This is my first blog post about Equipped, I hope to post about 1 chapter each week, usually on Wednesdays.
My paw paw used to tell us a story about a group of scholars working for an emperor. The emperor charged them with collecting all human knowledge; so the scholars worked for ten years collecting copies of all the books and manuscripts in the world. The collection was so large that it filled up an entire palace. After the ten years were up, the Emperor came and saw the collection, and said that it was too much. They would have to reduce the size of the collection. So the scholars worked for another 10 years going through the tomes and manuscripts, getting rid of repeated information and useless books, until the collection could fit into a building the size of a mansion. But this was still too large to the Emperor. So, they worked for another 10 years until it was could fit into a large room, but this was still too large, so they kept working. Then one day, the Emperor came to check on his scholars, and found the room empty of books. The head scholar came up to the Emperor and handed him a slip of paper. The paper said, “There ain’t no free lunch.”
In the first chapter of the book that we gave out after Mass a few weeks ago, Equipped: Smart Catholic Parenting in a Sexualized Culture, you can read that some studies show that, in the Millennial Generation, 79% of men and 76% of women say that the view pornography at least once a month. More disturbing than that, though, is that some people think pornography is actually good for society. This shouldn’t be surprising, since sexuality is one of the most powerful human passions, and we live in a highly sexualized culture where pornography is available for “free” on thousands, if not tens of thousands. We all know from personal experience, however, that nothing is free, everything has a price.
Heavy use of pornography can be damaging for anyone, although this will be different for everyone. When we view pornography, we train ourselves to view other people as objects of sexual gratification, instead of as people with human dignity. Just like we don’t want other people to view us as a means to get something for themselves, so we shouldn’t treat others that way. Human sexuality was given to us by God as a way for husbands and wives to express their total love for one another. Love is concerned for what I can do for you, whereas lust is concerned with what you can do for me.
When someone views pornography, it becomes very easy to stop thinking of them as people at all, but as objects, and we don’t want to train ourselves to do that. During this season of Lent, and as we go through the rest of this book, let’s pray that God will help us to learn more about the dangers of pornography, grow in the virtue of chastity, and become better at controlling our desires so they don’t control us.
Fr. Bryan Howard
2nd Sunday of Lent – Year B – 25 February 2018
In the ancient pagan religions of the world, the gods are constantly at war with each other. The world teaches us that this is the only way to gain true power, to take it from others. However, Christ teaches us that the greatest glory is to be found not in conquering others, but in sacrificial love.
Our first reading is the famous account of the binding of Isaac. Abraham has waited decades for God to fulfill His promise to send Him descendants, and that promise is going to be fulfilled through Isaac. But then, God tells Abraham to take Isaac and bring Him to a place that He will show him, and offer him as a sacrifice. Many people find this to be a deeply disturbing story, and it may cause them to question everything they thought they knew about God. But what is really happening here. In paintings of this event, Isaac is always depicted as a fairly young boy, about 8 or 10, but in the story Isaac is the one who carries the wood for the sacrifice up the mountain, while Abraham only carries the knife and fire, because the wood is the heavier burden. Isaac isn’t a young boy, but a young man, while Abraham is over 100 years old. There is no way that Abraham could force Isaac to do anything. He does not resist. Who else went to His death, silently, “as a lamb to the slaughter,” when He could have stopped it at any time? Jesus.
Then, on the way up the mountain, Isaac asks where the lamb for the offering is, and Abraham says, “God Himself will provide the lamb.” But the animal that is found is not a lamb, but a ram. What is it that Jesus is called over and over again? “Lamb of God.”
Finally, When God stops Abraham, he says to him, “I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.” And what does the Father say on Mt. Tabor, at the time of the Transfiguration? “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” And in the second reading, “He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?”
The Binding of Isaac is meant to foreshadow the sacrifice of Christ. Isaac is called Abraham’s “only beloved Son,” and Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. Isaac goes to His death willingly out of reverence for His father, and Jesus goes to His death willingly out of love for His father and love for us. Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
On Mt. Tabor, when Jesus is transfigured before Peter, James, and John, He reveals His glory to strengthen their faith. However, after He is betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, He says, “Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified; if God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.” God’s glory is truly revealed, not just on Mt. Tabor, but on Mt. Calvary, on the Cross. The glory of God is that He is willing to give His very life to save us, and He calls us to do the same.
We naturally desire glory, but we usually look for it in the wrong places. Jesus Christ found glory in humbling Himself. He humbled Himself by becoming human, becoming one of us. He humbled Himself by living in obedience to Mary and Joseph, even though He’s God. He humbled Himself by going before King Herod and Pontius Pilate, even though their power is nothing next to His. Finally, He humbled Himself on the Cross.
Humility isn’t the greatest virtue, that’s love, but it is the foundation of all virtues. We need humility in order to have any of the other virtues. First, we have to realize that everything we have and are comes from God. Our lives, our existence, and every blessing that we have comes from God. Yes, we worked for the things we have, but we wouldn’t have any of it if not for God. We also need to realize how much we need God. We have an absolute need for God. We need God in order to grow in holiness and virtue and become the best people we can be.
Pray for an increase in the virtue of humility, especially during this Mass. As you come forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, ask God help you grow in humility, and be prepared for Him to give you an opportunity to be humbled.
The Divine Mercy devotion was revealed by God to a young nun of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Warsaw, Poland, St. Faustina Kowalska. In 1931, the Lord Jesus appeared to St. Faustina and instructed her to have an image painted of what she saw, that image is what we know as the Divine Mercy image. He would speak to her a lot about His desire to pour out His mercy upon the world, if only we would ask for His mercy and show mercy to others. In the image Jesus has one hand raised in blessing and the other is pointing at His heart. There are two rays of light coming from His heart, representing the blood and water that flowed from His side when He was pierced by the soldier’s lance as He hung upon the Cross. The light ray is the water, representing the healing waters of Baptism, and the red is the blood, which “is the life of souls,” and represents the Most Precious Body and Blood of our Lord.
St. Faustina’s spiritual director instructed her to write a diary about all of her visions of Jesus and everything that He revealed to her. The devotion to the Divine Mercy had began to spread in the 1930’s, even before her death in 1938. On April 30, 2000, Pope St. John Paul II canonized St. Faustina, and declared the Second Sunday of Easter to be Divine Mercy Sunday for the Church throughout the world. The devotion had begun to spread throughout the world in the 80’s and 90’s, but now it would really take off.
There are three parts of the devotion. The first part is the image, which is meant to help us to meditate on the mercy of God, and on our need for His mercy. The second is the novena, which is prayed from Good Friday through Easter Saturday. The Divine Mercy chaplet can be prayed throughout the year, but it is recommended to pray it during the 3 o’clock hour, the hour of mercy. Jesus told St. Faustina, “At three o'clock, implore My mercy, especially for sinners; and, if only for a brief moment, immerse yourself in My Passion, particularly in My abandonment at the moment of agony. This is the hour of great mercy.”
This devotion reminds us of the great mercy of God and that God is always ready to forgive the sins of those who ask. No sin is greater than God’s mercy. We may think that our sins are too great or that we aren’t worthy of forgiveness, but remember that Jesus even forgave the very people who put Him on the Cross, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Being reminded of the mercy of God also reminds us that we do, in fact, need mercy and forgiveness. God won’t force anything on us, even forgiveness. We have to recognize that we have sinned, that we have offended Him, and that we are in need of forgiveness, and ask for it. If you want to learn more, click on the "News" tab on the sidebar.
Welcome to the experimental new feature of our website, the Pastor's Blog. I'll use the blog to post my weekly bulletin article, my homilies for Sunday's and solemnities, and other posts. Look out for a series of posts discussing the book that we gave out on the first Sunday of Lent, Equipped: Smart Catholic Parenting in a Sexualized Culture.
When I post my homilies, I'll post an audio recording, if one is available, and the text. These won't watch exactly, because I don't usually preach directly from the text, but they're usually only a little bit different. Below is the text of my homily:
Fr. Bryan Howard
1st Sunday of Lent – Year B – 18 February 2018
Have you ever heard the Church referred to as the bark of Peter? Well, that’s not only because St. Peter was a fisherman and the first Pope. It has a deeper, Biblical meaning as well, and it comes from the Old Testament. The earliest Christians saw a connection between Noah’s Ark and the Church. Noah and His family were saved from the flood by the ark, and we are saved by entering the Church. The Church is the vessel of salvation. It is God who saves us, but He does it through the Church.
The water is the key here. In the Old Testament, water always means an end of something and a new beginning. In the Exodus, when the Jewish people are freed from slavery in Egypt, they have to pass through the Red Sea. This marks the end of their slavery to Pharaoh and a new beginning as God’s chosen people. Then after 40 years in the desert, the Israelites, once again, cross a river, but this time the cross the Jordan River, ending their time in the desert and entering the Promised Land. In the time of Noah, there was great violence everywhere, and that was why God caused the flood, to wash away the murder and violence of the people. However, he choose one righteous man, Noah, and his family to save and make a new beginning of humanity. The waters of the flood symbolized a death to sin and violence and a new life for humanity through the family of Noah.
And in the New Testament Christ Himself, spent 30 years living with Mary and Joseph in secrecy. He ended that time and began His public ministry by going down to the Jordan River, where He was baptized by John the Baptist. In the second reading we heard the words of St. Paul, “while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Baptism is a new beginning for us. In baptism we, or our parents and godparents if we’re too young, reject Satan, his works, and his empty promises and profess our faith in God the Father, in His Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. We end our old life of sin, burying it in the waters of baptism, and begin a new life of righteousness through the resurrection of Christ. Through Baptism we enter the Church. If we stay in the Church we are saved, but if we leave the Church we die, just as surely as Noah or his family would have died if they jumped off the ark into the flood waters.
A few weeks ago I pointed out that we can’t judge someone else’s soul, because only God knows that. It’s not as simply as whether someone comes to Church on Sunday’s. But, how does someone leave the Church? First, through apostasy, which is explicitly rejecting the Christian faith and Jesus Christ. That one’s pretty obvious, but most of us don’t have to worry about that. Second, we cut ourselves off from the Church and from the grace of God when we commit a mortal sin. That’s a serious sin that we commit knowingly and deliberately. You can’t commit and mortal sin on accident. You have to know what you’re doing, know that it’s a serious sin, and do it anyway. Sins like blasphemy (insulting God and holy things), murder and abortion, taking advantage of the poor, lying under oath or with malice against another person, and the sexual sins (which our society has a particular problem with), like pornography, sex outside of marriage, and homosexual acts.
Our sins can seem to enslave us, making it harder and harder to fight off temptation every time we fall into sin. God wants to free us from this vicious cycle, but we have to want to be set free and put in the work to change our lives, to make a new beginning. During this Mass, ask God for the special grace to know which sins you struggle with the most and to have His help in overcoming them.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.