Fr. Bryan Howard
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – 28 October 2018
There was a very intelligent young man who grow up in a home with a Catholic mother and a non-Catholic father. His mother was very religious, but his father wasn’t very religious at all. During his teenage years, he began to think of Catholicism as childish and silly. He slowly began to drift away from the Church. When he went to college, to study law, he fully left the Church. He eventually got his girlfriend pregnant and had her move in with him. He basically, according to his own words, lived for the pleasures of life. Does that story sound familiar to you? I’m talking about a specific person, but I bet almost everyone here knows someone like that. It may be a very modern story, but it actually happened 1600 years ago. I’m talking about St. Augustine of Hippo, priest, bishop, and Doctor of the Church.
St. Augustine was never satisfied with his life. The pursuit of pleasure didn’t give any lasting satisfaction and neither did his intellectual pursuits. He went from one philosophy and religion to another, searching for the truth. Then one day while he was sitting in a garden reflecting he heard the words, “Take, read.” He saw that there was a copy of the Bible next to him and he picked it up and started to read. Through prayer and study and with the help of his mother, St. Monica, and the local bishop, St. Ambrose of Milan, he came back to the faith of his childhood and was eventually ordained as a priest and latter a bishop. He knew that there was something wrong, something missing, and he never stopped searching for it. Eventually, his search lead him back to God.
Our Gospel today follows a similar pattern. Bartimaeus the blind man was sitting on the side of the road begging, when he heard a commotion. Someone told him that it was Jesus of Nazareth passing by, so Bartimaeus began to call out, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on my.” He had obstacles in his way, too. The people around tried to shut him up and stop him from bothering Jesus, but he didn’t let it stop him. He knew that He needed help, and he knew that Jesus could help him, so he kept calling to Jesus even louder. Jesus heard him and called him over and asked what he wanted. He didn’t beat around the bush but he got right to the point, “Master, I want to see.” And Jesus replied, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”
This is a true story with a spiritual lesson. Bartimaeus knows what he needs, his sight restored. He knows where he can get it, from Jesus, and he keeps going no matter what gets in his way. Jesus says that his faith has saved him, but he needs faith to get it. Compare Bartimaeus to another man Jesus helped at the pool of Siloam. He was crippled, and had been coming to that pool for 38 years hoping to be healed. Jesus asks him if he wants to be healed, but he makes excuses. He doesn’t even say yes. Then, later, he hands Jesus over to the Pharisees. Bartimaeus needed faith to see that only Jesus could help him.
We have disabilities, too, spiritual disabilities. Sin is a type of blindness. It blinds us to what is happening in our own soul and we don’t want to admit that we have a problem. The pleasures of this world can never fully satisfy us. The only thing that we seek for its own sake is happiness. Whether it’s eating good food, watching a movie, seeking political office, trying to become famous, or playing the lottery, everything you do is for something else. You play the lottery to get money, which you use to buy a new boat, which you use to go fishing, which makes you happy. You can do the same thing with every decision. We may not always be right that something will make us happy, but that’s what we ultimately want.
The problem with sin is that it only makes us happy in the short term and makes us miserable in the long term. Even good things only make us happy temporarily. You’ll eventually finish that meal and get hungry again, and that movie will end, and that boat will need repairs. Only God can make us truly happy for all eternity, because he made us to be in a relationship with Himself. There is a God-shaped hole in our hearts, and only God can fit in it. So, never stop seeking God. Don’t let any obstacle stop you, and know that God will never put anything in your path that you can’t get through with His help.
St. Augustine wrote the first autobiography, and I’ll finish with his own words about his search for God. In The Confessions, he wrote, “Too late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new, too late have I loved you! Behold, you were within me, while I was outside: it was there that I sought you, and, a deformed creature, rushed headlong upon these things of beauty which you have made. You were with me, but I was not with you…You have called to me, and have cried out, and have shattered my deafness. You have blazed forth with light, and have shone upon me, and you have put my blindness to flight!”
All Saints Day is coming up on Thursday, November 1, and is a solemnity of the Church and a Holy Day of Obligation. Halloween gets all of the publicity, but Halloween actually gets its name from All Saints Day. Halloween is just a smashed together version of All Hallows Eve, and “hallow” is just another way of saying “holy” or “saint,” so Halloween is the evening before All Saints Day.
On Thursday we’ll celebrate all of the saints, not just one specific saint, and the idea that we are all called to holiness and sanctity. November is the last month of the liturgical year, before we begin preparing for the birth of Jesus during Advent. So, since it’s the last month of the liturgical year, and, in the northern hemisphere, is the end of the season of fall, we set November aside to think about the last things, death, judgement, heaven, and hell. We begin this month be reflecting on the purpose of life, which is to get to glorify God, to become a saint, and to get to heaven, in that order. Then, during the next few days, we visit the graves of our loved ones, pray for them, and ask them to pray for us.
One of the best things that we can do during the first week of November is to pray at a cemetery for the dearly departed and the souls in purgatory. I’ll be visiting my families mausoleums at St. Louis Cemetery No. 3 and St. Patrick Cemetery No. 1. No one likes to think about death, and it can be very difficult to visit the graves of our loved ones, but as Catholics we know that death cannot overcome that bonds of the Holy Spirit that tie us together. We are all one family of God, those of us still in the middle of our earthly pilgrimage, those in purgatory preparing for heaven, and those experiencing complete beatitude and joy in heaven.
On all saints day, take some time to remember the stories of our older brothers and sisters in Christ who are already in heaven. They can teach us so much by the way they lived their lives, and they can still help us by their prayers. Then take some time to remember the souls in purgatory. They will one day be among the saints in heaven, but we can help them get there with our prayers. The Church offers a plenary indulgence to anyone who prays at a cemetery during the first week of November, but only if you offer that indulgence for the souls in purgatory. Even if you can’t get to a cemetery to pray, the prayers that you offer at home are heard by God.
Here are the instructions for gaining the All Souls Day Indulgence.
Fr. Bryan Howard
28thSunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – 14 October 2018
If you’ve ever had a conversation with an evangelical Christian about religion, they probably asked you if you’re sure that you’re going to heaven. You see, many groups of protestants believe in “faith alone.” They believe that faith alone is necessary for salvation. They’ll try to convince you that because you’re a Catholic and can’t say that you 100% certain of going to heaven, that your faith is deficient. They’ll tell you that all you have to do is make a public profession of faith in Jesus, and that’s it. “Once saved, always saved.”
After all, in today’s Gospel when the rich young man comes to Jesus and asks Him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”Jesus replies, “Just profess your faith in me, then you can do whatever you want.” Wait, no, that’s not what He says at all. He tells the rich young man not to sin, saying, “You know the commandments: You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother." Then He tells the young man to sell what he has and give to the poor and to come and follow Him. In other words, it’s not enough to profess your faith in Jesus, you have to show your faith in Jesus by following Him and living as one of His followers.
Today’s Gospel gives us a sort of cheat sheet in how to grow as a follower of Jesus. He starts off with the Commandments. Learning to follow the Commandments is one of the basics of being a disciple of Jesus. The first three are about our relationship with God: love the Lord Your God, do not take the Lord’s name in vain, and keep holy the Sabbath. The first commandment tells us not to have any idols and not to put anything else ahead of God in our lives. The second doesn’t just mean to not use foul language. It means that when you do speak the Lord’s name, in prayer and in Church, that it shouldn’t be meaningless, but that you should really mean it. The third commandment points back to the creation of the world, when God rested on the seventh day, and it reminds us that everything we have comes from God. We should set aside one day each week, preferably Sunday, to express that gratitude to God.
The last seven commandments are about our relationships with other people and how we should treat them. These are the ones Jesus quotes: honor your father and mother, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, don’t covet your neighbors spouse or property. The commandment to honor your parents is the only positive one our of all of these, and it’s the only one that comes with a promise, “that you may have a long life in the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you.”The commandments not to kill (murder), commit adultery, steal, and lie can be summarized as telling us not to treat other people wrongly, and the last, to not covet, concerns our thoughts. Covetousness is related to greed or jealousy, and means to desire something that someone else has. This doesn’t mean that your neighbor gets a new car and you want one like it, but that you want that specific car and start thinking about ways that you can get it from him.
If we can do all of that, then we’ve made a very good start, but that’s not all that Jesus has to say. The young man says that he’s done all of that since his youth, so Jesus tells him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”What Jesus tells us to do on top of the Commandments is to follow Him. Follow Him how? We are to follow Him by imitating His sacrificial love which He showed us by descending from heaven to become a poor human being and then dying on the Cross for us. Some people are called to live this out in a radical way as an example for us. Think about people like St. Francis of Assisi or Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Most of us are called to live it out in more ordinary ways, by being dedicated to your vocation as husband or wife, mother or father, by giving to the most needy in our community, and by trying to treat everyone with kindness.
One of the great things about the apostles is that they react to these sayings of Jesus in the same way that we would. This time it says that they’re “amazed at His words,”and ask, “Then who can be saved?”Jesus tells them, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.”In other words, we have to learn to rely on the grace of God. This is really what the spiritual life is all about. We try not to sin, but we inevitably fail and fall back into sin. DO we fall into despair and give up? No, we rely on the grace of God to forgive our sins and strengthen us to do better next time. We find it hard to treat some people with kindness, humility, and compassion. Do we give up and stop trying? No, we pray for them, and for ourselves, and try to do a little bit better every day.
Is there a certain sin that you struggle with more than others or a virtue that you think you need to grow in? Then pray for it by name. As our first reading says, “I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her.”And in Psalm 90, our responsorial, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart. Return, O Lord,! How long? Have pity on your servants!”And finally in our second reading from the book of Hebrews, “Indeed the Word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.”
We don’t believe in once saved, always saved, but we have a better promise, a promise that God will not leave us in our sins and afflictions if we place our trust in His grace and allow Him to teach us to walk in His paths and draw us every close to His Most Sacred Heart.
Misuse of Language
The language that we use is very important, because it effects the way that we think. My Paw Paw often says, “If you say something about yourself often enough you’ll begin to believe it.” The way that we talk about something effects the way that we think of it just as much as the way that we think about something affects the way we talk.
Stores and retailers use this all the time to make sales. I know someone who used to work for a popular electronics retailer, that’s no out of business. He told me that they would have a “sale” around Christmas time every year, but that it wasn’t really a sale. They would raise all of the prices by 10 or 15% and then put everything on sale for the same amount. Just that sign saying “10% OFF!” was enough to get people to buy it, even though it wasn’t really 10% off. Another way stores sell products is to put special labels on them, like “Gluten Free,” “Diet,” and “Organic.” Sometimes these labels can be helpful, like if you’re allergic to gluten, but a sometimes they’re just silly, like when cereal is labeled as “Fat Free;” of course it’s fat free, it’s cereal.
Language can also be used to affect how we think about far more serious things, like abortion or euthanasia. Those who are against abortion call ourselves “pro-life,” because saying that you’re “anti-abortion” is a negative and feels bad, but being pro-life is something that just about everyone can agree with. On the other hand, those who are “pro-abortion” don’t like to use that term, because it doesn’t sound nice, but everyone wants to say that they’re “pro-choice,” because freedom and liberty are things that every American values.
Euthanasia is the same way. Euthanasia is the act of ending the life of someone suffering from a chronic or terminal disease, or helping them to end their own life. Those who are against it call it “euthanasia” or “physician assisted suicide,” but people who are in favor of legalized euthanasia call it “death with dignity” or “physician assisted dying.” Do you see how that changes how you think of it?
What we need to do is look past the language that we use to the reality behind it. Words have meanings, and ideas have consequences, and we need to take those meanings and consequences seriously, because they affect real lives. Don’t let someone else do your thinking for you, but dig down deeper than the surface, seek the truth, and govern your life by it.
Fr. Bryan Howard
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – 7 October 2018
I may have told you this story before, but it’s worth telling again. In 1947 the Fort Lauderdale Hurricane, also called the Hurricane of 1947, struck the coast of Florida as a category 4, killing 17 people. It passed over Florida into the Gulf and made a bee line for New Orleans. It passed right over the Business District downtown as a strong category 2, killing 34 people along the Gulf Coast. As the eye passed over the city, a young man named Bob Peyton left his house and walked, through the flood waters, to the other side of the city to check on a girl he liked, Jeannette Hudson. When her father answered the door he took one look at Bob and turned back, calling, “Jeannette, that Peyton boy is here, he’s either insane or he’s in love.” They would get married about 3 years later and eventually have 5 children, including my mom.
People sometimes ask me how I knew I was called to be a priest. If they’re married it’s easy to answer; I just ask them how they knew their spouse was the one for them. It’s something that’s hard to explain, isn’t it? But you know, just the same. Both the priesthood and marriage are vocations. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word vocare which literally means “to call,” as in to call someone from the other room or call someone on the phone. They’re called the sacraments of service. You see, all the other sacraments give you grace so you can grow in holiness: baptism makes you a Christian, confirmation stirs up the grace of the Holy Spirit in your soul, confession forgives your sins, Communion unites you to the Body of Christ, and anointing of the sick brings healing to your soul. The Sacraments of Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony give you a grace to help you serve someone else. In Holy Orders, deacons, priests, and bishops are called to serve God and His Church, and in Holy Matrimony, and man and woman are called to serve one another.
Christ won the grace of the sacraments for us on the Cross by pouring out His life for us. Married people are called, in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony, to live out the love that Christ gave us through His Cross and Resurrection: a love that is complete and unconditional, that is freely given as a gift, and that is fruitful, bringing about new life. When Jesus talks about marriage in the Bible, He points us back to the book of Genesis, to the creation of Eve and the marriage of Adam and Eve. That passage recounts how Eve was created when God cast Adam into a deep sleep, took a rib from his side, and formed the rib into Eve. This says something about the type of relationship that Adam and Eve are supposed to have. What does the rib cage do? It protects the heart and lungs. The ancient Hebrews thought of the heart not as the center of passion, like we do, but as the source of life, so Eve’s job is to guard Adam’s life, and Adam’s job is to give of his own flesh and blood, his own life, for his wife Eve.
That is God’s original plan for marriage. Unfortunately, sin enters the story to tear apart the relationships between Adam and Eve and God, but Jesus points us back there to understand what the purpose of marriage is. In a natural sense, the purpose of marriage is to have and raise children. We’re not like ants who can start working as soon as we’re born; we need love and care to grow in maturity, and the best way for children to get that is with the father and mother. But Jesus raised marriage from natural to supernatural when he made it a sacrament. Spiritually, the reason for marriage is for husband and wife to reflect the love of God in the world by the love they share with one another, and thus help one another to get to heaven. To put it simply, your job, as a husband or wife, is to get your spouse to heaven. This is why praying together as a family and coming to Mass together as a family are so important and so powerful. It shows your family, and especially your children, that spending time with God each Sunday is important and is worth making sacrifices for.
If the love of God is unconditional, then husbands and wives shouldn’t put conditions on their love for one another. I know that’s not realistic in our fallen world, but that why the second and third most important phrases a husband and wife can learn, after “I love you,” are “I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you.”
If the love of God is faithful and never abandons us, then husbands and wives are called to fidelity. They promise to be faithful to one another in their vows when the promise to be true to one another “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love you and to honor you all the days of my life.”
If the love of God is fruitful, then husbands and wives are called to be fruitful, not only in having children, but in raising them in the faith and in being a witness in the world to the love of God. The one thing that gives me the most joy and encouragement in my priesthood is seeing families who are really trying to live out the love of God. Being generous with your spouse and children is the best way to show the generosity and fruitfulness of God.
Today is Respect Life Sunday, where we focus on the dignity of all human life. I’m convinced that the best way to increase the respect for life in our countries is through strong, healthy, holy families. So, as you pray for an increase in respect for life this month, also pray for holy families.
In addition to the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, Roe v. Wade, on January 22, 1973, we set aside the month of October and specifically the first Sunday of October to reflect on the great gift of life and the dignity of all human life. From the first chapter of the Bible, where we read about God creating man and woman in His own image and likeness.
The source of human dignity is that we are all created in the image and likeness of God. Like God, we have a rational intellect and a free will. With our intellect we can seek the truth, try to understand the world around us, and even come to a better understanding of ourselves and human nature. With our free will we can decide to act either for good or for evil. One of the main ways that humans have rationalized the bad they choose to do is by dehumanizing the people they’re hurting. How did people justify slavery, the owning and using of other human beings? They said that they were less than human. How did some of the explorers and colonists in the New World justify the crimes they committed against the Native Americans? Again, they claimed that they were less than human.
There have always been those who have seen through these excuses and fought for the truth. They were people like the Underground Railroad, the Franciscan missionaries to the Americas who tried to protect the Native Americans from abuse, and Pope Eugenius IV who condemned slavery in 1435.
Abortion and Euthanasia are two of these issues that we’re facing right now. They are complex issues with many causes, and many people try to justify them. That doesn’t change the fact that abortion is still the killing of an innocent human being; a human being with the same human dignity, the same DNA, the same rights as the rest of us. 45 years after abortion was legalized it may seem like we’ll never win this battle, but we can’t give up now. We have an obligation to fight for the truth. Euthanasia, likewise, is now legal in 5 US states and people are fighting to make it legal in more. Instead of Euthanasia, they call it “Dying with Dignity” or “Provider Assisted Dying,” but it’s still killing a sick human being who needs love and care.
We don’t condemn anyone, and we shouldn’t attack anyone either. We should, however, live and speak the truth. The people who make these choices are often in terrible situations and feel like they don’t have any other options. So please, keep praying and fasting for an end to abortion and euthanasia and that the rights and dignity of all people may be respected.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.