Wednesday, July 31 is the Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the 463 anniversary of his death. St. Ignatius was born in 1491 to the Spanish nobility. He served as a page in the court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella before joining the army. He lived a life dedicated to feats of arms and worldly glory. In 1521 he was injured at the siege of Pampeluna and taken to a monastery to heal. During his recuperation he had a lot of time to reflect and to read, but the only books they had were a life of Christ by Ludolph the Carthusian and a collection of biographies of the saints. He especially reflected on the biography of St. Francis of Assisi and began to feel a desire to do what St. Francis did and leave everything behind, dedicate His life entirely to Christ, and work for the renewal of the Church. However, his thoughts would often also turn back to his former worldly pursuits. Reflecting on these things he realized that worldly glory left him dry and depressed, and so he dedicated His life to the glory of God.
When he left there he took a vow of chastity, hung up his sword before the altar of the Virgin of Montserrat, donned a pilgrim’s robes, and became a hermit for several years to learn how to live a Christian life. In 1523 he left for the Holy Land to convert Muslims, and in 1528 he began studying theology, graduating in 1534. At the University of Paris he began to gather others around himself, like Blessed Peter Faber and St. Francis Xavier, and eventually founded the Society of Jesus. The Society of Jesus, known as the Jesuits, were dedicated to the service of the Pope and the Church and to bringing protestants to conversion.
The motto of the Society of Jesus is Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam, “Greater Glory to God.” St. Ignatius explained the meaning of this motto by pointing out that we are always obligated to choose good instead of bad and virtue instead of vice. This is a basic part of Christianity. However, sometimes there are multiple good options for how to act, so how do we choose between them? St. Ignatius said that we should always choose the action that gives greater glory to God. This isn’t about what we are obligated to do, but about becoming a saint. We shouldn’t be satisfied with mediocrity but should always strive for greatness. Ultimately, though, worldly greatness will fade away and be forgotten, and you can’t take it with you into the afterlife. In the end even the tombs and mausoleums will turn to dust, but God’s glory is eternal, without beginning or end.
Do you want glory? Then strive to achieve the only type of glory that will matter in the end: the glory of God that the saints share in heaven.
Fr. Bryan Howard
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 28 July 2019
The force of our readings today is that we have been made members of the family of God through the grace of the Holy Spirit which we have received by being baptized into the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We take it for granted that God is our Father and we are His children, adoptive brothers and sisters of Jesus, but that is actually a revolutionary idea. The Jewish people think of Israel as a whole as a child of God, but the only individual in the Old Testament to be called a Son of God was King Solomon. The Muslims consider it blasphemy to call God Father. They consider themselves servants or slaves of God. In most of our most common prayers we call God Father: I believe in God the Father Almighty, Glory be to the Father, and Our Father who art in heaven.
We know that God is our Father and we are His children, but we don’t always act like it. We bargain with God, make deals with Him, we think that we need to buy our way into God’s family by being “good people,” You cannot earn heaven; there isn’t enough gold in the world to buy eternal life. You didn’t earn your place in your human family, you were born into it as a baby, and, no matter what you do, even if your actions cause you to be separated from the family, they are still your family, and, ideally, you can be forgiven if you truly repent and change your way of life. It’s the same with God’s family. You are born into it, often as a baby, through baptism, which Jesus calls being born from above. You can’t stop being a part of God’s family, the Church, but your actions can cause you to be separated from it, but forgiveness is always available for those who repent and pledge to change their lives. The “Our Father” isn’t just a prayer, it’s an expression of trust in “Our Father.”
In the Mass, at the prayer of consecration over the chalice, the priest says, “Take this, all of you, and drink of it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the New and Eternal Covenant.” The covenant is one of the most important ideas for understanding what it means to be a Christian. A covenant is a holy, family bond that is sealed by making a sacrifice of blood and taking an oath. Unfortunately, we usually treat the New Covenant as a type of contract. They are both agreements between people which are sealed by a promise and have consequences if they’re broken.
The most common covenant we enter is marriage, where two people who are unrelated go before God, take oaths, and become family and from that point on they share their lives with one another. So, a contract is about the exchange of goods and services; a covenant is about sharing life. A contract is for a limited time; a covenant is for an unlimited time, until death. A contract is sealed by invoking my own name; a covenant is sealed by invoking God’s name, because we recognize that we need God’s help to keep our promises.
At our baptisms the Holy Spirit entered our souls, making us Temples of the Holy Trinity, because God Himself came to live in us. As we sang before reading the Gospel, “You have received a Spirit of adoption, through which we cry, Abba, Father.” There’s nothing we can do to buy our way into God’s family; it’s a totally free and unearned gift, a grace, as it were. However, now that we’re in God’s family, we are expected to live as members of God’s family. St. Paul writes earlier in the same letter that we just heard from, “So, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in him, rooted in him and built upon him and established in the faith as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” The Holy Spirit gives us the power that we need to keep God’s commandments, but we still need to actually walk in them, to walk in Christ.
How do we know what we should do? Take Jesus Himself as your example. Form your conscience by studying the Word of God in the Bible and by keeping the traditions of the Church. In the traditions of the Church and the lives of the saints, we see the Wisdom of God as it has actually been lived out in real lives over the course of two millennia. There is a lot of wisdom there, and we can make it our own.
Finally, what happens when we inevitably break God’s commandments and commit sins? We sometimes presume on God’s mercy by assuming that He will forgive us, which is disrespectful of God. We also sometimes underestimate God’s mercy and love, by thinking that our sins are too terrible or that we are unforgivable. Read our first reading again. God is eager to show mercy, but we have to want to be forgiven, and for that we need to admit that we’re wrong and that we’ve sinned. If Jesus could look down from the Cross at the very people who put Him there, the Roman legionaries, and pray for the Father to forgive them, then He can certainly forgive us. His heart was pierced on the Cross for our forgiveness, so let us not harden our hearts but break them open in the Confessional and allow God to remake them, to recreate us, in His compassion. The Most Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Confession are the Sacraments par excellence of God’s mercy, because it was through the shedding of His blood that the life of God was poured out for us, and through Confession the Divine life that was lost in sin is restored to our souls. Our Heavenly Father is a father who knows how to give good gifts to His children; let us learn to eagerly await those gifts.
Fr. Bryan Howard
16thSunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C – 21 July 2019
Psalm 15, today’s Responsorial Psalm, begins by asking the question, “O Lord, who will dwell in your tabernacle? Who will rest on your holy mountain?” Which is another way of asking, “How do we grow closer to God? How do we get to heaven?” The answer, walk blamelessly, do justice, know the truth in your heart, do not slander or harm your neighbor, despise sin but honor those who fear the Lord. That is, the holy and righteous man who follows the Law of God in loving God and neighbor will be taken up to heaven. Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of Psalm 15, because He is the only perfectly righteous man who never sinned and always followed God’s will.
We, on the other hand, often fall short of that ideal, but we should never give up. Instead, we should strive to grow closer to that ideal, the example that Jesus gives us, each day of our lives. To do that we need to train ourselves, as a craftsman has to train in their craft, or an artist at their art, or an athlete at their sport. Baseball players have to train not only to hit, catch, and throw, but to keep their bodies in good physical condition. We have to train ourselves spiritually to keep our souls in good spiritual condition so that we can more easily love God and neighbor in those challenging circumstances, like when we’re tempted to sin, stressed out and irritated, or enduring some form of suffering.
Christian training comes in two forms: active and passive, prayers and works of charity. There are different religious orders in the Church which focus on one or the other of these. The Missionaries of Charity, founded by St. Teresa of Calcutta, focus on acts of charity by looking for the poorest of the poor, the most needy, and those who are very sick, and caring for their needs. They give up worldly pleasure and live lives of poverty so that they can better care for the poor. I saw a video once of Mother Teresa touring a building they were turning into a convent for her nuns, and she told them to take out the hot water heater because they wouldn’t be needing it. However, you can’t take it all the way to the extreme. Even the Missionaries of Charity begin every day with an hour of adoration of the Eucharist and pray throughout the day.
On the other side there are cloistered orders of nuns and monks, like the Carthusian monks and the Carmelite nuns, who separate themselves from the world to dedicate themselves entirely to prayer. They take a vow of stability, meaning that they will stay in the monastery for the rest of their lives, leaving at the most once or twice a year, and some of them never leaving it at all. They dedicate many hours of their days to prayer, reading the Bible, and spiritual reading. Once again, though, there must be a balance, and they always have some kind of outreach to the surrounding community, often by leading retreats, running a school, or welcoming visitors. St. Joseph Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Covington, has the Pennies for Bread program. The monks bake 2,000 loaves of homemade bread every week and some friends of the Abbey deliver it to charities who distribute it to the poor.
These two aspects of spiritual training, prayer and works of charity, are seen in today’s Gospel through Martha and Mary. Martha gets upset with Mary because she’s not helping her with serving their guests and asks Jesus to tell her to help. Martha represents the active life of works of charity, while Mary represents the life of contemplative prayer. Jesus responds to Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”The whole point is to grow closer to Jesus, and so the first, and only truly necessary thing is to keep our eyes fixed on Him. Prayer is the one thing that is necessary because, when it’s done right, prayer leads us closer to Jesus and causes us to grow in love. Prayer leads to charity. If we put the work first, then we’re bound to get it wrong, to mix up our priorities like Martha did.
Prayer helps us to focus on Jesus, to keep our eyes fixed on Him and to listen to His words in the Bible. However, prayer that only stays in the mind isn’t really doing anything, is it? Our prayers should lead us to grow in love, which will make us want to help those around us who are in need, following the example that Jesus set for us. So, I want to challenge everyone to set aside some time every day, even just 15 minutes, as time dedicated to God. Pray the rosary, or read a passage of the Bible, or do some other devotion. For me, the best time to pray is in the morning before I’m distracted by all the business of the day. If I wait until the evening I usually don’t do it at all. However, I do know some people who just aren’t morning people and prefer to pray in the evening, but it does take more willpower to do it that way. But, whenever and however you pray, end your prayer by thinking of one, concrete thing you can do to put that prayer into action that day.
In that way, through both prayer and acts of charity, we can climb the mountain of the Lord and come to rest in His heavenly Temple and, in the words of St. Paul from our second reading, may be presented to God “perfect in Christ Jesus.”
Everything about the Mass means something, and that includes the building that we celebrate the Mass in. Basic church architecture comes from the ancient period, especially during the 4th century after Christianity was legalized, and it was refined during the High Middle Ages. They tried to design the Church to speak to us of the faith and teach us about God just by seeing it.
First, the Church buildings represents the Church itself. Of course, the Church is more than a buildings or a charitable organization. The Church is the body of Christ, with Jesus Christ as the head of the Church and we, the faithful on earth, along with the souls in purgatory and the saints in heaven, are the members which make up the body. In a Church building the sanctuary, where the altar, celebrant’s chair (cathedra), and tabernacle are is the head and represents Jesus. The altar is connected to Jesus because it is on the altar that the Eucharist, the Real Presence of Christ, is offered to God the Father. The celebrant represents Jesus because He presides over the Mass in persona Christi, in the person of Christ, by using Jesus’ words and actions at the Last Supper to offer the sacrifice of the Mass. The tabernacle, of course, holds the Eucharist, which is the presence of Jesus Himself. The nave of the Church represents the body of Christ, including us on earth, the angels, and the saints. The nave has the pews and is where the people gather to attend Mass. It also usually has images of the saints in stained glass windows and as statues. If you look at an image of a Medieval Church you’ll see that it even has arms, like a body.
The Church also represents heaven and earth. This goes all the way back to Solomon’s Temple. The Sanctuary of the Temple was decorated with angels and represented heaven, while the rest of the Temple was decorated with gardens and animals representing the Earth. In a Catholic Church the sanctuary is where Jesus is, where the offering takes place, and is often decorated with angels, like St. Louis Cathedral downtown. The nave represents earth and is where we are gathered for the Mass. During Mass we look towards the sanctuary, just like we ought to have our eyes fixed on heaven. When it’s time to receive Communion the priest and ministers bring the Eucharist down to the nave, symbolizing the Incarnation, when Jesus came down from heaven to earth, and the people go up towards the Sanctuary, showing that heaven is our final destination. That point where the sanctuary and nave meet, where the altar rail would be in a traditional Church, represents the meeting of heaven and earth both in the person of Jesus Christ and in the Mass.
Whenever I go into a Church for the first time, I pay the most attention to the tabernacle, the altar, the stained glass windows, and the stations of the Cross. Look around in churches, look at the details, designs, and artwork in the Church, and ask how this Church is pointing us towards heaven.
The schedule for the Fall Bible Study is now up. On September 11, at 6:30 PM, we'll start going through the book of Exodus, beginning with the enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt. The way God interacts with His people to free them both politically and spiritually can help us learn how God wants to free us from everything that separates us from Him.
We'll meet twice a month in September, October, and November, and once in December. On the two nights that I'll be out of town, we'll show episodes from Bishop Robert Barron's video series, Catholicism.
Download or print the schedule HERE.
Fr. Bryan Recommends
The iPieta app
Not too long ago the average Catholic would have had a family bible in their home, possibly a copy of the Baltimore Catechism, and maybe a book on the lives of the saints, the life of Christ, or a similar spiritual topic, and many people would not have even had that. If you wanted to study the faith in more depths, you had to rely on your priest or what few resources you could get your hands on. Today, with the advent of the internet, we all have access to Catholic writings, videos, and materials at every level, from beginner to doctorate, but how do we know what to trust or where to look?
One of the very best Catholic resources available is the iPieta app for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, and it’s completely free (although it does take up quite a bit of space). The app has four sections, Bible, Calendar, Prayer, and Veritas.
The Bible section has the entire Bible in English, Latin, Spanish, French, German, and more. The English translation is the Douay-Rheims Version, which is the traditional English version of the Bible. The language is a bit old fashioned, since the last version was from the 1800s, but it’s a very accurate translation, and it’s very nice to have the entire Bible on your phone or tablet.
The Calendar section has the liturgical calendar on it. If you’re wondering if today is the feast of a particular saint, or what weekday Christmas will fall on this year, you can find it in the calendar all the way out to 2050! It also has the readings for the day, which is very good if you want to pray with the readings for next Sunday ahead of time to prepare spiritually for Mass. Just remember, even though it’s the same readings, it’s not the same translation that we use in Mass.
The Prayer section has literally hundreds of prayers for all kinds of different circumstances. It has prayers to Jesus, prayers to the Holy Spirit, prayers for consecration, for the Blessed Virgin, the angels, and the saints, prayers to ask for blessings, and prayers for the Eucharist. It has the Mysteries and prayers of the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, other novenas, and more.
The Veritas Section is perhaps the most impressive of all, because it contains an entire Catholic library. It has the entire 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia, the Baltimore Catechism, Butler’s Lives of the Saints, hundreds of official writings of the Popes and Church councils, Bible commentaries, writings of the Fathers of the Church, like St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, and St. John Chrysostom, and dozens of spiritual books by saints and spiritual masters.
When I downloaded it about 10 years ago, I thought paying $2.99 was a pretty darn good deal for all of that, but, now you can download it for free. If you have a smart phone it’d be silly not to get it.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.