Fr. Bryan Howard
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – 30 September 2018
Today is the memorial of Saints Victor and Urban. Victor and Urban were Roman legionaries. A Roman Legion was a Roman army consisting of 6,600 soldiers. This particular legion was recruited from Egypt, every member was Christian, ad every member is today considered a saint, even though we only know the names of 17 of them. They are called the Theban Legion. Around the year 287 AD, Emperor Maximian lead an army, including the Theban Legion, to suppress a rebellion in modern day France. Part of the preparation for battle was to offer sacrifices to the gods asking for victory, but the Theban Legion refused. The Emperor ordered all of them to be executed. These 6,600 legionaries, including Saints Victor and Urban, gave an example of faith, hope, and love that is still speaking to us today.
Giving an example is important because it is the highest form of teaching. You can try to teach someone the highest and most revered principles and values but if you don’t strive to live them, then your words don’t mean anything, because your very live is speaking a different message. Of course, we all consider martyrdom to be the highest example you can give, because it means that you consider this thing to be more valuable than even your own life. For a Catholic, a martyr is someone who shows that they are ready to accept death out of love for God and who is killed out of hatred for the faith. This is what the members of the Theban Legion did.
We also talk about White Martyrdom. If dying for the faith is the definition of red martyrdom, then white martyrdom means to live the faith in a heroic way in love of God and neighbor. Think of saints like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, St. Padre Pio, and St. Louis IX, King of France. They didn’t die for the faith, but they certainly lived it heroically.
If giving an example is so important, then we should pay close attention to Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel, “Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I way to you, will surely not lose his reward. Whoever causes one of these little one who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to go into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’”
I’ve quotes this section at length to emphasize the words of Jesus. When we use the words scandal we’re usually talking about some celebrity who did something outrageous and ended up on the cover of some tabloid. When the Church talks about scandal, we mean doing something that gives a negative example, and therefore leading someone else into sin. Jesus doesn’t mean that you should literally cut off your hands and feet and pluck out your eyes. In fact, the Church considers self-mutilation to be a serious sin. No, Jesus means that you should cut out of your life anything that leads you away from love. Love of God and neighbor is the highest law, therefore, sin is anything that’s against love. The highest act of love is to give your life, as Jesus Himself said, “Greater love than this has no man, to lay down your life for your friend.” That’s just what Jesus Himself did on the Cross. He didn’t have to die; He’s God. He chose to allow Himself to be killed to give us an example, a witness of the love of God, and to show us that God loves us so much that He came down to be with us and even to give His life for us.
Sts. Victor and Urban and their companions gave an example of love in willingly giving their lives for God. Soldiers, first responders, and many other people give us an example of love by putting themselves in harm’s way for other people. They don’t do it because they want to die, but because they love. You may never get the opportunity to lay down your life for love of God or neighbor, but you have an opportunity every day every day to show God’s love in the way you treat the people around you.
When you come up to receive the Eucharist remember that the Eucharist is the memorial of the Cross. In it are all of the graces that Christ won for us on the Cross, and those are the graces that God greatly desires to pour out into your soul. Ask God for the strength to give a good and holy example, not for your own glory or so your name is remembered hundreds of years from now, but for the greater glory of God and out of love for Him and for all of His children, both those here on earth and those already in heaven.
St. Victor, pray for us.
St. Urban, pray for us.
All you holy men and women, pray for us.
The Our Lady of Lourdes Oyster Festival began over 30 years ago as a sort of parish picnic. It was held in the strip of land across the street from the old Church on St. Bernard Highway, and some of the people who helped put on the Oyster Festival then are still working on it now. Over the years, it’s grown into a very nice festival, with seafood and Cajun food, raw and grilled oysters, good music, and rides and games. However, it’s also grown as an important part of Our Lady of Lourdes Church and St. Bernard Parish.
It’s always been an important community function and fund raiser for our Church, but it’s as important today as ever. First of all, because many of our parishioners, as you well know, were scattered to the four winds by hurricane Katrina and her aftermath. Many of those people have returned, but many have put down roots in their new homes. We should be glad to see so many of those old friends return to join us in our festival, but we should also remember that we also have many new faces. Many people, especially young families, drawn by the relatively cheap land prices and growing job market, and by the atmosphere of St. Bernard Parish, have joined our community, and the Oyster Festival is a way to welcome them, get to know them, and integrate them into our Church family.
The other reason why the Oyster Festival is so important to us is that it’s helping us to pay for our new Parish Community Center and reception hall. The new building has been a great benefit to the Our Lady of Lourdes. It helps the office to function more efficiently, allows us to improve the programs we offer, like the Parish School of Religion, and offer new programs, like the Bible Study, and allows us to have parish socials, like the Luau Dance. We were able to pay for half of the cost of the building with money saved during Fr. Luke’s time here and we borrowed the rest from the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Most of our annual payment on that debt comes from the Oyster Festival.
A great way to help the parish and to grow closer to the community is to help the Oyster Festival. First, you can help by telling people about it, especially family and friends who’ve moved out of the Parish, and invite them to attend. Many of you already help by donating supplies monthly, which saves us a lot of money and time. You can also help by volunteering. We currently need volunteers to help with set up and clean up, selling food tickets, working in the various food and game booths, and many other things. If you’re interested in helping, please contact the parish office. Finally, you can help by coming to the fair and having a good time. The food really is excellent, and the people are even better.
Fr. Bryan Howard
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – 23 September 2018
Probably one of the most common prayers that people have is for peace on earth. All right thinking people desire peace, right? We don’t want to fight and argue and kill; we just want to get on with our lives. You see this even when you study military history. One of the great secrets of war is that most people can’t bring themselves to intentionally try to kill another person. In 1947, following World War II, the US military did a study and interviewed thousands of soldiers. They found that only about ¼ of front line soldiers even fired at the enemy and only about 2% aimed to intentionally kill. The rest, the other ¾ would fire over the enemy, or into the ground, or off to the side. Most soldiers just wanted the enemy to go away, a firing a gun in someone’s general direction is a very good way to encourage someone to go away. Similarly, 1% of fighter pilots account for about 50% of fighter kills, and the other 99% account for the other 50%. There are many firsthand accounts from throughout history of soldiers, perhaps on patrol, coming across a group of enemies, and the two groups shout insults at each other and maybe put down their weapons and throw sticks and rocks at each other until one group or the other goes away. The instinct for peace is a very strong human instinct. So, why is there so much war and violence in the world?
St. James explains, in his epistle, that wars come from our misplaced passions. He writes, “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?” It takes a very strong force to overcome our desire for peace, a force like anger, jealousy, greed, lust for power, or some other very strong passion. St. James tells us that these passions, when they are misplaced or disordered, can lead to conflict and war. He continues, “You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war.”
Entire wars are fought over these reasons. Most wars start over competition for resources, land, and power. Again, World War II is a good example. Part of the reason for the war was Hitler’s lust for power, but that wasn’t all of it. He had to convince most of Germany to go to war. He did that by stoking their anger from the aftermath of World War I, their jealousy, especially at the Jews, and their desire for more land and resources for Germany. He called it lebensraum, or growing space.
The same forces that are behind most of the wars in human history are inside each one of us. Most of the conflicts, the arguments and fights, in our lives are caused by disordered passions. Think about some of the arguments and fights that you’ve been in, with your spouse or other family members or friends or ever strangers. How many of those can be traced back to anger, jealousy, or greed. One person wants something and they perceive the other person to be an obstacle to getting it. It can be as simple as a man coming home from work after a long day and all he wants is to sit down and relax and decompress, but maybe his wife’s been home alone all day and she really feels like she needs to talk. He gets annoyed that she’s won’t leave him alone, she gets annoyed that he isn’t listening, and pretty soon they’re fighting.
Here’s another scenario else that’s all too common. Someone in the family dies and it comes time to divide their stuff. How many times have arguments over inheritances divided families for years, and sometimes they never reconcile. Most of the time, if you talk with the two sides latter neither will think it was worth it, but they let the emotions of the moment get away from them.
We know that complete and lasting peace will only come when we’re in heaven. Our job now is to seek peace and strive to minimize conflict and violence in the world, starting with ourselves and in our own hearts and souls. Pray for peace, but also work for peace. In today’s Gospel we hear that the apostles were arguing about which one of them was the greatest. Jesus tells them, “’If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be last of all and the servant of all.’ Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, received not me but the One who sent me.’” Jesus calls us to give and not to take, to serve and not to desire to be served, to strive for innocence, not influence and power. No matter what you do, whether you’re a CEO of a company, a manager, an office worker, a factory worker, a farmer, a fisherman, a housewife, or a member of the clergy, Jesus is calling you to use that position and any authority you have to serve, and to serve especially those who are most in need. That is how we promote peace in the world, and that is how we live in the peace of Christ.
Every year the Church in the United States sets aside a day to celebrate the family, and this year is falls on today, September 23. It may seem a little strange to celebrate the family, which is something that we usually take for granted. The first thing is to remember that not everyone has a family, and that not everyone who does appreciates them. There are many people in the world who not only struggle with feelings of loneliness, but who truly have no one to rely on. Today we thank God for the families that He’s given us. We thank God for our biological families or the families that we grew up in, whether that was a step-family, foster-family, or an orphanage.
It’s in the family that our faith is shared, strengthened, and past down from one generation to the next. Sometimes people expect the Church, or the Catholic school system, to pass on the faith to their children, and these institutions do have a role in that. However, the influence of Church and schools pales in comparison to the influence of a child’s parents and family. If the faith is not being practiced at home, then it probably won’t be passed on. This is why we call the family the domestic Church, meaning the Church in the home. We have to worship God at home, in how we pray together as a family, in the love we share with one another, and in sharing our blessings with those who are most in need.
We call the Church a family. We call God our Father, and the Church our mother, and the faithful our brothers and sisters in Christ. God is our Father because He gives us life when we are conceived and new life when we are baptized. The Church is our mother because she nourishes and raises us spiritually. We call all of the Christian faithful brother and sister because we are united to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, through the Holy Spirit. The grace of God through the Church can make us better, more loving members of our families, and the love of our families can make us better followers of Christ.
Next Week: Oyster Festival
Friday, September 14 was the Feast Day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and Saturday, September 15, the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. For most of the first 300 years of its existence, the Church was persecuted by the Roman Empire, among others, but that all ended in the year 313 AD with the Edict of Milan. The newly named Roman Emperor attributed his victory over his competitor to the help of Jesus Christ and legalized the practice of Christianity.
Historians disagree about the genuineness of Emperor Constantine’s faith, but few doubt the faith of his mother, St. Helena. St. Helena was the one who journeyed to the Holy Land to build Churches over the holy sites, such as the place where Jesus was born in Bethlehem and the site of the crucifixion. She recovered the relics of the true Cross from where it had been hidden and it was venerated in Jerusalem for over 300 years. In the 600s AD, when the Cross was taken from its place by the Persians, Emperor Heraclius recovered the Cross and had it brought to Rome. The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross was established to commemorate that event.
The Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows follows the next day because Our Blessed Mother was united to Christ in His life on earth, in His sufferings on the Cross, and is now with Him in heaven. These two feast days teach us the lesson of the Cross. This is a lesson of faith, hope, and charity. We must have faith because everyone suffers in this life. There is no way to completely avoid suffering. We must try to imitate the faith of Mary and unite our suffering to the suffering of Christ. In that way we are lifted up with Him, so that, as St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us” (Rm 8:18). Faith leads to hope, because we know that Christ overcame the sufferings of the Cross in His Resurrection on the third day, and, “if we be dead with Him, we shall also rise with Him” (2 Tim 2:11).
Faith and Hope lead to charity, because we know that Christ died for us, and, as He said to His apostles after He washed their feet, “For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also” (Jn 13:15). As Christ had compassion on us and came to free us from sin and death, so let us have compassion on one another and try to relieve their suffering.
Next Week: Family Day
The Second Vatican Council, held in Rome from 1962 to 1965, the Church called for all Catholics, not just priests and religious, to active participation at mass. This wasn’t a new thing, but the result of a liturgical movement stretching back about 100 years before Vatican II. It was this movement that encouraged people to be more engaged with the Mass. They encouraged music in the Mass that people could sing, which resulted in a renewal of Gregorian Chant, which is easy enough that most people can sing along with it, beautiful enough to lift our hearts and souls to God, and has a long history in the Church. Often, in the old form of the Mass, many people would pray their rosary or other prayers while the Mass was going on, the Liturgical Movement encouraged people to follow along with the prayers of the Mass by buying Daily Missals, which have all the prayers and readings of the Mass. That’s why most church’s today have missalettes in the pews.
When Vatican II called for active participation in the Mass, this is the history they were thinking of. The bishops at the Council had all been brought up in this movement. They saw that many people were taking the Mass for granted and thought the solution was to be more actively engaged in the Mass. So, while it’s very good, and a big help, for people to be involved in the Mass by doing the readings, being an altar server, usher, or member of the choir, or helping distribute Communion, even people who aren’t doing that can actively participate by engaging their mind, heart, and soul.
So, I want to encourage everyone to pay attention to the readings, listen to the homily, and pray along with the prayers of the Mass. Just like the priest offers the Mass for a specific intention, every time you go to Mass you can offer that Mass for a specific intention. After Mass, spend a moment in prayer thanking God for the Mass and thinking about one think that God wants you to take home with you. Don’t be upset or surprised if you get distracted in Mass, it happens to everyone. Just gently turn your attention back to the Lord. Every time you do you’re telling Jesus that you’d rather spend time with Him than think about whatever was distracting you. The problem isn’t when you’re distracted 100 times during Mass, it’s when you’re distracted once and it lasts the entire time.
Next Week: Exaltation of the Cross and Our Lady of Sorrows
Fr. Bryan Howard
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – 2 September 2018
Throughout the Bible sin is compared with a disease, most often the disease of leprosy, and there are a lot of parallels between what diseases do to our bodies and what sin does to our soul, and about the strongest comparison I can make is with cancer. Cancer can take many forms, some that are easily treated and some that are deadly. Our chances of getting cancer can be increased by the way we live and the things are us. If we live in an unhealthy way or spend a lot of time around things like asbestos, then we have a much higher risk of getting cancer. Ultimately, though, cancer comes from inside us, from our cells mutating out of control. Similarly, our chance of falling into sin can be increased by surrounding ourselves with bad influences, but it comes from within, from our own free choice to do something that we know is wrong. That’s also where the main difference is. It’s impossible to sin on accident; it always starts with making a choice to pursue the bad instead of the good, wrong instead of right. As Jesus says in the Gospel, “From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”
When you get cancer, it doesn’t always make you sick immediately; it’ll start to spread from one tissue to another and one organ to another. Then, you’ll start to get weaker, to get sick, to feel the effects of the cancer, and if you don’t catch it early enough, it’s too late. Sin is often the same way. It pretends to be something good and to give us something good, like influence, power, wealth, or simply pleasure. That’s how it spreads, slowly taking over, unless we’re fighting against it. Then, we start to notice the effects. It starts in the will, as we find it harder and harder to control our choices and our desires. Then it affects our minds, our ability to reason, making it easier to make excuses for actions. Finally, we see the sin is not just broken rules, but broken lives and broken relationships, as sin will eventually damage or break our relationships with the people around us, with our family and friends, and with God.
Once you know that you have cancer, you have to treat it. First, you have to find out how far it’s spread, and once you know that, you can remove all of the infected tissue, either through radiation therapy or through surgery. If we want to be rid of our sins the first thing is to be honest with ourselves and admit the extent of the problem. This is what confession is for. People always ask, “Why do I have to confess my sins to a priest? Why can’t I just confess directly to God?” One reason is because, it usually doesn’t work. The Sacrament of Confession is given to us by God for the forgiveness of sins and it has the power not only to forgive our sins, but to strengthen us against them and begin to bring healing to our wounded souls. With cancer, the treatment isn’t finished until all of the cancer is gone, and even then, you have to keep track of it for the rest of your life to make sure it doesn’t come back. Well, we’ll never be completely rid of sin in this life. It’s a constant battle against it, but we can make progress and push it back, but only if we truly desire to be free of it.
Finally, as the saying goes, “ An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” With our physical health, there are certain things we do to combat a specific disease, and other things we do to just generally stay healthy. For example, you don’t need to take antibiotics unless you have an infection, but you always need to eat healthy and stay physically active. The same thing is true in the spiritual life. To stay spiritually healthy, that is to strengthen our relationship with God, we need to go to Mass and confession regularly, pray and fast, do spiritual reading (especially the Bible), and practice charity, as St. Paul says in our second reading, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Doing these things will give you a healthy spiritual life, keep you close to Jesus, and help you to avoid sin.
For most things, we accept that there’s a right and wrong way to go about things. There are only a few right ways to paint a house, but there are a lot of wrong ways, and if you take short cuts in preparing the wall, then you’ll get an inferior product. There are only a few right ways to swing a golf club, but there are a lot of wrong ways, and you know immediately which one you’ve done. For some reason we find it hard to accept that the spiritual life is the same way. Living by these principles, given to us by Jesus, worked out by the Sacred Tradition, and seen in the lives of the saints, gives us a trajectory that will get us to heaven. If you veer off course you may not see the results right away, it may look like everything is going just fine. It’s like the time my uncle was cooking some okra and he wanted to get rid of the slime, but he used baking soda instead of vinegar. You’ll eventually figure out that you made a mistake somewhere, and hopefully it’s not too late to save the okra. In case you couldn’t guess, the okra was ruined.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.