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What About My Freedom?

Various states are passing laws supporting life in the womb. Life is a precious gift that begins at conception. This is not simply something I believe in faith. In my article, “Biology Makes Me Pro-Life”, I provide a non-religious reason for knowing that life begins at conception. Life is a precious gift. Last spring I offered a series of webinars, Treating Life with Dignity and Love, presenting our Catholic understanding of what it means to be consistently prolife from the moment of conception till natural death and all points in between.

Those who support abortion talk about in terms of the freedom to choose. They say a woman must be free to choose to do what she wants with her body, including abortion. Pregnancy is not an illness to be eliminated. While a child in the womb is totally dependent on its mother, the child is alive and must be treated as a human being. Offering a secular argument, even if the child wasn’t “human” yet (I firmly believe it is a human being), one would not allow a woman to choose to cutoff a healthy arm. Why would we allow a woman to eliminate a healthy baby?

Do we have free will? Yes. For example, in sending out the Twelve on mission (Luke 9:1-6), Jesus says, “And as for those who do not welcome you, when you leave that town, shake the dust from your feet” (verse 4). The Twelve are sent out to proclaim the gospel. Jesus does not tell them to force our faith on anyone. If people do not listen, if they do not welcome what the Twelve teach, the Twelve are to move on to others who will listen.

Yes, people are free to make their own choice. However this freedom is not absolute. Even some relativists say you are free to do whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt anyone. You can’t steal because it harms another. We have laws against murder. You can’t kill someone just because you don’t like them.

Furthermore, if one wants someone to be truly free to make their own choice, one must understand what their choices are and what the result of that choice can bring. Thus, we must be allowed to present our side or the person is not free to choose life.

Here I turn to the title I gave this article, “What About My Freedom?”. First, I want to talk about my freedom in regards to choosing to be prolife. In exercising my freedom, I do not want my tax dollars to pay for abortions. In the past, the Hyde amendment prohibited using federal funds to pay for abortion. Yet, federal budget proposals this year do not include the Hyde amendment. What happened to my freedom?

Regarding my freedom, the second point I want to make is my freedom to speak about what I believe. What I want to say about our Catholic values is not hate speech against those who disagree. In fact, I offer it in love. I want to help people do what is good for them and avoid what is bad for them. Here I turn to a passage in the Bible I have used before, Ezekiel 3:17-21, commonly referred to as the Parable of the Watchman or the Parable of the Sentinel. Here the Lord tells us that we have a responsibility to offer the truth to others. If we see others sinning, we are to speak up. If they continue to sin, the consequences and punishment for their sin is upon them, but we are innocence. However, if we do not speak up, we share in their sin.

Yes, they have freedom in making their choice. However, St. Pope John Paul II helps us understand where the best use of freedom lays when he says, “Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought” (Pope John Paul II, “Homily of his holiness John Paul II” during his Apostolic Journey to America. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore. October 8, 1995. http://www.vatican.va/content/john-paulii/en/homilies/1995/documents/hf_jp-ii_hom_19951008_baltimore.html, italics my emphasis).

Ask God what He is calling you to say. Let the Holy Spirit lead you (see Mark 13:11). Maybe God wants you to say a lot. Maybe God wants you to only say a little. Maybe God just wants you to tell others that you disagree with them and believe that life is a gift.

What about the politicians? Speak to them in accord with what God asks of you and follow what Paul writes to Timothy, “First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Three Ways to Look at Discipleship

In today’s reading for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B we hear three different ways of thinking about discipleship.

The first comes from the third of four servant servant oracles in the Book of Isaiah. The suffering servant is being persecuted for their faith. As they as persecuted the servant says, “I have my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my bear; my face I did not shield.

In the United States we are not likely to face physical persecution. That does not mean it does not happen in other countries. It does. People are still being martyred today. Others are being denied the freedom to practice their faith. Let us offer our prayers for them. Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks by religious extremists. I stress extremists because many Muslims seek peaceful living.

While we are not likely to be physically persecuted in our country, that does not mean we have the freedom of faith that we once had. Our culture is losing its Christian foundation (For more on the change in culture see my previous article “We Need to See as God Sees”). We are not persecuted but at times we are mocked for our beliefs. What are we to do? We must remember the words of the suffering servant, “See, the Lord God is my help; who will prove me wrong?” We must not give in. We must not become silent. Paul reminds us, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us” (Romans 8:18). If we accept our suffering, there are better things to come.

We face a battle against evil, for as the psalmist says, “the snares of the netherworld seized upon me.” (For more on the battle against evil see my articles “Does Evil Exist?”, “The People of the Lie”, and “Our Weapons Against Evil” based on Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s Immortal Combat: Confronting the Heart of Darkness (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press. 2020). We may face resistance. We may face suffering but, as Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.

In doing so, we witness to our faith. In doing so, we show our faith through the works we do. Our works do not save us for one can do some good works without faith. We are saved by faith but our works serve as testimony to our faith. This is the second way of thinking about discipleship. James reminds us that it is not enough to say, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well” unless “give them the necessities of the body.

The third way our readings invite to think about discipleship comes in the form of a question from Jesus. He begins by asking his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” Then, Jesus continues, “But who do you say that I am?”

Peter is the one who answers, “You are the Christ.” Peter answers correctly but what does it mean to say Jesus is the Christ? Jesus provides the answer when He says, “the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.”

Peter is shocked by this. How could this happen to the Messiah? Because it is God’s plan! Peter goes on to rebuke Jesus. How can Peter rebuke Jesus who he just called the Christ? If we believe that Jesus is the Christ, then we must stop thinking as human beings do and ask for the grace to think as God thinks.

Who do you say that Jesus is?

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

It’s Worth Doing Well

If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well. I am referring to our celebration of the Mass. It is certainly worth doing! The Eucharist is the source and summit of our Catholic faith (Lumen Gentium, 11). We know when to stand and when to kneel. We know the responses. Do we do them out of habit or do we do it with meaning and depth? (For explanations on what we do at Mass and why check out my article “The Roman Catholic Mass Explained”, including the short videos at the end, and/or the videos of a series of presentations I did, Uncovering the Treasures of the Mass.)

What makes the Mass so important? To answer that question, Fr. Paul Turner quotes from the Second Vatican Council document, Sacrosanctum Concilium paragraph 10, “the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the church is directed; it is also the source from which all its power flows” (Ars Celebrandi: Celebrating and Concelebrating Mass. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press. 2021, page ix). The liturgy of the Mass is where we come together to praise God. It is the place where we hear God’s Word and celebrating the Eucharist so that we can go out into the world and live our faith as Jesus teaches.

It is important to celebrate Mass well for the way we pray reveals what we believe (in Latin this is expressed as lex orandi, lex credeni.) I do my best to celebrate Mass properly but it is not for me alone to decide how to celebrate Mass. As Catholics we have the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, to teach us how we celebrate Mass. I have read it a couple of times. Of course, I was also taught how to say Mass in the seminary. This does not mean I am perfect in the way I celebrate Mass. I want to make sure I don’t become sloppy.

This is why I just finished reading Fr. Paul Turner’s new book, Ars Celebrandi. It is a book written specifically for priests to reflect on how they celebrate. It provides clear reference to General Instruction of the Roman Missal, as well as other documents on the liturgy. That said, this book is not about teaching priests how to say Mass. It assumes the reader already knows how to say Mass. This book is a tool for reflection to help priests not just say Mass but to pray it well. I never want to become complacent in the way I preside.

The book is entitled “Ars Celebrandi,” which means “the art of celebrating.” Fr. Turner writes, “It implies that presiding over the liturgy takes more than following instructions. It requires a style” (2). There is a caution to be mentioned when we refer to “style.” It is not about me doing Mass my way. It is about putting our whole selves into the Mass. Fr. Turner cites Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, “The primary way to foster the participation of the People of God in the sacred rite is the proper celebration of the rite itself. The ars celebrandi is the best way to ensure their actuosa participatio. The ars celebrandi is the fruit of faithful adherence to the liturgical norms in all their richness” (Fr. Turner, 3).

This is true for both the priest and the people. Both need to have some understanding of what we do and why to properly celebrate the Mass and receive all that it offers us. That being said, Fr. Turner cites the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) document, Sing to the Lord (paragraph 18), “No other single factor affects the Liturgy as much as the attitude, style, and bearing of the priest celebrant” (6). I want to pray the Mass well so that you pray well and receive the full fruits of the Mass.

With regards to style, we need to consider the culture we live in but not to reinvent the Mass. We consider the culture to help us bring alive what the Mass offers us. We must also realize that for a priest to celebrate the Mass well, he needs to have a “strong personal prayer life, a habit of thanksgiving, making sacrifices, and serving the people” (Fr. Turner, 8). “Style” is not simply a matter of what the priest likes. As Fr. Turner writes, “A good ars celebrandi weighs his own preferences against those of the people of God” (30).

We need to engage ourselves in the prayers said at Mass. Some priests will use one Eucharistic Prayer almost exclusively. I like to use a variety of the Eucharistic Prayers to help us think about what we are hearing. If we use the same one over and over, is the priest really thinking about what he is saying and are the people truly listening. The use of different Eucharistic Prayers can encourage us to listen to what is different and reflect on what we hear. The priest does not need to invent new Eucharistic Prayers or add to what is already within the Eucharistic Prayers. The Roman Missal already includes several Eucharistic Prayers written with different focuses.

A good priest sets an example of attentiveness for the people. When the readings are read by the lector, the priest needs to give his attention to the words read by the lector (see Fr. Turner, 37). A good priest has already looked at the readings to prepare his homily but still listens, open to something “that had no struck him before” (Fr. Turner, 37). I can attest to times as recently as this weekend when I was stuck during Mass by something in one of the readings that I hadn’t thought of during my homily preparation.

A good priest participates in the music. This is not to say the priest leads the music just as he doesn’t read all the readings (see Fr. Turner, 39). The musicians lead the music but the priest’s participation in the music helps show that the music is not just an add-on or time filler. The music is an important part of the Mass.

A good priest does not just read the prayers provided in the Roman Missal. A good priest uses the words provided but speaks them, not just reading aloud but from the heart (see Fr. Turner, 41).

A good priest (or deacon) recognizes the importance of the homily and spends time throughout the whole week reflecting on the readings in a prayerful spirit. This requires the priest to have a personal prayer life (see Fr. Turner, 52).

A good priest relies on other ministers to do their part so that he can do his own part well. If a priest tries to do everything himself, he may do it but does he do it well (see Fr. Turner, 63)? This includes all liturgical ministers such as lectors, musicians, greeters/ushers, etc. but here I am especially aware during the Coronavirus pandemic how it is different for me to preside at Mass without altar servers. We don’t have altar servers just to give the children something to do. They serve a real purpose. I pray for the day when we have altar servers again.

A good priest does not rush through the liturgy. Here, Fr. Turner provides two examples of the priest giving the people time to position themselves. The first is at the end of the Holy, Holy, Holy acclamation. The people have been standing during the preface to the Eucharistic Prayer. Now, it is time for them to kneel. The good priest waits for them to kneel before continuing. Likewise, after the great Amen at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest waits for the people to stand before beginning the Lord’s Prayer.

For those who participate in the Masses I preside at, I hope and pray that the way I preside helps them enter into the fullness of what we celebrate in the Mass. Please pray for me and for all priests to preside not according to their personal preferences or your personal preferences. Please pray that all priests preside in a way that leads us to embrace the treasures of the Mass.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – Homily

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Isaiah 35:4-7a
Psalm 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10 (1b)
James 2:1-5
Mark 7:31-37
September 3, 2021

Thus says the LORD:  Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not!

Fear can be a powerful thing.  Fear can dictate our actions.  What are you afraid of?  How does your fear effect your choices?

Fear can affect people making life decisions. 

We might fear suffering.  It is hard.  That’s why we call it suffering.  There are people who fear suffering from illness so much that they make a bad choice to end their lives too soon.

On the other hand, there are people who fear dying so much that they will do anything to stay alive.

How can we help them? 

For those who fear dying, we can share with them the good news of eternal life in the Resurrection.  Physical death is not the end.  As we hear in the first preface for the dying at a funeral Mass, “life is changed, not ended.”  When a person fears they will not make it to Heaven, we share with them that Jesus willingly gave his life so that our sins might be forgiven. 

In faith, instead of fearing death, we can look forward to eternal life.

What about those who fear suffering?  We cannot take away their physical suffering but we can walk with them through their suffering.  Knowing that we will be there with them can strengthen them to face their suffering.  In faith, we point them to Jesus who endured great suffering for us.  Suffering can lead to redemption.

What about those who face beginning of life decisions?  Fear can greatly influence their decisions.  If they fear being able to take care of the child, their fear might lead them make a bad choice towards abortion. 

What can we do?  We can help them by contributing to resources they need both during the pregnancy and after.  It can be material support of food, clothing, and diapers.  Or it can be emotional support.  Just knowing someone is there can help emotionally. You can with material needs even for strangers by supporting groups like our local food pantry and groups that distribute clothing.  In our parish, you can help those dealing with a pregnancy this weekend by contributing financially at the Walk for Life tables in our churches this week (see https://www.friendsoftheprc.org/).  The money goes to support the Southern Tier Pregnancy Resource Center.

God feeds the hungry and brings justice to the oppressed.  Sometimes, He wants to do it through you.  Even if you can’t help financially, pray for those who can and for those who need the help to receive what they need.

In today’s gospel we hear of Jesus healing the “deaf man who had a speech impediment.”  In those days, the man could not have worked to provide a living for himself or a family. 

On Monday we will celebrate Labor Day.  I find it ironic that people celebrate work by taking a day off.  Work is a good thing.  Work isn’t always easy or pleasant but when you find yourself lamenting your job, think of those who would love to find any job.  Work is both a means of providing for our families and finding fulfillment using the gifts God has giving us.

What did Jesus say to the deaf man?  “Ephphatha”!  The word means “be opened.”  At Jesus’ word, “the man’s ears were opened his speech impediment was removed.

Do you open your ears to what God says to you?  Are you listening to hear what God asks you to do?

Do you open your lips to allow God to speak through your lips to offer faith and truth to the world?

Do you open your heart to the love of Jesus?  Receiving his love, do you offer love to others?

Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God and the second is to love our neighbor.  It is not always easy to love.  Look at what Jesus does for you in love.  He willingly lays down for you.  Look at the Cross.  See Jesus suffering as He sacrifices his life for you.

Then respond by loving God and loving your neighbor.

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

One of our parish deacons is preaching this weekend so I have not prepared a homily for this Sunday (22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B). Even when I am not preaching I still like to spend some time in prayerful reflection on the readings. I encourage all of you to spend some prayerful time reflecting on the readings for Mass. (You can find them online at https://bible.usccb.org/.) While I do not have a complete homily to share here, I would like to offer some thoughts on the readings.

Our first reading comes from the Book of Deuteronomy. In this book Moses reminded the Israelites of what God had taught them and what God had done for them. As Moses dies at the end of the book, it is his last words to them.

In today’s passage, in their observation of the “commandments of the LORD,” Moses tells them, “you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.” This exactly what the Pharisees and scribes have done. They have added human doctrine to the Lord’s commands.

There are people today who think the Catholic Church has added to what the Lord has commanded. Our Catholic Church certainly has a lot of teaching. It might seem burdensome or difficult to follow. However, it is not our church’s intent to make it a burden. The purpose of church teaching is to help us apply what God reveals in the scriptures to the world in which we live today.

The world is different today. For instance, medical science has advanced drastically. The Bible does not speak about ventilators and extraordinary means of keeping a person alive because these did not exist when the Bible was written. That does not mean the Bible does not have some to offer on these. The Church, relying on the Holy Spirit seeks to help us apply what the Lord does teach in the Bible to our world today.

We must also understand the context in which the Lord speaks. The Bible speaks of people being “unclean.” However, we must realize that there are multiple ways of being “unclean.” There is physical uncleanliness. This begins with simply having dirt on our hands. It can also involve germs. We want to wash the germs away so that we do not spread the germs. God wants us to properly wash and sanitize because God wants us to be healthy.

The Pharisees and scribes had made this physical cleaning part of their outward religious practices. However, this is not the uncleanliness that God is most concerned about. God is most concerned about the uncleanliness of our souls, what is on the inside. Here Jesus says, “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person, but the things that come out from within are what defile.

Jesus goes on to provide a list of sins that come from the heart. We need to think about why we commit these sins and what is wrong with them. We are unchaste when we look at another person (or ourselves) as an object for sexual pleasure rather than loving them as a person. Temptation may arise because of something on the outside but the lust arises in the heart. Theft can arise because of greed and envy. In our hearts we want something that is not ours. Murder can arise from anger. The person that is murdered may have done something to make us angry but the anger is within us. We must ask God to help free us from our anger.

We need to ask the Lord to free us from our sins and for the wisdom and strength we need to resist temptation. It is not easy to overcome evil. (I know that from my days as Pastor of St. Michael’s Church in Newark, NY the St. Michael Prayer has become one of my favorites when I struggle with temptation. See my article “The Prayer of St. Michael”.)

God does not give us commandments to burden us. God gives us commandments that are good for us. Here, speaking of God’s commandments, Moses says “Observe the carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations.” There was a a day when Christian morals and values were taken as the norm for the world. You were seen as a good person if you lived according to God’s commandments. Unfortunately, the world is losing its Christian foundation. This should concern us but there is always hope for nothing is impossible for God.

Remember, Jesus was not popular for some of his preaching. The Apostles were not always well received. For the first three centuries after Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection, the persecution of Christians was common. Many Christians were martyred. Then we were blessed with a period of “Christendom”. Now….now we rely on God to help us restore our faith and to help us keep his commandments (For on this see my article, “We Need to See as God Sees”, based on a book from University of Mary press, From Christendom to Apostolic Mission: Pastoral Strategies for an Apostolic Age. (Bismark, ND: University of Mary Press. 2020.).

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

The Resurgence of COVID

I have not written much on the Coronavirus in recent months (You can see past articles by clicking here). There are two reasons for this. The first is that I didn’t have anything new to say about it. The second is that the number of new cases was way down. It seemed we had turned the corner for the better. People were getting vaccinated and masks were coming off.

Now, the number of new cases is on the rise. (One might wonder if we relaxes precautions too soon.) In the last month, some areas have set record number of new cases. Calls for more people to get vaccinated are being renewed. Mask mandates are coming back. There is debate about whether one can be mandated to get the vaccine and/or wear a mask.

Some of this is political. I am not interested in being political here. I am not writing to tell anyone what to do. I am writing to offering a perspective that flows from my faith. In fact, if you have read all that I have written in the past about the Coronavirus, I’m not sure there will be anything new here.

Why are people reluctant to get the vaccine? First, I want to acknowledge that before there ever was a Coronavirus, there were people concerned about side effects of vaccines, both short-termed and long-termed. That is beyond the scope of this article. I do not have the scientific knowledge to address those questions. If you fall in this category, you need to make your own decision about the COVID vaccine with genuine prayer to God. There are also people who have pre-existing health issues that may make the Coronavirus vaccine a risk to them. They need to consult with the doctor and allow God to help make a prayerful decision.

There are people who are open to vaccines in general but are concerned with the speed with which the Coronavirus vaccines were developed. Was safety compromised? Will there be long-term side effects? I pray the answer to both of these is no. As to how the vaccines were developed so quickly, I offer another possibility. God. The people who work in health care and vaccine development, whether they know it or not, are given the gifts they need by God. People were praying (and should continue to pray) for God’s help against the Coronavirus. God’s answer to these prayers can include how fast the vaccines were developed.

I had my concerns about the vaccine. I was not eligible to receive a vaccine for the first three or four months. I took that time to pay attention to both what was said about side effects and how effective the vaccines are. There was also questions about the morality of receiving the vaccine because they were developed using cells from aborted fetuses. Here I trusted in what the Catholic Church said (see USCCB “Vaccines and Biomedical Research” page). I got my first shot in May and the second in June. Why did I get vaccinated? The obvious answer would seem to be protect myself. Of course, that is part of the reason but it is not my primary motivation. I got vaccinated because I didn’t want to be responsible for contracting the vaccine and giving it to someone else.

What about wearing masks and social distancing? Do they really help? Certainly, the material of which the masks are made makes a difference.) An article, “Flu cases remain low in GLOW region” published by the Livingston County News on March 24, 2021 reported that at that time there were just 29 cases of the flu in the region at that time compared to 2,013 the previous year. How might one explain the drastic reduction? The precautions we were taking (facemasks and social distancing) must be a major factor here. The flu and the Coronavirus are related viruses. Thus, one would expect comparable effects from the precautions.

In the debate about wearing masks, there is another element that seems to have been forgotten. People talk about their freedom to make their own choice about protecting themselves by wearing a mask. That would be true if we wore masks only to protect ourselves. However, we must remember that facemasks do more to protect the other person. My mask protects you and your mask protects me. I wear a mask when recommended because I believe it is part of the second greatest commandment to love my neighbor. Do I like wearing a mask? Of course not. It involves a sacrifice but I believe it is a very small sacrifice with a greater good that can come from it.

We still don’t have all the answers to the Coronavirus. Numbers are reported in different ways. Not everyone who tests positive for it actually gets sick. The facts remain unclear. I stress unclear because “facts” do not change. What is our changing is our knowledge and understanding of how the Coronavirus spreads and what precautions are effective.

We would like to have all the answers. We don’t. I choose to err on the side of caution. We pray that the Coronavirus ends. Until it does, we pray that God gives us the strength to persevere in making wise choices and practicing precaution.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – Homily

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b
Psalm 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 20-21 (9a)
Ephesians 5:21-32
John 6:60-69
August 22, 2021

Today we come to the conclusion of Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse. Many people had been there when Jesus fed the multitude with just five barley loaves and two fishes.  Then, they heard Jesus preach.

Now, “Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

What saying is hard?

Jesus had told them, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”  Many of them had murmured at this because they did not understand that He had come down from Heaven.  They limited themselves to seeing him as the son of Mary and Joseph.  Now, as they say, “This saying is hard”, He responds, “Does this shock you?  What is you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?”  He had come down from Heaven and would return there.

They did not yet understand.  We know that Jesus will die, rise, and ascend to Heaven.

That was not all that Jesus said that was difficult to understand.  Last Sunday we celebrated the Assumption of Mary.  Otherwise, we would have heard John 6:51-58.  Here Jesus says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.

This saying is very difficult.  We must eat his flesh?  We must drink his blood?  It might sound like cannibalism.  It sounds disgusting.  Yet, it is true. 

They did not understand.  Why?  They did not know of the Eucharist.  They did not know that at the Last Supper that was yet to come, Jesus would take the bread and wine and transubstantiate it into his Body and Blood.

When we receive the Eucharist, we are receiving Jesus’ Body and Blood that He gives for us on the Cross.  We are partaking of his flesh and blood.  We become what we receive, the Body of Christ.  It is the food that sustains us.

To believe in the Real Presence of Jesus flows from Jesus’ words, this is body, …this is my blood.  Yet, it also requires faith. 

Following Jesus is not always easy.  Jesus shows us “the way and truth and the life.”  He helps understand how we should live.

Note that I said how we should live.  It is our choice.  God gives us commandments and helps us understand them.  God also gives us free will.  We are free to choose how we live.

Joshua presented the Israelites with a choice.  They had been slaves in Egypt.  Joshua reminds them of how God set them free from slavery.  God led them across the Red Sea.  God provided food for them in the desert.  God led them into the promised land.

After recalling them of what God had done for, Joshua said, “If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom you will serve.

They answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD for the service of other gods.

That day they choose the Lord who had brought them “out of a state of slavery.”  I emphasis “that day” because they will not always choose the Lord.  At times they will choose sin over the Lord.

You made a choice to come here todayYou made a choice for the Lord

Do you always choose the Lord?  Or do you yield to temptation, falling into sin?

Sin is powerful.  If we allow ourselves to choose sin, we become slaves to sin.  Our desires for the physical pleasures take over our free will.

Know that there is hope.  Jesus came to give his life on the Cross to set us free from sin.  As the Lord sets the Israelites free from slavery in Egypt, He sets us free from slavery to sin.

We choose to be set free from slavery to sin when we confess our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 

Yet, our choice is not something we do once and have it over with.  We must constantly make choices for the Lord or we will fall back into sin.

It is hard to make good choices.  We need to recognize that the words Jesus speaks to us are “Spirit and life.”  In our opening prayer we ask the Lord, “grant your people to love what you command.”

It is not easy to follow what the Lord commands.  We must listen to what the Lord teaches.  We use the gift of reason that God has given us and rely on the Holy Spirit to help us apply what the Lord teaches to our lives today.

We may not always understand. For instance, there are people who take what Paul writes to the Ephesians, “wives be subordinate to your husbands,” out of context. They take it by itself and think wives have to obey their husbands no matter what. They miss the verse before that says be subordinate to one another. We need to care for one another. We need to surrender our wants when others are in need. We also need to understand “wives be subordinate to your husbands” in the context of the later verse, “husbands, love your wives.

Still, we may not always understand.  Many of Jesus’ disciples “returned to their former way of life” because they did not understand.

As they left, “Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave”

Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to who shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.

Peter did not claim to understand everything that Jesus had said but he did come to believe, to believe that Jesus is “the Holy One of God.” 

We may not understand but we can believe.  In faith, we love what God commands.

Lord, help us always love what you command and embrace the gift of Jesus’ Body and Blood as we celebrate the Eucharist.

Our Relationship With God

Earlier this week I wrote an article, “Is Faith a Matter of Opinion?”, based on F.X. Cronin’s book, The World According to God (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press. 2020). That article reflected on the first fifty pages. Today I would like to jump ahead to discuss our relationship with God based on what Cronin wrote.

Atheists claim that God does not exist. Agnostics doubt that God exists but are open to the possibility. Then there are deists. Cronin says, “Some moderns think God is a higher being who is disinterested and uninvolved, unconcerned and distant, passive and removed from all human beings. We call this view “deism” and its adherents “deists”” (132). I would not call such a being “God.” At best, such a view would merely see what they call “god” as an intelligent designer, meaning a superior being who designed and created the universe and then walked away.

As such, Cronin writes, “Deism denies any supernatural communication, intervention in space and time, management of events, and purpose for our lives. That means we can have no revelation, no miracles, no providential occurrences” (132).

In response to deism, I offer this question. If “god” is as deism describes, then why did this being create the universe? If one is going to create and then walk away, why bother to create? If there was no purpose to creation, then we have no purpose. Some might say that is why we need to create our own purpose for our lives. I don’t see how we can create our own purpose. Here, I do not speak of choosing a job and how we do that job. I write on a much deeper level. If we exist only as the way evolution happened to turn out, we are nothing more than a random chance of nature. God is the one who brings order and meaning to the universe.

So, why did God (as we see him from our Christian perspective) create us? Because He loves us. 1 John 4:8 ends, “for God is love.” God is love. Love involves relationship. God does not create and walk away. God creates us to love. God wants to be part of our lives. God creates us for love. God gives us meaning. God gives us purpose.

God doesn’t want us just to “know about him”. “He wants us to know him” (Cronin, 165). When we understand this, we begin to understand that “Sins are more about breaking a relationship connection than about breaking some code, law, or moral standard” (Cronin, 195).

To understand this, we need to understand what it means to “know.” Cronin writes, “In the Greco-Roman world, knowledge was considered to be essentially informational. We see it as the opposite of ignorance. Either we know something, or we do not know something” (199). Here, knowledge is simple data that we know.

Cronin continues, “But to the Hebrews of Jesus’ time, the opposite of knowledge was not ignorance, but estrangement, rebellion, interpersonal distance, and the loss of intimacy. Knowledge was essentially relational, not just informational” (199). Thus, to know God is to be in relationship with him. It requires a decision by us to be in relationship with God. It is not a one-time decision. Each time we choose to sin, we are choosing to break our relationship with God (see Cronin, 215). Another way to look at it is that when the Bible speaks of knowing someone, it is speaking in terms of having an intimate relationship with the person (see Cronin, 278). When we make a choice against what God teaches, we are estranging ourselves from him. We go against what we know God says.

Cronin provides an analogy for us. When you wish to hire a person for a job, you ask them for a resume. A resume provides information about the person, specifically their education and work experience. It is important information but do you hire them solely based on the information on the paper? No, the resume helps to know about them but you cannot fully know them from their resume. So, you interview them to get to know the person, not just information about them (see Cronin, 279). Likewise, it is not enough for us to “know about God.” Yes, we need to know about God but this is not enough. If we just know about God, we don’t really know who God is. We need to know God in the biblical sense, to have a deep and intimate relationship with him.

God is not just a distant being. God loves you. Are you open to truly knowing God or do you want to keep God at arm’s length so you can live the way you want, with God waiting in the wings to rescue you when you fall?

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Is Faith a Matter of Opinion?

Is what one chooses to believe merely a matter of personal preference? Does God exist? These are two of the key questions F.X. Cronin discusses in his new book, The World According to God (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press. 2020).

Cronin starts by discussing his conversion to Catholicism. “Even some of the Catholics I knew saw my move to Catholicism as a change based merely on personal preference, a decision arising from my desire for spiritual comfort and my need for philosophical certainty, and practical closure” (4, my emphasis).

Is faith really just a matter of personal preference? While we each have some preference for some things like style of music and how long a homily we want to here, faith is not just a personal matter. In fact, personally, I want to believe that faith is more than just what I think. I want to belong to something larger than myself. I want to belong to a church that helps me know what God teaches. The Catholic Church is not perfect but I believe it is led by the Holy Spirit.

For Cronin, his conversion to Catholicism was led by truth. In response to his friends who saw his conversion merely as a matter of personal preference, he writes, “For I explained to them that my decision was based on truth, on the truth of our factual existence and experience, on the truth of reason, the truth of history, the truth of our common sense” (5). Cronin was looking for answers. He was looking for “truth”. He found it in the Catholic Church.

Truth is not arbitrary. Truth does not change. Our perception of what the truth is might change but not the truth itself. Truth is eternal. For instance, Cronin writes, “either God exists or He doesn’t. This cannot be a matter of perception. It can and must be a matter of fact. God can’t exist for me and not exist for you” (24). Whether a person knows God exists or not does not change the truth of God’s existence.

Why is it hard for people to understand and accept that God exists? It is not easy to fully understand God on our own. In fact, it is impossible for us to know for ourselves that God exists. Through our reason and our experiences we can come to see God in what we experience. However, reason is not enough.

In fact, if you think you are capable of fully understanding who God is, you miss what God is. Cronin writes, “We are trying to explain the infinite, even though we are finite and limited – limited by our language and intelligence and limited in our capacity to juggle ideas simultaneously, to comprehend the physical, the mental, and the spiritual dimension of life and living all at once” (44, my emphasis).

This is the story of Job told in the Old Testament in the book that bears his name. Job was a rich and prosperous man till the devil took away everything he had. Well, almost everything. The devil could not take away Job’s faith. After losing everything, Job says, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!” (Job 1:21). While Job has faith, he wonders why God allowed this to happen. In chapters 38 and 39, God addresses the point that we cannot expect to understand everything God does and allows. It is beyond us. Job responds in 40:4-5, “Look, I am of little account; what can I answer you? I put my hand over my mouth. I have spoken once, I will not reply; twice, but I will do so no more.

Does this mean that our Catholic faith is a blind faith? No. Cronin writes, “For the Catholic faith is neither a faith of the blind, nor a mindless leap, nor a kind of willful hope, nor a form of knowing based solely on personal revelation or experience of God” (44). He goes on to say, “Our faith uses and integrates all of our God-given means of knowing” (45). This includes our reason and faith. Our reason takes a long way. Faith makes our knowledge of God certain. Cronin continues, “It is this small degree of uncertainty that faith finds its rightful place within our growing understanding, not as blind faith, but as informed faith; not as a leap, but as a bridge. Faith doesn’t rest on irrationality or mindlessness or sheer will, but on reason, science, and revelation; it doesn’t come from confusion, but from the gift of faith that God bestows on each person who sincerely seeks him” (45).

God gives us the gift of reason. God wants us to ask him questions (see Cronin, 45). Yet, we must understand that in our humanness we are not going to understand everything. We cannot and do not know everything as fact. It is like trying to predict the weather. Meteorologists use extensive historical data and science to predict the weather. It is all based on hard science but it is no guarantee of what the weather will do.

Likewise, dealing with COVID involves medical science including our understanding of how viruses work as well as how the human immune system works. Yet, COVID brought many unknowns. We did not know with certainty what to do. However, social distancing and facemasks offered protection. How much was uncertain but we accepted it, some more willingly than others. We trusted in what the medical scientists said. Because people were willing to do this, things are better than they were.

If we trust in them, all the more we can trust Jesus as the Son of God who laid down his life for us. Have faith in God as the one who loves you.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – Homily

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Revelation 11:19a, 12:1-6a, 10ab
Psalm 45:10, 11, 12, 16 (10bc)
1 Corinthians 15:20-27
Luke 1:39-56
August 15, 2021

Normally we would be celebrating the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time of Year B today.  Instead, we are celebrating the Assumption of Mary, one of the solemnities on our church calendar.

Every saint has a feast day or memorial.  They are set by the secular calendar.  Most fall on the day of the saint’s death.  They are optional memorials, obligatory memorials, and feast days depending on how well known the saint is.  When memorials and feasts fall on Sundays, the Sunday readings and prayers take precedence and the memorial/feast is not normally celebrated.

Above feasts in importance are solemnities such as today’s Assumption of Mary.  When a solemnity falls on a Sunday in Ordinary Time, it takes precedence over the Sunday.  That is the case today.  That’s why we are celebrating the Assumption instead of the Sunday.

Sound complicated?  That’s why we have a little book called an “Ordo” that is updated each year to help us know what to celebrate.

So, let’s think about the Assumption.  It is Mary’s Assumption that we are celebrating.  In 1950, the assumption was declared infallible dogma in the Catholic Church. 

Some Protestants may hear this and think we are inventing new teachings and worshipping Mary.  Neither of those are true.

We do not invent new teaching.  While the Assumption of Mary was only declared dogma 70 years ago, it has been the teaching of the church almost since the beginning. 

We do not “worship” Mary or any of the saints.  We venerate Mary and the saints.  To venerate is to honor.  The honor we give to Mary is biblical. 

As the one who carried Jesus, Mary is seen as the ark of covenant.

Jesus is the firstfruits of the Resurrection.  If we give our lives to Jesus, we will all share in the Resurrection at the end of time.  Mary had a very special place in Jesus’ heart.  So, He did not want her to have to wait to get into Heaven.  So, the Lord saw fit to assume Mary into Heaven at the hour of her death.  We have to wait for the Resurrection.  Mary did not have to wait.

The honor we give to Mary is not made up.  It is scriptural. 

How did the angel Gabriel greet Mary at the Annunciation?  Gabriel said, “Hail, full of grace!  The Lord is with you.

Does this sound familiar?  It should!  These words are the beginning of the Hail Mary prayer.  The Hail Mary prayer has its origins in scripture.  How does the prayer continue?

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus.” 

Again, this is not made up!  It comes from the words that Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” said to Mary in response to the presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb.

The Hail Mary prayer continues, “Holy Mary, mother of God.”  This comes from Elizabeth’s words when she called Mary “the mother of my Lord.

Mary surrendered herself to God’s will when she said, “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your word.

Mary humbly surrendered herself to the Lord.  Mary responded to Elizabeth, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.”  This is not boasting on Mary’s part.

Neither is Mary boasting when she says, “all generations will call me blessed.”  She knows this will only happen because “the Almighty has done great things for” her.  Mary gives it all to God.

Because Mary surrenders herself to God and is the mother of Jesus, she is assumed into Heaven.  In Heaven, we call Mary “queen”.

Why do we call her “queen”? 

My recollection from studying history is the queen was the wife of the king.  Mary is not the wife.  She is the mother of Jesus our king. 

Edward Siri helps provide an explanation for this in his book, Love Unveiled: The Catholic Faith Explained (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2015, pages 138-141).  “In the culture of the Old Testament, it was not the wife of the king that was called Queen.  It was the king’s mother” (see my blog article “Some Insights on Our Catholic Understanding of Mary” – http://blog.renewaloffaith.org/blog/?p=2576, cf. 2 Kings 24:12 and Jeremiah 13:18-20). 

When one sought intercession to the king, one would go to the queen mother.  Thus, we ask Mary, mother of Jesus our king and our God to intercede for us.

So, what our Catholic faith teaches about Mary is not made up.  It flows from God’s Word in the Bible.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now and the hour of our death.