Homily for Ash Wednesday 2020
I don’t have a text to post this time, only the audio. I hope all of you had a good Ash Wednesday and were able to get ashes. I also pray that you all have a holy Lent. Do you have a special traditions for Lent or Holy Week that you’re looking forward to? Share them in the comments.
Personally, my favorite part of Lent is the Stations of the Cross. I have five or six different versions downloaded on my tablet, but it’s hard to beat the old St. Alphonsus Liguori version.
The Season of Lent
When we do something often, like driving, we become more and more familiar with it. This is one of the reasons that new drivers get in more accidents than experienced drivers. New drivers have to pay more attention to what they’re doing because experienced drivers have trained themselves to do these things almost automatically. It reaches a point where we become so familiar with something that we actually stop paying attention to it; like when you miss your turn because the route your taking is so familiar that you automatically start driving home instead of where you meant to go. Food can be like that, too, and music, and even relationships with other people. We become so familiar with them that we’re not really paying attention to them, because we think we know them already.
Religion, our relationship with God, is the same. The more familiar we become with Mass, prayer, and the faith, the more depths we see in it, but if we’re not careful we might stop paying real attention to God. Lent is a time to remind ourselves to pay attention. We do this by rededicating ourselves to fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Through fasting we step back from the good things of this world and deny our passions. Fasting shows that we love God more than the good things that He gives us and allows us to focus on God Himself without distractions. We then turn to prayer to grow closer to the Lord, especially by meditating on the Passion and Crucifixion of the Lord. Prayer and Fasting should lead us to almsgiving and acts of charity to stir up our love for God and neighbor.
The key to having a good Lent, to really renewing our spiritual lives and relationship with God, is the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion. The prayer and fasting of Lent ought to remind us of how our sins have damaged our relationship with God. Through confession our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled with the Lord, and in the Eucharist we encounter God Himself. Our prayers, fasting, and almsgiving should be inspired by the sacraments and lead us back to the sacraments.
Fr. Bryan Howard
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – 16 February 2020
Today’s Gospel is from the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, right after the Beatitudes, and it represents a summary of our Lord’s teaching. When we study theology we usually separate moral theology, or ethics, and spiritual theology, or prayer and holiness, but, in reality, you can’t separate them because they’re just different aspects of the same thing. One of the most important insights of the Bible is that God is the source of both truth and goodness. I remember talking to someone studying to be a rabbi, and she told me that Judaism doesn’t have a Creed that you have to believe to be Jewish, they have laws that you have to follow. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is taking an insight from the Old Testament, that God is the source of Wisdom, and taking it to the next level. It isn’t enough to follow the Law of God, God wants to send His Holy Spirit into our souls and write the Law of God in our hearts.
The Lord starts off by telling them, “Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” We have the idea of good and gentle Jesus who relaxes all the strict rules of the Old Testament. We imagine Jesus telling us, “You do you. As long as you don’t intentionally hurt anyone it’s all okay.” Jesus does relax the ritual laws of the Old Testament, like the prohibition against eating shell fish and pork or wearing clothes made from two types of cloth. He doesn’t relax the moral laws; in fact, he’s even more strict. He has a higher standard of holiness than the Old Testament, but He doesn’t require anything that He hasn’t already done, and He’ll never ask us to do something without giving us the grace to do it.
The Lord said, “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” To feel angry isn’t a sin, because you can’t always control what emotion you feel. The sin is to nurse anger in your heart. When we feed that anger and let it start to control us, then we’re guilty of the sin of wrath. We can fight that by bringing it to God in prayer and asking for His help. We sometimes want to hold on to our anger and let it begin to define us, and that’s exactly when we need to surrender it to God. Don’t be afraid to take a step back or go find a place to cool off. It’s better than saying something that you’ll come to regret but can’t take back.
The Lord also said, “You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” We should recognize that every person has dignity in their own right and is a child of God, made in the image and likeness of God. When we use another person for our own satisfaction we fail to recognize their dignity as children of God and put our own good ahead of theirs. It’s one thing to appreciate someone’s beauty, but it’s another thing to nurse lust for someone in our hearts, that’s where we start to sin.
I sometimes hear people say that priests and religious take a vow of chastity, but that’s wrong. We take a vow of celibacy, meaning that we vow to not get married so that we can dedicate our lives entirely to God and the Church. That’s not something that the Church forces us to do; we choose to be celibate. As one of my teachers in seminary used to tell us, “We’re not training you to be consecrated bachelors, so don’t live like bachelors.” We are committed, not to one person or family, but to the entire Church. Chastity, on the other hand, is for everyone, whether you’re married, celibate, or single. Chastity looks different for people in different states of life. For example, it’s not appropriate for a celibate person to go on dates, but it’s normal for a single person. However, chastity means always treating everyone around us with dignity and respect.
Ultimately, what we’re called to is love, and to love one another like God loves us. We’re called to love our families, strangers, and even our enemies. We’re called to love no matter what state of life we’re in, what economic class we’re in, or what age we are. The undying and unwavering dedication of celibate clergy and religious to the Church, of husbands and wives for one another, of parents for their children, of Christians for their neighbors reflects the love that God has for us and that the Son of God showed for us on the Cross, when He willingly gave His life for our salvation. Since we just has St. Valentine’s Day, I think it’s appropriate to end with a quote from the most popular reading at weddings, which shows that love is not merely an emotion or passion that comes and goes depending on how we feel about someone, but is a firm commitment to act for someone's good regardless of how we feel about them. St. Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not see its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endured all things. Love never fails.”
Every once in a while I like to recommend a book, website, app, or movie, because there’s so much out there now that it can be hard to separate the good from the bad. Today, I want to recommend that you look at the works of Dr. Peter Kreeft. He’s a professor of philosophy at Boston College, has published 95 books, and has given many talks, speeches, and lectures on philosophy, theology, and Catholic spirituality.
I first encountered Dr. Kreeft when he book, The Summa of the Summa, was assigned in one of my classes in seminary. That’s probably his most well-known book, but he’s also written, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Christianity for Modern Pagans, Fundamentals of the Faith, and Forty Reasons I am a Catholic. His books are good, but I really want to recommend his website, which has sections on Featured Writing and Featured Audio, including payed and free recordings of talks that he’s given at various conferences and events.
Most of all, I want to recommend his talk on “Pro-Life Philosophy” in which he gives the philosophical case against abortion. It’s a very good talk which can help us to defend our pro-life position in a rational way against the arguments of the pro-choice movement. The talk is free on Dr. Kreeft’s website under Featured Audio – More.
This past weekend we celebrated the Solemnity of Our Lady of Lourdes, our patronal feast. Thank you to Archbishop Aymond for giving us permission to move the celebration to Sunday so that more of us could celebrate together. I also want to thank Barker's Dozen and the Knights of Columbus Ladies Auxiliary for providing the king cakes for after Mass.
As part of our celebration our large statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was moved into the sanctuary in preparation to be moved to her new permanent position. Then, after the 11:00 AM Mass we processed with the statue around the Church and brought it to its new home in our Marian Shrine, where the tabernacle used to be kept.
I hope this new Shrine will help us to grow ever closer to our Blessed Mother and through her to her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Fr. Bryan Howard
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – 9 February 2020
My Maw Maw, Dad, and Uncle David all love to keep vegetable gardens, and they’re good at it. Uncle David even created a new plant. He planted the cucumbers and squash next to each other and the cross pollinated, so we got squash-cumbers. I, on the other hand, take after my Mom. One year for the science fair I did an experiment where I planted four plants and watered each one with something different, water, coca cola, Kool-Aid, and orange juice. They all died, because plants need a balance of factors to live, and I obviously missed something. Have you ever had one of the plants, like a sunflower, that turns to follow the sun across the sky? You can’t see it moving, but the difference is very noticeable each time you come back to it throughout the day. It’s not choosing to follow the sun, it’s just evolved that way because the sun gives it the energy it needs to live. Of course, they also need rain and nutrients from the soil to live and grow. In order to have a healthy and growing spiritual life, we also need three things, light, food, and water, all of which are provided by Jesus Christ: moral guidelines, the Eucharist, and grace. In our second reading St. Paul says, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified,” because Jesus gives us everything that we need.
Our Gospel today says that we are the “light of the world.” Why? Because Jesus Christ is the Light of the World, and we are Christians, so we reflect His Light. The response for our psalm today was “The just man is a light in darkness to the upright.” Christ is the only truly Just Man, and He shows us how to walk upright lives by being gracious, merciful, just, and generous, or as the first reading says, “If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation, and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.”
Morality, or following the law of God is one of the three parts of the spiritual life. The Bible makes it very clear that all of our prayers and offerings to God are useless unless we’re also living a good life. Most of the time what is good and what is bad are very clear to us, but we live in a complicated world at a complicated time, and there are a lot of different people telling us what to do. Jesus Christ is the light to show us which way to go and an example for our own lives, and we can always ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do in this situation? What is Jesus telling me to do right now?”
How do we know what Jesus would do or what He’s calling us to do? That’s where the second part of the spiritual life comes it: prayer. Just as a plant needs water to live, so we need God’s grace. St. Theresa of Avila compared our spiritual lives to a garden where we’re trying to grow all manner plants and flowers, which are good works. They need grace from the Holy Spirit to grow. We call down that grace like rain by praying. At times, prayer seems to be very difficult, and it’s like we have to go down to the well and get water one bucket at a time, with a lot of work and sweat. Sometimes, though, it’s as if our prayers come quickly and easily, like God’s letting His grace come down like rain.
Prayer is as simple as having a conversation with Jesus, talking to Him and listening to Him. Through the Rosary, praying with the Bible, having conversations with God, and so many Catholic devotions we slowly come to know Jesus better and better and can thus follow His guidance in our lives, even as the Holy Spirit gives us the grace we need to follow through with our good intentions.
Finally, we also need spiritual nourishment from the Eucharist. If the spiritual life is all about growing closer to our Lord in prayer, so that we can better follow Him in our lives, then the climax of the spiritual life is to receive His very life in Holy Communion. The goal of the spiritual life is to be united with God in heaven, but God knows that we need help along the way. He gave us the Eucharist as a little taste of what’s waiting for us. The Eucharist contains everything that we’ll have in heaven, but it’s hidden under the appearance of bread and wine. Can I be a good person without the Eucharist? Yes. Can I pray without the Eucharist? Yes. However, if I understand that the goal of life is to get to heaven to be united with God for eternity and that God is present right here in the Eucharist. Then, to knowingly and deliberately deny the Eucharist is to deny Christ, but putting the Eucharist at the center of your life is to put Jesus Christ at the center of your life.
Since today is the Solemnity of Our Lady of Lourdes, our patronal feast, we should look to the Blessed Mother as our best example, she who is called the solitary boast of our fallen human nature. The Blessed Virgin was always with Christ during His life, from His birth, to His public ministry, to the foot of the Cross, to the Upper Room at His Resurrection, she always pondered His words and the things that He did, and she is still by His side now in heaven. Holy Mother, Our Lady of Lourdes, help us to stay by Christ’s side now, during our lives, that we may always be with Him in the next life.
Devotion to Mary
The level of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary at our parish is very encouraging to me, because that devotion will help keep us close to our Lord Jesus Christ. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary has helped protect the Catholic Church from some of the most dangerous heresies in the history of the Church, even if powerful people supported them and many Christians fell for them. This devotion can also help us and our families stay close to Jesus Christ, stay true to the faith as it’s been handed down to us from the Apostles, and, eventually, be united to God in heaven, because the Blessed Virgin Mary always says to us, “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5).
One of these heresies in the early Church was called Nestorianism, taking its name from the Patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius. Nestorius taught that the Blessed Virgin cannot be called the Mother of God, but only the Mother of Christ, because she was only the mother of the human nature of Jesus and not the mother of His Divine Nature. He was opposed by St. Cyril of Alexandria who taught that Jesus has a divine nature and a human nature, God and man, which are inseparably united in the one person Jesus Christ. So, if Mary is the Mother of the person Jesus Christ, which she clearly is, then she must be the Mother of God, not that she is the source of the Godhead, but that she bore Him in her womb and gave birth to Him. Nestorius, convinced that he was correct, called for the bishops of the Church to gather at the Council of Ephesus to decide. The people gathered outside of the Church where the council was held, and when St. Cyril came out to make the announcement, that Mary is “Theotokos,” Mother of God, they began to celebrate. That Church is now called the Church of the Theotokos.
The great heresy today is Protestantism, and many protestants denigrate Catholics for our devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, saying that giving reverence to Mary is a form of idolatry, and criticize some of the Church’s teachings on Mary, because they rely more on Tradition than on the Bible. Catholics believe that honoring the Mother of God gives honor to God, and that honoring Mary as the greatest follower of Christ, because of her great love for Him, teaches us how to better follow Jesus Christ ourselves. The Rosary is the perfect example of Marian devotion, because as we pray the Rosary we not only ask Mary to pray for us, but we also meditate on the mysteries of the conception, birth, life, death, and Resurrection of Christ.
The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, has helped to keep our Catholic family centered on her Son, Jesus Christ, through her prayers and example. We should all ask her to pray for our own families, that we may remain in the one true faith, and dedicate ourselves to her prayer, the Rosary, by praying the family Rosary regularly.
This Tuesday, February 11, is the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, our patronal feast, but Archbishop Aymond has allowed us to move the celebration of the Feast to this weekend, so that more parishioners can participate in it. This weekend, let’s ask her to keep our Church family together and focused on Jesus.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.