Fr. Bryan Howard
Trinity Sunday – Year B – 27 May 2018
One of the things that sets Christians apart from all other religions is that we believe in the Most Holy Trinity. We believe that there is one God, but that God is a Trinity of three persons united in one nature. This is a mystery that is simply beyond our understanding. We won’t ever completely understand the Trinity because God is infinite, and we aren’t. We can, however, understand more than we do right now.
The reason it’s so hard to understand that Trinity is because we’ve never experienced anything like it in our lives. There’s nothing in the world that is both three and one at the same time. So, we’ve tried to make analogies to help ourselves understand. The Trinity is sort of like a three leaf clover. There are three leaves, but it’s one plant. Or, like these three rings melded together, right here in front of the altar. There are three equal rings, but it’s one object. There’s a problem with these analogies, though. One leaf of a three leaf clover is only one part of the plant, and one of these rings is only one part of the object, because there physical objects. God is spirit. God the Father is not 1/3 of God, He IS God. God the Son is God, and God the Holy Spirit is God.
So, if the Father is God and the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, does that mean that we worship three God’s? No, we don’t. They are also perfectly united. There’s another analogy to help us understand. We’ll never have a perfect explanation of the Trinity, but this is the best one we have right now, at least until we get to heaven and see God face to face. God is like a family. A husband gives himself to his wife totally and completely out of love for her. His wife receives that gift of love and, in turn, gives herself totally and complete to him out of love. The result of this gift of love is that, nine months later, you have to give it a name. The love of husband and wife results in a third person being added to the family
In the Trinity, God the Father is eternally giving all of Himself to the Son, and the Son is receiving this gift of love and eternally giving all of Himself back to the Father, and this eternal exchange of love is the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. This is why the family is so important. The love that is shared between members of a family is meant to remind us of the love of God Himself, and to teach us that God Himself is a family. If God is a family, then He is inviting us to become members of His family.
In the second reading St. Paul tells us, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” Brothers and sisters through Jesus Christ we are children of God and heirs of God, heirs with Christ. Our inheritance is the glory of God in the Kingdom of heaven.
Today we’re not just celebrating that God is a Trinity, but that God is love, and that He is inviting us to live in His love as His children. The Bible says that “eye has not seen and ear has not heard what God has prepared for those who love Him.” How could we have possibly imagined that God would call us to rise above our lowly state to become children of God. We sometimes think of heaven as a place where all of our wants and desires are given to us, where we have the best food and drink and all of our dreams come true, but if we can imagine it, then it’s less than what God as prepared for us, if only we trust Him.
You may have noticed that I quoted all of the second reading except the last two lines, which say this, “If only we suffer with Him, so that we may also be glorified with Him.” Jesus came to make us children of God and to teach us how to BE a child of God, and He showed His love to us through the Cross. Love means being willing to pour yourself out for another person, and that’s something else that we learn as a member of a family: total, selfless, unconditional love. Today, as you come forward to receive Communion, ask the Lord to help you to love the people around you a little bit better, so that we can grow together as one family in Christ.
Good News About Sex and Marriage by Christopher West
I’ve just finished up the series of bulletin articles on the seven sacraments that I began in August of last year, and throughout the series I’ve tried to recommend books and other resources to help further deepen your knowledge of the sacraments. Today, I’m recommending a book by Christopher West called Good News About Sex and Marriage: Answers to Your Honest Questions about Catholic Teaching. Christopher West teaches at the Theology of the Body Institute in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He’s written many books explaining Pope St. John Paul II teaching on marriage and sexuality as it’s found in the Bible. This teaching is called “the Theology of the Body.”
This book is very easy to read and down to earth, answering questions that most people have in a way that shows how the teachings of the Jesus Christ are indeed good news for the world. Christopher West covers topics such as Church authority, the basics of marriage in the Church, chastity outside of marriage and inside of marriage, contraception and reproductive technologies, and the celibate vocation.
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to gain a better understanding of the teachings of the Church on human sexuality and marriage, who wants to learn how to explain these teachings to other people, and to parents who are getting to the point of having to explain these things to their children.
Next Week: Showing God Reverence at Mass
Fr. Bryan Howard
Pentecost Sunday – 20 May 2018
Pentecost Sunday echoes the ancient Jewish feast of Pentecost, which also happened on this day, the 50thday after the feast of unleavened bread, which was the day of the Resurrection of the Lord. After His Resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days with His disciples, preparing them to begin the work of spreading the Gospel and forming the early Church. On the 40thday, He ascended into heaven, and during the 10 days between the Ascension and Pentecost, the disciples and Mary, the Mother of God, gathered in the upper room, where they’d had the Last Supper with Jesus. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon them as tongues of fire. They all left the Upper Room, went out to the crowds gathered at the Temple for the feast of Pentecost, and began preaching about Jesus. The crowd was astounded, because they all heard them in the own, native languages. By the end of the day there were about 3000 converts, and Christianity didn’t even have a name yet, the just started calling it “The Way.”
The disciples spent those 10 days before Pentecost hiding. Even though they had seen Jesus risen from the dead, they were still afraid that they would be killed like He was. But after they received the Holy Spirit, their fear was gone and they were able to go out and publicly preach the Gospel. In the coming weeks and months, they would be threatened, arrested, and scourged, but they didn’t stop, and more and more people were converted. Eventually, the Roman Empire would get in on the act, and for over 250 years they would persecute the Church. It was worse in some times and places than others, but, in the end, thousands of Christians would be arrested, tortured, and killed in horrible ways. The most merciful death was how St. Paul died, by being beheaded, but many were crucified, or burned alive, or thrown to the lions and the bears. Some would deny Christ when threatened with these things, but many, perhaps most, didn’t. The first 32 popes, from Peter through Miltiades, were all martyred. Yet today the Roman Empire is long gone, but the leader of the Church on Earth, Pope Francis, who can trace His succession back to those same popes, lives near the very spot where St. Peter was crucified.
This is the power of the Holy Spirit, and this is the same Holy Spirit that each one of us received at our baptisms. The Holy Spirit wants to transform you like He transformed the disciples and the early Christians. Do you struggle with the same sins over and over again? Do you have doubts about God? Whether He exists or whether He’s working in your life? Do you just feel like you’re not a spiritual person? You already have what you need to start changing these things: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. These are the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which we all received at Baptism and which were strengthened in us in Confirmation. Wisdom helps us to love the things of God. Understanding helps us to comprehend the truths of the faith. Counsel gives us the prudence to choose wisely. Fortitude gives us the courage to overcome obstacles. Knowledge helps us know the best path to follow. Piety helps us to grow in respect and reverence for God. The fear of the Lord helps us flee from sin.
These are 7 powerful ways that the Holy Spirit guides and strengthens us, but, as in all things, God won’t force us to do anything. We all have free will. First, we need to ask for the help of the Holy Spirit. I would recommend asking specifically for help in the thing that you’re struggling with the most. By bringing your greatest weakness to God and asking for His help, you humble yourself before Him, and God always helps the humble and lowly. It’s when we think we’ve got everything together and don’t need anyone’s help that we really have a problem.
Prayer is necessary, but it also takes discipline and effort on our parts. So, have a plan. Come up with two or three things that you can do regularly, every day or every week, to help you grow in the area you’re struggling with. For example, if you want to work on patience, you could let someone in ahead of you at the grocery store, or in traffic. Unless you have a plan, you probably won’t do anything and you’ll end up staying where you are right now. These may seem like little things compared to what St. Peter and the apostles did, but ever little things can make a big difference in the lives of the people around us, because it’s usually our family and closest friends who are affected by the worst parts of our personality. And remember what Jesus said, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master's joy.”
Don’t give in to the temptation to fall into despair and loose hope. Christ promised to send the Holy Spirit to us, and the Holy Spirit is God Himself who is working in our souls, even if we don’t realize it, in order to bring us always closer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
“The Domestic Church” is a phrase made popular by the Second Vatican Council and used often by Pope St. John Paul II. The idea is that the family is a “little Church,” because the members of the family are united in love through the grace of the Sacrament of Matrimony. They are, together, a symbol of God’s love for the Church. Here is what Vatican II had to say, “The family is, so to speak, the domestic church. In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children; they should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each of them, fostering with special care vocation to a sacred state.”
God used the Church to spread the faith throughout the entire world. When He ascended into heaven, Jesus told the Apostles, “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 commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). The apostles set out to spread the Gospel of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and they succeeded in bringing. The faith everywhere in the Middle East, in Greece, in Italy, and even as far as India. Throughout the centuries this mission has continued, so that now there are Christians on every continent and in every country. Christianity is the largest religion in the world.
Just like the Church is called to bring the faith into the world, so parents have the task to bring the faith to their children, “by their word and example.” The Church is centered around Jesus, and so every family should be centered around Jesus. One of the most important jobs of the Church is to worship God through prayer and the Sacraments. In your family, you can do this through going to Mass together, through family prayer, and through teaching your children the faith.
Is your family a domestic church? Do you make Sunday Mass a priority or do you let other things become more important? Do you pray grace before meals together? Do you ever pray together as a family? Do you try to learn the Bible and the teachings of the Church so you can explain them better to your children when they have questions, and so you can live them out better yourself? Do you go to confession regularly? Are you generous as a family by sharing the gifts that God has given you with those who are less fortunate?
The domestic church, like the entire Church, is made up of flawed and fallen people, and that is why we need to keep Christ in the center. He helps us to focus on what is truly important by staying focused on growing in love, not on acquiring the latest gadgets, the nicest clothes, and the best car. As the Bible says, “Where your treasure is, there also is your heart.” Our families are the greatest gifts that God has given us, so don’t act like acquaintances who happen to live together, but as a domestic church seeking to grow together in the love of Christ.
Next Week: Fr. Bryan Recommends
Fr. Bryan Howard
Ascension of the Lord – Year B – 13 May 2018
In the Bible the number 40 represents a time of preparation. In the time of Noah, it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, preparing the earth for renewal, and preparing Noah to receive God’s covenant, Moses spent 40 days fasting on Mt. Sinai preparing to receive the Law and the 10 Commandments, Christ spent 40 days in the wilderness after his baptism in the Jordan, preparing to begin his public ministry, and on the 40th day after his resurrection, Christ ascended into heaven, but he spent those 40 days preparing His disciples to receive the great gift of the Holy Spirit.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus had to ascend to heaven? Why couldn’t he just stay and run the Church himself instead of entrusting it to the Apostles and their successors? Jesus even said, “It is better for you if I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” So Jesus went to heaven to send us the Holy Spirit, but couldn’t He have stayed with us and still called the Holy Spirit? There are a few reasons why He didn’t do that, and, while I’m hesitant to speak for Jesus, I think it’s safe to say that his physical presence would distract us from a far more profound way that He is present with us. If Jesus Christ was here in this Church in His human body, that is what we would focus on; how many questions we would have for Him, the things we would ask Him to do for us, and the praises that we would heap upon Him. As amazing as that would be, we have to realize that baptism is a far greater blessing. In our baptisms, through the Holy Spirit, God comes to dwell in our souls. God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, makes His home within us. This is the fulfillment of the promise that Jesus made to us, that it’s better for us if he goes, and that He would send the Holy Spirit.
If this is true, then why do most Catholics, and indeed most Christians, live basically the same way that everyone else lives? It’s because, though we believe in Jesus, most of us haven’t taken the time to examine our faith and internalize it. For the most part, when we make all of the decisions that come our way, we think about them in the same way that everyone else thinks about them, and come to the same conclusions. If God is real, and He really became man to reveal Himself to us, and He really dwells in our souls through the power of the Holy Spirit, that changes everything. We must not take our faith for granted, but take the time to learn it, to understand it, and to live it. Even the Apostles needed to prepare to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit; they spent three years with Him before His crucifixion, and then 40 days after His resurrection. We have to do the work of preparing ourselves to receive the Holy Spirit every day, so we can live as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
We may well ask, “What difference does it make? Why should I practice self-denial and self-discipline and sacrifice? I’ll live my life my way.” If I rely only on myself, my own strength, knowledge and ingenuity, well, I know myself well enough to know that I’ll eventually fall. That my own strength isn’t sufficient for the trials ahead of me. Therefore, I make a leap of faith and decide to trust in the Lord even more than I trust in myself. If I entrust myself to Him, then I know that He’ll give me the grace I need. Even if I go through dark times, I trust that He is guiding me back into the light.
How can I trust God if I don’t know Him and how He is working in my life? There are at least three things you can do to get to know God better and to be a better disciple of Christ. First, the morning offering. Every morning when you wake up, the first thing you should do is make your Morning Offering. Personally, my brain doesn’t work well enough when I first wake up to pray spontaneously, so I have it on a card on my bedside table. I’ve posted a good one on the parish website: olol-church.com. This way, you learn to start every day by offering everything you do that day to God and asking for His help. Second, when you pray, think about how God has worked in your life in the past. How has He guided you, either directly or through other people? How has He comforted you, encouraged you, or challenged you? This will help you to recognize these things in the future and respond to them better. Third, read the Bible. Learn the history of salvation, which teaches us how God has chosen to reveal Himself to humanity. Our Spring Bible Study is just about to close, we have one more meeting on May 24 at 6:30 in the PCC before breaking for the summer. We’ll start again in the Fall, so look out for announcements on that. We’ll be going through the second half of Genesis. St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ,” and when you read the lives of the saints you realize that they all loved the Bible. It contains everything that we need to know for salvation. Whether you go to a Bible Study or not, everyone should read the Bible a couple of times each week, perhaps by reading the readings for the next Sunday’s Mass ahead of time.
The whole point of the feast of the Ascension is that Christ ascended into heaven so we can join Him there one day, but we have to trust Him and follow Him in order to get there.
In his letter to the Ephesians St. Paul writes about marriage and the responsibility of husband and wife to love one another. At the end of that passage he writes this, “’For this reason a man shall live faith and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:31-32). St. Paul is saying that the love of a husband and wife for one another should be an image of the love that God has for the Church.
In His love for us Jesus descended from heaven to become one of us, fully human as well as fully divine, He lived among us, and them He died and rose again for us. He loves us fully and completely, holding nothing back. We are called to love Him the same way, to live for Him as He lived for us, and to give our lives for Him as He gave His life for us.
Marriage is meant to be a sign in the world of God’s love for us. We should be able to understand a little of God’s love for us by seeing how a husband treats his wife and how a wife treats her husband. This is why the Church focuses so much on marriage and family.
This would be a good examination of conscience for married people. Do you try to imitate Christ’s love for us in your relationship? Do you love without counting the cost, or do you keep score? Do you forgive completely, or do you hold on to things? Do you have unreasonable expectations of your spouse? When was the last time that you did a good thing for your spouse unexpectedly?
The Sacrament of Marriage is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. Through it He allows us to see selfless, life-giving love in action, so that we can learn to love all people just a little bit better.
Next Week: The Domestic Church
Fr. Bryan Howard
6th Sunday of Easter – Year B – 6 May 2018
When your teenage son or daughter says to you, “If you loved me, you’d let me…” We know that that’s, basically, emotional blackmail. Your job, as a parent, is not to make sure that your children like you, but, because you love them, to guide them in the right path. So, when we hear Jesus say, like He does in today’s Gospel, “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love.” What does Jesus mean by that? Does He mean that God will stop loving us if we don’t do what He says? If we keep listening, we hear Jesus say, “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.” This is the key to understanding what Jesus means, but we’ll get back to that latter.
First, let’s talk about love itself. What the Bible means by love is not what we normally mean when we use the word love. We must often use the word love to refer to things, as in, “I love pizza. I love fishing. I love classical music.” These are all preferences. I prefer pizza to asparagus. I prefer classical music to pop music. But, I don’t always prefer pizza. Sometimes I feel like having bbq, or maybe one day I’ll stop liking pizza entirely. If we bring that concept into our relationships with other people, what happens? We start thinking of love as preference. I prefer you to other people, but people are a lot more challenging than pizza. They’re annoying, aggravating, and demanding. Eventually, you stop preferring that person, so you leave and go find someone that you prefer more, at least, for now. Real love is not in the emotions, it is a choice to consistently work towards the good of another person.
Think about my example from the beginning, when someone says, “If you really loved me, you would…” People fall into this trap of thinking if you love someone, then you have to do whatever they ask, but that’s not real love. Real love seeks the good for the other person. Think of that famous passage from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. If you’ve ever been to a wedding you’ve probably heard it, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek 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, endures all things.” Love rejoices with the truth.
In the Old Testament we were given the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Almost every religion and culture in the world has had some version of the Golden Rule. Christ gives us a new Commandment, “Love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Christ calls us to a higher form of love. We are called to love consistently, to love without counting the cost, and to love with everything we have. We are called to give everything for our beloved, as Christ gave everything for us. He became human, lived among us, suffered for us, and died for us. He’s given us His very body and blood as our food and drink.
Obviously, no one will always live up to that standard of love. That’s why relationships, and especially marriage and family relationships, isn’t 50/50, they’re 100/100. A business partnership is 50/50. If one person doesn’t live up to their part, then the other person is also released from their obligation. Love calls us to give 100% all the time. When the other person is having a bad day, when they mess up, or when they’re just not all their, then we have to step up, take up the slack, and keep going, to forgive and forget, because that’s what Jesus did for us. Just like we read in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
This is what we celebrate in every Mass, the great act of God’s love for us, the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Every time we eat His flesh and drink His blood in the Most Holy Eucharist we are filled anew with the love of God and strengthened to live in His love. That is what it means that “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love.” Just as Christ gave His life for us, we are called to give our lives for one another.
Yesterday, Tuesday, May 1, was the memorial of St. Joseph the Worker, the less well known of St. Joseph’s two feast days, the first being the Solemnity of St. Joseph the Husband of Mary. It reminded me of a talk I heard given by Mike Rowe who was the host of the TB V show “Dirty Jobs.” The talk was titled, “Don’t Follow Your Passion.” The common advice given to young people who are heading to college or looking for their future careers is to “follow your passion” and “if you love what you do you won’t work a day in your life.” Mike Rowe helps bring us back to the real world. Every job or career will have things that you love and things that you hate, parts of it will be tedious and parts exciting, some of it will be boring and some will be interesting. Plus, what you’re passionate about might not make a good career. Mike Rowe encourages people to find something that needs to be done, that’s in demand, and that no one else is doing, and become passionate about that.
We encourage people to find a job that they love, but the reality is that most people in the US and in the world have to take any job they can get so they can put bread on the table. So, how do we become passionate about what we’re doing and what does this have to do with St. Joseph? The Church takes the opportunity of the memorial of St. Joseph the Worker to remind us that work isn’t just a burden that we must bear but is also a gift from God. Through the work that we do we build up our community, we build up our families, and we build up our selves. As Jesus says, “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work” (Jn 5:17). God is at work, and God invites us to participate in His work. Find what is good in your work and thank God for letting you contribute something good to the world. As Dr. Martin Luther King said in one of his speeches, “Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. Even if it does not fall in the category of one of the so-called big professions, do it well. As one college president said, ‘A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.’ If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, like Shakespeare wrote poetry, like Beethoven composed music; sweep streets so well that all the host of Heaven and earth will have to pause and say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper, who swept his job well.’”
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.