They say that some people see the world through rose colored glasses. They always look on the bright side of things and see the positives in people and events, sometimes to the point of blinding themselves to the very real dark sides of things. There are other people that, we might say, can’t be happy unless they have something to complain about. They always find the negatives in things and often can’t see the positives. Neither of these has anything to do with hope or despair. Hope, as Christians understand it, is the infused virtue by which we have absolute certainly that God will give us everything we need to reach eternal life.
Hope is infused within us. It doesn’t come just from ourselves; it is a gift of God. However, it’s also a virtue that we build up over time by living in the hope of eternal life and keeping our eyes on heaven. It’s like making tea. If you put the tea leaves in cold water, you’ll just get soggy tea leaves. The water has to be heated so it can be infused with the flavors of the tea leaves. It takes work on our part to make ourselves ready to accept the gift of God’s grace, but it doesn’t matter how hot you get the water if you don’t have tea leaves.
Hope is in the middle between two extremes: despair and presumption. Despair is the lack of confidence in God. It’s when we think we can’t possibly be saved, and so we stop trying. Despair is not depression. Depression is an emotional disorder that saps our energy and motivation; it isn’t a sin but a condition that we should seek treatment for. Despair is a choice not to seek the things of God, because we don’t believe that salvation is possible for us.
The other extreme is presumption, which causes us to assume that we’ll be saved regardless of what we do. When we presume on God’s mercy we may fail to do everything we can to overcome our sins and grow in virtue, because we don’t think we have to do anything to prepare ourselves to receive God’s grace.
To grow in hope, I have to remind myself that everything is within God’s providence. When we look back from heaven, God willing, we’ll be amazed to see how God was present and working in every moment of our lives, and we’ll be amazed at how often we failed to see Him, even though He was always with us. Every day, we should put ourselves into God’s hands, but not passively as if we’re waiting for Him to do all of the work. Were the saints passive? No, they were actively listening to where the Holy Spirit was leading and looking for opportunities to do God’s will in the world. The virtue of hope gives us the confidence in faith to know that God is with us and to boldly follow after Him.
Fr. Bryan Howard
4th Sunday of Lent – Year A – 22 March 2020
I went to minor seminary at St. Joseph Seminary College, usually better known as St. Ben’s, which is at the Benedictine Abbey in Covington on the North Shore. The Abbey has about 1,200 acres of woods and fields behind and around it. The grounds really are beautiful. One day during my first year there I had a class that let out at 3 o’clock and didn’t have anything I needed to do until Evening Prayer at 5:30, so I decided to take a walk though the woods. Now, there’s a main trail that runs through the middle of the property from the Abbey to Camp Abbey on the other side, and then there are lots of smaller trails, too. After about 45 to an hour I decided to head back in, but I couldn’t find the main trail, and that’s when I realized that I was lost. I was eventually able to find my way back to the main trail and barely made it to evening prayer on time, but I told that story because of the moment I realized that I was lost. I bet most people have had moments like that, whether you were lost in the woods, or in a mall, or in the city, and the moment you realize it is an intense moment. We’re all lost, or, as our Lord said, blind, but we don’t always realize it, but Jesus came to give sight to the blind.
In the story the man born blind stands for us. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, were created in a state of grace. From the moment God made them they were filled with God’s grace and lived in friendship with God. In original sin they rejected God’s place in their lives. Satan told them that if they ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil then they would become like God. Their sin wasn’t eating an apple or something; it was the sin of pride. They wanted to take God’s place in their own lives. Then, having rejected God’s friendship, what we call sanctifying grace, they were cast from the garden, symbolizing the loss of that friendship with God. What they lost in original sin, they couldn’t pass down to us, their descendants, and so we are born outside of grace. We are born blind, not because of anything we’ve done, but because our first parents rejected God’s grace. When our parents take us to the Church to be baptized they are saying that they are accepted God’s offer of love on our behalf. God made that offer of love on the Cross when Jesus Christ came to undo, by His obedience, Adam’s act of disobedience.
The healing of the man born blind symbolizes the grace of God and especially the gift of faith. In baptism and the other sacraments we receive sanctifying grace to make us holy, to make us like Christ. It’s a gift of love, free and undeserved, because God wants to share His love with us and show us how to love one another in a Christ-like way.
After the man is healed, the pharisees come to question him, because they want to use this healing against Jesus. Jesus healed him on a Sabbath day, and it’s against God’s law to do any work on the Sabbath. This story is in the 9thchapter of John’s Gospel. In chapter 5 John tells a very similar story. Once again Jesus is in Jerusalem on a Sabbath, and once again he heals someone, this time a crippled man, and again the pharisees question the man so they can use this against Jesus. That man didn’t know who Jesus was, but latter on Jesus found him again and told him, “Look, you are well. Do not sin anymore,” but the man went immediately and told the Pharisees that it was Jesus and it says, “The man went and told the Jews that Jesus was the one who made him well. Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus because He did this on a Sabbath.” The man born blind, however, stands up for Jesus, and when Jesus comes back to talk to him again He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him.”
Jesus has opened our eyes and made us see. He’s given us faith to believe in Him. He’s given us the Holy Spirit to guide us to our final destination. What good is sight if we walk around with our eyes closed, what good are directions if we don’t follow them, and what good is faith if we don’t live it? In our second reading we heard what St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness.”
The Lord has told us how to reach our destination in the Holy Bible, He’s given us food to strengthen us for the journey in the Most Holy Eucharist, and He’s given us the whole community of the Church to travel with. Now we just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and persevere in running the race.
With the spread of the coronavirus into Louisiana, people are beginning to prepare for the possibility of becoming sick. As of when I’m writing this, there are 33 confirmed cases in Louisiana, including 23 in Orleans Parish, 3 in Jefferson, and 1 in St. Bernard. Last week, when I went to get a refill for the hand sanitizer at the entrance of Church, I found out that the Walmart, Dollar General, and Walgreens in Meraux were all sold out. People, like my dad, are stocking up on water, non-perishable food, and medicines, in case they have to quarantine themselves.
Some people have also asked if I think this is a punishment for our sins. God doesn’t punish us in that way; He doesn’t send plagues or natural disasters in punishment for our sins. Suffering came into the world as a result of Original Sin and is a sign of the disorder caused by sin, and we look forward to a time when all of creation will be restored in Christ. However, Jesus taught us that any particular suffering or tribulation can’t be attributed to our sins. In the Gospel of Luke we read, “At that time some people who were present there told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. He said to them in reply, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!’” (Lk. 13:1-3) Jesus calls on us to repent of our sins, not because we’ll suffer in this life because of them, but so we can enter into eternal life.
I would like to encourage everyone to reach out in compassion. First, pray for medical personnel, especially those working directly with coronavirus patient. Even if they take precautions they’re still risking contracting it to take care of their patients, and that’s a heroic thing. Take precautions by keeping a certain distance, but also reach out to family and neighbors who are homebound or don’t have anyone else to reach out to for help. We can help by offering to pick up medicines or make grocery runs for them. Call the Church if there’s any specific needs that we can help with. Most importantly, pray daily through the intercession of Our Lady of Prompt Succor that we may have the immediate help of God through healing for the sick and protection against illness for everyone.
Fr. Bryan Howard
3rd Sunday of Lent – Year A – 15 March 2020
Blessed William Hart said, “The joy of this life is nothing; the joy of the afterlife is everlasting.” Blessed William Hart was born at Wells, England, in 1558 and raised as a good Anglican Protestant and was educated at Oxford. His studies lead him to recognize the truth of the Catholic faith and he soon converted to Catholicism. Remember, this was a big deal in 16th century England, because Catholicism was illegal, some Catholics were martyred, and many Catholics, if they were found out, were ostracized from society or even their families. William, however, felt a call to share the faith that he had found, and so he travelled first to France and then Rome to study theology and was ordained as a priest. He went back to England to minister to the hidden Catholic communities until he was betrayed and arrested. He was martyred for his faith on this day, March 15, 1583. What is it that caused Blessed William and so many others to go to their martyrdom joyfully? Why do so many of the saints, like Mother Theresa, dedicate their lives to the poorest of the poor? What is it that brings notorious sinners, and even those who hate the Church, like Blessed Bartolo Longo, to turn back to God? In the words of St. Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.”
The Samaritan woman wasn’t looking to meet Jesus when she went to the well that day. In fact, she didn’t expect to see anybody. The Gospel tells us that it was about noon, which is the hottest part of the day. Ordinarily you would go get your water as early as possible, before it was too hot, and because you would probably need it to start your cooking and work for the day. This woman went at noon, probably so she could avoid the rest of the people in town, and, more importantly, so she could avoid their whispers and judging looks. This was a woman who’d had five husbands, and was currently with someone who wasn’t her husband. We can all relate to the woman because we’ve all done things that we were ashamed of, that we didn’t want anyone to know about, that we hid away, perhaps even from ourselves. So, the woman comes to the well, the source of life, and encounters Jesus. We, too, encounter Jesus especially in those dark corners of our lives. God never gives up on us. He’s always calling us back to Himself, reaching out to us, knocking on the door.
Turning back to the Gospel, Jesus asks the woman to give Him a drink, and she’s surprised, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” The Samaritans were descended from Israelites, but when they were conquered by the Assyrian Empire many of them were taken into other lands, and some of the people of those lands were moved into Israel. The Samaritans had intermarried with those people and gotten caught up in worshiping their pagan gods, so the Jews considered them unclean and didn’t mix with the Samaritans at all. Sometimes our sins make us feel like we’re unclean or tainted. We might wonder how God could possibly forgive us. Do any of you remember the George Strait song, “A Father’s Love?” At the end of the song he dreams that he died and was standing outside the pearly gates thinking that there must be a mistake, because they would never let him in if they knew half of what he’d done, and then he hears God’s voice, “Daddies don’t just love their children every now and then, it’s a love without end.” We may think we’re not worthy of love, but it has nothing to do with worthiness. God loves us because we’re His children, and He wants to free us from the bonds of sins and the pain and damage that sin causes, and share His life and love with us.
Jesus answers her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” When she misunderstands He continues, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” We sometimes think that we have to overcome our sins and get our lives in order before we can have a relationship with God, but that’s exactly backwards. How can we possibly overcome our sins without God’s help? We want to go to God on our terms, but we need to give everything over to God, even, and especially, those dark corners that we’d prefer to remain hidden. We need to accept the living water, the Holy Spirit, from God and let it fill us with His life and goodness and truth.
There’s another time in John’s Gospel when Jesus has something to do with water and marriage: the wedding feast at Cana. The Blessed Mother noticed that they were running out of wine, so she asks Jesus to help, and He tells the servers to the six stone water jars with water and turns the water into wine. The Blessed Mother performs two roles here. First, she goes to Jesus on behalf of the couple, who would have been extremely embarrassed to run out of wine at the wedding party. The Blessed Mother also goes to the Lord on our behalf, to implore Him to give us the living water, the Holy Spirit, so we can grow in union with God. However, she also tells the servers, “Do whatever He tells you.” That is what our Blessed Mother tells us, “Do whatever He tells you. Draw close to Him. Follow Him.” The Blessed Mother is our advocate before God, but she is also God’s advocate with us. The Holy Spirit, of course, if The Advocate, as Jesus calls Him, always calling us to the Lord, and bringing the grace of God to us.
The miracle of the water and wine points forward to another miracle involving wine, when our Lord will turn the wine into His very Blood. In John 6 Jesus said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” If we wish to have life, to live to the full, as God is calling us to live, then we must listen to the voice of God, turn to Him in repentance, and ask Him to give us the Holy Spirit.
This Sunday is the anniversary of the assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides, or middle, of March. Caesar was one of the most influential people who have ever lived. His death prepared the way for his nephew and heir, Octavius, better known as Caesar Augustus, to completely dominate Roman politics and become the defacto emperor, although the word emperor didn’t mean what it means today. The Imperator was the commander of the Roman Legions, not the head of the government. The heirs of Julius Caesar simply took the name “Caesar” as a title. The name “Caesar” became a title that meant the same thing the word emperor means. Many kings and emperors would take titles derived from Caesar’s name, like the Kaisers in Germany and the Czars, or Tsars, in Bulgaria, Serbia, and Russia.
During his life Julius Caesar proved to be an adept politician and was loved by almost everyone. The people loved him because of the social programs he started and the lavish games and festivals he put on. The soldiers loved him because he brought them victory in battle and wealth. The aristocrats and senators, on the other hand, didn’t like him. As he gathered more and more power they became more and more afraid that he would try to make himself a king. Their concerns seemed to be confirmed as he began to wear a purple cloak, a color usually reserved to kings, and had a statue of himself paraded around in procession with the statues of the gods. So on March 15, 44 B.C., 60 senators lured Julius Caesar to the senate and stabbed him 23 times. Far from freeing Rome to return to a republican government, the death of Caesar lead to 13 years of devastating civil war and the end of the Roman Republic for good. After his death, Julius Caesar would be declared, by the Senate of all people, to be a god. If you go to Rome today, you can visit the remains of an altar where the Romans used to offer sacrifices to Julius Caesar, and people still leave flowers there to this day.
About 75 years later, around 30 A.D., the Romans would kill another man claiming to be a God-king, Jesus of Nazareth. He didn’t try to ingratiate Himself to the people with flattering words and a showy spectacle; He told them the truth and challenged them to live it out. He didn’t seize power by gaining the support of the army; He allowed Himself to be lead to the foot of the Cross and crucified, and He told His disciple, St. Peter, to put down his sword. He didn’t try to seize power for Himself. Instead, “though He was in the form of God, (He) did not consider equality with God something to be seized. Instead, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and accepting the state of a man. He humbled Himself, becoming obedient even unto death, even the death of the Cross” (Phil. 2:6-8).
One of these sought, and achieved, worldly power and fame on a level few have ever matched, and the other was truly the center of the universe and yet came to be among us and to die for our salvation. May we follow the example of the true Lord and King, Jesus Christ, who teaches us, “Do not choose to store up for yourselves treasures on earth: where rust and moth consume, and where thieves break in and steal. Instead, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven; where neither rust nor moth consumes, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also is your heart” (Mt. 6:19-21).
Fr. Bryan Howard
2nd Sunday of Lent – Year A – 8 March 2020
As Jesus drew near to Jerusalem He knew that He was going to His crucifixion, and He knew that the disciples would have their faith tested. They would wonder if He was really the Messiah. They would scatter for fear of being crucified like He was. So, He took the leaders of the apostles, Peter, James, and John, and went up Mt. Tabor and was transfigured before them, revealing to them His glory. The Church gives us this reading right at the beginning of Lent, but after we’ve had time to start struggling with our Lenten fasting, to remind us why we’re doing it. We don’t fast for the sake of making ourselves suffer or to show how holy we are; we fast, pray, and give alms during Lent to learn how to rely on God’s grace, so that we might be transfigured, too, and share in the glory of God.
We’ve been chosen by God and called. Called to what? To become like Christ. To be transformed or transfigured into the image of Jesus Christ. In our second reading we heard what St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “God saved us and called us to a holy life…” We’re called to holiness, which simply means to be Godlike. We can know what it means to be like God by looking at Jesus. After all, the Bible, especially the Old Testament, can be used (and misused) to support just about any idea, theory, or lifestyle, so how can we know what God really wants? We look to the example and teachings of Jesus Christ.
We are called “not according to our works…” We weren’t called because we were better, stronger, smarter, or more accomplished than anyone else. As they say, “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.” You can’t earn a parents love; they love you because you’re there child, and if they don’t the problem is with them, not you. In the same way, God love us because we’re his children, not because we’re good, but because He loves us He wants to call us to something better.
We are called “according to His own design and the grace bestowed on us before time began, but now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus.” That is, in Jesus, God’s design, or plan, is made manifest and revealed to us. God’s very nature is love. It’s who He is, and we can only become like God by loving as God loves. Since God is infinite He can give of Himself without costing Himself anything. He created the universe, the laws of the universe, everything living thing, and all of us, and it didn’t cost Him anything. We, on the other hand, are very much limited. In this world there is no love without suffering, because love always wants to give to the one that we love, and that always costs us something. God became flesh in Jesus Christ to show us the infinite love of God in a limited human body. That’s why the ultimate act of God’s love for us is the Cross, on which the God-man, Jesus, gave His life for us.
God’s plan is illustrated in our first reading, which is the calling of Abraham. Called just Abram at the time, Jesus choose this 75 year old man, wealthy but without children of his own, and asked him to travel to a distant land that he didn’t know anything about. In return, he made Abraham three promises, but Abram wouldn’t receive any of them in his life. They would all be given to his descendants. First, God promised to make of Abram “a great nation.” This promise was fulfilled about 500 years later at Mt. Sinai after the Exodus, when they were formed into a nation when God gave the law to Moses. Second, God promised to make Abram’s name great, which is later explained by saying that kings will come from Abraham’s line, and this is fulfilled about 800 years later when Abraham’s descendant David becomes King of Israel. Finally, God promises, “All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.” The universal blessing, or blessing to all the nations is fulfilled 1,800 years later in Jesus Christ, who told His disciples, “Go forth, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them all that I have taught you.”
Abraham wasn’t called for himself, but for others. God chose Abraham and gave his descendants the law and the prophets, so that He could bless all the rest of the nations through them, and through one descendant of Abraham in particular, Jesus Christ. We’ve been called, but not for ourselves. We’ve been called to bring the blessings of God to others by being like Christ. Who have you been called for? Have you been called for you spouse and children, your neighbor, the poor and homeless, the sick and injured, or the ones who don’t know God? The blessings we have are not for us; they’re meant to be used for the glory of God. Each morning ask God to not let any opportunities to serve Him pass you by, and every evening thank God for those opportunities and ask Him to help you do just a little bit better tomorrow.
Ss. Perpetua and Felicity were from Carthage and were martyred with their companions in the year 203 AD, under the persecutions of the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus Augustus. St. Perpetua was only 22 years old when she was arrested. Her mother was Christian and her father pagan, but she decided to follow her mother and converted to Christianity. She was also a mother herself and had an infant son. She was arrested with 4 other catechumens, Ss. Felicity, Revocatus, Saturninus, and Secundulus, and their teacher Saturus. They were baptized before being taken to prison. St. Felicity was a slave, and was 8 months pregnant at the time of her arrest. She gave birth just days before her martyrdom, and her child, a girl, was adopted by one of the Christian women in Carthage.
Secundulus died in prison, but the others were eventually tried and, when they refused to deny their Christianity, were sentenced to die in the arena by being thrown to wild animals. Saturus, Revocatus, and Saturninus were thrown to bears, leopards, and wild boars. Perpetua and Felicity were thrown to a rabid heifer, but survived the attack. They were then taken into the center of the arena and exchanged the kiss of peace, as at Mass, before being executed.
After she converted her father tried to convince her to renounce her Christianity, and she recorded the conversation, “When my father in his affection for me was trying to turn me from my purpose by arguments and thus weaken my faith, I said to him, ‘Do you see this vessel—waterpot or whatever it may be? Can it be called by any other name than what it is?’ ‘No,’ he replied. ‘So also I cannot call myself by any other name than what I am—a Christian.’”
St. Felicity likewise showed incredible faith and courage in her imprisonment and martyrdom. When she went into labor in prison, the guards made fun of her, asking how she would stand the suffering in the arena if she couldn’t stand the pain of childbirth. She responded, “Now I’m the one who is suffering, but in the arena, another will be in me suffering for me because I will be suffering for him.”
We share with them the name of Christian; may we share their faith and love for God and their courage in professing it.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.