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.
Fr. Bryan Howard
11th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – 13 June 2021
Our first reading from Ezekiel and our Gospel today are both describing a kingdom using very similar images, but the picture they paint is very different. They talk about small things, a twig and a seed, that grow into great trees that all the birds come to rest in. The trees represent kingdoms, and, since God is the One who makes them grow, we could call it God’s Kingdom, or the Kingdom of God. We often talk and pray about the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven. In the Our Father we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” and the third Luminous Mystery of the Rosary is the proclamation of the kingdom. How can we become good citizens of this kingdom and good subjects of Christ the King? By allowing Him to reign in our lives.
Our first reading is from the end of the 17th chapter of Ezekiel. In this chapter the prophet Ezekiel reminds the people what lead to the fall of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judea. God brought the people into the land, he planted them and made them grow, he established an international kingdom under David and his sons, ruling over the surrounding lands. The vine, Israel, he planted didn’t produce fruit, so God allowed the vine to whither. Meaning that the rulers, priests, and the people didn’t obey god but chose sin, so God allowed the Babylonian Empire to conquer them and bring many of the people, including the king, into exile. The kingdom was conquered, the line of kings broken, and it appeared hopeless.
This is where today’s reading starts. Just when everything appears hopeless, God will take a shoot from the cedar of Lebanon. The cedar is the kingdom and the shoot is the new king, the Son of David. Even though the tree was cut down, God will make it grow again. Even though the kingdom was destroyed, God will restore it. Ezekiel says that birds of many kinds will dwell in it. The kingdom won’t just be a Jewish kingdom, but many nations will be part of the kingdom.
Almost 600 years after Ezekiel gave his prophecy, the people were still waiting. The Babylonian exile had ended and the people returned to the land, but the kingdom was not restored. King Herod claimed to be a descendant of David, but everyone knew that was a lie; he wasn’t even Jewish. Then Jesus comes along calling Himself the Son of David and talking about a kingdom. In the first parable, He says that the seed grows of its own accord. In other words, this isn’t a human kingdom, but a heavenly kingdom, because God is the one who makes it grow. Unlike the first kingdom, this one will yield fruit for God; the fruit is faith, good works, and growth in holiness.
In the second parable, He says that the kingdom starts off very small, like a mustard seed, or like the tender shoot that Ezekiel talks about. It’s not impressive at all. This is the Church. The Church often doesn’t look very impressive. We want the Church to be like the cedar of Lebanon, a great, majestic tree but it usually looks more like a mustard tree, and I want everyone to go look up a picture of a cedar and a mustard tree to see what I’m talking about. However, even though it doesn’t look like much, it still spreads out its branches to give shelter to all the birds of the sky.
It’s like an upside down iceberg. Most of the iceberg is underwater, with just a little piece sticking up. The Kingdom of God is a heavenly kingdom, most of it is in heaven, but a little piece of it is down here on earth, and that piece is the Church. God gives life to the Church, but we still need to bear good fruit. We need to spread the Good News, be peacemakers, share God’s love and mercy, have a special love for the poor, and work for justice in the world. We can make a real difference in the lives of other people by bringing them to God, and by bringing God to them. God can work on His own, but He normally chooses to work through us. He wants us to cooperate in His plan.
One more thing. Did anyone notice what kind of fruit those seeds are producing? He says, “Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” This is a wheat plant, which of course becomes bread. Do you think it’s a coincidence that we use wheat bread for the Eucharist? God’s Church produces the fruit of the Eucharist. We receive the Eucharist, so that we can go and bear the fruit of faith and charity in the world. Don’t become discouraged when the Church looks more like a mustard tree than a majestic cedar. God is with us, and the Prince of Peace is establishing a Kingdom of Peace that we don’t have to wait for, if we do His will: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Fr. Bryan Howard
4th Sunday of Lent – Year A – 22 March 2020
I went to minor seminary at St. Joseph Seminary College, usually better known as St. Ben’s, which is at the Benedictine Abbey in Covington on the North Shore. The Abbey has about 1,200 acres of woods and fields behind and around it. The grounds really are beautiful. One day during my first year there I had a class that let out at 3 o’clock and didn’t have anything I needed to do until Evening Prayer at 5:30, so I decided to take a walk though the woods. Now, there’s a main trail that runs through the middle of the property from the Abbey to Camp Abbey on the other side, and then there are lots of smaller trails, too. After about 45 to an hour I decided to head back in, but I couldn’t find the main trail, and that’s when I realized that I was lost. I was eventually able to find my way back to the main trail and barely made it to evening prayer on time, but I told that story because of the moment I realized that I was lost. I bet most people have had moments like that, whether you were lost in the woods, or in a mall, or in the city, and the moment you realize it is an intense moment. We’re all lost, or, as our Lord said, blind, but we don’t always realize it, but Jesus came to give sight to the blind.
In the story the man born blind stands for us. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, were created in a state of grace. From the moment God made them they were filled with God’s grace and lived in friendship with God. In original sin they rejected God’s place in their lives. Satan told them that if they ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil then they would become like God. Their sin wasn’t eating an apple or something; it was the sin of pride. They wanted to take God’s place in their own lives. Then, having rejected God’s friendship, what we call sanctifying grace, they were cast from the garden, symbolizing the loss of that friendship with God. What they lost in original sin, they couldn’t pass down to us, their descendants, and so we are born outside of grace. We are born blind, not because of anything we’ve done, but because our first parents rejected God’s grace. When our parents take us to the Church to be baptized they are saying that they are accepted God’s offer of love on our behalf. God made that offer of love on the Cross when Jesus Christ came to undo, by His obedience, Adam’s act of disobedience.
The healing of the man born blind symbolizes the grace of God and especially the gift of faith. In baptism and the other sacraments we receive sanctifying grace to make us holy, to make us like Christ. It’s a gift of love, free and undeserved, because God wants to share His love with us and show us how to love one another in a Christ-like way.
After the man is healed, the pharisees come to question him, because they want to use this healing against Jesus. Jesus healed him on a Sabbath day, and it’s against God’s law to do any work on the Sabbath. This story is in the 9thchapter of John’s Gospel. In chapter 5 John tells a very similar story. Once again Jesus is in Jerusalem on a Sabbath, and once again he heals someone, this time a crippled man, and again the pharisees question the man so they can use this against Jesus. That man didn’t know who Jesus was, but latter on Jesus found him again and told him, “Look, you are well. Do not sin anymore,” but the man went immediately and told the Pharisees that it was Jesus and it says, “The man went and told the Jews that Jesus was the one who made him well. Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus because He did this on a Sabbath.” The man born blind, however, stands up for Jesus, and when Jesus comes back to talk to him again He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him.”
Jesus has opened our eyes and made us see. He’s given us faith to believe in Him. He’s given us the Holy Spirit to guide us to our final destination. What good is sight if we walk around with our eyes closed, what good are directions if we don’t follow them, and what good is faith if we don’t live it? In our second reading we heard what St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness.”
The Lord has told us how to reach our destination in the Holy Bible, He’s given us food to strengthen us for the journey in the Most Holy Eucharist, and He’s given us the whole community of the Church to travel with. Now we just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and persevere in running the race.
Fr. Bryan Howard
3rd Sunday of Lent – Year A – 15 March 2020
Blessed William Hart said, “The joy of this life is nothing; the joy of the afterlife is everlasting.” Blessed William Hart was born at Wells, England, in 1558 and raised as a good Anglican Protestant and was educated at Oxford. His studies lead him to recognize the truth of the Catholic faith and he soon converted to Catholicism. Remember, this was a big deal in 16th century England, because Catholicism was illegal, some Catholics were martyred, and many Catholics, if they were found out, were ostracized from society or even their families. William, however, felt a call to share the faith that he had found, and so he travelled first to France and then Rome to study theology and was ordained as a priest. He went back to England to minister to the hidden Catholic communities until he was betrayed and arrested. He was martyred for his faith on this day, March 15, 1583. What is it that caused Blessed William and so many others to go to their martyrdom joyfully? Why do so many of the saints, like Mother Theresa, dedicate their lives to the poorest of the poor? What is it that brings notorious sinners, and even those who hate the Church, like Blessed Bartolo Longo, to turn back to God? In the words of St. Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.”
The Samaritan woman wasn’t looking to meet Jesus when she went to the well that day. In fact, she didn’t expect to see anybody. The Gospel tells us that it was about noon, which is the hottest part of the day. Ordinarily you would go get your water as early as possible, before it was too hot, and because you would probably need it to start your cooking and work for the day. This woman went at noon, probably so she could avoid the rest of the people in town, and, more importantly, so she could avoid their whispers and judging looks. This was a woman who’d had five husbands, and was currently with someone who wasn’t her husband. We can all relate to the woman because we’ve all done things that we were ashamed of, that we didn’t want anyone to know about, that we hid away, perhaps even from ourselves. So, the woman comes to the well, the source of life, and encounters Jesus. We, too, encounter Jesus especially in those dark corners of our lives. God never gives up on us. He’s always calling us back to Himself, reaching out to us, knocking on the door.
Turning back to the Gospel, Jesus asks the woman to give Him a drink, and she’s surprised, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” The Samaritans were descended from Israelites, but when they were conquered by the Assyrian Empire many of them were taken into other lands, and some of the people of those lands were moved into Israel. The Samaritans had intermarried with those people and gotten caught up in worshiping their pagan gods, so the Jews considered them unclean and didn’t mix with the Samaritans at all. Sometimes our sins make us feel like we’re unclean or tainted. We might wonder how God could possibly forgive us. Do any of you remember the George Strait song, “A Father’s Love?” At the end of the song he dreams that he died and was standing outside the pearly gates thinking that there must be a mistake, because they would never let him in if they knew half of what he’d done, and then he hears God’s voice, “Daddies don’t just love their children every now and then, it’s a love without end.” We may think we’re not worthy of love, but it has nothing to do with worthiness. God loves us because we’re His children, and He wants to free us from the bonds of sins and the pain and damage that sin causes, and share His life and love with us.
Jesus answers her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” When she misunderstands He continues, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” We sometimes think that we have to overcome our sins and get our lives in order before we can have a relationship with God, but that’s exactly backwards. How can we possibly overcome our sins without God’s help? We want to go to God on our terms, but we need to give everything over to God, even, and especially, those dark corners that we’d prefer to remain hidden. We need to accept the living water, the Holy Spirit, from God and let it fill us with His life and goodness and truth.
There’s another time in John’s Gospel when Jesus has something to do with water and marriage: the wedding feast at Cana. The Blessed Mother noticed that they were running out of wine, so she asks Jesus to help, and He tells the servers to the six stone water jars with water and turns the water into wine. The Blessed Mother performs two roles here. First, she goes to Jesus on behalf of the couple, who would have been extremely embarrassed to run out of wine at the wedding party. The Blessed Mother also goes to the Lord on our behalf, to implore Him to give us the living water, the Holy Spirit, so we can grow in union with God. However, she also tells the servers, “Do whatever He tells you.” That is what our Blessed Mother tells us, “Do whatever He tells you. Draw close to Him. Follow Him.” The Blessed Mother is our advocate before God, but she is also God’s advocate with us. The Holy Spirit, of course, if The Advocate, as Jesus calls Him, always calling us to the Lord, and bringing the grace of God to us.
The miracle of the water and wine points forward to another miracle involving wine, when our Lord will turn the wine into His very Blood. In John 6 Jesus said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” If we wish to have life, to live to the full, as God is calling us to live, then we must listen to the voice of God, turn to Him in repentance, and ask Him to give us the Holy Spirit.
Fr. Bryan Howard
2nd Sunday of Lent – Year A – 8 March 2020
As Jesus drew near to Jerusalem He knew that He was going to His crucifixion, and He knew that the disciples would have their faith tested. They would wonder if He was really the Messiah. They would scatter for fear of being crucified like He was. So, He took the leaders of the apostles, Peter, James, and John, and went up Mt. Tabor and was transfigured before them, revealing to them His glory. The Church gives us this reading right at the beginning of Lent, but after we’ve had time to start struggling with our Lenten fasting, to remind us why we’re doing it. We don’t fast for the sake of making ourselves suffer or to show how holy we are; we fast, pray, and give alms during Lent to learn how to rely on God’s grace, so that we might be transfigured, too, and share in the glory of God.
We’ve been chosen by God and called. Called to what? To become like Christ. To be transformed or transfigured into the image of Jesus Christ. In our second reading we heard what St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “God saved us and called us to a holy life…” We’re called to holiness, which simply means to be Godlike. We can know what it means to be like God by looking at Jesus. After all, the Bible, especially the Old Testament, can be used (and misused) to support just about any idea, theory, or lifestyle, so how can we know what God really wants? We look to the example and teachings of Jesus Christ.
We are called “not according to our works…” We weren’t called because we were better, stronger, smarter, or more accomplished than anyone else. As they say, “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.” You can’t earn a parents love; they love you because you’re there child, and if they don’t the problem is with them, not you. In the same way, God love us because we’re his children, not because we’re good, but because He loves us He wants to call us to something better.
We are called “according to His own design and the grace bestowed on us before time began, but now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus.” That is, in Jesus, God’s design, or plan, is made manifest and revealed to us. God’s very nature is love. It’s who He is, and we can only become like God by loving as God loves. Since God is infinite He can give of Himself without costing Himself anything. He created the universe, the laws of the universe, everything living thing, and all of us, and it didn’t cost Him anything. We, on the other hand, are very much limited. In this world there is no love without suffering, because love always wants to give to the one that we love, and that always costs us something. God became flesh in Jesus Christ to show us the infinite love of God in a limited human body. That’s why the ultimate act of God’s love for us is the Cross, on which the God-man, Jesus, gave His life for us.
God’s plan is illustrated in our first reading, which is the calling of Abraham. Called just Abram at the time, Jesus choose this 75 year old man, wealthy but without children of his own, and asked him to travel to a distant land that he didn’t know anything about. In return, he made Abraham three promises, but Abram wouldn’t receive any of them in his life. They would all be given to his descendants. First, God promised to make of Abram “a great nation.” This promise was fulfilled about 500 years later at Mt. Sinai after the Exodus, when they were formed into a nation when God gave the law to Moses. Second, God promised to make Abram’s name great, which is later explained by saying that kings will come from Abraham’s line, and this is fulfilled about 800 years later when Abraham’s descendant David becomes King of Israel. Finally, God promises, “All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.” The universal blessing, or blessing to all the nations is fulfilled 1,800 years later in Jesus Christ, who told His disciples, “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 taught you.”
Abraham wasn’t called for himself, but for others. God chose Abraham and gave his descendants the law and the prophets, so that He could bless all the rest of the nations through them, and through one descendant of Abraham in particular, Jesus Christ. We’ve been called, but not for ourselves. We’ve been called to bring the blessings of God to others by being like Christ. Who have you been called for? Have you been called for you spouse and children, your neighbor, the poor and homeless, the sick and injured, or the ones who don’t know God? The blessings we have are not for us; they’re meant to be used for the glory of God. Each morning ask God to not let any opportunities to serve Him pass you by, and every evening thank God for those opportunities and ask Him to help you do just a little bit better tomorrow.
I don’t have a text to post this time, only the audio. I hope all of you had a good Ash Wednesday and were able to get ashes. I also pray that you all have a holy Lent. Do you have a special traditions for Lent or Holy Week that you’re looking forward to? Share them in the comments.
Personally, my favorite part of Lent is the Stations of the Cross. I have five or six different versions downloaded on my tablet, but it’s hard to beat the old St. Alphonsus Liguori version.
Fr. Bryan Howard
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – 16 February 2020
Today’s Gospel is from the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, right after the Beatitudes, and it represents a summary of our Lord’s teaching. When we study theology we usually separate moral theology, or ethics, and spiritual theology, or prayer and holiness, but, in reality, you can’t separate them because they’re just different aspects of the same thing. One of the most important insights of the Bible is that God is the source of both truth and goodness. I remember talking to someone studying to be a rabbi, and she told me that Judaism doesn’t have a Creed that you have to believe to be Jewish, they have laws that you have to follow. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is taking an insight from the Old Testament, that God is the source of Wisdom, and taking it to the next level. It isn’t enough to follow the Law of God, God wants to send His Holy Spirit into our souls and write the Law of God in our hearts.
The Lord starts off by telling them, “Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” We have the idea of good and gentle Jesus who relaxes all the strict rules of the Old Testament. We imagine Jesus telling us, “You do you. As long as you don’t intentionally hurt anyone it’s all okay.” Jesus does relax the ritual laws of the Old Testament, like the prohibition against eating shell fish and pork or wearing clothes made from two types of cloth. He doesn’t relax the moral laws; in fact, he’s even more strict. He has a higher standard of holiness than the Old Testament, but He doesn’t require anything that He hasn’t already done, and He’ll never ask us to do something without giving us the grace to do it.
The Lord said, “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” To feel angry isn’t a sin, because you can’t always control what emotion you feel. The sin is to nurse anger in your heart. When we feed that anger and let it start to control us, then we’re guilty of the sin of wrath. We can fight that by bringing it to God in prayer and asking for His help. We sometimes want to hold on to our anger and let it begin to define us, and that’s exactly when we need to surrender it to God. Don’t be afraid to take a step back or go find a place to cool off. It’s better than saying something that you’ll come to regret but can’t take back.
The Lord also said, “You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” We should recognize that every person has dignity in their own right and is a child of God, made in the image and likeness of God. When we use another person for our own satisfaction we fail to recognize their dignity as children of God and put our own good ahead of theirs. It’s one thing to appreciate someone’s beauty, but it’s another thing to nurse lust for someone in our hearts, that’s where we start to sin.
I sometimes hear people say that priests and religious take a vow of chastity, but that’s wrong. We take a vow of celibacy, meaning that we vow to not get married so that we can dedicate our lives entirely to God and the Church. That’s not something that the Church forces us to do; we choose to be celibate. As one of my teachers in seminary used to tell us, “We’re not training you to be consecrated bachelors, so don’t live like bachelors.” We are committed, not to one person or family, but to the entire Church. Chastity, on the other hand, is for everyone, whether you’re married, celibate, or single. Chastity looks different for people in different states of life. For example, it’s not appropriate for a celibate person to go on dates, but it’s normal for a single person. However, chastity means always treating everyone around us with dignity and respect.
Ultimately, what we’re called to is love, and to love one another like God loves us. We’re called to love our families, strangers, and even our enemies. We’re called to love no matter what state of life we’re in, what economic class we’re in, or what age we are. The undying and unwavering dedication of celibate clergy and religious to the Church, of husbands and wives for one another, of parents for their children, of Christians for their neighbors reflects the love that God has for us and that the Son of God showed for us on the Cross, when He willingly gave His life for our salvation. Since we just has St. Valentine’s Day, I think it’s appropriate to end with a quote from the most popular reading at weddings, which shows that love is not merely an emotion or passion that comes and goes depending on how we feel about someone, but is a firm commitment to act for someone's good regardless of how we feel about them. St. Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not see 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, endured all things. Love never fails.”
Fr. Bryan Howard
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – 9 February 2020
My Maw Maw, Dad, and Uncle David all love to keep vegetable gardens, and they’re good at it. Uncle David even created a new plant. He planted the cucumbers and squash next to each other and the cross pollinated, so we got squash-cumbers. I, on the other hand, take after my Mom. One year for the science fair I did an experiment where I planted four plants and watered each one with something different, water, coca cola, Kool-Aid, and orange juice. They all died, because plants need a balance of factors to live, and I obviously missed something. Have you ever had one of the plants, like a sunflower, that turns to follow the sun across the sky? You can’t see it moving, but the difference is very noticeable each time you come back to it throughout the day. It’s not choosing to follow the sun, it’s just evolved that way because the sun gives it the energy it needs to live. Of course, they also need rain and nutrients from the soil to live and grow. In order to have a healthy and growing spiritual life, we also need three things, light, food, and water, all of which are provided by Jesus Christ: moral guidelines, the Eucharist, and grace. In our second reading St. Paul says, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified,” because Jesus gives us everything that we need.
Our Gospel today says that we are the “light of the world.” Why? Because Jesus Christ is the Light of the World, and we are Christians, so we reflect His Light. The response for our psalm today was “The just man is a light in darkness to the upright.” Christ is the only truly Just Man, and He shows us how to walk upright lives by being gracious, merciful, just, and generous, or as the first reading says, “If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation, and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.”
Morality, or following the law of God is one of the three parts of the spiritual life. The Bible makes it very clear that all of our prayers and offerings to God are useless unless we’re also living a good life. Most of the time what is good and what is bad are very clear to us, but we live in a complicated world at a complicated time, and there are a lot of different people telling us what to do. Jesus Christ is the light to show us which way to go and an example for our own lives, and we can always ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do in this situation? What is Jesus telling me to do right now?”
How do we know what Jesus would do or what He’s calling us to do? That’s where the second part of the spiritual life comes it: prayer. Just as a plant needs water to live, so we need God’s grace. St. Theresa of Avila compared our spiritual lives to a garden where we’re trying to grow all manner plants and flowers, which are good works. They need grace from the Holy Spirit to grow. We call down that grace like rain by praying. At times, prayer seems to be very difficult, and it’s like we have to go down to the well and get water one bucket at a time, with a lot of work and sweat. Sometimes, though, it’s as if our prayers come quickly and easily, like God’s letting His grace come down like rain.
Prayer is as simple as having a conversation with Jesus, talking to Him and listening to Him. Through the Rosary, praying with the Bible, having conversations with God, and so many Catholic devotions we slowly come to know Jesus better and better and can thus follow His guidance in our lives, even as the Holy Spirit gives us the grace we need to follow through with our good intentions.
Finally, we also need spiritual nourishment from the Eucharist. If the spiritual life is all about growing closer to our Lord in prayer, so that we can better follow Him in our lives, then the climax of the spiritual life is to receive His very life in Holy Communion. The goal of the spiritual life is to be united with God in heaven, but God knows that we need help along the way. He gave us the Eucharist as a little taste of what’s waiting for us. The Eucharist contains everything that we’ll have in heaven, but it’s hidden under the appearance of bread and wine. Can I be a good person without the Eucharist? Yes. Can I pray without the Eucharist? Yes. However, if I understand that the goal of life is to get to heaven to be united with God for eternity and that God is present right here in the Eucharist. Then, to knowingly and deliberately deny the Eucharist is to deny Christ, but putting the Eucharist at the center of your life is to put Jesus Christ at the center of your life.
Since today is the Solemnity of Our Lady of Lourdes, our patronal feast, we should look to the Blessed Mother as our best example, she who is called the solitary boast of our fallen human nature. The Blessed Virgin was always with Christ during His life, from His birth, to His public ministry, to the foot of the Cross, to the Upper Room at His Resurrection, she always pondered His words and the things that He did, and she is still by His side now in heaven. Holy Mother, Our Lady of Lourdes, help us to stay by Christ’s side now, during our lives, that we may always be with Him in the next life.
Fr. Bryan Howard
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – 19 January 2020
What is the goal of our faith? Someone might say that their goal is to get to heaven, and they would be right. One of the goals of the faith is to get to heaven, and sometimes that motivation and desire to get to heaven is what I need to avoid sin and do good works. The problem with that is that it might lead to doing the bear minimum. What is the least I need to do to get to heaven? When I was in a parish with a school I used to visit the classrooms and let the students ask any questions they had. For the middle school students I used to get a lot of questions about what is and isn’t a sin. They point was to figure out how far they could push before something became a sin, and we all think like that sometimes. We want a clear line. The faith is about building up our relationship with God. When I’m friends with someone should I ask, “What’s the least I can do and still remain their friend?” or “What more can I do to help my friend?”
Another way to answer that question is to say that the goal of our faith is to grow in holiness and to become a saint. That desire to be holy and to be a saint can lead us to strive to grow in virtue, faith, and love and to try to be the best person that I can be. However, if that desire becomes unbalanced it can lead to another distortion in our faith, where we focus on ourselves. How can I be holy? How can I grow in virtue? How can I be a better person? The focus point of our faith should be on God and not so much on ourselves. Yes, I should be trying to grow in virtue and holiness, but not for myself; it’s so I can better love God, my family, and my neighbors.
Another issue is that a lot of people think that they can’t be a saint. This is a very common belief among Christians and Catholics. We think that holiness is only for monks, nuns, priests, deacons, and consecrated people, people who’ve taken vows. We think that we’re not holy if we don’t get emotional or cry when we’re praying. To have an emotional sense of God’s presence in prayer or to be moved to tears during prayer are great gifts, but they are relatively rare and they are not necessary to be holy. They aren’t evidence that we aren’t praying right. St. Paul wrote to Corinthians in our second reading today, “to the church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.” Who is it that have been sanctified in Jesus Christ and called to be holy? It’s not only those in Corinth, but “all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” including all of us gathered in this Church today.
We have all been given the same Holy Spirit. We have the word of God in the Bible to tell us what’s God’s will is. We have the seven Sacraments and especially the Eucharist to strengthen us to do God’s will in our lives. We have the Christian community, the Church, to support one another in living the faith. Not all of us are called to make the ultimate sacrifice of giving our lives for God in martyrdom, but we are all called to live our lives for God.
The most common Christian prayer is the one that Jesus Christ taught us, the Our Father, or the Lord’s Prayer. In the Our Father we ask God to “give us this day our daily bread.” That is, give me the grace that I’ll need today, for today’s burdens, to be good and holy today, to bear today’s cross. Today is what I really need to focus on. How can I do a little bit better today than yesterday? What is God asking me to do today? How can show my love for God today? When I took martial arts my teacher used to say that each punch should be better than the one before. Let’s ask God, every morning, to help us to be a little bit holier today, and to grow a little bit closer to God today.
The greatest gift we have in living the faith is the great gift of the Eucharist, our daily bread, which strengthens us in God’s grace. We need to put the Eucharist and to put Christ at the center of our lives. That why, as a parish, we’ve moved the Tabernacle into the center of the Sanctuary, so that Christ is at the center of our parish. You may have noticed that we’ve also turned the celebrant’s and deacon’s chairs so there facing the altar and tabernacle more, because I’m not the most important person here, Jesus is, and we turn towards Jesus in prayer together. As we receive the Eucharist, or, for those who can’t yet receive, make a spiritual communion by asking Jesus to be in our souls, let’s ask God to give us the grace we need to grow in holiness…today.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.