an upright life in accord with what He knows is best for us.
We have 9 days before we can go to the polls. Let us do as Pope Francis recommended: let us study the issues well, let us pray fervently, then let us vote, having been informed by the Church and guided by our conscience. I have provided in the bulletin a prayer from the Knights of Columbus for our nation, and I implore each one of you to pray this prayer individually and as a family between now and Election Day. Our nation can change for the better, but it must happen first by the grace of God, and then by our cooperation with His grace and His will. Let us all pray that God may make us worthy of his calling, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in us and in our nation.