Sunday, November 30, 2014

Novena to the Immaculate Conception

Advent, the season of darkness and light is inspiring.  Christmas lights go up and shine so beautifully,  pointing the way to the true light of the world, Jesus Christ.  It is the time of expectation for the coming of Christ.  And just as in the original Advent, Mary was the one chosen by God to bring the Savior into the world, so during this New Advent, Mary points the way to Jesus, who will come again in the fullness of time.  This month we will celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, remembering that Mary was created by God for a special and unique mission.  She truly is the Immaculate Conception.  So let us ask her to pray for us, and to lead us all to Jesus, her son.

Prayer of the Novena of the Immaculate Conception

Immaculate Virgin Mary, 
you were pleasing in the sight of God 
from the first moment of your conception 
in the womb of your mother, St. Anne. 
You were chose to be the mother of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 
I believe the teaching of holy Mother the Church, 
that in the first instant of your conception, 
by the singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, 
in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, 
Savior of the human and beloved Son, 
you were preserved from all stain of original sin. 
I thank God for this wonderful privilege and grace 
he bestowed upon you 
as I honor your Immaculate Conception.

Look graciously upon me as I implore this special favor: 
(mention your request).
Virgin Immaculate, Mother of God and my Mother, 
from your throne in heaven turn your eyes of pity upon me. 
Filled with confidence in your goodness and power, 
I beg you to help me in this journey of life 
which is so full of dangers for my soul. 
I entrust myself entirely to you, 
that I may never be the slave of the devil through sin, 
but may always live a humble and pure life. 
I consecrate myself to you forever, 
for my only desire is to love your divine Son Jesus. 
Mary, since none of your devout servants has perished, 
may I too be saved. 
Advent – 1st Sunday                                       November 30-2014
Isaiah 63:16-17, 19; 64:2-7                 1 Cor 1:3-9                  Mark 13:33-37

Happy New Year everybody. Yes! It’s the new year. Not the new calendar year – we have to wait until January 1 for that celebration. Today marks the beginning of the new liturgical year. The season of Advent marks a new beginning for us. We begin a new cycle of readings, and this year we feature the gospel of Mark. Today begins a new liturgical year.

Today is a time for resolutions and renewals. Just as on January 1 people make all kinds of new years resolutions, so we as Catholics begin Advent with resolve to prepare for the second coming of Jesus. He is indeed coming, and we are called to prepare diligently for his return.

And how exactly are we to prepare for the coming of the Lord? The readings this weekend give us some strong instructions. They are full of the call to repentance.

Isaiah calls on God to come down and redeem the people. He laments that “we are sinful, all of us have become like unclean people, all our good deeds are like polluted rags, we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind.”

Jesus He speaks sternly to his disciples, commanding them to “be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.”

In the letter to the Corinthians St. Paul starts by giving thanks to God for the church in Corinth. He remembers how God has given them every gift and blessing. He praises God for making the commitment to keep the church firm to the end. But don’t let these opening lines in 1 Corinthians fool you. All through the rest of Corinthians Paul offers correction to the Corinthians for their sinful behavior during his absence. 

So here is the basic idea of it.
Isaiah – all of us have become unclean people.
Paul – despite the grace of God poured upon us, we have committed sins
Jesus – be watchful, be alert, and awake.  You do not know when the Lord is coming.

These are sobering readings for the beginning of Advent.  It is like a dash of cold water on the face.  Advent is a clear call to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord through repentance.

When the culture of death so prevalent in our modern society continues its relentless attack on the life and dignity of the human person, we can see that we as a people need conversion.  When we look within ourselves and recognize our own guilt, we know that we as individuals need conversion. We begin Advent recognizing that we cannot save ourselves. We need a Savior.

Here in the church we have this beautiful Advent reminder of the gift of salvation that comes to us in Christ Jesus.  It is the Advent wreath that we blessed at the beginning of Mass. The lit candles remind us that Jesus is forever the light of the world. He is the light that shines in the darkness. The light of Christ, symbolized by the four candles, show us the path of salvation that is marked out for us. 

Here’s the first candle. Let’s remember the first words of Jesus in the gospel from this candle. Be watchful! How do we do that? Be watchful by a regular examination of conscience.  Be watchful for opportunities to do God’s work.  Be watchful for those near occasions of sin and avoid them.  Be watchful for those opportunities to receive the sacrament of penance this Advent.  With God’s help, we can light that candle of spiritual watchfulness in our lives.

Here’s the second candle.  Be alert!  Be alert by meditating on the teachings of our faith.  Meditating on the Bible and on church teaching goes a long way to help us be spiritually alert.  Read the Word of God.  Learn the teachings of the Church.  In order to help us in our spiritual alertness consider this little motivation.  Try it.  “No bible no breakfast, no bible no bed.” You get the idea - a little devotional time in the morning and at night will go a long way to help us become spiritually alert.  With God’s help, we can light the candle of spiritual alertness in our lives.

Here’s the third candle.  Stay awake!  We become spiritually awake through prayer.  In the gospel Jesus told his disciples this – “may he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.” Jesus asks each of us to wake up and pray. Wake up from our spiritual deadness and come alive when we pray together at Mass. Wake up at home and rekindle daily family devotions.  Wake up spiritually and persevere in prayer.  With God’s help, we can light the candle of spiritual wakefulness in our lives.

Here’s the fourth candle.  The Lord is coming!  He knows our  He’ll illumine our hearts when we turn to him in repentance.  He’ll illumine our minds when we turn to him for understanding.  He’ll illumine our souls when we turn to him in prayer.  The Lord is coming.  He is forever the light of the world. He is coming again to judge the nations.  His coming will overthrow the culture of corruption and death that so permeates the societies of today.  His coming will usher in an era of peace. He will come and make all things new.  With God’s help, we can light the candle of spiritual renewal in our lives.
need for salvation and He is eternally faithful to come and help us.

His second coming will be a surprise, just as the first one was. But his coming will be at the perfect time.  In the meantime, we have this beautiful reminder – the advent wreath.  Let this Advent wreath be for us a prophetic sign – a spiritual light in the darkness of our times.  Let it remind us to do what Jesus tells us to do today.  Be watchful!  Be alert.  Stay awake!  Jesus is coming.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Solemnity of Christ the King - Sunday Homily

Solemnity of Christ the King                                                11-22-2014
Ez 34:11-12,15-17              Ps 23              1 Cor 15:20-26,28               Mt 25:31-46

On this particular Sunday - this last Sunday in the church year, the Church proclaims in a particular way that Jesus Christ is sovereign over all the universe.  And so we call this feast day the “Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King.” 

The readings that the church selects for our reflection are a powerful teaching.  The first reading from the book of the prophet Ezekiel describes God as being like a shepherd tending his flock.  Likewise, Psalm 23 describes the Lord’s actions as being like a shepherd of the flock.

The prophet Ezekiel describes the Shepherd doing these things for the sheep.  Consider this list of the tasks.
1.  Rescue them when they are scattered
2.  feed them with good pastures.
3.  give them rest.
4.  seek out the lost and the strayed and bring them back.
5.  bind up the wounded and heal the sick.

Psalm 23 is a strong reflection of these same ideas from Ezekiel.  These are wonderful and consoling verses of sacred scripture.  They remind us of how much God loves us and how God chooses - in great humility - to serve us in love.  God showed us this love in a very concrete way through Jesus.  He truly is the good shepherd who loves us and who helps us.

When we think about it - we have all experienced the love of Jesus the good shepherd.  For he does these things for us.
Jesus heals our sickness.
Jesus frees us from the prison of sin and death.
Jesus welcomes us who were once strangers to his covenant.
Jesus clothes us in baptism.
Jesus feeds us with the food and drink of His own body and blood.
Our God has shown us amazing love in Jesus our Good Shepherd.

The scriptures then take us a step further.  The reading from the 15th chapter of 1st Corinthians and also from the 25th Chapter of Matthew depicts Jesus as the sovereign with every authority and power.  He will sit upon his glorious throne and will judge the nations.

His measure of judgment is quite clear.  The blessed are the ones who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirst, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the ill, and visited the imprisoned.  The condemned are the ones who did not do these things.

This means that the connection between the first reading and the psalm with the second reading and the gospel are very clear.  God has shown each of us great kindness and love.  And God commands that we do likewise if we want to enter into his presence.

So,  here we are in his presence.
We have gathered in his name - and he is present among us.
We have listened to the Word - and he has spoken to us.
Jesus himself will take the bread, bless it, break it, and give it to us through the hands of the priest.  Jesus himself will feed us.

Many saints have seen a very real connection between what Jesus is saying in this gospel reading and in his presence in the Holy Eucharist.  Mother Teresa of Calcutta said it this way.  “In Holy Communion we have Christ under the appearance of bread.  In our work we find Him under the appearance of flesh and blood.  It is the same Christ. ‘I was hungry, I was naked, I was sick, I was homeless.’”

The readings today call us to recognize Jesus and follow him.  First of all, let us recognize the kindness of Jesus toward us as a Good Shepherd.  Let us offer him our thanks for the many ways in which he has cared for us.  All the ways in which he has blessed us.  Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.  It is right and just.

Second of all, let us respond to Jesus’ call to practice that same loving service by recognizing him in the least of these our brothers and sisters.  He comes to us disguised as the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the homeless, the sick, and the imprisoned.  Jesus is here among us in the distressing disguise of the poor.  Do we see him as he has seen us?  Do we love him as he has loved us?  Do we care for him as he has cared for us?

The condemned in the gospel have one basic vice in common.  They ignore the presence of Jesus by ignoring the needs of others.  Like the parable of the rich man and the poor beggar Lazarus - the rich man was condemned to eternal torment because he never saw Lazarus in his great need.  The opposite of love truly is apathy.  And so it is that they will go off to eternal torment, having chosen their eternal separation from God.

The blessed in the gospel have one basic virtue in common.  They minister to Jesus who comes to them in the distressing disguise of the poor.  They choose love.  And because of their love they will be able to hear these words from Christ the King.

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father.  Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

"You are the temple of God" - homily for the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome                  Nov 9, 2014
Ez 47:1-2,8-9,12            Ps 46        1 Cor 3:9-11,16-17         Jn 2:13-22

Happy feast day everybody!

This weekend we celebrate the dedication of a particular church – the Basilica of St. John Lateran.  It may seem odd to have a universal feast day for a basilica church, but this is no ordinary church.  If you suspected that this means something important, then you are right.  There is a profound meaning to what we celebrate today.  It has a lot to do with how we live out our faith.

The Basilica of St. John Lateran is the Cathedral church of Rome.  So just like our Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville, it is the bishop’s church – the mother church for the diocese.  Every diocese has a cathedral – the church where the bishop presides. 

But the Basilica of St. John Lateran is unique among all churches.  It is the cathedral church of Rome and it is the Pope’s church.  Just as the Pope is the symbol of the unity of all Christians, so St. John Lateran Basilica is the symbol of the unity of all churches.

Today I want to talk a bit about the idea of the church, both as the people of God as well as the place where the people gather for worship.  Both are important.

St. Paul gave a beautiful description of God’s project on our behalf.  He used a metaphor to describe us when he wrote, “you are God’s building.”  “You are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you.”  When we think of the beauty and magnificence of the temple in Jerusalem as the bible describes it, or the great basilicas of the world, we know that the work of God in us is even more magnificent.  God desires to form us as his saints.  God’s project is to perfect us in love, to make us holy, that we might dwell with him in glory for all eternity. 

God’s project started for us with our baptism.  We were set apart in that moment and made into God’s holy people.  That’s what holy actually means – “set apart” for a special purpose.  Baptism sets us apart as God’s chosen ones, members of the divine family, heirs to the promises of Christ.  It is an amazing dignity that God gives to us as those “living stones” of the temple of God.

God’s project continues within us.  We are invited to a saving and sacramental relationship with Jesus Christ and with his Church.  We live that sacramental life through the regular participation in Sunday Mass and in the Holy Days.  Every time we gather as church we are formed a bit more by the Word of God that we proclaim.  Each time we celebrate as church we are nourished by Jesus, the Bread of Life, on our pilgrim journey to heaven. 

Word and Sacrament are an essential foundation of the spiritual life.  This is why the first precept of the Church is that we attend Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.  The precepts of the Church are like a basic minimum requirement for the spiritual life.  Kind of like food, water, and air are basic requirements for physical life.  The first precept – attend Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation - is based in the 10 commandments where the Lord instructs his people to Keep Holy the Sabbath Day. 

Our God loves us and gives us everything that is good for us.  Our God forms us and feeds us through His Holy Word and through the Sacraments.  It is the project of the lifetime granted to us – showing us the way to eternal life.  It points to the great reality that we perceive in part in this life and will understand fully in the next life - that “we are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in us.”

God’s project is made tangible for us through the buildings in which we worship.  God’s revelation of heavenly realities to us is incarnational.  That is to say, God shows us what we need to know in concrete ways that we can see, hear, touch, and taste. 

Think of the Old Testament revelation of how to worship.  In the desert God instructed the Israelites about how to construct the tent of meeting, the Holy of Holies, and the Ark of the Covenant.  Even as they wandered in the desert, this was a substantial and glorious place for the people to worship.

Later on, the people built the temple in Jerusalem.  The temple served as a symbol for the presence of God with the people..  In the temple there was the place for the people to gather in prayer.  Then there was the place where the priests offered sacrifice.  Then there was the Holy of Holies where “shekinah glory” of God dwelt.  The gospel today tells us that Jesus had zeal for the House of God – the temple.  So much so that he cleansed the temple of the money-changers and prepared the way for the new heavenly temple, not made by human hands.

All of our churches today build upon this tradition.  Our churches here in Marion County, as well as Catholic churches throughout the world, relate to the temple of Jerusalem.  Just like the temple, we have a large space for the people to gather.  Just like the temple, we have an altar and a priest who offers sacrifice on that altar.  Just like the temple, we have a Holy of Holies, the tabernacle, where the real presence of Christ dwells.  These buildings are special because the Church, the bride of Christ the bridegroom, gathers here for the wedding feast of the Lamb.  These buildings are essential because it is here more than anywhere else that we are sanctified by the sacraments, formed by the Word of God and nourished by the Eucharist. 

I tell you truly, Jesus loves this church.  He has great zeal for it.  And so should we.  It is here in this place that Jesus invites us to allow His Word to take flesh in us.  It is here that we, the church, become the sacrament of salvation for the world.  It is here that we discover the dignity of our great mission to bring the gospel of Jesus to all peoples, lands, and nations.

So, as you can see, this celebration of the dedication of the Lateran Basilica is important.  It helps us understand who we are as the Church and the mission that is set before us. 

So, happy feast day everybody!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Commemoration of All Souls                              November 2, 2014
Wisdom 3:1-9             Psalm 23           Romans 6:3-9           John 6:37-43

This special day, the day that we commemorate all the faithful departed, is filled with a sense of remembrance and longing.  Today, on this special day we remember our beloved deceased.  Their names and faces are close to our hearts, etched in our memories, and lifted up in the Mass intentions of the church.

These souls have experienced the last things of life on earth – death, and judgment.  These are the ones who have entered into the deepest of mysteries – what happens to us when we die.  Let’s think about that for a moment.

We as Christians do not believe that we are merely a body - that once we stop living we simply cease to exist.  There is more to our human nature than biology.  We believe that we are an incarnation – soul and flesh created together from the moment of our conception.  Body and soul grow together and makes us who we are.

The idea of birth gives us some idea of what death might be like.  When we are conceived and grow in our mother’s womb, as small babies we are warm, fed, loved, and safe.  And I suppose that the   But as ask an expectant mother in her 9th month if she would permit that.  Birth is necessary.  So it is that the rather traumatic process of leaving the womb of the mother takes place.  What happens after being born is amazing.  The new little one is placed in the arms of the mother and they see each other’s face for the very first time.  Life in the world outside of the womb is far richer and interesting in the womb.  Who of us would want to go back?  It is here in this life that we can grow, develop, experience so many things, and fulfill all of the potentialities within us from the moment of our conception.
baby would probably choose to stay there forever.

Death is something like being born.  Dying seems rather traumatic.  None of us wants to face the eventual death of the body and the parting of the soul from the body.  But that very essential part of our selves, the soul, what makes us truly who we are, separates from the body at death.  The first reading from the Book of Wisdom reminds us of what happens on that day of being born into eternity when it says “the souls of the just are in the hand of God.”

Today, on this special day, we contemplate the soul’s journey to see the face of God.  For each of us the day of death, of being born into eternity, awaits us.  For each of us, the day of judgment, of standing before God and presenting all of our life to him, is coming.

For each of us, we must all admit that we are not yet perfected in love.  We have not yet completed God’s call to holiness.  So many who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, experience a final healing, a final atonement, a final perfecting in the fires of God’s love.  This is the soul’s journey to God.  It is something of a mystery to us, but the Book of Wisdom speaks of this with these words, “their hope is full of immortality; chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed.”

As we hope for heaven, we remember that the saints in heaven pray for us, assisting us on our journey to God.  Likewise, the church on earth prays for all those who are being born again into eternal life with God.  We lift up our prayers for our beloved deceased who are being purified, helping those souls on their journey to God.

This special blessing of purgatory is a great manifestation of the love and mercy of God.  For God purifies our souls until we are perfected in his love.  God does whatever it takes to help us become his saints – so that we can shine like the stars. 

This feast day is a remembrance of great hope.  Jesus gives us the assurance of his desire for us.  He suffered, died, and was raised from the dead so that we could inherit this promise.  Listen to his words.  “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day.”

What an amazing promise.  Jesus will not lose anyone whom the Father has given to him.  And surely we have been given to our Lord in the great sacrament of baptism.  We have been nourished by our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist.  We have been washed clean once again by the great sacrament of mercy, the sacrament of penance. 

Today, on this special day, 
we commit our own souls to God once again.

Today, on this special day, 
we commemorate all the faithful departed.

Today, on this special day, 
filled with remembrance and longing, 
we entrust everything to Jesus our good Shepherd, 
who leads us to everlasting life.