Sunday, June 26, 2016

13th Sunday per annum (OF)

In our Gospel passage last week, we heard Jesus call us to take up our cross and to follow Him. How does this following take shape? It’s easy to say follow Him, but how are we to do it?  We see some of the steps in our Gospel today which occurs shortly after last week’s, with our Lord beginning to turn His face towards Jerusalem, towards the events which will bring about the end of His life and the beginning of our redemption.
Jesus’ turning towards Jerusalem is the echo of His command to us in our previous Gospel to take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow Him. What sort of master would He be in commanding us to do this if He did not do it Himself? Resolute in the face of animosity and hatred, Jesus goes to Jerusalem to accomplish that for which He was sent by the Father: the Passion and Death by which humanity is redeemed from sin along with the triumph of the Resurrection. It is a reminder to those of us who bear the name of Christian that this life is filled with sorrow and labor, as the Psalms remind us also. This is something that we have perhaps lost in the West, although I fear that we Christians may feel the sting of hatred against us more and more in these days of secularism and revolution. To be a Christian means to suffer in one form or another.
This leads to the first of the three disciples-to-be in today’s Gospel. A man approaches and tells Jesus that he will follow Him wherever He will go. While this sounds good at first, if we reflect on the man’s words, we hear a hint of misunderstanding.  The man does not say merely that he will follow Jesus, but that he will follow Him to His destination, like someone riled up at a rally. This man treats Jesus like many men have treated Marx or Lenin or Washington by signalling their desire to go with them, but Jesus points the man towards that which is the true goal of following Jesus.
The second man is actually asked by Jesus to follow Him, and gives a legitimate reason to delay: he wishes to bury his father, who is most likely not dead but is close to death. In saying this, the man seeks to obey the commandments given by God, which place honoring father and mother as the highest of the precepts concerning one’s neighbor. But Jesus reminds the man that God ultimately comes first, and that God must be served even before the duty due to one’s parents. This is reinforced with the last man, who desires to follow Jesus but wishes to bid his family farewell. Jesus tells this man to avoid looking back and to begin to plow forward in faith.
In each of these encounters, Christ desires to show not only the radical nature of the call that He gives to everyone, but to reinforce the mystery at the heart of His being, that mystery which gives Him the authority to make this call.  The call to follow Jesus excludes everything, no ifs, ands, or buts. In calling us to follow Him, Jesus will exclude even the good things God has instituted, such as our family or even our lives. Nothing is to intrude upon this call.
How much do we individually struggle with this call? Do we recognize that Jesus has called us to this? Do we recall the promises we made at baptism, when we rejected Satan and all his works and all his empty show and swore our allegiance to God in Christ? Those promises were not meant to be partial or to be when it seemed to work best. We Christians today seem to be a schizophrenic people, dividing our time between Christ and something else, whether it is politics, sports, family, work. Yet this is not what we promised when we were freed from the yoke of slavery and established in the freedom of God, as Saint Paul teaches us.
To be a Christian is to follow Jesus Christ, period. It is not to be a Christian and a Republican or a Christian and a Democrat or a Christian and any number of things we could join to it.  We are not meant to be part-time Christians, dedicating a couple of hours to Sunday worship and some prayers but otherwise keeping Christ out of it.  If we are Christians, then we are to follow Christ in everything.  Every facet of our lives must be animated by the teachings and the example of Jesus as maintained by His Church. To do anything less is to negate our psalm today, in which we acclaim the Lord as our one true inheritance, or to do as Saint Paul warns against in our second reading, by returning to the desires of the flesh instead of remaining in the Spirit.
Let us pray this day that we may be inspired to a more radical following of Jesus Christ through, with, and in His holy Church, for no one can lay claim to the name Christian if he will avoid the Church which Christ founded. Let us pray that everything which has distracted us or turned us away from Jesus will lose its savor and that we will rediscover the sweetness of serving God in this life.  But let us not merely pray for these things but begin to do them in our lives. Words are empty if they are not supported by actions. Let us reevaluate our lives so as to place Christ at the center of it all and ensure that it all leads to Him. Let us seek to do this so that our Psalm may be fulfilled, and that we may join the saints in gaining the fullness of joys in God’s presence, and share in the delights at His right hand forever.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

First Weekend at St John's (12th Sunday per annum)

If there is one thing a priest begins to learn rather quickly in his ministry, it is the necessity of self-denial. From the minute the priest places his hands in those of the bishop at ordination, he must be prepared for whatever may come.  This is especially true when he is ordered to move to a different church.  While most of us are creatures of habit, the priest must be ever prepared to literally pick up his cross and follow the Lord, no matter where it may lead.
I stand before you today as your new priest.  At the command of the bishop, I have been placed in charge of caring for your souls, with the ultimate task of bringing you to the one who is at the heart of the Gospel, the one who challenges us in our Gospel today with the most central question of Christianity: “Who do you say that I am?” It is my duty to ensure that you understand the answer to that question and the implications that flow from that answer.
Why do I say that this question of Jesus’ identity is so central to Christianity?  It is central because it makes all the difference in how we approach the Church which still lays claim to speak solely and exclusively for Jesus, 2000 years after He left this world.  It is central because who we believe Jesus to be defines the response we give to His words and His actions.  It is central because it evokes differing responses based on who we believe this Jesus of Nazareth to be.
When He asks the apostles what the crowds say about Him, Jesus seeks to clear the confusion that exists about Himself.  The people believe Jesus to be a great prophet, a man like Jeremiah or Isaiah who calls the people back to God.  But that is not who Jesus is, and thus He asks the question of His apostles, “Who do you say that I am?”  Only by grace does Saint Peter proclaim Jesus to be the Christ of God, or the Christ, the Son of the living God, as Saint Matthew recalls it. Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, reveals to the apostles and to us who this Jesus of Nazareth really is: God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, the God who has become incarnate and walks among His own people.
This Jesus whom we have heard about so often in this church is not a mere mortal like you or me.  This Jesus who is remembered in the Gospels and the Scriptures is far greater than any human being who has ever lived.  This Jesus of Nazareth is not only a man, but is also God Almighty.  If this is true, if this is accurate, then it must challenge how we approach this God-man in Himself and in every moment of His life on earth.  It means that we must listen to Him not with merely the courtesy and respect due to another person, but with the awe and reverence due to the Omnipotent One.  It means that His words are not just the musings of a great mind, but that they are the very instructions of the All-Knowing One.  It means that His actions are not just good examples, but are filled with meaning and importance as being carried out by the One who acts without being acted upon.
But why is it that God has become man and come upon earth?  Jesus reveals this after Saint Peter’s revelation in telling us how the Son of Man must suffer and die at the hands of those whom He came to save, and that He would be raised from the dead on the third day. The most important point of Jesus’ life and ministry is the Cross, that which had been foretold by the prophets of old, such as we heard from Zechariah in our first reading.  By becoming the One who is pierced for our sins and killed, Christ becomes the fountain of mercy and forgiveness to all who look to Him in faith, as Saint Paul tells us. Everything Jesus proclaims and teaches leads up to the Cross, that moment when the whole world was changed for the rest of time, that moment and the message which has been proclaimed by the Church which Jesus founded while He was still personally present here on earth.
But what does all of this have to do with being your new priest? Certainly we know these things, we recall them each time we come to the Mass.  Yet the duty of the priest, the duty of the pastor is to recall to our minds the words and actions of Jesus Christ so as to inspire us to live the Christian life more fully and to reject anything and everything which goes against Christ.  It is also his duty to provide the sacraments which have been entrusted to his care through his ordination so that the people can receive the grace of God without which we can do nothing.  The priest is meant to work for God and for his people. And that is what I hope I will do for you however long I am here in this church and serving you.
I ask a few things out of you as I come into my own here among you.  I ask first of all for your prayers for me, that I may serve you and work for you to the best of my ability.  I am still quite new at this and still a little inexperienced. I may act slowly or may do things different than you are used to. Please be patient with me as I come to know you all and seek to discover what it is God wants me to do for you. I ask you also to please help me to get to know you.  I have already received many warm welcomes, and I hope the welcomes keep coming.  Do not be a stranger to me, but give me an opportunity to meet you and hear from you, either here or in your home.  I can only serve you best if I know who it is that I am serving.
Let us pray for our parish as my time here begins, that we may be closer than ever to the One whom we thirst after, the One in whom our hearts will find their true rest.  Let us pray for the healing of wrongs and the unity of our parish as Saint Paul teaches us, being all united together in Christ.  Let us also seek to consider, each in our own individual vocation, how we can follow the command of Christ to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow after Him.  But let us pray in particular for the grace to follow Jesus not only in this life, but to follow Him towards the goal of our faith: the glories that await the faithful in the eternal realities of Heaven.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus (10th Sunday per annum) [OF]

The solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus was celebrated in the place of the 10th Sunday per annum.

What if you stopped loving your spouse?  What if that love you once had for the person you married disappeared - not matured from the excesses of youth or transformed over time, but quite simply disappeared? What might your spouse do to change that? Would they do anything? What might you do? Would you do anything?  Would you claim that a marriage where one spouse has zero love of the other to be a fruitful marriage? These are the questions that form the background to the feast we celebrate today, for they relate to the problem lying at the heart of the matter.
In the late 17th century, a young French girl joined the Sisters of the Visitation. She was not particularly gifted nor was she famous at that point, but Margaret Mary Alacoque would go on to herald a movement that stems from Christ Himself.  While she was at prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, the sister received a vision of Jesus with His Heart aflame with love.  At one point among the visions that St Margaret Mary would receive, Jesus would come to her and formally display His Sacred Heart making this bold statement:
Behold the Heart which has so loved men that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify Its love; and in return, I receive from the greater part only ingratitude, by their irreverence and sacrilege, and by the coldness and contempt they have for Me in this Sacrament of Love.
This is the great mystery at the heart of the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.  For in this feast we venerate that organ most representative of the two greatest loves known in the universe: the divine love that is shown for each individual human being, and the love of the God-man, both human and divine, that was so loving of all that He would willingly undergo the cruel sufferings of His passion and even to die on the Cross rather than lose one of those whom He loves.  But this feast is meant not merely to commemorate that love, but to seek to inflame the hearts of all so as to return to that Sacred Heart the love that is due to It.
What Our Lord lamented most in the revelations to St Margaret Mary was the coldness and distance that He encountered not merely in all souls, but in particular those who should know better.  I fear that He may mean those of us who are the faithful in the Church, those of us who are the regulars. Jesus is chiding us for our lack of love, for returning to Him as much as possible that love He has shown for us.
I cannot speak for each one of you in this instance, but I can speak for myself. I, as a priest of Jesus Christ and His Church, can be far more loving and far more faithful than am I now.  I know it is true, I know it is possible, and I know that if only I accepted this and tried to take the first step, Jesus would pour forth from that loving Heart every gift and every grace necessary for me to advance.  Yet I don’t do this. Why not? Because, if I am honest with myself, I am satisfied with where I am now.
Perhaps this may be the case with you. Perhaps you are satisfied with what your relationship with Jesus looks like at this moment.  But our feast today reveals to us that Jesus disagrees with us.  A common saying heard about the spiritual life is that if you’re not moving forward, you’re going backward. It’s not that Jesus makes this hard for us; it’s that there are so many things that turn us away from Him that we have to either fight them off or transform them into our daily encounters with Christ.  But we must make the first step.
Jesus offers us everything we need to be holy, to be what the Trinity created us to be originally: the holy people of God, the adopted sons of God the Father, the brothers and sisters of God the Son, the temples of God the Holy Spirit.  He even gives us His very flesh and blood in the Holy Eucharist so that we may become what we receive.  But if we do not let any of this have an effect on us, if it does not transform us into being more holy and desiring greater unity with God every day, then it fails us, and we fail the Sacred Heart. The Catholic religion is not a workplace where you punch your work ticket once a week and on the special days and then get what you are owed.  The Catholic religion is focused on restoring each one of us back to that intimate loving relationship God desires to have with us, individually and as a community, as a church.
May the Sacred Heart transform each one of us to be more than we have been to this point.  Let us not waste the call of the Sacred Heart to be inflamed and purified by His love to be what we were meant to be.  Let us not continue in the ways we have conducted ourselves up to this point, however good they may be.  Let us strive for greater, let us in fact strive for greatness.  Let us begin to take up this devotion to the Sacred Heart as a means of transforming our lives to be Christ-centered and Christ-driven.  Let us abandon our former ways and be reconciled to God through the sufferings of the Sacred Heart that have won for us that same reconciliation. Let us be ignited by the ardent love of Christ so as to be bearers of that love to others in our daily lives.  Let every moment be turned upside down so that it may be rightly oriented to that Heart which desires us to love as He loves, so that we may be immersed in that love both now and in the eternal dwellings of that love that await the fervent in Heaven.