Thursday, October 30, 2014

Love God, Love your neighbor. Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

OT - 30th Sunday                   October 25, 2014
Exodus 22:20-26                     Psalm 18                     1 Thess 1:5-10                        Mat. 22:34-40

The Pharisees tried to test Jesus – to trip him up once again.  Last week we heard the question about paying the census tax.  The trap was perfect - say yes and risk being accused of being a traitor by the anti-Roman zealot party.  Say no and risk being accused by the Romans of fomenting insurrection.  Say nothing and be accused by all of being a coward.  They thought they had the perfect trap.  But Jesus turned the trap around with a few simple words.  Pay to Cesar what belongs to Cesar, and to God what belongs to God.

This week the test was this question – “which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  There were 613 laws in the Old Testament that pious Jews followed.  If Jesus answered by lifting out one law in particular then he could have been enmeshed in endless debate, discredited by denying an article of faith, and accused of heresy.  They could have finished him right there.

Once again, Jesus did not fall into their trap.  Jesus indicated that all of the law and all of the prophets can be summarized in two verses of the law.  He quotes from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 when he says:  “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.  The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The love of God and of neighbor is the true fulfillment of all of the law and the prophets.  Jesus never abolished the law and the prophets.  Instead he fulfilled them and established the new covenant - the new law that we live within the Church today.  This gives us pause to consider how we love God how we love our neighbor.  Jesus says to “love God with all our heart, soul, and mind.”

This love isn’t merely some warm fuzzy tingly feeling.  Love is first and foremost a series of decisions of the will.  To love God is to commit our emotions, our eternal soul, and our intellect to God.   Everything depends on this.

Now, there are lots of ways that we express our commitment to God.  Sacred Scripture tells us about many ways to practice love of God and neighbor.  Jesus said this in the gospel of John; “if you love me you will keep my commands.”  Today, I want to share five commitments we can make to express our love of God.

Prayer from the heart.  A personal commitment to daily prayer means that we are not too busy to say to God every day that we love him.  Whether it is the daily rosary, or bible readings, prayer groups, or other devotions, we are all called to an intimate communion with God through prayer.  So today, let us love God with all of our heart through renewed commitment to prayer.

The Mass.  The Mass is the perfect prayer of Word and Sacrament that strengthens us in holiness.  A personal commitment to Mass each Sunday and on Holy Days of obligation is vital.  An ongoing commitment to daily Mass is powerful.  Many people who come to daily Mass say that the Mass is the hinge for living a holy life.  Let us love God with all of our soul through the Mass.

Confession.  A regular habit of sacramental confession, even monthly, is a powerful way to show God our love through expression of sorrow for our sins.  All of us, every single one of us, would benefit from monthly confession.  Let us love God through turning away from sin.

Sacred Scripture.  St. Jerome once said this; “knowledge of Scripture is knowledge of Christ.”  Therefore we can also say that ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.  Let us love Jesus through devoting our intellect to praying with scripture and studying it.  Let us love God with all our mind through devotion to Sacred Scripture.

Fasting.  Denying our appetites from time to time, whether it be food, television, coffee, computers, or anything else, is a wonderful way to empty ourselves so that we can be filled by the Holy Spirit.  It orients our bodies through discipline to the Lord.  Let us love God with all of our strength through fasting.

These commitments are powerful.  They are great expressions of love of God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  These commitments have strengthened Christians over the centuries to practice love through acts of service to our neighbor. Some of these works are well known, like Mother Teresa’s mission in Calcutta.  And so many more are unknown.  Like those who established hospitals, orphanages, and missions to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, comfort the afflicted, and so many other works of mercy.  There are countless small acts of kindness in our own community that reflect love for God and for neighbor.

Each person who professes belief in Christ stakes that belief on a decision to love.  This means of course, that we also make commitments to loving service.

The first reading points out God’s deep concern for the most vulnerable among us, the stranger, the widow, and the orphan.  It is the same today as it was then. 

--  The stranger today would be immigrants and migrant workers, especially the undocumented.  As a group they are vulnerable and weak.  Our measure of society is whether or not we choose to welcome and love the stranger.

--  The widow today would be all those people who are bereaved, and who are vulnerable and weak.  Our measure of society is whether or not we choose to console and love the widow.

--  The orphan today would be all those children, unborn and born, who are at risk.  Our measure is whether or not we welcome and love the orphan.

Sociological studies show us something important about these three groups.  Poverty within these groups is much higher than other groups in society.  Except in those special places where the community chooses to love them and care for their needs.  Then their situation becomes better.  Redemption is made tangible through compassionate care.

The Pharisees asked a question to test Jesus.  But once again Jesus turned the tables on them.  For in the end Jesus asks this question to each of us – do we love God and our neighbor?  Jesus invites us to follow his plan of love.  He is the one who delivers us from the sin and death, from the day of wrath, and leads us to eternal life.  Let us choose once again to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Safe in the Barque of Peter

For several weeks we have prayed for the bishops as they gathered for the extraordinary synod on the family.  We have prayed that this important pastoral work be guided by the Holy Spirit.  At the conclusion of the meeting we heard the response of Pope Francis to the open and candid dialogue among the bishops.

There has been much said about this synod - from those who are dismayed that bishops did not go far enough in changing things to those who are dismayed that the bishops discussed changing things.  People from both ends of the political ecclesial spectrum have attacked the bishops regarding pastoral discussions for the divorced and remarried, and for those who have same-sex attraction.

We are all in need of much prayer and discernment.  Today at daily Mass we heard Jesus exhort the listener to read the signs of the times. In a very direct and candid way the Lord calls each of us to be reconciled with God and with one another.  This is once again an announcement of the time of grace that we are in - a time of grace that is a prelude to a time of judgment, of cleansing, and of the coming era of peace.

I include Mark Mallett's brief meditation on the subject as well as the full text of Pope Francis' closing remarks at the synod.

Peace and blessings to you all.
Fr. Bill


have spent the day mostly in prayer, listening, speaking with my spiritual director, praying, going to Mass, listening some more… and these are the thoughts and words which have been coming to me since I wrote The Synod and the Spirit.
• I’ve been thinking about St. John Bosco’s dream and how the Holy Father is always at the bow of the ship, always leading the Church toward an era of peace rather than leading one of the boats attacking the Barque of Peter.
• That Pope Francis has a very deep devotion to Mary, who protects the faith of her children as any good mother does.
• How quickly Catholics are jumping overboard.
• How all of this is a continuing preparational stage before the Illumination. (1)
• How we need to stand by our Pope, which is Latin for “papa”, who is the daddy of the family. That one doesn’t fire his dad or throw him overboard or call him an “anti-dad” when he does things that we don’t always understand.
• That we are entering more deeply and definitively into the Passion of the Church.
The Holy Father said he would not speak during the Synod until the other prelates had made their presentations. So tonight, Papa has spoken. I tell you brothers and sisters, Jesus is the one guiding this ship, filling its sails with the wind of the Spirit, leading it onward towards a Triumph.
And He has placed Pope Francis firmly at its helm. 

The following is the Pope’s address to the Synod Fathers. Pope Francis, after encouraging all the prelates to speak frankly, openly, and fearlessly, at last addressed the Synod. These are his remarks—powerful, prophetic, and pastoral. He was given a four minute standing ovation by the bishops. 

Dear Eminences, Beatitudes, Excellencies, Brothers and Sisters,
With a heart full of appreciation and gratitude I want to thank, along with you, the Lord who has accompanied and guided us in the past days, with the light of the Holy Spirit.
From the heart I thank Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod, Bishop Fabio Fabene, under-secretary, and with them I thank the Relators, Cardinal Peter Erdo, who has worked so much in these days of family mourning, and the Special Secretary Bishop Bruno Forte, the three President delegates, the transcribers, the consultors, the translators and the unknown workers, all those who have worked with true fidelity and total dedication behind the scenes and without rest. Thank you so much from the heart.
I thank all of you as well, dear Synod fathers, Fraternal Delegates, Auditors, and Assessors, for your active and fruitful participation. I will keep you in prayer asking the Lord to reward you with the abundance of His gifts of grace!
I can happily say that – with a spirit of collegiality and of synodality – we have truly lived the experience of “Synod,” a path of solidarity, a “journey together.” And it has been “a journey” – and like every journey there were moments of running fast, as if wanting to conquer time and reach the goal as soon as possible; other moments of fatigue, as if wanting to say “enough”; other moments of enthusiasm and ardour. There were moments of profound consolation listening to the testimony of true pastors, who wisely carry in their hearts the joys and the tears of their faithful people. Moments of consolation and grace and comfort hearing the testimonies of the families who have participated in the Synod and have shared with us the beauty and the joy of their married life. A journey where the stronger feel compelled to help the less strong, where the more experienced are led to serve others, even through confrontations. And since it is a journey of human beings, with the consolations there were also moments of desolation, of tensions and temptations, of which a few possibilities could be mentioned:
- One, a temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals.
- The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness [it. buonismo], that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals.”
- The temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast (cf. Lk 4:1-4); and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick (cf Jn 8:7), that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens (Lk 11:46).
- The temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfil the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.
- The temptation to neglect the “depositum fidei” [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing! They call them “byzantinisms,” I think, these things…
Dear brothers and sisters, the temptations must not frighten or disconcert us, or even discourage us, because no disciple is greater than his master; so if Jesus Himself was tempted – and even called Beelzebul (cf. Mt 12:24) – His disciples should not expect better treatment.
Personally I would be very worried and saddened if it were not for these temptations and these animated discussions; this movement of the spirits, as St Ignatius called it (Spiritual Exercises, 6), if all were in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace. Instead, I have seen and I have heard – with joy and appreciation – speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal, of wisdom, of frankness and of courage: and of parrhesia. And I have felt that what was set before our eyes was the good of the Church, of families, and the “supreme law,” the “good of souls” (cf. Can. 1752). And this always – we have said it here, in the Hall – without ever putting into question the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of marriage: the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness, that openness to life (cf. Cann. 1055, 1056; and Gaudium et spes, 48).
And this is the Church, the vineyard of the Lord, the fertile Mother and the caring Teacher, who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on people’s wound; who doesn’t see humanity as a house of glass to judge or categorize people. This is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy. This is the Church, the true bride of Christ, who seeks to be faithful to her spouse and to her doctrine. It is the Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes and publicans. The Church that has the doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent, and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect! The Church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and pretends not to see him, but on the contrary feels involved and almost obliged to lift him up and to encourage him to take up the journey again and accompany him toward a definitive encounter with her Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem.
The is the Church, our Mother! And when the Church, in the variety of her charisms, expresses herself in communion, she cannot err: it is the beauty and the strength of the sensus fidei, of that supernatural sense of the faith which is bestowed by the Holy Spirit so that, together, we can all enter into the heart of the Gospel and learn to follow Jesus in our life. And this should never be seen as a source of confusion and discord.
Many commentators, or people who talk, have imagined that they see a disputatious Church where one part is against the other, doubting even the Holy Spirit, the true promoter and guarantor of the unity and harmony of the Church – the Holy Spirit who throughout history has always guided the barque, through her Ministers, even when the sea was rough and choppy, and the ministers unfaithful and sinners.
And, as I have dared to tell you , [as] I told you from the beginning of the Synod, it was necessary to live through all this with tranquillity, and with interior peace, so that the Synod would take place cum Petro and sub Petro (with Peter and under Peter), and the presence of the Pope is the guarantee of it all.
We will speak a little bit about the Pope, now, in relation to the Bishops [laughing]. So, the duty of the Pope is that of guaranteeing the unity of the Church; it is that of reminding the faithful of their duty to faithfully follow the Gospel of Christ; it is that of reminding the pastors that their first duty is to nourish the flock – to nourish the flock – that the Lord has entrusted to them, and to seek to welcome – with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears – the lost sheep. I made a mistake here. I said welcome: [rather] to go out and find them.
His duty is to remind everyone that authority in the Church is a service, as Pope Benedict XVI clearly explained, with words I cite verbatim: “The Church is called and commits herself to exercise this kind of authority which is service and exercises it not in her own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ… through the Pastors of the Church, in fact: it is he who guides, protects and corrects them, because he loves them deeply. But the Lord Jesus, the supreme Shepherd of our souls, has willed that the Apostolic College, today the Bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter… to participate in his mission of taking care of God’s People, of educating them in the faith and of guiding, inspiring and sustaining the Christian community, or, as the Council puts it, ‘to see to it… that each member of the faithful shall be led in the Holy Spirit to the full development of his own vocation in accordance with Gospel preaching, and to sincere and active charity’ and to exercise that liberty with which Christ has set us free (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, 6)… and it is through us,” Pope Benedict continues, “that the Lord reaches souls, instructs, guards and guides them. St Augustine, in his Commentary on the Gospel of St John, says: ‘let it therefore be a commitment of love to feed the flock of the Lord’ (cf. 123, 5); this is the supreme rule of conduct for the ministers of God, an unconditional love, like that of the Good Shepherd, full of joy, given to all, attentive to those close to us and solicitous for those who are distant (cf. St Augustine, Discourse 340, 1; Discourse 46, 15), gentle towards the weakest, the little ones, the simple, the sinners, to manifest the infinite mercy of God with the reassuring words of hope (cf. ibid., Epistle, 95, 1).”
So, the Church is Christ’s – she is His bride – and all the bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter, have the task and the duty of guarding her and serving her, not as masters but as servants. The Pope, in this context, is not the supreme lord but rather the supreme servant – the “servant of the servants of God”; the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church, putting aside every personal whim, despite being – by the will of Christ Himself – the “supreme Pastor and Teacher of all the faithful” (Can. 749) and despite enjoying “supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church” (cf. Cann. 331-334).
Dear brothers and sisters, now we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families.
One year to work on the “Synodal Relatio” which is the faithful and clear summary of everything that has been said and discussed in this hall and in the small groups. It is presented to the Episcopal Conferences as “lineamenta” [guidelines].
May the Lord accompany us, and guide us in this journey for the glory of His Name, with the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of Saint Joseph. And please, do not forget to pray for me! Thank you!
[The Te Deum was sung, and Benediction given.]
Thank you, and rest well, eh?
Catholic News AgencyOctober 18th, 2014

Today’s first reading from Saturday’s daily Mass:
At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it. (2 Tim 4:16-17)


Sunday, October 5, 2014

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time - "The Lord Planted a Vineyard"

OT – 27th Sunday                  The Lord Planted a Vineyard                         October 5, 2014
Is 5:1-7                       Ps 80              Phil 4:6-9                   Mt 21:33-43

For the past three weeks we have been listening to parables of the vineyard from the latter parts of the gospel of Matthew.  These occur as a series of teachings about the Mercy of God and the Judgment of God.  From the past two Sundays and today we have been hearing about this vineyard.  The vineyard symbolizes the Kingdom of God.  The Owner symbolizes God.  And the workers or tenants are the people of the world.  Each time in the parables we encounter a landowner who generously calls us to produce the fruit of the vineyard.  And each time there are those who say “yes” to work in the vineyard, and others who say “no.” In these parables of the vineyard we also find the theme of God’s judgment upon those who say “no.”

In today’s parable of the vineyard, we hear Jesus pronounce a judgment upon the hearers that uses their own words of judgment.  It is chilling to hear.  Jesus tells them plainly that “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” 
This judgment did, in fact, occur in history.   It began with the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The disciples of Jesus received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and began walking in the gifts of
the Holy Spirit.  They lived the fruit of the Holy Spirit as they grew in holiness.  As people began experiencing the power of this life in the Spirit, more people were converted and began following Jesus and His Church. 

Meanwhile, the religious authorities of Jerusalem began an intense persecution of the Church.  For nearly 40 years this continued.  In their pride the authorities in Jerusalem challenged Rome and sought to overthrow its rule.  Rome responded with a great army that besieged Jerusalem, conquered it, burned it, and killed and scattered the inhabitants.  In the Book of Revelation the city of Jerusalem was called Mystery Babylon.  This was the evil city that made war on the saints and then was burned with fire and utterly destroyed. 

Now, today’s homily isn’t just a history lesson.  These parables are important for us today.  The setting of the message isn’t just Jerusalem and the near east.  The setting also involves the Church and the World of Today.  The call of the Lord is increasingly urgent to us.  He calls us to give a full “yes” to work in the vineyard and produce its fruit.

For those who are willing to accept the messages of private revelation approved by the church, consider the private revelations and prophecies in modern times.  The apparitions of the Blessed Mother at Lourdes, Fatima, Akita, and Kibeho – all approved by the church as worthy for our belief – were calls to the people of today to prayer and conversion.  And they all also warned of a coming Chastisement upon the world.  Chastisements that would be a direct result of the world’s rejection of God’s call to conversion and holiness.

The apparition of Our Lady in Kibeho, Rwanda, was chillingly accurate.  She appeared to a group of children on several occasions, calling people in that country to prayer and conversion, and warning of a terrible bloodshed and genocide if they did not convert.  Sure enough, in 1994 the “rivers of blood” which were predicted came to pass.  But let the reader take note, in the prophecies of Kibeho, the seer Alphonsine said that not only Rwanda but the whole world, faced an abyss and catastrophe.  
The alleged apparitions in Medjugorje, while not yet approved by the church because they are ongoing, speak of similar themes; a call to prayer and conversion, a prophecy of chastisement upon the world because of its sins, and a coming Era of Peace after God has judged the world because of its sins.

These themes are found in Sacred Scripture, particularly the 25th chapter of Matthew and the entirety of the Book of Revelation.  They are also found in the Teaching of the Church.  The Catechism speaks of the Church following Our Lord in facing her own Good Friday prior to the triumph at the end of the era.

If one is skeptical of the prophecies that come from private revelation or scripture, then one can certainly also look to the secular writings of economists, who warn of a coming financial collapse due to the enormous mounting debt of so many countries.  Or one can look to the medical community who speak of the cycles of pandemics in history and how we are overdue for another sweeping pandemic.  Or one can look to those who study military history and who talk of cycles of war.  There are quite enough harbingers of doom out there to make us all pause and consider our near future.

What do we do with all that?  First of all, I think we can go ahead and admit that such things will indeed come.  In so many ways they are self-fulfilling prophecies.  What we do as a collective human family in the world today will cause its own chastisement.  Cause and effect is a universal law, and there is no escaping it.

Secondly and more importantly, in light of all this we must remember God’s primary motivation on our behalf.  Remember what Jesus said to Nicodemus in John chapter 3.  “God loves the world so much that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life.”  God’s primary motivation toward us is love!  God’s primary desire for us is our salvation.  

Even when we see the great storm of all these events taking place, let us be determined to fix the truth of God’s love for us firmly in our minds.  This will help us to place our full trust in Jesus, who is our hope of salvation.  After all, the best part of these prophecies is the Triumph and the coming Era of Peace.  It is a sure promise, and something for which we wait in joyful hope.

In the meantime, prayer, conversion, and producing the fruit of the kingdom are the call of Jesus to us today.  This has its own joy, whatever else may occur.  I close today with the words of St. Paul from his letter to the Philippians.  They also are a true call and a true prophecy that will surpass whatever else may occur.  Listen to these words once again.

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”