Fr. Bryan Howard
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – 22 August 2021
As Christians we know that the foundation of civilization, culture, and society, what makes and builds up communities, is the family. There are a lot of impulses in American society right now that attack the very foundation of the family, and that affect each one of our families. There’s the desire to individual autonomy, which means not having to answer to anyone else or be responsible for anyone else. We see this in the way that families can become like people who happen to live under the same roof, each one having their own life, never eating together or even sitting down to talk and spend time with each other. Another danger for families is consumerism, which is the desire to have more and more things, so that things start to become the center of our lives instead of people. Another danger is the tendency to see disagreeing with what I believe as an attack on my person, which leads to us vilifying people, even family members. Have you noticed how everyone is Hitler, now?
Not everything is doom and gloom, of course, and there’s always hope. Everything I just mentioned is big cultural phenomena, but when I look at particular families I inevitably find reason to hope. The Christian view sees the family as the school of faith and the school of love. Where do we learn about God’s love for us? God loves us unconditionally, He never takes back His love, no matter what we do, and He wants the good for us; He wants to help us become whom we are meant to be. We first experience this type of love in the family. Love isn’t something that we’re born with; it’s something that we learn. In the family we learn to share, to share our toys, our candy bar, our chores, our problems and our successes. We learn that people are more important that objects. We learn to forgive and to ask for forgiveness. Our family is where we learn to pray, to bring our problems to God, and to thank Him for our blessings. When we see our parents make God a priority in their lives by setting aside time for Church and individual prayer and making time to pray as a family, that tells us that God is worth taking time for.
Parents, you are responsible for your children, who are the future of our society. They are the future Christians and future Americans. Your success or failure as parents affects their lives, their children, and their children’s children, for generations. You can impact hundreds, if not thousands, of people for the better and for the worse. Don’t outsource your responsibility to anyone, not to the government, a school, or even the Church. Study after study shows that children whose parents are involved in their education do better in school and in life. Likewise, children whose parents take them to Church weekly, especially the Father, are more likely to keep the faith and pass it on to their children. There simply is no substitute for mom and dad.
So, husbands and wives, if you want to make a strong and stable home for your children, then you have to strengthen your marriage. The best thing you can do for your children is to love your spouse. In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul lays out the Biblical view of marriage, which Dr. Scott Hahn summarizes in this way, “Paul sees marriage as a loving partnership between spouses of equal dignity.” The model for your marriage is the love that Christ showed for the Church when He gave His life for her.
St. Paul begins, “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Marriage isn’t supposed to be a dominance hierarchy or a competition to see who will wear the pants in the relationship, but a partnership where each one acts for the good of the other out of love. When you enter the sacrament of Matrimony, then living a holy marriage is your path to heaven. Marriage is called a sacrament of service, because you don’t get married for yourself, but out of love for your spouse, and therefore both husband and wife are called to serve one another. St. Paul compares the wife to the Church and the husband to Christ, because their relationship should look like the love Christ has for the Church and the Church has for Christ. Does Christ dominate the Church as a tyrant? No, He gives His life to exalt the Church and glorify her. Does the Church try to use Christ for her own ends? No, the Church glorifies Christ and seeks to grow in union with Him. So, husbands and wives shouldn’t try to dominate one another or use one another, but to grow in union through loving service of one another in a partnership of life.
The Biblical vision of marriage isn’t just difficult, it’s humanly impossible. That’s why our marriages and families, as important as the are, aren’t the highest good. Every family needs to be directed towards Christ. How can you love one another as Christ has loved us unless you first receive His love yourself? Therefore, the most important thing that a family can do for one another, is to come to Church together, as a family, to approach the altar as a family, and to receive the ultimate sacrament of Christ’s love, the sacrament of Christ’s death and Resurrection in the Most Holy Eucharist.
The year of the Lord 1917 was perhaps one of the most consequential years in human history, and the events of this year have affected the history of the world ever since. The so-called “Great War,” World War I, was in its third year and had already costs millions of lives (by the end costing about 16 million dead and another 24 million wounded). The United States had entered the war early in April of 1917 in response to Germany’s practice of unrestricted submarine warfare, which lead to the death of American civilians. Austria, under the newly corronated Emperor Charles, was trying to reach a peace agreement with the Entente powers through secret negotiations. All of the countries involved in the war were approaching the breaking point.
Russia reached the breaking point first. Czar Nicholas II had releaved Grand Duke Nicholas of command of the army and gone to the front to take command personally. Unforturnately, the government left behind were as ineffective as they were incompetent. In March food shortages in Petrograd and Moscow lead to riots. The first shots were fired in Petrograd as soldiers were ordered in to disperse the crowds, but the soldiers were starving, too, and they didn’t want to fire on civillians who just wanted food. More and more soldiers and even entire units went over to the rioters side, which soon became a revolution. Within days the Czarist governement fell, Czar Nicholas abdicated, and the struggle for the fate of Russia commenced. Almost no one was fighting to keep the old emperial system. Some wanted to form a new, representative government as a democratic or republican model. Others, like the socialists and Marxists, wanted to go further. In the midst of it all, three key figures leapt into the fight: from New York City, Leon Trotsky boarded a ship for Russia, from Siberia, Joseph Stalin returned from political exile, and in Zurich, where he’d been planning for revolution for years, Vladimir Lenin realized this was the opportunity to put his plans into action.
World War I began because of grudges and national hatreds both ancient and recent. People in every country wanted peace, and nearly everyone wanted the war to end, but no one could stand the thought of giving in and letting the horific sacrifices and suffering of three years of war be for nothing, but they would be for nothing. There were no true victors in the Great War; there were those who lost, and those who lost more. Nearly everyone person, every family in Europe lost someone in the war. Their culture and civilizations were torn apart, and it would all start over in just a few decades. Meanwhile, the revolution in Russia would lead to the rise of the Soviet Union, a dark cloud settling over every nation under its influence, and decades of Cold War.
While it is true that Satan never tires of feeding the fires of hatred, it’s also true that the Lord never abandons His people. As St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “Where sin abounded, grace did more abound.” Pope Benedict XV called for an end to the war and death. Since appeals to the leaders and kings of Europe had failed, he launched a prayer campaign in Holy Week of 1915, saying, “Thou Who didst shed Thy Precious Blood that they might live as brothers, bring men together once more in loving harmony. And as once before the cry of the Apostle Peter: Save us, Lord, we perish, Thou didst answer with words of mercy and didst still the raging waves, so now deign to hear our trustful prayer, and give back to the world peace and tranquility. And do thou, O most holy Virgin, as in other times of sore distress, be noew our help, our protection and our safeguard.” Then, on May 5, of 1917, he directed the Christian world to pray for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, writing, “To Mary, then, who is the Mother of Mercy and omnipotent by grace, let loving and decout appeal go up from every corner of earth... Let it bear to her the anguished cry of mothers and wives, the wailing of innocent little ones, the sighs of every generous heart: that her most tender and benign dolicitude may be moved and the peace we ask for be obtained for our agitated world.” 8 days later, on the 13thof May, 1917, as war and revolution raged on, in a field outside the little town of Fatima, Portugal, to three children, Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco, she came herself, the Queen of Peace, to deliver a message of peace.
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. – Exodus 20:7
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about the Second Commandment, “Among all the words of Revelation, there is one which is unique: the revealed name of God. God confides his name to those who believe in him; he reveals himself to them in his personal mystery. The gift of a name belongs to the order of trust and intimacy. ‘The Lord’s name is holy.’ For this reason man must not abuse it. He must keep it in mind in silent, loving adoration. He will not introduce it into his own speech except to bless, praise, and glorify it” (CCC 2143). The Commandment is phrased as a prohibition against disrespecting God’s holy name, but that is because we have a deeper responsibility to respect God, and showing respect for God’s name shows respect for God Himself and teaches us to respect Him in other ways.
We typically think it’s just about not using curse words or foul language, but that’s not really what it’s about. It can be sinful to curse someone or use foul language to attack another person, but the greater sin is in actually taking the Lord’s name in vain. Unfortunately, for many people the only time they ever say God’s name is when they stub their toe on the dresser or get stuck in traffic. To take the Lord’s name in vain is to use it uselessly and without purpose. It could also mean to make a vow or promise to God, thus “taking the Lord’s name,” and then go back on our promise or never intend to keep it in the first place. Possibly the most serious sin against the second commandment is blasphemy, which is speaking words of hatred against God and the things of God, such as the saints or sacred images, using God’s name to cover up a crime or to aid in committing a crime. This isn’t just a little sin, like we usually treat it; it’s a very serious sin, and perhaps even a mortal sin, depending on the circumstances, because it’s an offense directly against God Himself.
Every time we take the Lord’s name in vain we train ourselves to disrespect God. How can we learn to respect God in other matters if we can’t even respect His name? As the Lord said, “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in that which is greater” (Lk 16:10). The opposite is also true; if we always use the Lord’s name in with reverence, we can teach ourselves to have reverence for God in other things as well. So, how should we use the Lord’s name? As the Catechism said, we should use His name to bless, praise, and glorify God, and to preach and catechize, which teach other people to respect God as well. How can we expect people to believe that we love God and believe in Him if we’re always disrespecting his name?
As Christians, we take the name of Christ, and in Baptism we actually take a Christian name. Our name isn’t just a word, it expresses who we are and who we want to be. This is why the Church asks people not to give their children names that are not “foreign to Christian sensibility” (Code of Canon Law, 855), although the Church would prefer parents give their children Christian names, names of saints or related to Christian mysteries, the Church only requires that the name not be offensive to the faith. This also gives a convert the opportunity to change their name, in the eyes of the Church if not legally, to show that they have begun a new life in Christ. Parents take many things into consideration when naming their children, and I would encourage you to consider a saint name, virtue, or mystery in the life of Christ that reflects the eternal life that you wish for your child.
The First Commandment is this, “I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me. Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth. Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them” (Exodus 20:2-5).
God begins by reminding the Israelites that He brought them out of slavery in Egypt, which had just happened about two months before. It’s a requirement of justice to worship God, because we owe Him worship. The Lord God created us from nothing, holds us in existence, revealed Himself to us, sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem us, and gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit to sanctify us. If the Lord truly is God, then we owe Him, and Him alone, worship. We rightly revere, or honor, the saints and angels, and we give higher honor to the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, because God Himself has honored her (Lk 1:48); however, we reserve worship for God alone.
If we can’t be completely sure that the Lord is God or if there is some other god or if there are many gods or no gods, then doesn’t it make sense to give reverence to all of the possible gods? The Lord, however, commands us otherwise. We are not to serve any other god, because the Lord alone is God. We should try to find the truth and then live in accord with the truth. Elijah said to the Israelites, “How long do you halt between two sides? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). We have to make a choice, and even refusing to choose is making a choice.
Who or what we choose to worship affects our lives. The ancients had different gods and goddesses for different purposes. The goddess Athena was associated with wisdom, and was the patron of Athens, the home of philosophy. Jupiter, the god of the sky and lightning, was the head of the Roman pantheon, and so was the patron of the city of Rome, capital of the Roman Empire. There aren’t too many people today who still believe in Thor, Athena, or Baal, but we still tend to worship things that we feel are the most important, like money, fame, or security. In the end, when we choose our own gods we end up worshipping only ourselves and what we hold to be the most important, but “to adore God is to acknowledge, in respect and absolute submission, the ‘nothingness of the creature’ who would not exist but for God. To adore God is to praise and exalt him and to humble oneself, as Mary did in the Magnificat, confessing with gratitude that he has done great things and holy is his name. The worship of the one God sets man free from turning in on himself, from the slavery of sin and the idolatry of the world” (CCC 2097).
Sins against the first commandment include superstition, idolatry, and irreligion. Superstition is, in a way, an excess of piety, where we begin to think of religious acts as in some way magical, which is to think that prayers or religious acts work merely because of the action instead of the interior disposition of love of God. If St. James said that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26), we might also say that works without faith is dead. Irreligion is, in a way, the opposite extreme. It is a lack of piety and respect for God and religion and treating disrespectfully the sacraments and holy things. For example, simony is the sin of trying to purchase grace or blessings, and sacrilege is the sin of profaning a blessed or holy object, such as the Eucharist. Idolatry is misdirected religion by giving to something other than God the worship that belongs to God alone. Catholics are often accused of idolatry for using statues and holy images. If we use images, even images of Christ Himself, as if they are Christ, then we would be guilty of idolatry, but we can use images in a good way when they make us think of spiritual things or remind us of the presence of God.
Finally, for many centuries Christians have debated whether it is allowed to make any images at all, of God, angels, saints, or any living creatures. The Old Testament definitely forbids make images of God, but it allows, and even commands, in some cases, the Israelites to make other images, as long as they aren’t worshipped as gods. For example, the Lord commands Moses to make images of two cherubim (angels) for the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, in Exodus 25:18, and He commands Moses to make a brazen serpent for the people to look at and be cured of their snake bites in Numbers 21:8. We are able to make images of the Lord because Jesus, the Son of God, took on a human form in the incarnation. The Church approved of the creation of images of Christ, Mary, and the angels and saints, so long as “the honor paid to images is a ‘respectful veneration,’ not the adoration due to God alone,” and leads us on to the worship of God in Himself (CCC 2132).
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.